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by Morris Sullivan
I must be getting paranoid. I am afraid to write this column.
When I was in high school, there was a rumor going around that the FBI had been in to collect information on the "subversives" in my high school. There were several of us subversives in my high school. Most belonged to the Teenage Democrats, had long hair, smoked cigarettes by the loading dock with journalism students, and patched the holes in their worn-out Levis with pieces of American flags.
These were the final Nixon years, when the administration liked to know in advance who its enemies were. Nixon, we imagined, wanted data on us before we took to the college campuses and started sitting-in at ROTC buildings. The FBI, I'm sure, took great pleasure in discovering I was failing Latin.
For the first time since Nixon resigned, I've been wondering about those FBI files. In recent weeks, I've gotten e-mail after e-mail from associates and organizations about the "homeland security" legislation that is winding its way through Congress at the behest of the Bush administration. Designed to nip terrorism in the bud, the legislation consists of several bills and plans that, proponents say, will prevent the series of snafus and dis-communications that permitted the 9-11 strike.
A lot has been written about this new legislation, but William Safire (New York Times, Nov. 14, 2002, "You Are a Suspect") and Dan Morgan (Washington Post, Nov. 16, 2002, "Disclosure Curbs in Homeland Bill Decried") probably explained the issues best.
A prominent player in the new plan, John Poindexter is the same guy that worked alongside Oliver North to swap weapons for hostages in Iran, then allegedly funded Nicaraguan Contras with cocaine money, then excused himself by saying it was his duty to withhold information from Congress, and even the President. "I made a very deliberate decision not to tell the President so that I could insulate him from the decision and provide some future deniability," he said (Guardian, Nov. 25, 2002, "No More Mr. Scrupulous Guy").
Poindexter plans to build the Department of Defense an Orwellian database that will keep track of, as William Safire said, "every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book, and every event you attend..." (New York Times)
And while the government is busily keeping tabs on us, the Homeland Security bill has made it harder for us to keep tabs on it. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said of the legislation that its disclosure rules represent "the most severe weakening of the Freedom of Information Act in its 36-year history."
"This would hurt and not help our national security," Leahy said. "And along the way it would frustrate enforcement of the laws that protect the public's health and safety."
With the re-emergence of folks like Poindexter on the national scene, some media pundits and activist groups have even accused Bush, Jr., of continuing grand traditions started by the Reagan-Bush administration of ignoring pesky documents like the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and annoying organizations like the UN and Congress.
Some groups have even accused the Bush Brothers of manipulating elections. This November, Jeb Bush was reelected governor of my state. In fact, he got reelected despite a recording made by a reporter, which trapped him on magnetic tape discussing a referendum item limiting school class sizes-which the governor opposes. Jeb Bush told those assembled in his office, including the recorder-wielding reporter, that he has some "devious plans" that will presumably go into place should the referendum pass.
That's right: devious plans. I could envision the scene, a scruffy cub reporter, tape recorder in his shirt pocket, steno pad in hand, scribbling frantically: "Bwah ha ha!" said the Governor, twirling the ends of his handlebar mustache. "I have a number of deeeeevious plans."
Perhaps I should derive some comfort knowing such evidence suggests each Bush kid is, as Francoise Ducros, communications director to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretian reportedly said, "a moron."
Being considered a moron by other world leaders is pretty bad. But that wasn't bad enough for Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, justice minister to Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It's a classic tactic. It's one that Hitler used."
When I was a kid, my mom gave me a book on the Holocaust. I'm not sure why; we're not Jewish, but I think she wanted to plant in me the seeds of tolerance. Or maybe she just wanted me to see what kinds of things humans could do to each other, and to develop an appropriate wariness of political power.
It worked: the photos of emaciated concentration camp inmates, piles of dead bodies and teeth, and descriptions of Nazi atrocities scared the crap out of me.
My mom comforted me with this thought: This can't happen here.
Then she told me about her World War II. She told me about seeing Japanese subs off the coast of California, and about her best friend, a "sweet little Japanese girl," being taken away with her family to a concentration camp.
"I cried and cried," she said. "But America is a free country. And we learn from those things. We know better than to let something like that happen here again."
Despite historical evidence to the contrary-the near-genocide of Native Americans; slavery, lynchings, and Jim Crow; Japanese concentration camps and McCarthyism; and the current anti-Islam discrimination and racial profiling-my faith in the ultimate wisdom of the American people makes me cling desperately to the belief, "This can't happen here."
Yet I'm sure the Germans didn't think they were in cahoots with the powers of darkness when they supported the Nazis. I doubt white Americans bothered to know or care about blankets infected with smallpox being delivered to Indian reservations, and most took racism for granted, without a second thought. Like 1940s Americans and their attitudes toward the Japanese and Communists, I'm sure most of us manage to ignore, overlook, or justify the anti-Muslim discrimination that lies stinking under our noses.
Paranoid or not, I think we should all worry about this a little, and be very wary. As the first phase of the homeland security bill made its way onto the floors of Congress, the government issued yet another terrorist alert. Perhaps it's coincidental, but one look at history will reveal that the first step in taking away a people's freedom is to create a "for your own safety" situation, creating a crisis with a depersonalized, "evil" enemy.
Hitler did it with the Jews. Americans have already done it with Injuns, niggers, Japs, and Commies.
None of whom, of course, crashed airliners into giant American buildings. With the anger and fear created by 9-11 as fuel, a draconic political administration could easily talk even Americans into giving up some civil rights.
Again, perhaps I'm being paranoid. After all, I'm not a terrorist; in fact, I abhor violence as being both morally wrong and politically ineffective. (I want to make that clear to the reader, as well as the government agent hiding behind my rhododendrons.) Even as a journalist, I would be loath to condone, much less perform, any reporting that jeopardized the safety of my countrymen.
"So," the president might say to me, if he had the chance, "We're just doing this to catch the damn terrorists before they blow you up. You ain't a damn terrorist, so what're you worried about?"
I'm worried because I live in a country run by an administration that doesn't seem to mind squelching thoughts, that gets "furious" when even another world leader questions the actions of the administration and casually (and even unofficially) draws a parallel between the presidents actions and those of Hitler or morons, and tells talk-show hosts they have to "watch what they say."
I'm worried because, as I read about the administration's undermining of both the Freedom of Information Act and protections of individual privacy, visions of Big Brother keep popping into my head, saying, "Freedom is slavery" and "Ignorance is strength."
And I fear that, as we head toward a war with Iraq and begin mobilizing reserves and the National Guard, I'll turn on the news one night to hear the president say, "War is peace."
Paranoid or not, I worry because the words of anti-Nazi activist Pastor Martin Niemoller keep running through my mind:
"First they came 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 Catholics, and I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time, there was no one left to speak up for me."
Contributing Editor Morris Sullivan has written for IMPACT for more than five years. A freelance writer and former high school teacher living in DeLand, Florida, Sullivan is also a playwright. His most notorious work, Femmes Fatale, contained the infamous "Nude Macbeth," which has been covered by diverse news media from the BBC and NPR to Playboy, HBO's "Real Sex," and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
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