We are accustomed to thinking of the reserve and National Guard as back-ups for the regular armed forces. In Fourth Generation war, those roles reverse: the regulars are back-ups to the home guard. Why? Because in a contest for legitimacy on a country’s own soil, the home guard is made up of local people, while active duty forces can seem like invaders. More, the home guard’s usual function is to help people in times of disaster, so citizens see the guard through that lens. Who is not going to welcome a couple of guys in uniform who show up at their flooded house to take them to safety?
We have seen this at play out in the flooding in and around Houston. But we have also seen something that is in some ways more interesting, and that also offers the National Guard an opportunity to strengthen its legitimacy. Many of the rescues and resupply missions have been carried out by ordinary citizens. Some, such as the Cajun Navy of shallow draft boats, had organized and planned beforehand to respond to flooding. Many other efforts have self-organized, as individuals with useful abilities have reached out to others, come together, and brought what they can do to Houston.
Because these volunteers get no pay, often incur major costs (including time off at work), and sometimes put their own lives on the line, their legitimacy is off the charts. If the National Guard could tap into that, it would gain legitimacy itself. In 4GW, legitimacy is the bitcoin of the realm.
How could the Guard do that? Not by trying to take over the volunteers’ efforts — that would turn many ordinary people against the Guard — but by offering them helpful support. The Guard could usefully undertake a study of how it could best support volunteer’s efforts in time of emergency. But it is not difficult to identify some capabilities the Guard could offer. In return for volunteers simply signing up on some kind of register, either beforehand or when disaster hits, the Guard could give them:
- Legal immunity. Some states have “Good Samaritan” laws that protect ordinary people who are trying to help in an emergency from being sued for injuring someone in the process. But not all do, and a certain type of lawyer may be following the rescue boat. People on the Guard register could be protected from that.
- Communications and coordination. The Guard could put volunteers in touch with others offering similar capabilities, help them coordinate and tell them on a real-time basis where the help is most needed.
- Nationwide notice of need. While many volunteers will be local, some specialized capabilities could usefully be mobilized on a nationwide basis. For example, in the Houston flooding, floatplanes could be highly useful. Given airplanes’ speed, the Guard could notify floatplane owners on the register across the country that they were needed, and even reach overseas (The Japanese Navy still has big flying boats, and Russia has excellent aircraft for fighting forest fires).
As 4GW grows on American soil, which regrettably seems likely, keeping our nation together will require national institutions that still have legitimacy as the Federal government as a whole loses legitimacy. I cannot think of another institution that could fill that role as well as the National Guard. In turn, any steps we can take now to further strengthen the Guards legitimacy are of strategic importance (including separating it completely from the regular army, with “National Guard” rather than “Army” on the uniforms, and giving the Guard its own budget). One such step would be for the Guard to help and support the volunteers who are making so much of a difference in the Texas floods and will in disasters yet to come.