What better day to mourn our old republic than Memorial Day? Proclaimed by Civil War veterans in 1868 to commemorate the dead, today it evokes memories of past conflicts and those that are ongoing – all of which were (and are) the catalysts of this country’s degeneration into an empire.
Yes, all of them, including especially World War II, the “good war” which even “antiwar” liberals valorize. It was that conflict that globalized the ambitions of our political class and put us on the road to empire. It was the one in which the modern precedent for outrageous incursions on our civil liberties was set: the mass internment of Japanese-Americans (and, yes, Germans and Italians), censorship of the press, and the series of “sedition” trials that targeted war opponents on the right as well as the left (which even the American Civil Liberties Union made no effort to oppose).
The parallels with our own time are myriad: even as we observe this solemn holiday with barbecues and self-congratulatory parades, the Senate has just finished debating the extension of key elements of the “Patriot” Act, that “most unpatriotic of acts,” enacted at the peak of the post-9/11 hysteria. Section 215 of the Act has been interpreted by the government (and its Star Chamber known as the “FISA court”) to allow for the mass collection of Americans’ electronic communications and phone data: in effect, universal surveillance without an individual warrant.
While there is still a chance the Senate will renew these provisions, including Section 215, before the deadline passes, that was made unlikely thanks to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and a group of two other Republicans and eight Democrats who effectively filibustered. Every American who values liberty and longs for the revival of the republic our forefathers left to us owes the Senator a huge “Thank you!” I’ve been critical of Sen. Paul, but in this very important case he deserves unequivocal praise and support.
Of course, the real hero of this rearguard action against the new authoritarianism is Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who risked his life and liberty to reveal our government’s crimes against the Constitution. That he still is forced to live in exile in Russia is proof enough that the task of taking our country back from the War Party is very far from over.
We can fight a rearguard action against the assault on the Constitution, and even win a battle here and there, but we cannot defeat them unless the motive power of their victories is cut off – that is, as long as America’s foreign policy of perpetual war continues unabated.
This is the source of the malign energy that gave – and continues to give – the new authoritarianism its legitimacy and power. At the height of the post-9/11 madness, the answer to every objection to the Patriot Act and its successors was “Don’t you know there’s a war on?” Andrew Sullivan and his fellow “war bloggers” were particularly fond of this retort: it was supposed to silence us dissenters, and send us, shame-faced, into the shadows. And it did, to a large extent – except on this web site, of course. Those few who spoke out, like Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag, were pilloried by the War Party for expressing any doubts about our elevated moral status as a nation. The left – or what passes for it today – was silenced, while on the right the militarist spirit went virtually unopposed but for Ron Paul and those few libertarians (and paleoconservatives) who refused to kneel before the altar of the war god.
Those dark times seem far away, but rest assured they could return in an instant. We are but one terrorist attack away from their recurrence – with consequences that would make the immediate post-9/11 era look like a libertarian paradise.
One thing is all too clear this Memorial Day: we’ve learned nothing from the past. Our armies continue to occupy foreign lands, while our drones torture those we have yet to invade. The blowback from these murderous expeditions is bound to be felt in the “homeland,” and so we’ve set up an entire department of government, with a huge and ever-growing budget, devoted to deflecting the blows aimed at us. Has there ever been a greater admission of guilt on the part of any aggressor?
If we continue on this course, the future isn’t hard to predict. Sooner or later one of those blows will hit us again, perhaps in a way that will prove more devastating than 9/11 – and that will signal the beginning of the end. The end, I mean, of constitutional government in America: the end of the Founders’ dream and the beginning of a long slide into the abyss of tyranny. We’ll retain the forms of republican government, minus the content, and the Constitution will still be kept under glass as a relic to be worshipped but not observed.
Yet there is hope. The American people are not quite the sheep many of the most embittered dissenters imagine them to be. Sure, they go about their own concerns, mostly indifferent to alarms rung by people such as myself: they like their pleasures and are not easily aroused. But once they are aroused – watch out!
I am reminded of the words of that old prophet of doom, Garet Garrett, who wrote at the end of his prescient polemic, Rise of Empire (1951), the following words:
“What you have to face is that the cost of saving the Republic may be extremely high. It could be relatively as high as the cost of setting it up in the first place, one hundred and seventy-five years ago, when love of political liberty was a mighty passion, and the people were willing to die for it.”
I hope it doesn’t come to that, but if it does – well, then so be it.
No, I don’t want it to come to that, but it very well may. That’s why I’ve devoted a good part of my adult life to this web site and the cause it champions: opposition to our foreign policy of relentless aggression and its domestic corollary, the steady erosion of the Bill of Rights. I don’t want to be a revolutionary, at least in the literal sense: I’d much rather be out in the back yard this Memorial Day barbecuing, as opposed to writing subversive tracts such as this.
Unfortunately, these days it is subversive to be a traditionalist who reveres the legacy of the Founders. It’s considered treasonous, as I discovered when it was revealed that the FBI was – and maybe still is – investigating me because of what I write and what I believe.
When I found out about that investigation I literally cried: I laid down on my bed and sobbed for a good twenty minutes, uncontrollably and unashamedly, as my astonished and bewildered significant other looked on. I cried for what has been lost.
But I didn’t let my sorrow stop me from fighting back: indeed, it redoubled my determination to fight – and win.
But I can’t win if I’m fighting all by myself. I need your help to win this battle. Antiwar.com can’t exist in a vacuum: we must have the support of our readers if we’re going to continue. And you know that a site such as this has never been more necessary than it is now.
Our Spring fundraising drive is about midway through, and the going is rather slow. We’re getting lots of donations, perhaps more than ever, but the amounts are noticeably smaller. We are grateful beyond words for every penny, yet we must make our fundraising goal or else face draconian cutbacks that will have a deleterious and very obvious impact on our coverage.
No, we don’t have any eccentric billionaires paying our bills, and for that I’m actually grateful: I don’t think either myself or the rest of the Antiwar.com staff would take too kindly to being told what to write and what to cover. That is the price we’d have to pay for foregoing these fundraisers, and it’s far too high for us to even consider it.
We really need to pick up the pace of our fundraising, and soon, if we’re going to avoid what could be bad news for the many thousands of readers who have come to depend on this site for the real news about our endless “war on terrorism.” Your donation is one-hundred percent tax-deductible – and isn’t that a good enough reason to divert a portion of your involuntary contribution to the war machine to the cause of peace?
Yes, the war clouds are gathering and the vultures are circling overhead – but all is not lost. Help us keep the spirit of hope alive – make your donation today.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.