- You remember watching all those "Nazi holocaust"
films, most of which focused on the question of the moral culpability of
the German people. "Why didn't these people do something? Couldn't
they see what was going on all around them? How can they pretend they didn't
know what the Nazi regime was doing?" Implicit in such questions has
been a condemnation of most Hitler-era Germans for not standing up to say
"no!" to this vicious regime. A Jewish friend of mine went so
far as to tell me, a couple years ago, that he thought every adult German
from those years should have been tried for complicity in the murder of
millions of people.
- I have never been an advocate of "collective guilt."
But then, I have never been an advocate of collectivism of any sort. As
with lynching gangs, riots, voting, or other forms of mob behavior, individuals
bear the responsibility for their actions. You and I are responsible for
what we do not because some statute, or religious or philosophical doctrine
tells us we are, but because we are free to make choices and to act upon
those choices. I am responsible for what I do in the same sense that a
tornado can be said to have been responsible for destroying Smith's barn.
- This raises the question of whether any of us has an
obligation to act with respect to others? "Obligation" and "responsibility"
are words that tend to be used interchangeably in our culture, but the
former is prospective in nature, while the latter is retrospective. Thus,
I may be said to have an "obligation" to perform contracts to
which I have agreed and, upon having so performed, it can be said that
I was "responsible" in my actions.
- Returning to the Nazi Germany example, did any of the
German people have an obligation to at least speak out against Hitler's
vicious practices? And even if they had no obligation to do so, why did
so few undertake such a course? There would certainly have been great risks
associated with doing so, potential costs that probably did more to account
for the silence of most Germans than did some alleged venal or heinous
trait in their character. We need not engage in abstract speculation nor
visit elderly Rhinelanders to explore this question. We have a ready laboratory
in our midst - comprised of most of our friends and relatives, neighbors,
coworkers, and members of the media - to whom this question can be addressed.
The same issues that were placed before the German people in 1933 are now
before us, and our grandchildren may one day implore us to explain our
silence in the face of a vicious tyranny.
- It will do you no good to plead the statist's claim that
the current totalitarian structures and unilateral war against the entire
world were occasioned by events of September 11th. Just as Adolf Hitler
was able to convert the burning of the Reichstag into the raison d'être
for his militaristic campaigns and domestic police-state, George Bush has
been exploiting the World Trade Center attacks to advance a political agenda
that goes far beyond the brutalities of early September. The neoconservatives
- the "neocon-men" of this coup - have engaged themselves in
a tireless campaign, fueled by self-righteous absolutism, to fashion upon
Americans a police-state transcending that of Abraham Lincoln.
- Secret trials by military tribunals, from which there
would be no right of appeal; the close monitoring of people's telephone
and Internet communications, banking and medical records, and credit card
purchases; the power of an imperial president, usurped from Congress, to
declare war on whomever it fits his momentary fancy to attack; the threatening
of those who dissent from any of Mr. Bush's policies; the creation of a
"Homeland Security" cabinet post - whose very name recalls a
preoccupation with "the Fatherland"; and an increasing irrelevance
of Congress in the development of government policy - other than to rubber-stamp
Mr. Bush's proposals; fail to arouse much interest from most Americans.
- There is scarcely a pip being squeaked anywhere in the
major media over any of this. Having exhausted their intellectual capital
on the Monica Lewinsky and Chandra Levy scandals, they have done very little
questioning of these statist programs. Television news and commentary programs
are replete with retired military officers, pro-government "think-tank"
careerists, and flag-waving journalists whose entire discourse centers
around such peripheral matters as when to attack Iraq, how many troops
to send to which countries, or whether those accused of "terrorist"
acts should have any legal "rights" accorded them! Try turning
on any of these programs, or peruse any of the major newspapers, and see
if Noam Chomsky, or Alexander Cockburn, or Lew Rockwell, or Gore Vidal,
or any other focused critics of this well-organized sociopathology ever
appear. The major media has served as little more than the cheering section
for this exercise, a role that confirms, as Chomsky and others have long
noted, their incestuous relationship with the political establishment.
- A clue as to how all of this was going to unfold was
offered by President Bush shortly after September 11th. The American response
was labeled "Operation Enduring Freedom." When politicians start
speaking of "freedom," it means that greater restrictions are
about to be imposed on our lives, just as stated intentions of "peace"
mean that war is about to be declared. In much the same way, legislation
designated as "fair" tells us that someone is going to have their
liberties curtailed, or appeals to "justice" will generate a
redistribution of violence. One must understand that politicians and state
functionaries always corrupt the meaning of language. When I was a youngster,
World War II was conducted by the "War Department." But after
the war, when the political establishment embarked upon a crusade to take
over the world, that agency's name was changed to the "Defense Department."
- As Messrs. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft - for
whom the sentiments of individual liberty are about as alien as vegetarianism
is to a hungry lion - speak of "freedom," be assured that more
government agents are being put in place to spy upon and control your life.
Of course, most Americans have been conditioned to accept the view that
"freedom" is a condition defined by the state; that as long as
one is obedient to governmental authority, they will stay out of trouble.
By this definition, "freedom" has always existed everywhere:
one was "free," in 1938, to stand on a street corner in Germany
and praise Hitler, or to laud Stalin on the streets of Moscow (particularly
as the Soviet's Constitution, modeled after the American's, protected such
- Lest you dismiss my words as hyperbole, let me direct
your attention to a most revealing book, written by Milton Mayer, titled
They Thought They Were Free. In the late 1940s, Mayer went to Germany and
got to know a number of German people quite well, actually living with
some. These people had not been government officials or Nazi party leaders,
but just the ordinary men and women who do the productive work in any society.
He eventually began asking them questions about what it was like to have
lived under the Nazi police state, to have endured tyrannical practices.
Their virtually unanimous responses, as indicated by the title of the book,
were that there had been no loss of freedom in Germany that, indeed, they
had considered themselves "free" at all times!
- Our experience with Nazi holocaust films may cause us
to shake our heads in disbelief over such revelations - after all, Nazism
has come to symbolize as heinous a form of tyranny as we can imagine. But
how different is our mindset from that of the Germans who, in 1933, watched
as their police state was rapidly put into place and who, fifteen years
later, could not imagine that anything untoward had taken place?
- We have watched as foreign citizens have been transported
to a military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be indefinitely detained
by an American government that doesn't even hold out the hope of a trial
to determine the justification for their incarceration. Now we are watching
American citizens being charged as "combatants" and held at a
military base in New Jersey on grounds about which even U.S. government
officials have expressed uncertainty. Who will be next? Will the censoring
spirit of White House spokesman Ari Fleischer - who warned us all that
we had better watch what we say - pervade the entire political establishment,
criminalizing not only open dissent, but the failure to become enthusiasts
for whatever policy Mr. Bush wishes to announce?
- The same question is before you as most of us have sought,
from the advantages of hindsight, to place before the German contemporaries
of Hitler: what didn't you know, and why didn't you know it? Why were you
not aware of the implicit nature of the system being constructed before
your very eyes? Why did you not object?
- Far too many of us fail to see our interconnectedness
with one another; of how an attack upon the lives and liberties of others
is an attack upon the social bonds that not only make society possible,
but express our very humanity. What you and I have in common with each
other and with everyone else on this planet is a need to mutually protect
one another's individuality. All political systems thrive on collectivism,
but liberty is dependent upon a shared love and respect for the inviolability
of one another.
- As we watch our neighbors being dragged off to distant
military bases to be held, without public trials, for untold periods of
time, let us recall earlier regimes that transported people to isolated
government facilities, for which little protest was heard. Let us also
recall the poignant words of the German Pastor Martin Niemoller, which
have particular meaning today:
- In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I
didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade
unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then
they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.
- In years to come, when Americans have managed to put
an end to their collective insanity and rediscover what it is like to live
in peace and freedom with one another in a society capable of producing
life-sustaining values, you may be asked by your grandchild: "what
was it like back then, living under a police state? What did you do?"
How will you answer her?
- Butler Shaffer teaches at the Southwestern University
School of Law.
- Copyright © 2002 LewRockwell.com
- From Harry Mason
- Dear Butler Shaffer,
- Excellent piece of scribing !!! Very glad to see not
all in the USA have been taken in by the madmen. Since 911, I have lost
several American friends by sending them my own and others writings on
911 containing our observed outpoints w.r.s.t. the Bush establishment-media
9/11 and subsequent scenarios.
- It has seemed that normally highly-intelligent and rational
men have been completely brainwashed (peer pressure & subliminal TV
mind warp???) into a blind acceptance of the Bush establishment-media
views of 911 and their warped vision of the future path for "western
- In the USA today, the Bush establishment-media seem
able to push populist buttons with a perverted idea of "patriotism"
to gain enforcement of the lemmings - not one of whom can bear to be thought
of by his neighbours as un-patriotic - which in practise appears to mean
total acceptance of the "party line".
- Personally, I call it "Parrotism" since it
bears no resemblance to the Oxford English Dictionary definition of patriot
= "one who exerts himself to promote the well-being of his country;
one who maintains his country's freedom or rights"... Or, the 18th
century variation = "a factious disturber of the government - hence
Irish Patriot" (in the then English viewpoint). As the late great
Dr Johnson put it: "patriotism - is the last refuge of a scoundrel".
- As I see it guys like you, who raise the basic issues
and ask the right questions, are the true patriots - "maintaining
their country's freedoms" - whilst the herd are busy helping dismantle
what little freedoms you have left. There is a strange Jonathon Swift
"Gulliver's Travels" style logic to this comedy show of "patriots"
lining up to help the "Commander in Chief" enslave them under
the heel of the Federal Reserve shareholders.
- Why does it concern me ??? Because if you are first,
then we are next, and the planet is lost.
- Meanwhile, in Australia, and in many other countries
around the globe, there has been an increasing groundswell of contempt
by many for the Bush establishment - which unfortunately is spreading
by association and default to include all of the US population. Ordinary
persons have remarked that Bush & Co "need to be indicted for
war crimes against humanity (Afghanistan)", "be put up against
a wall and shot", and "The USA is in exponential rate self-destruct
mode". You and we are told in the media that Australia is the
USA's closest friend and ally, yet on the street in OZ, the Bush government,
& the USA in total, are increasingly regarded as the greatest threat
to World peace EVER, and 99% of my very wide social circle say "not
in my name" to PM Johnny Howard's claims that we are ALL behind the
USA's latest outbreak of violent international behaviour. We ARE behind
you in a desire to remove this fascist clique before they stuff up yet
more lives - yours and ours.
- Even here in OZ it is hard to stand up and openly cry
WOLF - for fear of establishment reaction. I know only too well from visits
over the years to the USA the levels of paranoia re doing the same thing
there and post 9/11 it must be a very real hurdle to individual action.
- Therefore, I take my hat off to you and salute you for
your bravery and your insight. Good Luck USA - that's the decent thinking
self-determined humanitarian citizens - the forces of darkness shall not
prevail - wherever they live - especially those within the Federal Reserve
- Best Regards,
Harry Mason Perth,