Beware of martial law and the military

From the mid-1820s to 1832, there was a period of violent conflict between the British colonists and Aboriginal Australians in Tasmania. In November 1828 martial law was declared, effectively providing immunity for killing aboriginal people, which was in force for more than three years.

For 38 years until 1987, Taiwan was under martial law as the government utilized the perceived threat of the need to suppress Communist activities in the island-nation.

Army Commander in Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha declared martial law nationwide in Thailand on May 20, 2014, after seven months of political unrest. One year later, martial law was lifted.

Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau placed the province of Quebec and, particularly, the city of Montreal under martial law from October to December 1970. This was during what has become to be called “The October Crisis” as separatist members of the Front de Libération du Québec kidnapped provincial Cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte and British diplomat James Cross. This came after seven years of politically motivated bombings.

Under the authoritarian rule of Ferdinand E. Marcos, the Philippines was placed under martial law from 1972 to 1981, with the government citing an intensifying Communist insurgency.

Any government that invokes martial law for any reason other than a natural/man-made disaster or extends martial law for a long period of time is a failure. It is that simple.

Even in the instance of Canada in 1970, or now in Mindanao, it is still a failure. Open armed rebellion against the country is absolutely a justification for the imposition of martial law. In truth, the government has an obligation to the people to make such a declaration. But it is still a failure. The government failed to anticipate and stop whatever situation advancing to the point when martial law had to be declared.

However, we know that, in the cases mentioned above in Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines, martial law was imposed for political reasons, even if the official justification might have had some merit. This is the most blatant failure of government and to a certain extent, of the people.

Unfortunately, governments that move to martial law to retain or gain power are able to do so because the people have given the control of the future of their country to the government. We have no excuse for allowing a government to become tyrannical. American author Edward Paul Abbey wrote, “A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

“No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation,” said General Douglas MacArthur. Dr. Jose Rizal expressed the thought best: “There can be no tyrants where there are no slaves”.

However, if the people expect the government to follow the rule of law, so also must the people adhere to the same standard. A government changed by mob rule had better expect the new government to govern by mob rule.

Remember also that “martial law” gives increased power to the military authorities. Asking the military to protect the people is also a dangerous road. To paraphrase the political quote, “A military strong enough to give you everything you want is a military government strong enough to take from you everything you have”. Thailand welcomed martial law to control political chaos. Now they have a government controlled by the military.