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This is the season of demystification. What people of my generation never understood about the mass delusions of recent history–Nazism, Stalinism, holocaust, genocide, thought crimes, totalitarian spying–is all becoming crystal clear.
We who grew up since the youth and social justice movements of the 1960s used to ask ourselves: How could the intelligentsia in Germany have been so acquiescent in the 1930s? Could Germans really not have known that mass extermination of Jews was under way? Why didn’t the Jews fight back? Why did they let themselves be annihilated? Why was there nobody able to pinpoint the precise nature of what was happening, until after it was over? How could these things have happened, and could they ever happen again?
Of course they couldn’t happen again! There is no Great Depression now. The world is so much more interconnected, information travels so fast and wide, nothing can remain hidden for too long, there simply isn’t the stomach to embark on mass repression and annihilation of entire peoples, the liberal consensus about protecting human rights is too strong, wealth is so spread out that ordinary people put portfolios before pogroms, too many institutionalized liberal barriers exist to counter a dictator making the world over in his brutal image.
This is what some of us continue to believe.
Evidence doesn’t matter. What we see and read and hear and intuit as about to happen takes secondary place to what our rational faculties tell us about the nature of the modern world.
We are in mass denial, mass psychosis, mass deceit once again.
Have we already forgotten what Adorno and Horkheimer said about the enlightenment always coming to a dead-end? Do we not know that capitalism, after a certain point, always ends in concentration camps? Do we not already have the Hitler of the twenty-first century lording it over the world?
Hitler was not an isolated maniac, a once-in-history occurrence. Hitler is how capitalism purges itself from time to time. It takes itself to its most extreme Darwinian selectivity, makes transparent the brutalities that remain beneath the surface for the most part, until, when the purge is over, people are more than willing to live with those little things they used to complain about the system. What? Wealth and income inequality? No real meaning in life? Liberalism that functions only to paste over the blackest indignities against ordinary workers? Fine, we’ll live with all that. As long as there are no concentration camps, mass deportations, genocide, totalitarian recruitment of all in the spying, snitching, self-destroying venture. Please, just not that!
For there is no doubt that the whole idea behind forcing Bush to the presidency was for America to enter the era of concentration camps, mass deportations, cultural genocide, and the redundant addition of Orwellian, or hard, totalitarianism to its already existing Huxleyan, or soft, totalitarianism, in order to ratchet things up to such a depressing level that mere survival, mere existence as we knew it before apocalypse would become a breath of fresh air.
We are being made to dramatically lower our level of expectations.
Is it still not clear what is happening?
Until a few weeks ago, there was little mention in the media, even in most of its alternative, progressive form, of words like “fascism,” “totalitarianism,” “dictatorship,” “police state,” “martial law,” “genocide,” “concentration camps,” etc. So the dirty work of laying the foundations of the genocidal state occurred in full sight, with open “coverage” by the media.
The entire framework for martial rule under the most extreme conditions of surveillance was allowed to come into existence; and it is happening even as we speak, with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), essentially the president’s nearly 200,000 strong paramilitary, coming into being as the entity that will harbor the brownshirts of this country, and give them license to annihilate common decency.
What is Bush’s sticking point with congress over DHS? That there not be civil service protections for the 170,000 workers that will fall under its jurisdiction. No whistle-blower and freedom of information protections. So if you don’t fall in with whatever it is that they have planned for us, you can be fired immediately–no thirty-day notice! And replaced with any of a legion of workers with fascist sympathies more than happy to embark on the genocide.
The alarm bells are going up now, but it is too late. The dirty work has already been done. It has already been demonstrated what is possible to achieve with one orchestrated “attack.” Wait till the next bioterror “attack,” or anything using “weapons of mass destruction” is orchestrated, and every dissenting voice will shut up. Then the brownshirts will go into action.
Two things above all are necessary to complete the genocidal state. The national ID card, which will be unlike anything anyone’s ever seen or dreamed of. Eventually, every fact about your life–where you travel, who you speak with on the phone, what government aid you have received that you were or were not qualified for, what books you read, what magazines you subscribe to, what organizations you belong to, how much money you have and what bills you’re behind on, what diseases you’ve been treated for or are susceptible to–will potentially be instantly available. So if you’re stopped by the police–and the line between police and intelligence and military is being blurred to nothingness–and you’ve ever done anything that as a good bourgeois following the lines of responsible capitalist living you ought not to have done, you’re in trouble.
This national ID card is coming. If nothing else, as soon as the second massive “attack” occurs, its execution will go into overdrive. As a sidenote, one of the companies eager to assimilate every known bit of data available to American corporations about the trivialities of your life–which are not so trivial anymore when the spooks are putting everything into a profile of terrorists, or dissidents, which are now one and the same thing–is Choicepoint, the same company that illegally purged tens of thousands of black voters in Florida under Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris’s patronage.
Second, the military must be allowed to supersede civilian authority–in “emergencies” of course, except that the state of emergency, as in all dictatorships, will become permanent. The second “attack” will be the excuse to let the military take over. We’ve already heard that the military will monitor the 2002 and 2004 elections, that it will “quarantine” people in case of bioterrorism, that it should have, according to Tom Ridge, shoot-to-kill and arrest powers. Senator Biden agrees that the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which forbids military involvement in civil affairs, ought to be subject to review. The idea has already been put forth. It is as good as accepted doctrine. The Northern Commander, General Ralph Eberhart, is for scrapping the Posse Comitatus Act as we know it. The Northern Command, functioning with the new DHS, will take us to Stalinist Russia, Hitlerian Germany.
What they want to do more than anything else is an excuse to search people’s homes, go door to door, ask for everyone’s papers, make anyone who fits the “terrorist” or dissident profile disappear without a trace, as they already have been doing on a small, preparatory scale.
The East German style TIPS (the Terrorist Information and Prevention System) program will recruit more than a million service workers–phone, gas, mail, delivery people–to send in tips about suspicious people or activities to the government. What is suspicious? If I read books on terrorism to write a scholarly article, I’m suspect. The librarian or bookstore owner is already being forced to turn over this information. Millions of “tips” about suspicious people will end up in a permanent database, to be used as and when necessary.
We wonder about the Germans, how could they not have known? Today, millions of people of Arab and South Asian and Islamic origin walk the streets of America, sometimes even in distinctive garb or identifying marks, not knowing what is to befall them. Will some of them end up in concentration camps, perhaps in Arizona on the U.S. border? Will they be among the mass roundups that will result in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of people? Will mother be separated from child, husband from wife, and will many do so with some degree of willingness to preserve their own life?
The Bush administration fought hard to replace a liberal member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights with a hard-right ideologue. This same Peter Kirsanow now says that in the event of a second attack–which we’ve already been assured is inevitable–Korematsu (the Supreme Court decision of 1944 upholding the internment of Japanese Americans) would make a comeback, that there would be no civil rights for certain ethnic or religious groups.
There, he’s already said what’s on everyone’s mind. Now do we wonder why the Jews didn’t leave Germany? Why the Japanese in California professed patriotism to the end, thinking it couldn’t happen to them?
Absolutely every immigrant is deportable now, even if you have never done anything to break the law. Ashcroft says that all non-citizens are to report a change of address within 10 days, or face deportation. Even if you follow this procedure, will the INS admit to having received the notification, if you’re among those targeted for deportation?
Those who believe that an American attack on Iraq will be enough to soothe the military beast, and that a second “attack” on America itself will not be orchestrated, are sadly mistaken. An attack on Iraq will come, but that doesn’t necessarily let the military take over this country, it doesn’t allow the national ID card plan to go full-speed ahead.
Skeptics wonder if the Bush administration will not open itself up fatally to the charge of a second major lapse in intelligence if they allow a second, even bigger 9/11 to occur. That’s already been taken care of. They’ve told us that a second, bigger attack is inevitable and we’ve accepted it. The anthrax perpetrator has been suspected for months, including now by the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof–as a dangerous man with white supremacist sympathies working at a military biodefense lab–and there has been no outrage about the FBI’s failure to expose him. No, the remnants of liberal opposition will fall quickly in line to defend the homeland. They will not want to subject themselves to the charge of engaging in “conspiracy theory,” just as they’ve failed to see all the evidence pointing to the first one.
We wonder why in Germany and China and Russia neighbor snitched upon neighbor, parents and siblings sacrificed each other to preserve their own lives, people refused to see what was happening in front of their eyes to maintain their sanity. Is it still mysterious? Does one not find oneself hoping for an attack on Iraq–even though all scenarios lead to a nuclear or chemical weapons exchange of some sort, thereby leading to calamity for the people of that region–in order that we the privileged liberals in the U.S. may be spared concentration camps for a while? We used to wonder how the most civilized nations could tumble seemingly overnight into utter darkness.
We wonder how a mother could have made a choice between children, to send one to the gas chamber only in order to preserve the other for a while. It won’t be long before we snitch on our closest and dearest ones to save our own skins for a while.
We will be afraid to think dangerous, political thoughts, since thought has already been criminalized. It matters who you speak to, what you read, what you write–and so thought must shut down for four or eight or twelve years, until the beast has gone into retreat and it is safe to come out into the open. We will watch ourselves, in O’Brien’s final imperative, to the extent that we will stop believing what we believe, what we see in front of our eyes, so that two plus two is never four, only what the rulers tell us. The boldest amongst us, used to thinking of ourselves as heroic and invincible, will be like lambs.
That is all coming, and if you don’t see that, then–well, maybe it will be all right in the end, and we will come away mostly unscathed.
Anis Shivani studied economics at Harvard, and is the author of two novels, The Age of Critics and Memoirs of a Terrorist. He welcomes comments at: Anis_Shivani_ab92@post.harvard.edu