The World Health Organization (WHO), the medical wing of the United Nations, has been studying the recent outbreak of bird flu, or avian flu, in Asia to determine whether or not it could mutate into human flu. Past reports from WHO stated if the influenza strain mutates, human casualties could be anywhere from five million to 150 million worldwide. Friday, WHO stated those early predictions were possibly exaggerated, but influenza is hard to predict due to its versatile nature. They would not know the effect of an outbreak until one actually happened.
Preparation for a new strain of influenza, though difficult, is a task the United States must meet. Worst case scenario would be widespread quarantines around any effected area in the states. This fear, coupled with recent domestic emergency response debacles, has led to a grave overreaction in Washington on how the situation would be handled.
President Bush announced last week that if quarantines are needed, he wants permission from Congress to use military force. This request was met with scorn from both sides of the partisan divide and for good reason. Such a response would set back federal law by 127 years.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 bans the military from participating in police-type activity on U.S. soil. Dr. Irwin Redlener, Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness and Associate Dean of Columbia University’s School of Public Health, told The Associated Press the president’s suggestion was dangerous.
“The translation is martial law” said Redlener.
Others have made the point that military personnel are not trained as domestic peacekeepers and therefore would only make the situation worse.
Gene Healy, a senior editor at the conservative Cato Institute, told CNN Bush would risk undermining “a fundamental principle of American law” by tinkering with the act.
“That reflects America’s traditional distrust of using standing armies to enforce order at home, a distrust that’s well-justified.”
The good news is the administration wants to prepare before a disaster actually occurs, which is a step in the right direction. The Senate last week added $4 billion to a spending bill used strictly for acquiring Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that has proved effective against the virus, bringing the dosage up from being able to protect one percent of the population to 50 percent.
With such motions in action the answer, as usual, is not military presence. The American people can work together to protect each other without soldiers forcing them to do so. Such a decision would only worsen American morale.