Friday, July 02, 2004

deities and demagogues

In 1940 Robert A. Heinlein, the 'dean of science fiction', wrote a story in which a relatively unintelligent religious whackjob named Nehemiah Scudder managed to take over the US and turn it into a theocracy. It was a good story, perhaps a bit blustery and reactionary at times (as Heinlein himself could get sometimes... it's hard to believe that some of his wartime stories were written by the same guy who wrote Stranger In A Strange Land), but it's ultimately a work of fiction. Which makes it very unfortunate that it reads like today's newspapers...

Heinlein's story was in essence just an extrapolation of thoughts expressed by Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin regarding the need for separation of church and state, and what might happen to the US if that separation was breached.

From Robert A. Heinlein's postscript to Revolt in 2100:

Nehemiah Scudder... teamed up with an ex-Senator from his home state; they placed their affairs in the hands of a major advertising agency and were on their way to fame and fortune. Presently they needed stormtroopers; they revived the Ku Klux Klan in everything but the name -- sheets, passwords, grips and all. It was a 'good gimmick' once and it still served. Blood at the polls and blood in the streets, but Scudder won the election. The next election was never held.

In the story, Scudder declared himself above the rule of law because he felt that God was working through him. Recent events have shown anyone with more than two functioning neurons that the Bush administration has outright contempt for the rule of law, and Bush's belief that God guides his hand (L.A. Times, if you're not registered there use 'sparklebottom' as both username and password) has been well-documented, usually in adulatory terms by our wanker propaganda news sources. (I suspect that given the fact that Bush can't read very well, his religious readings probably never got past the Mosaic Law of 'an eye for an eye'... and from his actions as president I'd say he pretty clearly skipped from there straight to Revelations.)

If God is Bush's copilot, I'll just take the train, thanks.

Even Bush's supporters acknowledge that this administration's actions and policies are somewhat fascist (Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, 'unlawful combatants', military tribunals, wiretaps, breaking of treaties, if you don't already know this shit tell me how exactly is it that you get the internet to your little shack in the woods?), they just think it's a good thing. Ignoring the Geneva Convention, circumventing Congress (thereby fucking up the whole 'checks and balances' thing), denying due process, torturing prisoners... there *might* be one or two lines in the Bill of Rights and the canon of international law that this administration hasn't violated, but there's still a couple of months until the elections, so just be patient, I'm sure they'll get around to the other bits eventually.

Regarding US treatment of prisoners enemy combatants (calling them such makes us feel better about ourselves - we're not actively holding anyone prisoner, we're just passively detaining enemy combatants), here are some observations from a guy who fought in Normandy and was held in a German POW camp [via tacitus]:

Al Gore takes the position that the impetus for torturing prisoners comes right down from the top. I agree.

Why do you think the Administration has managed to con the entire press and media corps into referring to the people held at Guantanamo and the prisoners at Abu Ghraib as "detainees," never as "prisoners of war?" I think the bastards reason that if the people we are holding are not prisoners of war, we are free to mistreat them any old way we want...

I was a prisoner of war... when I was captured, I gave my name, rank and serial number. I was asked my age, and I declined to give it. But in a German hospital shortly thereafter, I was asked my religion and I bellowed "Jew!" "Jude!" I added in case he didn't get it in English.

I suffered no mistreatment whatever. I was starved. I had to march many weary miles, wounded and sick, but I got the same medical care they gave their own walking wounded infantry. It wasn't much, for Germans or Americans, but what there was, I got.

The Goddam Nazis did not do to a Jewish American POW what this Administration suffers to be done to the hapless people it imprisons!

That's something to think about when you're waving your fucking flag this weekend and affixing 'I support our troops' bumper stickers to your SUV. (Funny how none of the bastards support the troops enough to get them out of harm's way, they only support them enough to get them killed.) We'll all watch fireworks and sing about bombs bursting in midair, while our soldiers watch tracer bullets and try to avoid bombs bursting in their immediate vicinity.

The whole point of the Geneva Convention was that if you think it's ok for you to do something harmful to someone else, you've implictly accepted that they can do the same to you if they can manage to turn the tables. Abu Ghraib - hell, our presence in Iraq at all - is going to be biting us on the ass for a long time. Or beheading us, as has been the sad case recently. (And if you're thinking "they started it with 9/11", you're... well, you're not thinking. First off it's the wrong 'they', and second off we [with the help of our fellow empires Britain and France] started it in the beginning of the last century when we took warring bands of nomads with distinctly separate cultural heritages and drew a circle around them and declared that they were now a country. Everything since then has been 'an eye for an eye', to the point that both sides are blinded to even their own motivations).

None of this is secret info - there are even movies you can watch that will help fill you in: Lawrence of Arabia to see how it all started, and it's sequel A Dangerous Man to see how it all went to hell. Or read anything you can about Gertrude Bell (Desert Queen was good), the writer, archaeologist, and spy who was the only female Political Officer in the British forces during World War I. BTW if you haven't heard of her, it's not some kind of sexist conspiracy... as a spy she made an effort to keep a low profile, while Lawrence did the exact opposite. Once her contribution became known, she was recognized as a key player in the creation of the modern Middle East.

Which is part of the problem, right? 'Creating' the Middle East is like 'discovering' the Americas... there were already people there with cultures and traditions of their own, and all of a sudden a bunch of white folks come in and start divvying everything up. Now jump forward to today (not that the rest of the intervening time is without further incident), where many Americans can't figure out why they hate us...

So, where are we now? We've got a unilateral war with no end in sight, an obviously corrupt administration (that believes that "authority to set aside the laws is inherent in the president") running for a second term, the systematic and willful dismantling of the Constitution by the republicans, a faltering economy, a growing defense budget, political scandals everywhere, increased instability throughout the world, alienation of our former allies, a 'cold war' mentality president who feels that nukes are just peachy (think 'bunkerbusters'), and we're unnecessarily pissing off large parts of the world (under the guise of 'promoting democracy') while creating (and ignoring) bigger (yet perhaps less telegenic) problems in China and North Korea...

...fucking hell, it's 1972 all over again. Only this time, the president doesn't just think he's above the rule of law, he believes he's acting for a higher law, one that allows the breaking of all other laws to achieve it's goals. And that's just fucking scary.

Heinlein was fond of writing 'future histories', stories of our possible futures... I only hope his tales of Nehemiah Scudder turn out to be more fiction than prediction.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rock on! Great piece, and thank you for saying so succinctly what I and many others have been saying for YEARS. And I liked your Heinlein commentary as well (I've been a Heinlein reader for many years).

In case you're wondering, I found this entry through a LiveJournal user who goes by the handle xiombarg.

If you want to find me, I post on LJ under the handle I guess I'm not so anonymous anymore either.
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