The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Month: December 2011

Review: Fascism and Theater

The first time I watched a political convention to nominate and select presidential and vice-presidential candidates – I forget whether it was a Democratic or Republican one, it hardly mattered then, and does not matter now – I was astounded and not a little appalled by the sheer mindlessness of the event. There they were, hundreds of party delegates from all the states, a great slobbering mass worked up into consecutive bouts of noisy, frenzied rapture over supposedly charismatic nonentities whose platforms and speeches were measures of carefully crafted banality and skillfully inserted buzz words.

There they were, hundreds of adults of both sexes and various ages and sizes, wearing buttons and masks and funny hats and other goofy party paraphernalia, shouting and cheering themselves hoarse on cue in unison, forming conga lines and waving flags and signs, behaving as though they had all checked their brains, dignity and self-respect at the door. Which they evidently had. It was politics as a football game, it was a life-and-death matter of “our team” versus “their team” – all ideational content abandoned and replaced by raw emotion triggered by faces associated with particular sounds emptied of meaning.

The capacity for abandoning one’s mind and for taking orders from delegate leaders has always seemed to be an important qualification for being a convention delegate. On the convention floor a delegate was and is still expected to surrender his “autonomous inner man” or individuality and merge into a smothering, communal gestalt with his party colleagues.

It is well known that television game show guests and contestants are selected for their quotient of enthusiasm and ability to communicate it to and with an audience. By this measure, a political convention has any game show beat by a factor of a thousand. And the prize is not a fancy car or living room set or a Caribbean cruise or $100,000, but the White House and “our guy” sitting in the Oval Office. In such escapist moments, when delegates seem to undergo a kind of mass “out of body” experience, the candidate is reduced to a mere symbolic image, regardless of character or qualification. He is “it.” They become human counterparts of Pavlov’s dogs, able to bark and drool and froth at the mouth on command and at the slightest autosuggestion by an overbearing delegate whip.

This is “democracy” in action. It was and still is stage-managed theater. It has not changed at all from the first time I saw a convention on black and white television. Being caught in the middle of such a phenomenon would be as scary to me as being surrounded by a mob of Muslims carrying signs that read “Behead those who insult Islam.” One would be tempted to strike out at the maddened, sweating fools on the convention floor, only at the risk of being pummeled to death by delegates from Wisconsin and Idaho and Massachusetts and California. They would all plead temporary insanity, and get away with it.

After all, you had insulted their candidate, their Mahdi, their Thirteenth Imam. Their Savior. You deserved to die.

The religious hysteria, as an element of the phenomenon, is not coincidental, or an anomaly, or a fluke. It is part and parcel of modern convention behavior. It clearly was not a governing factor of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Then, delegates brought their brains with them, they brought their principles and rectitude. Can you imagine the Founders wearing funny hats and chanting slogans and forming conga lines to press a point of Constitutional law? No? Is the contrast too ludicrous and obscene to contemplate? Yes. Each and every one of those men, even the villains and fence-sitters, was an exemplar of intellectual and moral decorum. Then look at the baboons and halfwits who are charged with selecting an individual whom they want to “run the country.” Their choices over the last half century or more are reflections of what transpires on convention floors.

Today, the catalyst for the hysteria is not an invisible deity, but a flesh-and-blood human being. With calculated “behavioral” conditioning (à la B.F. Skinner), and a willingness to submerge one’s identity in the collective, the sight and sound of a candidate can reduce these delegates to quivering masses of raw emotion. One almost expects them to fall to the convention floor, wreathing and shrieking in deliverance, and speaking in tongues like any Holy Roller. Call it Political Pentecostalism.

Reading Fascism and Theatre: Comparative Studies on Aesthetics and Politics of Performance in Europe, 1925-1945*, I was not surprised to find in this collection of essays similarities between the methods employed by Nazis, Fascists and Communists to create and sustain support for their régimes, and the methods by which the Democrats and Republicans recruit and maintain their hard core, registered voters, activists and especially their convention delegates, the ones charged with nominating their parties’ candidates – that is, the people responsible for foisting onto this country for the last half century or more a succession of fork-tongued demagogues and empty suits.

There are eighteen chapters in Fascism and Theatre, but only a few can be highlighted here. Some deal with the subject more successfully than others, but all discuss the role of “theater” in fascism. The term fascism is used generically in the essays to stand for Mussolini’s Italian Fascism, Hitler’s Nazism, and, to a lesser extent, General Francisco Franco’s Falangist or Nationalist régime, which was a tepid admixture of Fascism and Nazism. (Although Spain remained “neutral” during World War II, Franco approved of sending approximately 19,000 Spanish volunteers to serve in a special division of the German army, to fight exclusively the “Bolsheviks” on the Eastern Front, but not the forces of Western armies. Spanish troops fought with the SS during the Soviet taking of Berlin.)

The term theater as used in the essays means either extravagant mass events such as the annual Nuremberg rallies or the political subornation of high and popular culture, from operas to plays to folk festivals to suit or conform to fascist aims and purposes.

One indisputable characteristic of fascism is that its theater borrowed heavily from Christian and especially Catholic practices and rituals, selectively exploiting the emotional nature of religion. Roger Griffin, in “Staging the Nation’s Rebirth,” introduces this idea which is elaborated on in most of the other essays:

…[F]ascism, if it can seize power, is able to remain true to its core myth and legitimate itself only by generating an elaborate civic liturgy (or a ‘civic,’ or ‘political’ religion) based on the myth of imminent national rebirth. In the two cases where it managed to conquer the State, it rapidly developed characteristic rites and ceremonial, its own iconography and symbology, its own semiotic discourse, aping (but only aping) any established Church. [p. 25]

For Hitler and Germany, “rebirth” meant the resurrection of a Teutonic or Aryan state superior to all, and to rise from the ashes of the Versailles Treaty and the failed Weimar Republic; for Mussolini and Italy, it meant reviving the imperial grandeur of ancient Rome. Hitler and Mussolini, however, had first to concoct and propagate “myths” about the lost greatness of their countries, and then pose as saviors or messiahs who alone had the power to reclaim the greatness and lead their nations to glory. Propaganda ministries and bureaucracies were created in both countries to establish and enforce official party lines about a nation’s past, present and future the subjects of art or in plays, national holidays, and even in opera.

Much of editor Günter Berghaus’s contribution to the collection of essays, “The Ritual Core of Fascist Theatre: An Anthropological Perspective,” is flawed by psycho-babble and sociological semiotics, but much of it also is lucid and on-point. To wit:

Fascist parties rose to positions of power by gaining mass support and winning democratic elections. Millions of people were inspired by Mussolini and Hitler and developed a genuine enthusiasm for their politics, because they promised an answer to a need that was widely felt in different sections of the population. People were fascinated by what fascism proposed in response to a crisis that affected the economic, social and cultural spheres of their lives. Political promises played a role in this, but the emotional appeal of the leaders and their programs was probably stronger. Fascist leaders avoided the rational rhetorics typical of bourgeois politicians, and instead employed performative language that had a captivating force unequalled by traditional means of propaganda. {pp. 39-40. Italics mine.]

Sound familiar? Does that passage hark back to the 2008 presidential campaign and election? Does it not describe the method by which the current occupant of the White House rose to power? However, Berghaus correctly dwells on the relationship between the religious and secular elements of fascism.

This grafting of the Christian redeemer and savior image onto a historical person was a post-figuration technique often employed in the Christian drama of the Baroque period and was ultimately derived from medieval theology. Both Hitler and Mussolini were well versed in the literary traditions of Christian religion and were fully capable of adopting their conventions. Hitler helped the transformation of his own person into the archetypal, divine redeemer figure through his mythological biography, Mein Kampf. [p. 62]

Berghaus quotes Hitler on the purpose of the Party rallies held in Nuremberg and other German cities. From Mein Kampf:

Mass meetings are a necessity because the individual (…) who feels isolated and easily succumbs to the fear of loneliness, is given here an idea of a greater community. (…) When he as a seeker is swept along by the mighty effect of the ecstasy and enthusiasm of three to four thousand others, when the visible success and agreement of thousands confirm to him the rightness of the new doctrine (…), then he will submit to the magic spell of what we call “mass suggestiveness.” The will, the longing, as well as the power of thousands of people are accumulated in every individual. The man who entered such a meeting doubting and wavering leaves it with an inner conviction: he has become a member of a community. [p. 60]

One could also say that this was no less true for Hitler, that he was literally nothing if not the leader of such a community. Without all those chanted “Sieg Heils” and tens of thousands looking up at him on a high rostrum with adoration and worship, he was a vacuum, an isolated and fearful nonentity who assumed an identity only in the presence and eyes of disciplined and attentive mobs.

Many uninvolved contemporary observers were struck by the fact that the public rituals of fascist régimes were “more than a gorgeous show; [they] also had something of the mysticism and religious fervor of an Easter or Christmas mass in a great cathedral.” “Is this a dream or reality?” asked one of the visitors to the Reichsparteitag 1936 after the spectacle on the Zeppelinwiese and concluded: “It is like a majestic church service (Andacht) where we have congregated to find new strength…”

[Albert] Speer said that Hitler canonized the formations, processions and celebrations so that “they were almost like rites of the founding of a Church.” Once he had worked out the right forms, he wanted to fix them as “unalterable rites” that gave him the status of a “founder of a religion.” [p. 53]

Mussolini was of a like mind concerning the religious “experience” possible in the Italian version.

Mussolini stated in 1923 that “Fascism is a religious phenomenon of vast historical proportions” and that fascism was “a civic and political belief, but also a religion, a militia, a spiritual discipline, which has had – like Christianity – its confessors, its testifying witnesses, its saints.” The Fascist Party was often described as “a new Church (La nuova chiesa is the title, for example, of a play by [Virgilio] Caselli) or as a “religious or military order.” [pp. 53-54]

For example, from 1933 on, from Hitler’s assumption of the chancellorship through the next eleven or so years, German playwrights (those who prostituted their talents to the Party) wrote plays that portrayed the past struggle of the German people to assume their “rightful” place in the world. If this meant fudging history or ascribing to past historical persons presaging yearnings for Nazi or Fascist domination and identity, such hacks were perfectly willing to falsify history, submit their work to Party censors and make the requisite changes. As Berghaus notes:

Consequently, fascist playwrights evoked a large number of situations that indicated a return to a united people. They propagated a new ethics that was aimed at overcoming egotism, uniting one individual with other individuals, creating a firm bond between them, making them identify with the aims of the fascist State and submit to the orders of a leader….The conduct of this leader was modeled, of course, on the historical examples given by the Führer, Duce, and Caudillo. Or rather, one should say, on the way those historical figures were mythisised, legendised and sanctified in fascist hagiography. [p. 61. Italics mine.]

Neither Hitler nor Mussolini was ever portrayed in these plays. Some species of false but more likely fearful fastidiousness in Party censors prohibited it; no actor could have been trusted to faultlessly impersonate Hitler or Mussolini, even had a hack written a play that featured them, and probably no actor would have wished to risk the role, either. Hitler and Mussolini were instead substituted with stand-ins or proxies, such as Frederick the Great or Bismarck or Garibaldi or some two-dimensional fictional character, always ready to sacrifice himself for the greater good in the most cavalierly selfless manner, which was the unity of the German or Italian people. Acceptable plays were set in the past, to convey a false historical overture to Nazism or Fascism – or the alleged inexorable inevitability of Nazism and Fascism, which a mere individual was helpless to oppose and whose only recourse was to submit to it.

Barbara Panse, in her essay, “Censorship in Nazi Germany: The Influence of the Reich’s Ministry of Propaganda on German Theater and Drama, 1933-1945,” discusses several of these plays, and cites how one playwright even perverted the American Revolution:

In Hanns Johst’s play [Thomas Paine], Thomas Paine is the ideological Führer of the American War of Independence. He, too, upholds the notions of colonialism and conquest. With the propagandistic slogan, “America needs land,” he seeks to mobilize the exhausted and hungry insurgent army so that they venture to take the path into the unknown, to victory or death. His appeal to faith and comradeship forges the “racially worthy citizens” (volkisch wertvollen Glieder) of America into a nation. In this play, the life of the Führer character also ends tragically, but his mission is fulfilled: the ‘national idea’ has come to fruition. [p. 149]

Johst wrote this play in 1927. He was a career anti-Semite who wrote a play, Schlageter, which extolled Nazi ideology, to celebrate Hitler’s victory and birthday in 1933. It is interesting to note also that Howard Fast, a steadfast member of the American Communist Party, also appropriated the American Revolution as a means to advance the “people’s struggle” narrative (à la Howard Zinn) on the origins of the United States. Citizen Tom Paine (1943) is one of a number of novels he wrote set in that period.

No discussion of the theatrics of fascism would be complete without mentioning Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary, Triumph of the Will. This task fell to contributor Hans-Ulrich Thamer and his essay, “The Orchestration of the National Community: The Nuremberg Party Rallies of the NSDAP.” Writing about the purpose and style of the rallies, Thamer observes about the 1934 Nazi Party Congress:

The heroic style and dramaturgy of the event were fixed on celluloid by Leni Riefenstahl in her film Triumph of the Will (1934). Much more than simply a documentary, this film foregrounded the symbolism and liturgy of the ceremonies and established their pattern for the years to come. At the same time, the film disseminated the mass spectacle of Nuremberg throughout Germany. It was a “production of a production” and thereby a reduplication of the “mass appeal” of National Socialist political aesthetics. Triumph of the Will turned the military parade of the National Socialist movement into a platform for the Führer-cult. [p. 175]

Thamer then takes the reader on a tour of the typical succeeding rallies, all based on what Riefenstahl had recorded in 1934, which acted as a template, and then were expanded in scope and in the number of participants. These rallies lasted for days. Thamer follows Hitler from elevated rostrum to a ceremony of flags and banners when he rubbed shoulders and pressed flesh with rank-and-file, to a ritual of consecration of the “martyrs” that was much like a glorified mass of the dead. Hitler was the focal point of every important event. But, it was all a manufactured show.

Nothing was left to chance in the stage-management of the Nuremberg rallies. Every stylistic device had a purpose. The flags were determined in number, size and position; shortcomings in the urban development and gaps in the old town fortifications were covered up by scenery. Everything was subjected to the meticulous plans of the bureaucratic and technical apparatus. The men in charge of the cult were cool-headed technicians, sons of a rational era. Yet they were also theatrical wizards who knew intuitively how to exploit age-old cultic practices for their political aims. It was exactly this link between atavistic ideology, mystical ceremony and the modern age, which helped to eliminate all critical reasoning in both audience and participants. [p. 186. Italics mine.]

Before the entire length of Triumph of the Will was removed from YouTube for copyright infringement (the full version now can be watched with ads), I watched it twice, and I can attest to the effectiveness of the stage management described by Thamer. I distinctly remember Jimmy Carter’s appearance at the conclusion of the 1976 Democratic Convention, when he and his wife Rosalind appeared on stage before a brilliant blue background. That was calculation.

The typical American political convention is also planned and laid out in meticulous detail, from the flags and bunting, to the timed applause and cheers, to the demonstrations of dancing and chanting, to the bands and choreography and lighting, all the way to the climax of the acceptance speeches. Little during these cattle calls could be called spontaneous, except for the essential emotional character of the proceedings that verges on a mass revival meeting. But the spontaneity is also cued and calculated to advance or obstruct a point of order or dissension. For the typical delegate, a convention is a vacation from reality, from the facts of political and economic life.

I doubt that many delegates, upon returning home from a Grand Gestalt, pause long enough to acknowledge just how much they have degraded themselves and regret having let loose a monster. And the ensuing political campaigns have become more and more shallow and meaningless popularity contests, with candidates stooping to the level of rock stars repeating the most popular lyrics and buzz words. Thamer concludes his essay with:

The Führer-myth as the propagandist core of the rally distracted from the political reality of Party as well as everyday life and became the most important means of stabilizing the rule of the Nazi Party. The dream world conjured up by the events manipulated consciousness and created a second reality, which of course could not change the outside world, but could counteract and control it. [p. 188.]

The Obama/McCain campaigns of 2008 were also products of such dream worlds, the one more masterfully managed and staged than the other. And then the winner encountered the “outside world” and, like King Canute, as the legend goes, he attempted to command its tides to cease. In fact, Canute was making a point for his supporters, that he was only a king and not a miracle worker. Perhaps Obama will be imbued with the same wisdom.

The Republicans, however, seem determined to offer their own Æthelred the Unready to oppose him. Election year 2012 is going to be interesting.

*Providence/Oxford: Berghahn Books: 1996. Edited by Günter Berghaus.

Washington’s Rocket Bombs

Think what you will about George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. After all, you might say, it was written by a lapsed Communist and veteran of the Spanish Civil War (fighting on the Communist-dominated Republican side) and author of the Trotskyite parable, Animal Farm, an apologia for Communism. All of which is true.

But I do believe that had he not died of tuberculosis (1949), he would have become one of the first neo-conservative intellectuals and writers in the West. He had been creeping in that direction ever since the Spanish Civil War, driven by his growing and articulate animus for totalitarianism (born during WWII, during which he saw elements of it in British government domestic wartime policies). This direction could only have ultimately led him to renounce collectivism, but probably have not motivated him to advocate capitalism or found a fresh new political philosophy (as Ayn Rand did, but from a philosophical perspective, and not from a solely political one). In that respect, he was not a profound thinker or philosophical innovator. But he was a first-class and honest observer.

I have always enjoyed reading Orwell’s prose, whether or not I agreed with him on any specific topic. He was such a consciously fine writer, which explains his deceptively effortless style. My favorite essay of his is “Politics and the English Language” (1946).

As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.

Orwell is one of the very, very few writers of the liberal/left who actually respected his readers’ minds and adopted an appropriate policy of writing clearly and stated his intentions and meanings without obfuscation or equivocation.

Humbug, however, is the subject here, and while reading something else, Peter Carl’s six-part essay in The Brussels Journal, “Surviving Islam…and Right/Left Politics: Churchill’s Principle,” caused me to recall the whole “war on terror” coupled with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s hosting of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Washington this week. That was the subject of Clare Lopez’s “Criticism of Islam Could Soon be a Crime in America” on Family Security Matters. This in turn caused me to recall something from Nineteen Eighty-Four, the role of rocket bombs that fell on London. From Part 2, Chapter 5:

The proles, normally apathetic about the war, were being lashed into one of their periodical frenzies of patriotism. As though to harmonize with the general mood, the rocket bombs had been killing larger numbers of people than usual. One fell on a crowded film theatre in Stepney, burying several hundred victims among the ruins. The whole population of the neighborhood turned out for a long, trailing funeral which went on for hours and was in effect an indignation meeting. Another bomb fell on a piece of waste ground which was used as a playground and several dozen children were blown to pieces. There were further angry demonstrations, Goldstein was burned in effigy, hundreds of copies of the poster of the Eurasian soldier were torn down and added to the flames, and a number of shops were looted in the turmoil….

In some ways she [Julia, Winston’s lover] was far more acute than Winston, and far less susceptible to Party propaganda. Once when he happened in some connection to mention the war against Eurasia, she startled him by saying casually that in her opinion the war was not happening. The rocket bombs which fell daily on London were probably fired by the Government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep people frightened’.

The mind works in not entirely mysterious ways.

“Just to keep people frightened.” How appropriate an observation to make about our own government. What have Americans seen since 9/11 but attempts to keep them frightened and pacified? The Department of Homeland Security, the “war on terror” now graduated from hunting down the kamikaze soldiers of Islamic jihad to include anyone who questions government policy (re the National Defense Authorization Act, discussed in a previous commentary, “Portrait of a Police State”), the appeal to snitch on one’s neighbors and friends, the completely useless but very expensive, intrusive, and arrogant TSA, Obamacare and other socialist legislation, the campaign to govern one’s diet and light bulbs, the government’s push to take over the Internet, the campaign to demonize freedom of speech in regards to Islam, the excising of all references to Islam, Muslims and Jihad from official documents and training materials (With whom are we at war? Eurasia or East Asia? Who knows? Terrorists just materialize from a parallel universe, not all the time from Islam, but often on blog sites and newspaper columns and not always about terrorism) – all calculated to keep the public dumbed down, diverted, quiet, misinformed, and in a constant state of semi-fright and anxiety.

They are all Orwellian rocket bombs.

Here is another rocket bomb: U.N. Resolution 16/18, which would “criminalize” any and all kinds of criticism of Islam, whether they are cogent essays or cartoons, will be an effort to utilize “techniques of peer pressure and shaming,” and is endorsed without reservation by Secretary of State Clinton. (These same remarks were repeated virtually verbatim by Daniel Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which also concerns itself with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues, among other earth-shaking matters, at the Compass to Compassion Conference), and a career bureaucrat whose academic curriculum vita includes degrees in every woozy, humanitarian subject imaginable.) After a mountain of fluffy and venal rhetoric, Clinton noted on July 15th of this year, during a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation:

The Human Rights Council [of the U.N.] has given us a comprehensive framework for addressing this issue on the international level. But at the same time, we each have to work to do more to promote respect for religious differences in our own countries. In the United States, I will admit, there are people who still feel vulnerable or marginalized as a result of their religious beliefs. And we have seen how the incendiary actions of just a very few people, a handful in a country of nearly 300 million, can create wide ripples of intolerance. We also understand that, for 235 years, freedom of expression has been a universal right at the core of our democracy. So we are focused on promoting interfaith education and collaboration, enforcing antidiscrimination laws, protecting the rights of all people to worship as they choose, and to use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming, so that people don’t feel that they have the support to do what we abhor.

There is an instance of what Orwell would call the “gumming together of long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.”

By the U.N. resolution, and through “peer pressure and shaming” advocated by our Secretary of State, “Islamophobia” will include these “criminal offenses”: Religious profiling, defamation, vilification, fear-mongering, discriminatory speech, hate speech, intolerance…ad nauseum. The resolution clumps together the antics of Terry Jones of the Dove Outreach Church and his Koran burning with authoritative essays and books by Robert Spencer, Steve Emerson, Ali Hirsi, Ibn Warraq, Pamela Geller, Melanie Phillips, Walid Shoebat, and many other experts on Islam.

The irony is that Islam that is guilty of everything its defenders charge others with. Call it “Westphobia,” or “Speechaphobia,” or “Reasonophobia.” As Pamela Geller put it, truth is the new “hate speech.” That the OIC and the U.N. would go to such lengths to oppose freedom of speech should cause one to ask: What have the Islamists to hide, that they wish to suppress the truth? What don’t they wish others to know? What truths do they not want identified, exposed and spoken and written about?

What they and their companion organizations, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Islamic Circle of America, and other such “civic” outfits, wish to hide is the fact that Islam is antithetical to every rational political concept in the West, that it is totalitarian in nature and in practice, that it is anti-man, anti-life, and anti-value. That it is essentially and incontrovertibly nihilist in theory and in implementation. And that Muslims who are devoted to it are essentially “dead souls,” living ballast in the form of 1.3 billion manqués on which to establish Sharia law and a global caliphate. All those dead souls: Allah owns them – this they know, for the Koran tells them so – to paraphrase Anna Bartlett Warner’s hymn, and they don’t mind.

The OIC gathering in Washington is merely one rocket bomb among others launched by our own government to keep us worried and distracted and always ducking for cover.

As Winston Smith did Part 1, Chapter 8, when a rocket bomb suddenly strikes.

Winston clasped his forearms above his head. There was a roar that seemed to make the pavement heave; a shower of light objects pattered on to his back. When he stood up he found that he was covered with fragments of glass from the nearest window.
He walked on. The bomb had demolished a group of houses 200 meters up the street. A black plume of smoke hung in the sky, and below it a cloud of plaster dust in which a crowd was already forming around the ruins. There was a little pile of plaster lying on the pavement ahead of him, and in the middle of it he could see a bright red streak. When he got up to it he saw that it was a human hand severed at the wrist….

If the government launches this particular rocket bomb, and agrees with the OIC and the U.N. to enforce a ban on “hate speech” in America by statute or by “peer-pressure and shaming,” we will not see anything as prosaic as a severed wrist, but the heads of the champions of freedom of speech, severed at the neck. For the purpose of this particular rocket bomb is not to cause physical destruction and death, but to destroy the mind and establish a reign of living death.

Portrait of a Police State

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

Portion of Emma Lazarus’s poem, “A New Colossus,” for the Statue of Liberty

The chief thrust of this article is that none of this would occur, or even be thought “necessary,” if we had eliminated states that sponsor terrorism after 9/11. But when one reads the text of Senate Bill 1867, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), one gets the impression that many in positions of power and influence, particularly Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, have a vested interest in sustaining an indefinite “war” against terrorism. This would entail establishing, or laying the groundwork for, a police state in which citizens would be lawfully accountable to the state, and not the other way around.

Fundamentally, they have a vested interest in waging a war against America and individual rights. Many sections of the bill are overtures to establish a permanent police state or an authoritarian government. As with many instances of legislation in the past, the bill is chiefly a finance bill, but contains riders, amendments, and sections that have little to do with finance but whose inclusion requires that their authors and sponsors resort to contemptible subterfuge.

One of the consequences of not having properly defended this country from attacks by our enemies – and Islam is certainly an enemy, the strenuous denials of George W. Bush and President Barack Obama to the contrary notwithstanding – is that to defend the country against “terrorism” without taking effective and final action against those enemies, the government must establish a “Fortress America,” or policies which not so much ensure our protection as ensure the survival of the government. What happened to our liberties? They take a back seat. Eventually, they must be thrown from the vehicle of statism.

The Library of Congress inexplicably removed the links I found to the two versions of Senate Bill 1867 (my search was “timed out” and the links no longer work), but I found another one that contains the text of the bill. I have also included separate links to the texts of the notorious Sections 1031 and 1032, which discuss detention of U.S. citizens. These two sections were opposed by some Senators without success. Senators McCain and Levin sponsored the bill and were its principal architects, drafted in secret with not much to-do and only now making its debut. It almost makes one sigh with relief that McCain lost the 2008 election (Was the alternative any better?) The heading of Section 1031 reads:

Sec. 1031. Affirmation of authority of the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Despite assurances in the bill of Constitutional guarantees, the Secretary of Defense and the director of national intelligence may “waive” the inapplicability of Sections 1031 and 1032 to U.S. citizens after leave from Congress to do so. The assurances are merely devious lip service to a document that has been all but gutted of meaning, and to a political philosophy that began to expire with the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. (Some would argue that it began to expire with the first imposition of the draft and income tax under President Abraham Lincoln, but that’s another story.) A paragraph of Section 1032 reads, in relation to the status of American citizens who may or may not be detained by the military:

32. (4) WAIVER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY.—The Secretary of Defense may, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, waive the requirement of paragraph (1) if the Secretary submits to Congress a certification in writing that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States.

From the McCain-Levin bill:

ACT OF TERRORISM- The term `act of terrorism’ means an act of terrorism as that term is defined in section 101(15) of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 101(15)).

The term “terrorism” means any activity that – (A) involves an act that – (i) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and (ii) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and (B) appears to be intended – (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. (16)(A)

The left is up in arms over the bill because Sections 1031 and 1032 do specify that captured or apprehended enemy combatants or agents who happen to be U.S. citizens or legal alien residents, and who have taken “hostile” actions against the U.S., may be detained without trial. The Left is more concerned with that than with the power of waiver granted to the government. Terrorists, apparently, have rights, but not their victims. But terrorists – the homegrown or foreign kind – have forfeited all rights by attacking the government and country that upholds individual rights with the purpose of destroying it and imposing totalitarian rule – whether that rule is Nazi, Communist, Fascist – or Islamic.

Lindsey Graham and other defenders of the bill’s controversial riders referred to the United States as inclusive in a global “battlefield.” On a battlefield, however, there are no rules of combat or engagement. One kills, wounds, or captures as many of the enemy as possible, with all means available. A battlefield is the stage of focused, controlled violence. Graham’s remark was inappropriate, but reveals his estimate of his country and its citizens. His “battlefield” analogy is reminiscent of the propaganda of Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and Fascist Italy, where citizens were constantly reminded that the “battlefield” was their homes, their jobs, their families, their leisure, their churches, their friends, and the enemy anyone who opposed, resisted or questioned the respective ideology.

Not covered by either McCain’s bill or the Homeland Security Act is the subject of war. What is an “act of war” but what is covered in the definition of “terrorism” cited above? Why has our attention been diverted from ‘acts of war” to “acts of terrorism”?

(4) the term “act of war” means any act occurring in the course of —
(A) declared war;
(B ) armed conflict, whether or not war has been declared, between two or more nations; or
C) armed conflict between military forces of any origin;

War would mean armed conflict with the advocates and enablers of another ideology. War means open, armed hostility, not necessarily for the enemy nation’s cultural sum, but for its political ideology. A “war on terrorism,” however, discards the ideology and focuses on the enablers (plotters, foot soldiers, etc.) as though they come from some generic template, and does not declare war on what motivates the plotters, soldiers, and so on. Neglecting to oppose and refute the enemy’s ideology while focusing only on its carriers, propagators and advocates, is futile.

One could say that one cannot be at war with Islam, because Islam, as an ideology, seems to be “stateless.” But, is it? No. Islam is what governs Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Egypt and all of the North African states. Islam is not some disembodied entity that infects individuals and causes them to fly planes into buildings or attempt to suppress freedom of speech. Islam is not the common cold. It isn’t even typhus, or influenza. It is the bubonic plague of the mind.

If Islam declares war on freedom of speech, then it has declared war on an ideology, that is, on the political philosophy that professes and upholds the universality of individual rights. Why is it deemed inappropriate to declare war on Islam? Because it is also a theology? Because it propagates and perpetuates the belief in a supreme being or all-knowing and omnipotent deity? Christianity does that, as well, but Christian doctrine has been boxed in and stripped of the power to enforce its doctrine on all. One may believe in God or not; belief in a deity is immaterial in a society governed by secular law. There are those, of course, who assert that God is the source of all individual rights, but such a position ignores reality; it defies the law of identity and the evidence of the senses, as well.

Islam, however, cannot be boxed in or delimited in its political ambition. Its politics and theology are cut from the same cloth, which is belief without reservation, question, or doubt.

Ayn Rand posited a handy and eminently appropriate characterization of the dichotomy that can be applied to Islam: the Witch Doctor and Attila. The Witch Doctor depends on Attila to impose his mysticism; Attila depends on the Witch Doctor to sanction his reign of force. The Witch Doctor stands for the mystics of the mind – don’t question, doubt, or think, just believe – while Attila is the mystic of muscle – force is the solution to all problems. The Witch Doctor is any imam or mullah or ayatollah or sheik; Mohammad is their ideal Attila. (While Allah, as portrayed by Islamic scholars, is the perfect symbol of the mystics of mind and muscle, a being governed by whims and who is not governed by reality or morality).

It is noteworthy that while the government, on one hand, is bowing to the complaints of Islamic activists (the Council on American-Islamic Relations and its Muslim Brotherhood affiliates) and is culling all references to Islam and Muslims from defense documents and training materials and courses for counter-terrorism, on the other, Senators McCain and Levin do mention Al-Quada and the Taliban in their bill (Section D, 1031). But Al-Quada and the Taliban are nothing if not Islamic organizations, from their burqa tops to the hems of their thawbs.

Put one way, the organizations charged with defending the country against terrorist attacks – the CIA, the FBI, and state and local law enforcement entities – are expected to conduct the “war on terrorism” blindfolded, dizzy from being turned around dozens of times by contradictory orders and criteria, and armed with a stick with which to strike at an empty piñata, which is moved away from them every time CAIR or some other Islamic front organization cries “victim” or “Islamophobia.”

Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) wrote today on his Facebook page that S. 1867 is “one of the most anti-liberty pieces of legislation of our lifetime.” Moreover, Amash maintains that the bill capitalizes on misleading semantics; regarding section 1032 , he says “‘The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.’ This language appears carefully crafted to mislead the public. Note that it does not preclude U.S. citizens from being detained indefinitely, without charge or trial, it simply makes such detention discretionary.”

But, who is defined as a U.S. citizen? And if a U.S. citizen wages war against his own country, should he not be charged with treason? And if he is charged with treason, is he not entitled to the full protection of the Constitution he wished to obviate?

Does the bill genuinely define a belligerent as an individual or “person,” whether or not he is a U.S. citizen, who has taken up arms against the U.S., or has taken actions within its jurisdiction with the purpose of subverting or overthrowing the government or harming its citizens or “infrastructure”? Does it specifically exclude newspaper columnists, writers, satirists, or Internet bloggers, or anyone else who questions the wisdom or morality of government policies?

The six-hundred-plus pages of Senate bill 1867 do not answer these questions. This bill is the kind of legislation that is knocked together in the purgatory of non-objective law and fuzzy, evasive, non-objective thinking.

Another part of the bill, Section 584, “Report on the Achievement of Diversity Goals for the Leadership of the Armed Forces,” is particularly onerous. It does not even define the term “diversity,” but since the term was sired by multiculturalism, one presumes that it means not excluding Muslims from command and advisory roles. There are several “prohibitions” or limitations in the bill, but who or what is to enforce them when the bill grants the executive branch, Congress, and bureaucrats the discretionary power to designate who may or may not be an “enemy of the state”?

The U.S. would not be a “battlefield” had we eliminated states that sponsor terrorism over a decade ago. But the Senate bill underscores the fact that our policies do not now and never will identify the specific enemy. This is the deadly neurosis of a nation that has convinced itself that it is not worthy of self-preservation as a free country, but as just another “unexceptional” country which must turn on its own citizens to preserve the state and not the rights and liberties America was once famous for.

The police state proposed in S. 1867 needs and requires Americans to be tired, poor, and huddled, but not yearning to be free. Like “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” that “beauteous” welfare and regulatory state established early in the 20th century and welcomed by so many, is turning very, very ugly.

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