Where Are You Heading, America?


The parallels with 1930s Germany are ominous . . .

Have you read the USA PATRIOT Act right through, and examined every one of its amendments to existing legislation? Has anyone done this, apart from its authors and a few agitated souls in media, academia and some Congressional offices? It is 342 pages long, and went through the legislative process of the United States like a hot knife through butter. Senators voted 98 to 1 for the Act, and the House endorsed it by 357 to 56, but not one of those who approved its terms could possibly have had time to read it and cross-reference its details before endorsing it. This was governance by misplaced trust, because the Patriot Act is potentially the most dangerous piece of legislation in US history.

The Act alters 15 Statutes. The prerogatives, personal authority and dominance of the president of the United States have been extended to include drastic and quasi-imperial powers that threaten the liberties of all Americans.

One reason the Patriot Act is worrying for foreigners is that US military expansionism and economic domination are drastically affecting the entire world. What is decided in Washington today is immensely important for every other capital tomorrow. We are all dependent in one way or another on US policies. Therefore it is appropriate rather than impertinent that the rest of the world should comment on US domestic matters that inevitably impact on every person on the globe.

Another reason for concern is that there are alarming echoes of the 1930s, when a semi-elected and eventually-appointed national figure amassed such power as to be unaccountable to the people of his country, and went on to create mayhem and chaos to the extent that the entire world was shaken to its foundations.

You question or deride the notion that there could be parallels between Bush and Hitler? Very well. But please read the Act before you finally make up your mind.

The Patriot Act is hideously reminiscent of the “Decree for the Protection of Nation and State” that became law in Nazi Germany in February 1933. Its provisions were described by John Toland, in his masterly “Adolf Hitler”, as ostensibly innocuous while in practice destroying every reasonable humanitarian right formerly possessed by the German people. There were “Tribunals set up to try enemies of the state”, and Toland observed that Hitler made his legislation (the “Enabling Act”) “sound moderate and promised to use its emergency powers “only in so far as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures”.” Does that sound horribly familiar? And who would decide whether a measure was “vitally necessary”? ” Why, the man wielding total power, of course. (“Trust me!” is ever the cry of the incipient dictator.)

So Hitler”s Decree and the Reichstag”s subsequent Enabling Act were never modified or repealed, because they gave the man who was served by a compliant and intensely patriotic legislature the instruments he needed to keep him in total control. This is the reason for Bush”s energetic campaign to prevent the Patriot Act being subject to the existing “sunset clause” whereby most of its more despotic provisions should lapse next year. It was passed by a compliant and intensely patriotic legislature : will it be repealed by one?

It is far from irrelevant that Hitler was appointed Germany”s Chancellor, in legal accord with the Weimar Constitution, by President Hindenburg in 1933, just as Bush was appointed president of the United States by the Supreme Court in December 2000. Shortly after Hitler came to power the chamber housing the Parliament, the Reichstag, was set ablaze. Hitler thought this an excellent opportunity to consolidate his dominance. As Toland records, he declared : “Now we”ll show them. Anyone who stands in our way will be mown down”. Nobody died in the Reichstag fire, but it was Hitler”s 9-11, and it spawned the Patriot Act of its era.

Hitler”s sweeping Decree provided that “. . . restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the right of assembly and the right of association, and violations of the privacy of postal, communications, and warrants for house-searchers, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.”

The USA Patriot Act also restricts personal liberty “beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed”. Every provision of the 1933 Protection of Nation and State Decree, save that of speech and press freedom, is mirrored in the Patriot Act which permits investigators, without having to show “probable cause”, to obtain a subpoena to search anyone”s personal details held by their library, bank, credit card and insurance companies ” in fact by any organisation or institution that keeps records.

This is Orwell”s Big Brother at work ” but the Act is relished by those who advocate more and more state supervision and investigation of the private lives of ordinary US citizens. The Ashcroft Act (as it should be named) is accepted and even welcomed by countless millions of Americans who are kept totally unaware of its terms.

The Senate and House approved colossal extension of state control without any debate of consequence on the dangers to ordinary people posed by this modern version of the “Decree for the Protection of Nation and State”. Only a tiny number of citizens have the remotest notion of the Act”s contents, because it is the intention of state-control freaks to avoid explanation and to repeat endlessly the mantras that “The Patriot Act defends our liberty” ; “It’s essential law” ; “It’s a law that is making America safer . . . It doesn’t make any sense to scale it back,” all of which comforting slogans were uttered by Bush in the Chocolate Ballroom in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on April 20.

But if an American dares criticize the president in vehement terms, and that fact is recorded in the minutes of a private meeting, then the FBI can place such information on a citizen”s action file. The citizen will never know about this, because the FBI”s subpoena cannot be challenged in court ” and the target, the victim, to put it bluntly, is legally kept in ignorance about its ever being served. How”s that for a slam dunk against civil liberties?

It is not only in the Patriot Act and the Decree for Protection of Nation and State that the regime of Hitler and the administration of Bush strike parallels. There is the business of God :

“God heard the nations, scream and sing and shout :

“God punish England! God save the King!”; And God this, and God that, and God the other thing. “Good God!” said God. “I’ve got my work cut out”.”

And there is no doubt God has got his work cut out, because some of the people who have quoted Him and assured the world that His support for them is their . . . well . . . God-given right, have been somewhat presumptuous in their approaches to the Deity.

Take Hitler, on February 1, 1933 :

“May God Almighty give our work His blessing, strengthen our purpose, and endow us with wisdom and the trust of our people, for we are fighting not for ourselves but for Germany.”

And Bush on January 28, 2003:

“We do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life, and all of history. May He guide us now. And may God continue to bless the United States of America.”

Or Nazi propaganda master Goebbels on December 31, 1938, when he asked “May God hold His hand of blessing over Germany in the future.”

Then there is the serving US army three star general Boykin who announced, without censure by his superiors, that “. . . our spiritual enemy [Islam] will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus”. NBC News reported on October 15, 2003 that “Boykin routinely tells audiences that God, not the voters, chose President Bush. [Boykin asks] : “Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? I tell you this morning [at a prayer meeting] that he”s in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this”.” Politicized to his revolving eyeballs, and energized by militant religious fundamentalism, Boykin would have fitted well into Hitler”s scheme of things. And how many followers does he have in the army?

Doctor Johnson observed pithily that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”, but he might have added that Christian piety is the first recourse of the western politician with tendencies to totalitarianism. It is, after all, a weapon against which it is difficult to argue in a Christian country in which many millions regard the man at the top as little short of a deity. Remember Britney Spears” loyal declaration that “I think we should just trust the president and go along with whatever he says”? This is what many millions of Americans support, without doubt or question.

Just as Hitler rejoiced to the sound of thousands of happily-duped citizens screaming “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!”, so did Bush last week welcome the orchestrated chants of “four more years! four more years!” during his recent political tour, during which the Winona (Wis) Daily News of May 8 reported that : “Hundreds of soldiers from Fort McCoy, all wearing white T-shirts with an American flag on the front, enthusiastically cheered the president, especially his remarks about the war on terror. “I will never relent in bringing justice to our enemies. I will defend the security of America, whatever it takes,” Bush said to enthusiastic chants of “Four More Years!””

Who sent these soldiers to cheer for Bush? Were they on official duty at the time of their attendance at a political function? Who provided transport for them to go to the Republican rally? If Bush visits soldiers on duty, as commander-in-chief, then it is proper they should pay respect to him. And if soldiers want to attend a Republican Party supporters” mass meeting as individuals, that is their right as citizens. But when they are publicly and jubilantly highlighted as soldiers by the organizers of a partisan electioneering jamboree it appears that they are being used in a political propaganda operation, just as was the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Mission Accomplished.

According to the La Crosse Tribune: “Servicemen and women from Fort McCoy filled an entire bleacher section. The soldiers, who wore T-shirts with American flags on the front and the wording, “I am an American soldier” on the back, drew lots of applause from the rest of the crowd. When Larry Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers stopped to let the soldiers sing a line of “America the Beautiful” solo “America, America, God shed His grace on thee” people responded with huge applause.

It”s back to Boykin”s militant God, again, and this time linked with stage-managed, football-game, strident patriotism to get votes for Bush. You might think that the Bush vote-shenanigan was appropriate use of the time of American soldiers (and of US taxpayers” money), but, even if you believe that it was, you may care to bear in mind sinister memories of other places, years ago, when massed ranks of soldiers behaved and chorused in similar fashion.

Have you seen the film of Hitler”s 1934 Nuremberg Rally made by Leni Riefenstahl? (It was a classic of its time. She died last year, aged 101.) The Nazi Storm Troopers wore crisp brown shirts rather than casual white T-shirts, of course, but the same enthusiasm, the same emotional, excited, starry-eyed devotion, was on public display. The army was politicized, and followed the chief politician, the charismatic Adolf Hitler, whose soldiers sang the Horst Wessel Song (“Flag high, ranks closed, the Storm Troopers [Brownshirts] march with silent solid tread”), which is set to the tune of the Christian hymn ‘My God, How Great Thou Art’.

What goes around, comes around, and reappears in the enthusiastic chorus of “America the Beautiful, God shed His grace on thee” by hundreds of happy-clappy, US soldiers at a party political rally arranged to whip up support for a travelling politician. Sure, they were wearing T-shirts, not Brown Shirts, but just like the young Storm Troopers of seventy years ago they cannot differentiate between a commander-in-chief, in which appointment the incumbent is deserving of deference, and a cheapjack gobbet of political slime who was taking them for a ride in the interests of maintaining power. And why should they? How could they? They are, after all, taught to revere the great leader, and when their superiors encourage them to join in politics, who are they to question them? (Orders are orders . . . )

The American author William Shirer lived in Germany in the 1930s, and produced his definitive and terrifying “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” in 1959. Among other things he traces the policy of Hitler regarding the German army in which “it became obvious that Nazi propaganda was making headway . . . especially among the younger officers.” Before Hitler came to power the German defence minister, General Groener, “requested soldiers to refrain from politics and to serve the state aloof from all [political] party strife.” No chance, of course, because Hitler knew he could expect absolute obedience from all sections of the military, to whom he promised glory in patriotic defence of the interests of the Nation.

Hitler relied on the discipline that is instilled in all soldiers to ensure that their loyalty centered on him, and him alone. In an uncanny replay of history, the 21st Century US military is being manipulated through its members” instinctive patriotic feelings to believe that it is Bush and only Bush who can save the nation from unknown horrors. The strategy is identical : link patriotism and religiosity with the loyalty of gullible people who are inherently deferential to authority, or have been encouraged to be so, and you have the recipe for power, especially over those who know nothing about the outside world.

Do you think that the average American is well-informed about the world? It appears not to be the case. In fact it seems that the average American citizen has been thoroughly deceived by the very person they have been taught to revere.

It is terrifying that millions of down-to-earth, ordinary, decent people in the US believe that torture of Iraqis is permissible and even admirable, because of “what happened on 9-11”. Take, for example, one particular supporter of the woman soldier, Lynndie England, who was photographed grinning at a heap of naked Iraqis. The Independent (UK) reported that the justifier of torture was “Mrs Gainor, [a] good-natured woman [in Lynndie England”s home town], who works for an internet company”. She was “even more explicit in her defence of Ms England. She said: “We are not there [in Iraq] for a tea party. We are there because they blew up 5,000 of our people.” She was then asked if she believed Iraq was involved in the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, and replied “They were definitely involved . . . “.”

In that ignorance we see an eerie and disturbing picture of compliance with authority and unquestioning acceptance of what the powerful ones ” the all-knowing, the benevolent, far-sighted Big Brothers of the masses ” desire to be seen as a threat to complacency and normality. It is not just that the figure of 5000 is wildly wrong, it is that the statement “[the Iraqis] were definitely involved [in 9-11]” is contrary to demonstrable fact. But the continual linking by Bush, and his supporting propagandists, of 9-11 with “the just war” on Iraq has convinced half of all Americans, including this poor benighted soccer-mom defender of US torture, that the war on Iraq was necessary to punish those responsible for 9-11. Selling of the attractive lie about Iraqi responsibility for terrorism directed against America has become more urgent since it became obvious that other justifications for war, such as tales of “imminent threat” from nuclear weapons, “thousands of tons of chemical agents” and so forth, have been shown as the product of the Bush administration”s group psychosis, which is defined as “severe mental derangement, especially when resulting in delusions and loss of contact with external reality”.

Enormous damage has been done. Much of the American public now begs to hear such declarations as “I will defend the security of America, whatever it takes” that Bush makes, time after time, to emotional audiences. A cheerleader for torture such as the seriously psychopathic Senator James Inhofe is considered patriotic when he declares “these prisoners [tortured in Abu Ghraib], they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands, and here we’re so concerned about the treatment of those individuals. I am outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human-rights violations while our troops, our heroes, are fighting and dying.” Little wonder Mr and Mrs Average American are attracted to the notion that true patriotism and moral decency are exemplified by the grotesque amorality preached by such as he. Inhofe is in need of urgent psychiatric treatment and a dose of morality therapy, but this does not alter the fact that what he says has a great deal of appeal to a surprising number of people.

The willingness of millions of Americans to believe what is comfortable and good and patriotic, in defiance of evidence that what has been taking place in Iraq is uncomfortable and evil and nationally disgraceful, is shown by the supportive yellow ribbons displayed in the hometown of the grinning sadist, Lynndie England. Direct, undeniable evidence of wickedness is ignored, derided or explained away. The facts are not patriotic ; they are not what America should be about ; they are not NICE; therefore they cannot be accepted. The Nazi propaganda chief, Goebbels, was an expert at such manipulation. He and Inhofe are a lovely pair.

It is in the interests of furthering state control over any population that a threat to the nation be presented and described, repeatedly and in simple terms (soundbites ; quick video clips), with the overlying message that the looming menace can be neutralized and “normality” restored only by constant vigilance and action on the part of a kindly and all-seeing ” and all-powerful ” overlord. Of course it is the responsibility of government to deter, detect and neutralise threats to the citizenry, but it is not the responsibility of government to indulge in willful misrepresentation in order to achieve its aims. Suspension of belief in morality is not usually enforceable. But it can be willingly embraced, just as it was by ordinary, decent people in Nazi Germany, who were encouraged, at first gradually and then by a mighty propaganda campaign, to believe that minor and defenseless nations presented a threat to their personal security and to their country.

Germans lost their freedom, beginning with the Decree for Protection of Nation and State. If the Patriot Act is not repealed, Americans will lose their freedom, too. The parallels with Nazi Germany are too close for comfort.

BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes on military and political affairs. He can be reached through his website www.briancloughley.com


Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.