Monday, October 23, 2006

Suppose it were true?

What would happen if America went fascist?

There are those who assert for the millionth time that it couldn’t possibly happen here in the Land Of The Free. Then there are others who say that it has already happened and that the only difference between present-day America and Hitler’s Germany is that the ruling class is wearing designer suits instead of jackboots and armbands.

The parallels between Germany in the mid-1930's and the current New World Order are certainly disquieting to say the least. A leader who was appointed by high government functionaries rather than popular vote, the destruction of a prominent national landmark, in Germany’s case the Reichstag, in ours the World Trade Center, the domination of all branches of government by one party, and finally, the passage of a body of law intended to revoke all civil liberties at the leader’s whim.

Suppose it’s true? Is history repeating itself? Or is something bigger and more frightful in store?

Germany in the 1930's was a powerful, highly-advanced industrial country. Even so, it was minuscule compared to the United States, a typical European state roughly the size of the American state of Wisconsin. Hitler doubtlessly needed allies like Italy’s Mussolini and Spain’s Franco to get his war machine going. The United States is the strongest military power on the planet, with permanent bases on every continent. Alliances can’t hurt, but America is more than capable of going it alone (or going off half-cocked) if it so chooses.

Hitler had primitive versions of what we would now call ballistic missiles, but only conventional warheads for them to carry. America has had nuclear weapons for over 60 years. A fascist dictator in Washington could use the leverage of nuclear terror to get every other nation on the planet to do its bidding. Or he could nonchalantly nuke any nation which he viewed as an obstacle to his plans for world domination, or as a plum target for conquest.

World War II occurred in a world where the primary modes of telecommunication were telephone, telegraph, radio and on rare occasions, television in its infant stages. Business and government records were authored in handwriting or on typewriters. The Internet was a good four decades off. Computers and databases as we now know them did not exist. What the Nazis did have was mechanical devices which sorted punched paper cards (supplied throughout the war to Germany by IBM). They were used by the Nazis to hunt down and round up victims for the death camps and also at the death camps to oil the machineries of genocide. Every Nazi death camp had what we would now call an IT department. With the total information awareness now made possible through electronic information gathering, it’s easier than ever for the state to not only identify its opponents but to attack them without firing a shot or even drawing attention. All you have to do is get a little dirt on your opponents and quietly blackmail them into submission or exploit a little-known medical condition of theirs, or set up a trap based upon your target’s desires, character traits and weaknesses - the possibilities are endless.

Chemical warfare has been around since at least World War I when chlorine, phosgene and “mustard gas” were popular weapons of mass destruction. If Hitler had had the one-whiff-and-you’re-a-stiff nerve agents of the kind recently employed by Saddam Hussein or stockpiled by our own military, it’s safe to say that the outcome of World War II might have been a lot different. Biological warfare in the 1940's had not advanced much beyond the 18th century technique used by English colonists to wipe out native-North Americans by giving them blankets which had been used by smallpox patients. With today’s genetic engineering techniques it is now possible to engineer a so-called “ethnic” pathogen for use against any specific target population.

If America is indeed rocketing down the same path as Hitler’s Germany, the stakes are going to be much, much higher than in World War II. The threat is not only to basic civil liberties, but to the very character of world civilization, if not to human survival itself. There is no longer an opposing superpower to make American leaders think twice about militaristic adventures. In short, if America does come under classic fascism, the threat to ourselves and the world is going to be many orders of magnitude greater than it was even during the darkest days of the second World War in which it appeared as though the Axis powers might win.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A new dirty war, right here in America.

By now, some of us have heard of The Military Commissions Act of 2006 which President Bush recently signed into law, giving him the right to pretty much kidnap and detain indefinitely anyone who he doesn’t like, without due legal process. Everyone from Federal judges on down has denounced this new law as a great leap backward toward the kind of barbarism we normally associate with Latin-American dictatorships, or fascist Europe during World War II.

I wonder, are These United States really getting ready to emulate Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, or Argentina during the notorious Dirty War of the mid-70's? Are our federal courts so heavily infested with Federalist-Society members and other radical rightists that they actually would uphold what amounts to the wholesale repeal of not only the Bill of Rights, but the rule of law itself? Is it really time to load our muskets or hastily pack a suitcase and get on a plane for anywhere-but-here? Or is there something a little more insidious going on here? Something more mundane and cynical?

Legal challenges to The Military Commissions Act are inevitable. Pro-democracy organizations like the ACLU, People For The American Way and will certainly mount them, and soon. I have a hard time believing that Congress actually wants to turn America into a Stalinesque terror-state, not to say that it couldn’t happen. But I think the real reason for passing this almost absurdly totalitarian law is to sap the financial and manpower resources of the ACLU, PFAW, etc. for years to come by keeping them busy fighting what I believe will prove to be a patently unconstitutional and unenforceable piece of legislation. What does Congress plan to whip on us while the freedom lobbies are distracted? An end to the 8-hour day and the minimum wage? Heaping content restrictions upon our mass media to the point where innovators and dissenters merely give up rather than face financial ruin? Casting in stone the buying and selling of members of congress like so many pork bellies?