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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The issues presented in this episode are as relevant as ever. But with
local police becoming more militarized (even police departments of
small towns of 5,000 people are being sent mine resistant vehicles used
in Iraq and Afghanistan), is the question of military personnel being
used on US soil to enforce law a mute point? In this episode, a man
with an assault rifle has one sheriff's deputy hostage and has the
other deputies outgunned and at bay. Then comes a Marine chopper that
cuts him down. This chopper was not called for and not wanted by the
sheriff's department; the pilot was acting out of his own volition.
To me, there is no question that such an act is illegal, and the legal arguments made regarding the case are ridiculous. Rabb's argument: after 9/11 state governors had to call in National Guard troops to help with airport security and could not call in the Army; therefore, posse comitatus laws are outdated. The judge says that this is a good argument for repealing the laws, but he's not a legislator. What? This is a lousy argument. It amounts to: the state sucks at protecting people, therefore martial law should be easier to implement.
As well, the defense's other arguments lack force. The defendant says, "I was trying to save lives." Even if he was, this does not justify the ability to use military hardware against civilians. The judge accepting this argument would create a ridiculous loophole through which an armored personnel carrier (or gunship) could fit through. An even worse argument (said by the judge, no less) was that the Marine did not have orders not to engage. Hmm...I guess I'm no expert on the military, but I think the LAW would be more important than orders. What is he doing in a gunship in the first place if he has no orders? Sometimes I think the writers of JAG have run out of ideas for legal issues that are plausibly contentious among rational people and simply make either Rabb or Turner take the rabid statist position in order for their to be confrontations. And yet, it's probably the case that the writers sincerely believe that more use of military force against US citizens is noble and just. The Marine is not only acquitted, but is also made to look like a martyr because he is transferred because "the Marine Corps thinks its image is more important than one man's career." The subplot has Turner and Bud deciding investigating whether a recent Quaker convert's application to conscientious objector status should be accepted. Personally, I don't see why such a thing should matter. Even if it is the case that his unit has been given notice that they might be sent to a combat zone, or even if his commitment to pacifism is feigned, should it matter? Is it really better to either 1) force him into combat, or 2) imprison him? For issues such as these, JAG doesn't really even touch whether or not they are wise or just, yet it will for other issues such as gays in the military or sexual harassment. I wish they would be a little braver here. Indeed, it is quite safe to talk about racism, sexism, or prejudice against gays in the military; but to question more essential traditions of the military, such as prosecuting deserters or conscientious objectors that don't meet the military's standards, is something JAG shies away from.
Another thing I want to point out is that you can bet that pretty much any person finding their way into a JAG court and who wants out of the military is going to be presented in a less than copacetic way. Last season, when the sound engineer wanted out, he turned out to be taking source code from a military contractor and using it to make video games. In this episode, the conscientious objector is threatened with not having his medical practice available to military health insurance coverage, and doesn't like the thought of losing such business.
What the show seems to be implying is that once you are in the military it owns you until it wants to give you up; your will is irrelevant in the matter. And should you want to leave before your term is up, it is always for selfish reasons. If JAG is not yet to the point of promoting outright military worship, it's getting close.
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