A Fearful Master

“Government is not reason,” George Washington reputedly said, “it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” The fear factor works both ways: the present administration has spent a great deal of time and energy on scaring us half to death with tales of imminent terrorist attacks – especially around election time – but they, in turn, stand in fear of their own subjects, particularly the ones in uniform. That is why the Pentagon is now censoring the Internet, declaring certain Web sites – including those of some major news organizations – off limits to military personnel. Check out this e-mail from a U.S. soldier in Iraq (via Wonkette):

“Just to let you know, the US Marines have blocked access to ‘Wonkette’ along with numerous other sites such as personal email (i.e. Yahoo, AT&T, Hotmail, etc), blogs that don’t agree with the government point of view, personal websites, and some news organizations. This has taken effect as of the beginning of February. I have no problem with them blocking porn sites (after all it is a government network), but cutting off access to our email and possibly-not-toeing-the-government-line websites is a bit much.

“Initially all web blocking was done locally at the hub sites in Iraq. If you wanted a site ‘unblocked’ you just had to email the local administrator with a reason (like, ‘I’d like to read my email, please.’), and if it wasn’t porn or offensive, they’d allow it. Now, all blocking is done by desk-weenies at the USMC Network Operations Center in Quantico, VA, who really don’t care if we get our email (or gossip) out here, as they get to go to happy hour after working 9 to 5 and go home to a nice clean, warm home with a real bed! (Sorry, I’m a little peeved.)”

So, we’re fighting for “freedom” in Iraq – according to George W. Bush and those desk weenies over at The Weekly Standard – but we don’t practice what we preach when it comes to our own enlisted personnel. America’s fighting men and women aren’t just being asked to sacrifice their physical well-being, including possibly their very lives, but their freedom, too.

I suppose it’s possible to justify anything under the rubric of “military discipline,” but one can’t help thinking that the impetus for this clampdown was a noticeable uptick of antiwar dissent within the ranks. That recent poll reporting that over 70 percent of our troops on the ground in Iraq want us out by the end of the year shocked even me: it must have sent the boys in the Pentagon into gibbering conniptions.

Yes, the whole world is afraid of the U.S. military – and that includes our rulers in Washington, who stand in such fear that their armed servants will discover the truth about this rotten war that they have resorted to censoring the Internet. Hey, what is this – Red China?

Actually, it’s worse: the Chinese Reds block access to the kooky cultists of Falun Gong and Western accounts of the Tiananmen Square massacre: the range of what’s forbidden is relatively narrow compared to the broad restrictions described above.

I don’t know that Antiwar.com is among the blocked sites, but I’m assuming it is: I often get letters from U.S. military personnel, but none, suspiciously, directly from Iraq. Hmm… At any rate, perhaps someone reading this will write in to correct me, but if we aren’t among the censored sites I’d be very much surprised.

The Zogby poll of U.S. soldiers in Iraq noted that 77 percent said they also believe the main or a major reason for the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al-Qaeda in Iraq.” What happens when they discover that this is a lie?

The War Party can’t afford to take chances with the body of armed men and women that is the source of their power, and it is no wonder they are doing their best to shield the troops from the truth. Because when our soldiers discover how and why they were lied into war, and when most of them are on their second and even their third tour of duty in Iraq, they are bound to get pretty angry – and who knows but that they just might decide to do something about it.

That is every ruling class’s worst nightmare: the day their own servants turn against them. When that happens, we call it a revolution.

It’s funny, but the minute some obscure blogger in some godforsaken Third World hellhole with no tradition of civil liberties is shut down by the authorities, the entire blogosphere is up in arms, firing off outraged e-mails of protest. And when Google compromised with the Chinese government’s attempts to censor search engine results within its territory, the outcry was immediate. Yet we hear nary a peep out of these prophets of cyber-freedom when it comes to the efforts of their government to limit American citizens’ access to the Internet.

Gee, why am I not surprised that Glenn Reynolds, Roger L. Simon, and all the rest of the Usual Suspects have yet to leap to the defense of an American soldier’s right to surf the Internet unconstrained by meddling desk weenies? Why has the usually voluble Christopher Hitchens said nothing about this outrage? Doesn’t he support our troops?

And what about those desk weenies in Congress, you know, the ones who gave George W. Bush a blank check to wage a war based on a lie. Oh, but we didn’t know they were lying, our congresscritters cavil: they had us fooled! Then why, one hastens to ask, do they sit passively by while the U.S. government prevents its own citizens from learning the truth?

There is no way the warlords of Washington – or any government – can control the Internet. This is true because of the nature of the technology, and also because the very act of forbidding something makes it attractive – especially to Americans, a cantankerous and inherently anarchic people who don’t like being told what they can or cannot know.

Our rulers live in constant fear: of exposure, of rebellion, of the sudden realization on the part of their subjects that the game is rigged in favor of a self-perpetuating elite. One day, the people simply refuse to go along with the rules and start breaking them en masse: it happened to the Soviet Empire, and it can happen to us.

Of course they’re trying to interfere with access to the Internet – I’m only surprised they are limiting their efforts to military personnel in Iraq. After all, the Pentagon has come up with a program to counteract the power of the Internet to spread the truth about this rotten war, appropriately dubbed “fight the net,” including the development of “computer network attack systems.”

Hostility to the untrammeled freedom of the Internet is a bipartisan phenomenon. Remember what Hillary Clinton said about the issue back in 1998, as she accused Matt Drudge of spreading lies when he was exposing her husband as a serial slut and brazen perjurer?

“‘We are all going to have to rethink how we deal with this, because there are always competing values. There’s no free decision that I’m aware of anywhere in life, and certainly with technology that’s the case.’

“Although technology’s new developments are ‘exciting,’ Hillary continued, ‘There are a number of serious issues without any kind of editing function or gatekeeping function. What does it mean to have the right to defend your reputation.'”

What it means, one is tempted to reply, is that you can set up your own Web site to refute the “lies” – the answer to false or hurtful speech is not censorship but more speech, i.e., a debate. But tyrants aren’t interested in debates: their whole shtick is to limit debate as much as possible. And that is the instinct of any and all governments everywhere, be they dictatorships or democracies.

In the end, however, the truth will come out: they can’t hermetically seal their own soldiers in a womb-like cocoon of ignorance, at least not for very long. Through contacts with family and friends, word is bound to get out of what is really going on with this war – and with a foreign policy that has nothing to do with fighting terrorism, least of all protecting the continental U.S. from al-Qaeda. The War Party’s crude attempts to circumvent the truth and create their own reality is bound to fail and backfire badly in their faces.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].