December 26, 2010
It’s hard for an American to admit that we have become a country whose President now claims the power to arrest and detain indefinitely – or even order the assassination of — any American citizen that the President – without official charges, trial and conviction – sees as some sort of threat. Future leaders are not likely to give up this power.
We’re in a distinctly American form of plutocracy, where Wall Street’s short-sighted greed has interbred with car-crash journalism and political expediency to create our cultural motto, “What have you done for me lately.” It’s worth asking the sobering question of what poor and middle class people honestly think they can offer politicians and Wall Street’s metastasized profit-makers to compete with Big Money — though the answer isn’t comforting. Sweet liberals may rattle on about a government of, by and for the people, or airy ideals of truth, justice and equality. But that country is a nostalgic dream out of touch with everything except maybe Disney World.
The signs of our times are not warnings of a potential slide into an American version of fascism — wrapped, as Sinclair Lewis said in 1935, in the American flag and waving a cross. The signs are of a nation whose government has already passed the point of no return, from a nominal democracy or republic into a de facto tyranny. It’s been decades since doing the right thing could trump doing the profitable thing.
The death throes of our American Empire are spastic, furious and futile. Michael Moore – but not our politicians or mainstream media — has reminded us that America is actually fighting not two wars, but six: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, the horn of Africa and Columbia – that we know of. Wars are cash cows for the military-industrial-congressional-media complex. Our soldiers are equipped with sophisticated weaponry that is as ill-suited to fighting a guerilla war as it was in Vietnam a half century ago. We’re maintaining around 800 military bases in other countries, spending about $1,000,000 a year per soldier in Iraq. This is happening as we sink more deeply in debt, and have become the obvious financial target of opportunity for China, who can send us into a nearly bottomless Depression any time they decide they will no longer buy our Treasury bonds.
We live in an age of not only manufactured consent, but also manufactured terror. The Keystone Cops x-raying, frisking and groping us at our airports has caught no “terrorists.” Its purpose isn’t to catch “terrorists,” but to regiment our citizens to a New World Order in which our government can humiliate us, give us orders, and herd us like sheep. Evangelical humbugs may still quote St. Paul, insisting that those who govern us are our trustworthy shepherds, reciting from the trusty King James translation: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God (Romans 13:1).” The “shepherd” metaphor is actually a good one, as long as we remember that the only reason shepherds take care of their sheep is so they can fleece them, and eventually convert them to lamb chops, living off of their meat.
What was to have been the Show Trial of Ahmed Ghailani is a recent reminder of the huge gap between our increasingly secretive government and the world most people recognize as reality. On November 17th, a federal jury in Manhattan convicted Ghailani of conspiring to destroy U.S. buildings and property in the 1998 truck bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. But Ghailani, 36, was acquitted on 284 other counts, including the top charges of murder and murder conspiracy. The only count on which he was convicted took place in Kenya and Tanzania. President Obama, who sought convictions rather than justice, has responded by declaring that he can hold prisoners in Guantanamo indefinitely, without trials or convictions.
If evil loves the dark, truth and justice demand the light. So, giving justice a try, Ghailani’s case was brought before the civil law system that we have trusted to try serial murderers, rapists, traitors and crimes so far over the line between good and evil that even reading their details makes our skin crawl. The result: just one conviction for a crime committed three years before 9-11, and on foreign soil. It is a measure of the blanket denial of our leaders. When examined in the light, it doesn’t look at all like “terrorism” is what’s going on. It’s a name used to mesmerize the masses while our military-industrial-congressional-media complex escalates its wars all over the world and escalates its police state at home.
Creating True Believers
Our government’s secrecy, recently embarrassed by the Wikileaks – has done what such secrecy nearly always does: creating an inner circle of True Believers. Will we also indict the New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegle et al, as well as all radio, television and internet servers who published the leaked documents? Our muzzled mass media seldom mention how many people in other countries are pointing out the comical irony of a country bragging about its “freedom,” while imprisoning and pursuing whistleblowers who have used that freedom to shine an international spotlight on our government’s lies – at home, in the Middle East, and in our international diplomacy all over the world. We’re not used to being the punchline of jokes.
Our leaders no longer want truth; they have come to demand compliance — sheep-like obedience. Perhaps there are still some sweet liberals who will imagine that we need not worry too much because we’re all reasonable people, and once this current unpleasantness has passed, we’ll be back to normal, where NPR and PBS can continue shoveling their soothing Muzak for our intelligentsia. Here’s how an observant young lawyer has put it:
“A few of them still hold the banner high. Even after all their defeats they still prophesy the inevitable collapse of the regime every month, or at least once a year. Their stand has a certain magnificence, you have to admit, but also a certain eccentricity. The funny thing is that one day, after they have stood fast through all their cruel disappointments, they will be proved right. I can already see them strutting around … and telling everybody that they had predicted it all along. By then, however, they will have become tragicomic figures. There is a way of being right that is shameful and lends its opponent undeserved glory.” (1)
These words are chilling because, while they could have been written last week, they were written more than seventy years ago, as he watched his country’s democracy descend into the malignancy of the Nazis.
How could it have happened? How could Germans possibly have morphed into Nazis without realizing what was happening to them? And how could it happen here? This too was described decades ago, by a man named Albert Speer. Younger readers may not recognize the name, but Albert Speer was the only top-ranking Nazi to confess, and to describe from the inside how a democratic, artistic, creative Germany was turned into the Nazi death machine so easily:
“In normal circumstances, people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them, which makes them aware they have lost credibility. In the Third Reich there were no such correctives, especially for those who belonged to the upper stratum. On the contrary, every self-deception was multiplied as in a hall of distorting mirrors, becoming a repeatedly confirmed picture of a fantastical dream world, which no longer bore any relationship to the grim outside world. In those mirrors I could see nothing but my own face reproduced many times over.”(2)
These insights came to light only after the Nazi machine was destroyed, along with millions who died during the World War required to cut off the ugly head of Naziism. They could come only after the tragic slaughter of innocence because they had no equivalent of a Daniel Ellsberg, Bradley Manning (allegedly) and Julian Assange and his Wikileaks. These men are among our age’s prophets: those putting their lives on the line to serve the kind of truth that may help set us free, if only we will muster the courage to see and to hear that we have become something ugly.
1. Sebastian Hafner, Defying Hitler, p. 202
2. Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)
Why we Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, 2007, p. 65