Governor Kristi Noem’s Beltway spokesboy Ian Fury claims that his boss and her staff, in reporter Arielle Zionts’s words, “found no legal or ethical problem” with the one-million-dollar private donation from Tennessee auto-salvage billionaire Willis Johnson gave her to pay for the South Dakota National Guard’s stunt-trip to the Mexico–Texas border. But Team Noem only looks hard for headlines, not Hegelian dialectics. But all those headlines indicate how immediately everyone else senses the ethical problems that lie in pimping out the military to rich partisans:
Dwight Stirling is a law professor, expert on the history of the National Guard and reserve military lawyer in the California Guard. He said the donation goes against state and federal law.
The donation raises issues beyond the law, Stirling said.
“If we allow a private citizen to donate money for a particular operation or mission, then it looks like those soldiers are working for the billionaire or for the donor and that puts the chain of command in doubt and so what that really does is raises the question about the whole legitimacy of that mission,” he said [Arielle Zionts, “Experts Say Private National Guard Donation Raises Legal, Ethical Issues,” SDPB, 2021.07.01].
But hey, why bog ourselves down in ethical restraints? Let’s just talk numbers:
Governor Noem wants to send 50 South Dakota soldiers 1,400 miles away from home for 30 to 60 days. Let’s go in the middle an assume it’s a 45-day mission. Kristi’s billionaire pal’s one million dollars breaks down to $444 per soldier per day. I don’t know what their daily shifts will look like down in McAllen or Laredo or elsewhere along the Rio Grande, but those deployed soldiers will be on call and away from their families around the clock, so $444 for the entire day reduces to $18.50 per hour. And that’s not just paying for labor; that’s paying for all the trucks and guns and whatever other equipment our mercenary Guards need to carry out their sponsor’s mission. So $18.50 an hour is the cost of renting out not just one National Guard’s labor but all the material necessary to support the mission.
So suppose I have just a hundredth of the wealth that Willis Johnson has jingling in his fat pockets. Suppose I want to donate $10,000 to the State of South Dakota to get the Governor to deploy the National Guard on a mission of keen personal interest to me. At the rate Willis J. is getting, I can buy 540 person-hours of National Guarding. What could I spend that on?
- Given it takes me an hour and a half on average to shovel my patio, sidewalks, and driveway when it snows, I could get one Guard to come shovel me out after 360 snowfalls. If it snows enough to warrant shoveling ten times each winter, I can get Guard snow removal for 36 years.
- I could rent a platoon of 20 Guards nine times for three-hour stints to accompany me as armed bodyguards as I report on Republican hate rallies in Aberdeen.
- I could rent 65 Guards to march into the South Dakota Capitol with their guns (we’ll call ahead for Capitol Access Passes) to accompany me for a full day of committee hearings, blogging from the galleries, and interviews with Legislative leaders and other government officials (I walk up to Ian Fury with my camera and 65 soldiers: “Governor, could I ask you a few ethical questions?”)
- I could rent one Guard to chauffeur me on a three-week vacation in the wilderness in a really cool off-road Army truck.
- I could rent 540 Guards to stand behind me on the Brown County Fairgrounds racetrack stage at my own patriotic campaign kick-off rally.
- I could rent 54 Guards to set up and tear down the stage and work the gates at my campaign kick-off rally.
- I could rent 100 Guards to each spend 5.4 hours helping distribute absentee ballots to voters on the reservation.
- I could rent four Guards to provide security at and give women rides to Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls for nearly 17 eight-hour shifts.
- I could have the whole 153rd Engineer Battalion assemble in Sioux Falls and march in rainbow uniforms in next year’s Pride parade.
- I could rent 20 Guards to spend three consecutive Saturdays going around the state and removing vulgar, unpatriotic flags from public view.
I can think of many more valuable missions, and surely so can you, neighbors! We can pool our cash and come up with great uses for our great Guards, if we just be like Kristi and get past our niggling ethical considerations.