Impending Totalitarianism

Impending Totalitarianism

For the Old Mole Variety Hour

 A couple of weeks ago Columbia University’s School of International and Public affairs warned students by email that tweeting or posting about WikiLeaks on Facebook could endanger their job prospects with the federal government.  After criticism, the University quickly rescinded that advice and reaffirmed its commitment to free speech.  But the mentality behind that warning suddenly struck me as the entering wedge of the kind of universal fear and mistrust that characterized the Soviet Union under Stalin when reading the wrong books or having the wrong friends could get you ostracized or excecuted at a moment’s notice. Last week on this program, Jan Haaken and Mike Snedeker discussed the FBI’s conspiracy to entice a young Muslim to try to blow up Pioneer Square here in Portland  -- another piece of the campaign to build a culture of fear among us.  And of course every public official, it seems is calling for the prosecution and even assassination of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. All this promotes a climate of fear that goes  with every totalitarian state.

 Here is an edited vesion of an article by Tom Engelhardt, “The National Security State Cops a Feel” .

It’s finally coming into focus…:  It goes like this: take a country in the grips of an expanding national security state and sooner or later your “safety” will mean your humiliation, your degradation.  And… it will mean the degradation of your country, too.

We live, it seems, in a national security “homeland” of angry bureaucrats who … define what “safety” means for you….  Your government can now come up with any wacky solution to American “security” and you’ll pay the price.  One guy brings a failed shoe bomb on an airplane, and you’re suddenly in your socks.  Word has it that bombs can be mixed from liquids in airplane bathrooms, and there go your bottled drinks.  A youthful idiot flies toward Detroit with an ill-constructed bomb in his underwear, and suddenly they’re taking naked scans of you or threatening to grope you….

Directly or indirectly, you pay for the screeners and scanners and a labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy that officially wields an $80 billion budget, and all the lobbyists and shysters and pitchmen who accompany our burgeoning homeland-security complex.  And by the way, no one’s the slightest bit nice about it either…:  Offer some trouble, …, or step out of line, and you'll be hit with a $10,000 fine or maybe put in cuffs.  It’s all for your safety, and fortunately they have a set of the most inept terror plots in history to prove their point.

 But here’s the thing: in our deluded state, Americans don’t tend to connect what we’re doing to others abroad and what we’re doing to ourselves at home.  We refuse to see that the trillion or more dollars that continue to go into the Pentagon, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the national security state yearly, as well as the stalemated or losing wars Washington insists on fighting in distant lands, have anything to do with the near collapse of the American economy, job-devastation at home, or any of the other disasters of our American age.

 … And yet whatever inconvenience, embarrassment, or humiliation you suffer in an airport shouldn’t be thought of as something the terrorists have done to us.  It’s what the American national security state…demands of its subjects, based on the idea that no degree of danger from a terrorist attack, however infinitesimal, is acceptable. (We seem not to worry about the safety of  other aspects of American life where -- from eating to driving, to drinking, to working -- genuine danger exists and genuine damage is regularly done.)

We now live not just with all the usual fears that life has to offer, but in something like a United States of Fear.

 …We now know that a bunch of Yemeni al-Qaeda adherents know more about who we are … and what makes us tick our leading intelligence profilers undoubtedly know about them.

Recently, [an Al Qaeda group] released an online magazine laying out just how much the two U.S.-bound cargo-bay bombs that caused panic cost them: a mere $4,200 and the efforts of “less than six brothers” over three months.  They [called] their plot …, Operation Hemorrhage (and what they imagined hemorrhaging, it seems, was not American blood, but treasure).

Now, they're laughing at us for claiming the operation failed because … those bombs didn’t go off.  “This supposedly ‘foiled plot,’” they wrote, “will without a doubt cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures. That is what we call leverage.”

They are, they claim, planning to use the "security phobia that is sweeping America” not to cause major casualties, but to blow a hole in the U.S. economy.  …

 This is a new definition of asymmetrical warfare.  The terrorists never have to strike an actual target, or even build a bomb that works.  Just about anything will do.  To be successful, they just have to repeatedly send things in our direction, inciting the expectable Pavlovian reaction from the U.S. national security state, causing it to further tighten its grip  at yet greater taxpayer expense.

 Here’s a simple formula for beginning to [really] improving American safety and security….  End our trillion dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; [limit]  our military to defending our own borders…; begin to shut down our global empire of bases; stop building huge embassies abroad ….  In short, stop going out of our way to tick off foreigners and then pouring our treasure into an American war machine intent on pursuing a generational global war against them. 

Of course, the U.S. national security state has quite a different formula for engendering safety in America: fight the Afghan War until hell freezes over; keep the odd base or two in Iraq; dig into the Persian Gulf region; send U.S. Special Operations troops into any country where a terrorist might possibly lurk; and make sure the drones aren’t far behind.  In other words, reinforce our war state by ensuring that we’re eternally in a state of war, and then scare the hell out of Americans by repeatedly insisting that we’re in imminent danger, that shoes or underwear,… will destroy our country, our lives, and our civilization.  …

It’s a formula for leaving you naked in airports, while increasing the oppressive power of the state.  And here’s the dirty, little, distinctly Orwellian secret: the national security state can’t do without those Yemeni terrorists (and vice versa), as well as our homegrown variety.  All of them profit from a world of war.  You don’t --so what happens in an airport line should be the least of your worries.

…As long as Americans don’t grasp the connections between our war state and our “safety,” things will only get worse and, in the end, [both our safety and our freedom will be gone].

 Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's  His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books). You can catch him discussing war American-style and that book in a Timothy MacBain TomCast video by clicking here.




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