It still remains the case that there is only one small episode in world history of which America can pretend to be proud... World War Two. By gently ignoring a few small details (like being the first and only country to ever use the atomic bomb, and largely against civilians at that), the nation finds a sense of purpose and reward on the stage of human activity. It is as if in helping rescue the possibly endangered free nations of the world from the tides of fascism and imperialism, the United States has permanently etched its shadow on the pages of history as that of a gentle giant, a friendly agent of human rights, democracy, and freedom.
If only it were so...
America is so often an outsider to the subtleties of world politics. Occasionally we will be in the right place at the right time, but generally we end up being perceived as undereducated, unsophisticated and brutally convinced of the rightness of our ways and acts. We stumble about making enemies instead of friends, killing the innocent instead of protecting them, and destroying farms instead of providing comfort to those in need.
Our record is dotted, to be sure, with outpourings at the popular or political level of support for those in need, at times of natural disaster, for instance. But this pales, these episodes are dwarfed, by our massive and general tendency to promote our moneyed interests (which are no different from those of a any nation, whether they worship at the altar of "capitalism" or not) at any human cost whatsoever.
So, bewitched by memories of our brief place in the sun, our "saving of the world for democracy," buoyed up by the feats and selflessness of the so-called greatest generation, we freely tread upon the lives and lands of the worlds peoples, leaving them no economic or social choice other than to follow our rules. Ever notice how we are always calling the international villain de jour "another Hitler?" It's because we were the heroes then, and we know that if that war ever has to be fought again we will not have to worry about any complex ethical reasoning.
Our response to a recent disaster of fairly predictable proportions has finally replaced the stale and unfashionable bugaboo of international communism with a fresh, and equally vague and menacing, threat to counter in any way the military industrial complex sees fit... international terrorism.
Remember, if you are not with "us," you are with the terrorists. And we have the bigger, smarter bombs; we also have the bigger banks.
Police powers are being increased at home; subtle coercions and pressures are brought to bear overseas. It is only a small step, from "special" treatment for those clearly involved in real terrorist activities, to repression and suppression of those the government deems unsavory for any given reason. Freedom of speech, particularly, is going to come under attack, and it must be defended vigorously against those who think their agenda is more important than the rights of those they choose to consider criminals.
A special class of victims will be created. A class of people accused of involvement with international terrorism, who will be treated with extra-constitutional crudeness. The simple accusation will move them from the general population, who expect to enjoy rights of habeus corpus, trial by jury, public presentation of the evidence against them, and a limit on incarceration without clear charges being brought, to a special group who can plan on enjoying none of these luxuries.
Will middle America care? That remains to be seen. I certainly hope so, though I fear that, as in many other cases of infringements upon human rights here in the U.S., the general population will feel like they are not threatened, since they do not perceive themselves as being endangered, as being labelled "criminals," by these powers usurped by the government under the banner of "the current crisis."
Is it to side with the "terrorists" to complain about the extralegal methods the governments wants to use in its desire to show that it has "done something" to avenge the death destruction in New York? Is it to become "one of them" to demand that everyone (especially at the moment they are accused of a crime) must be treated with care for their rights while the needs of the justice system trundle along? Surely to be accused of criminal activity or complicity is not yet assumed to indicate guilt?
It is terrorism for a government to usurp the power of incarceration, interrogation and guilt by accusation over its citizens. No one should stand for it.
© Huw Powell