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Martial Law, short for Martial Arts Law (MAL), is the set of rules that govern how characters in martial arts movies fight. A synopsis:
- No matter how many bad guys are swarming around the good guy, only one baddie can attack the hero at a time
- When the biggest and baddest dude arrives, everyone stops fighting so he can make a grand entrance
- At least 25 bad guys must be defeated for every good guy defeated
 Other uses
Government: When used in conjunction with government, "martial law" generally denotes the set of policies which takes effect when a military force becomes responsible for administration and the enforcement of order within a community. Both foreign and domestic militaries can impose martial law, and the rules of martial law often include curfews, quarantines, increased civil and criminal penalties, and the suppression of free speech. Most of the instigators of martial law defend their actions as necessary to prevent anarchy and violence, but while martial law has undoubtedly been used to forestall such dangers, it has also been used by repressive regimes as a last-ditch defense against revolution or democratization.
Or, to put it less (*ahem*) delicately: Martial law is the end result of a governmental body realizing that its administration is effectively FUBAR. When the citizens of a country realize how badly they've been screwed over since the country's foundation, the government sends in the military to bluntly do the job that it has been trying to inconspicuously accomplish for hundreds of years: taking away people's guns and newspapers and making sure they don't get the nation's flag near any gasoline or open flames. This gives the government enough time to rewrite the constitution while nobody's looking and start the country all over again.
Put in another way. Martial law exists so that if a situation develops that causes normally established policing organizations to be useless or even non existent, then the government can send in soldiers to keep the peace till the situation can be put back to its normal state. For example, martial law was imposed on parts of Europe freed from Nazi Germany during World War 2, as the normal policing bodies would either be Nazi controlled or influenced when the territories are taken back.
A very common misconception is that martial law could be imposed as a replacement to normal policing bodies period. The truth of the matter is that martial law is a temporary measure for a reason. Primarily military grade supplies and weaponry is far, far more expensive than the materials used by law enforcement, and so are military vehicles and paraphernalia. Basically, it is far too expensive to impose martial law for an extended period of time, let alone encompass the entire country in it, because of this. Not to mention that soldiers have no training in forensic fields, which means that while they could easily kick the ass of a group of bank robbers, they could not properly determine if someone amongst the bank tellers were part of the robbery plan.
Of course, this snark also overlooks cases in which citizens get upset because the government tries to take away their "right" to oppress their fellow citizens...Reconstruction was a case of martial law that attempted to fix this kind of problem.
 Conspiracy theories
A common element in many fringe moonbat and wingnut conspiracy theories is that secret plans to implement martial law (or as the nutjobs commonly spell it on the web, "marshal law") are being carried out covertly, e.g., the construction of FEMA concentration camps in the US. This may constitute the beginning of the New World Order. Alex Jones and many others have been warning the sheeple about the coming implementation of martial law for years. Still waiting on that one...yep, still waiting.... Damn it is taking those lizards a long time.
Of course, Everytime a truck with signs saying martial law is somewhere in the US, then that's proof that martial law is about to happen. Every time a UN truck is shown on the road, that's "proof". The Army can't do its goddamn job of transporting tanks around the country without someone yelling MARTIAL LAW!