But the images coming out of Ferguson, Mo., recently ? body-armored, camo-clad "peace officers" with sniper rifles and mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles ? have a lot of Americans wondering whether that has become a meaningless distinction.
Still, Obama continued, "We don't want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions."
He got that right, at least. America was born amid fear and loathing of standing armies at home. "It was easy to foresee the consequences [that] followed upon sending troops into America to enforce obedience to acts of the British Parliament," John Hancock proclaimed in his 1774 address commemorating the Boston Massacre: "cruelty and haughtiness ? citizens hourly exposed to shameful insults." Thomas Jefferson worried that a peacetime military force would "overawe the public sentiment" and harm the republican character of our government.