The following paragraph is an excerpt from a book by Noam Chomsky called “Understanding Power”:
“There’s a part of the Pentagon Papers which is considered politically incorrect… It’s the part that deals with the time right after the Tet Offensive in 1968, everyone recognized that the Vietnam war was going to take a long time, it wasn’t going to be possible to win it quickly – so major decisions had to be made about strategy and policy. Well, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were asked by General Westmoreland, the top American commander in Vietnam, to send 200,000 more troops over to the war – and they refused, they didn’t want to do it. And the reason is, they said they were afraid they might have to use the troops here in the United States to put down a civil war: they said they were going to need the troops at home for “civil disorder control,” as they put it, and therefore they didn’t want to send them to Vietnam. These guys thought the society was going to crack up in 1968, because people here were just too opposed to what they were doing.”
When a so-called free society blurs the line between military control of its domestic population and civilian control, when it blurs the line between military “justice” (Groucho Marx quote: “military justice is to justice what military music is to music”) and civilian justice whose courts are designed to uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, when it blurs the line between “enemy combatants” and those who speak out and demonstrate against its policies and laws in pursuit of a redress of grievances, it ceases to be a free society.
After decades of sleepwalking through history, the people, or at least some of the people, have awakened. They have raised their voices in protest. They have organized. They have occupied.
Make no mistake about it, “the powers that be” are deeply concerned. No, the little encampments are not sufficient in numbers to pull the whole thing down. No, communications from the camps is far from sufficient to speak loudly and clearly to the American people. It’s not even clear whether a consensus on objectives or even tactics will be achieved anytime soon. I repeat, however, make no mistake about it, the big boys are concerned… very concerned.
For decades now, they have seen their power as absolute. None would dare challenge them. Even when the moral standing was not on their side, they were able to “fix the facts around the policy.” Put another way, they could manufacture their own truths and disseminate them freely through the co-operative, corporatized media. Fear was sold. Patriotism was sold. The protesters were denigrated as Communists or ne’er-do-wells or hippies.
The arrogance of those in power has blinded them to the impact of their over-reactions. Their strong-armed tactics have given everyone a glimpse of tyranny.
Instead of sending a few dozen police, they sent armies of police in full riot gear. They came equipped for war. They came; they pepper-sprayed; they tear gassed; they beat with three-foot long clubs; they maimed peaceful protesters with rubber bullets. The police were not confronted by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. Perhaps, if they were badly outnumbered, the modalities of repression they’ve chosen might have been more accepted by some. But in most cases, there were many more police than demonstrators and those demonstrators were peaceful. The Occupiers have been courageous by standing up, peacefully, in the face of such overwhelming and menacing force.
Regardless of what Americans think about the Occupiers themselves, this has given local police forces and the image of American justice or lack thereof a huge black eye. Perhaps there was a time that other countries marveled at the freedoms American citizens had; those days have been buried. Without the moral authority to claim that we are just and that Americans are free to speak against their government with impunity, the US can no longer lay claim to the mantle “leader of the free world”. Like so many dead and buried empires that are now just footnotes in history, the US regime promises freedom on the packaging but the product inside the box is oppression… and the whole world knows it.
Just yesterday, the Senate passed the National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA) that includes within it the heinous provision essentially repealing habeas corpus. The executive branch can now direct the military, at its sole discretion, to pull any US citizen off the street and hold them in custody without trial. Put another way, American citizens can be “disappeared” even if they are innocent. You can’t demand a lawyer; you can’t demand a trial of your peers in a civilian court. In fact, you can be hidden away wherever the military wants to hide you. But you’re innocent you say? Not if they say you aren’t.
Too many Americans still don’t believe the threat those in power pose to the core values of the American republic. They see elections still happening and that means we are a “free country”. They hear someone on the news criticizing Obama or making fun of the Republican candidates and they believe freedom in the US is alive and well and will always remain this way. Some argue that they are not concerned with the loss of civil liberties because they have done nothing wrong. One wonders how we’ve failed to teach our fellow citizens about the vigilance required to protect our freedoms.
The collapse of our free society is moving at a rapidly accelerating pace. Our media are, for the most part, both inept and controlled. The internet, that has given us a chance to speak to each other and build little islands of revolutionary thought, is coming under increasingly severe attacks. Our elections, such as they ever were, are controlled by two corporate parties and the corporate money that buys their compliance. Our environmental regulations are being gutted. Our labor protections are being attacked. Our Bill of Rights is being neutered because, they tell us, “terrorists are everywhere”.
With each passing day, more and more of us will come to see the ugliness of tyranny that is hiding just behind the thin facade of democracy. More and more of us will feel the pain of oppression. And those who do not march with us in solidarity at this time will not be immune. Behind all the repression lies an economic inevitability. War is being waged not only against those who rise in protest but against the entire economic system of the country. As wealth becomes more and more concentrated, the victims of wealth’s power, let’s call them the 99%, will grow poorer and poorer until they are ultimately unable to sustain themselves. Sitting on the sidelines will not save anyone from that fate.