You could be forgiven if you’d never heard of Moundsville, WV, pop. 8,400, until Jaime Baker of WTOV9 in Steubenville, OH, reported that the town’s police this week picked up a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected truck, or MRAP.
The machines cost up to a million dollar a piece, but Moundsville got its for free, thanks to the Pentagon’s so-called 1033 program, which channels excess military supplies to small towns. President Obama placed restrictions on the program after racial unrest in Ferguson, MO, in 2014, and President Trump resurrected it in 2017. Now Moundsville has become the latest symbol of the program’s excesses.
Although George Brett and Brad Paisley were born in the area, and Lady Gaga still visits her grandmother there, this hamlet on the Ohio river between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati rarely ruffles feathers.
A tiny town getting a war machine while America tries to curb the use of excessive police force that has been killing African-Americans highlighted this country’s unhealthy obsession with military gear, even in quiet, peaceful places.
I talked to two Moundsville city council members. One was happy to have the truck, saying the police can use it to rescue people during a flood, which does happen in the area, or to deal with a hostage situation, which is less likely. Moundsville barely has any crime at all. The other councilperson called it a toy the town doesn’t need. Moundsville is a sleepy town with an aging population
In 2018, we spent nine months traveling to Moundsville from Pittsburgh to make “Moundsville”, which is now playing on PBS. (You can buy or rent a longer version here.) It’s a fascinating place, built around a two-thousand-year-old burial mound left behind by the Adena people, and rich in industrial history, and tarred by present impoverishment. It could use money for schools, roads, and job training, among other things.
But instead of butter, it’s getting guns. Moundsville is not exceptional in receiving military gear from the Pentagon. It’s one of many towns that have picked up bayonets, grenade launchers, assault rifles, combat knives, helicopters and detonator robots.
They’re the leftovers from the trillions of dollars this country spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other politicians pointed out Friday, that money could have been better spent on people.
Julian Castro, a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, said the acquisition showed the need to “demilitarize police”.
Moundsville once had mighty factories, including Marx, maker of Rock’em Sock’em Robots and the Big Wheel, and Fostoria. Since 1980, the town’s lost over 7,000 jobs. The population has fallen in half. Nowadays, any help is welcome.
The question for people in town isn’t why Moundsville is getting an MRAP, it’s why America has only MRAPs to give Moundsville.
John W. Miller