Best Defense

Talking war in Phoenix, thinking about police cultures and the post-9/11 America

Tom Ricks reflects on his visit to Phoenix.


I gave a talk Tuesday night in Phoenix at Arizona State University, and finally got to meet some contributors to the blog, as well as some of their friends. Jim Gourley drove over from El Paso.

It was a good, involved crowd, with an energizing mix of Iraq/Afghan vets, Vietnam vets, current ROTC students, and just interested people. One of the questions I especially liked: Why isn’t Gen. George C. Marshall more honored by today’s Army?

Overall, three things struck me on this short trip out west: First, people really love their guns out here. Second, I think the Hispanic influence softens American culture a bit.

But I knew those before, really. The thing that struck me this time is that the police in Arizona are really active, perhaps even aggressive. I hardly saw the police in three days in New Mexico. In one day in Arizona, I saw at least 10 police cars with their lights flashing, pulling cars over. One swerved across three lanes of crowded traffic in Tucson to pull over a guy. So it wasn’t just Maricopa County — it was the whole way from the border to downtown Phoenix. Which, after all, is home of the case that led to the Miranda decision.

Comment at dinner, I think from Gourley: “We don’t live in a security state. We live in a fear state.”

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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