December 17, 2002
Passive or Realistic?
I got more nasty comments about last week's piece about the un-American
way the government has wanted to treat accused terrorists like Jose
Padillla or whatever it is that he wants to call himself. I started
to do a collective response, but it grew, so here's more than you
might want to digest on the subject.
must confess, however, that I have no real answer to the person
who wrote: "If a police state is what it takes to make us safe,
I have no problem with that. Alan Bock and other liberals can kiss
my Republican white ass." I'll pass on the latter and spend
a few more minutes regretting how the government schools have worked
so hard to create and reinforce such attitudes. It's hard to deal
with so many fallacies at once.
anyone really believe that creating a police state would make the
people of the United States safer from various perils, foreign and
domestic? Did it work for Nazi Germany? Did it work for Soviet Russia
or communist Ethiopia? Can anyone with any real-life experience
of the way governments operate actually believe that government
with more power would confine themselves to going after undeniably
bad guys and leave the good people like you and me alone? If so,
they are fine candidates to be good little subjects who learn to
love Big Brother.
dealing with some of the issues surrounding how the U.S. government
is trying to subvert its own best traditions and bolster the already
too-hefty power of the Imperial Presidency, I need to discuss another
accusation. "What are Mr. Bock's answers to combat terrorism?
How does he plan on protecting American citizens against enemies
that do not play by any rules, or do not even consider the Geneva
of course I can't expect everyone who reads one column to have read
everything I've written over the course of 20-plus years in daily
journalism, several years of weekly columns for Antiwar.com and
a few years writing weekly for WorldNetDaily. But I still get a
little impatient (forgive me, I know it's a shortcoming) with the
notion that I haven't dealt with the issues or offered any suggestions,
so I just have no right criticizing the way the government is handling
in the archives for this site you might find a 10/3/01 piece called
for the Long Haul, followed by a 10/10/01 piece called Building
a Peace Movement in Wartime, which calls on war critics to emphasize
that they well maybe I can speak only for myself are patriots
who want America to live up to her highest and best ideals. I might
also suggest looking at my pieces from this site dated 5/14/02,
You might look at the Orange
County Register site, especially a piece
from September dealing with diagnosing the problem.
my suggestions for dealing with terrorism might be a little different.
I've written that the first thing we should do is to end drug prohibition,
because the drug laws create the opportunities to make the kinds
of huge profits that terrorists find attractive to finance their
nefarious activities. I believe we ought to rethink our policy of
intervening in squabbles all over the world and keeping military
installations in dozens of countries long after the hostilities
that led to the first decision have ended just what national interest
is served by keeping a base on Okinawa, for example?
also think the United States should get out of the "nation-building"
business. Aside from a few people in the policy elites who are often
woefully ignorant of the histories and customs of the countries
they are so eager to "build," most Americans have little
interest in running other countries. I think that's a healthy attitude.
Trying to manipulate other countries into building institutions
that resemble the ideals of UN bureaucrats rather than the kinds
of institutions that made the United States the envy of the world
is a formula for creating resentment and even hatred of the United
believe part of the reason the government failed to protect us from
the 9/11 terrorist acts is that it has grown so huge and unwieldy
that its various branches can't communicate with one another and
have no incentive to get any better at it.
are more than 40 agencies with intelligence-related functions, and
all are jealous of their own turf. Shoving them into a new department
and labeling it "homeland security" is likely to make
the problem worse, not better, because they'll slide into the new
meta-bureaucracy unreformed, with the same kinds of jealousies and
turf-protection incentives they have now and no prospect
of even a pretense of reform. We would be better protected
if we eliminated departments, fired some of the schlumps who are
responsible for the failures, cleaned house, and consolidated the
intelligence agencies into maybe two, with about a tenth of the
bureaucrats now busily making work for each other and keeping secrets
from each other.
you are certainly free to disagree with these positions, and others
that I have explored at greater length than I have here. Some of
these positions are admittedly controversial and require a different
way of thinking about freedom and the world we live in than is taught
in most American schools to appreciate. Honest people can disagree
honestly about whether they would actually work in the mean old
world out there, or whether they represent worthy ideals.
if you want to disagree, disagree on substance and be ready to explain
why your ideas are better. Cheap shots suggesting that those of
us who criticize the way our government has approached these problems
have not thought seriously about them or offered any alternatives
simply won't wash.
worse is the suggestion, conveyed in several e-mails, that those
of us who maintain a critical stance toward our government must
not have been around on 9/11 or have failed to understand the implications
of these horrible attacks. That's an emotional argument rather than
an intellectual one. Perhaps it's even an anti-intellectual argument.
suggest that the fact of attacks by terrorists on our soil should
cause us simply to go along with whatever the government wants to
do to suspend our critical thinking and get on board the
unity bus led by George Dubya
strikes me as not only anti-intellectual, but deeply subversive
of the best aspects and aspirations of the American experiment.
Our founders tried very hard to bequeath upon us a free society
with the flexibility to adapt to new
situations and dangers. To advocate, when something bad happens,
that we simply shut up and go along with whatever the government
decides to do is to betray their historic efforts at least
in my opinion.
IDEALS AND PROCEDURES
letter-writer suggested that "if you care one lick about this
country then you should want this person [Padilla] taken away to
where he can no longer be a threat." It is precisely because
I care deeply about this country that I hesitate and criticize.
Padilla may well be a serious threat, although most of the stories
that followed his capture suggest that he was more a comic figure
at the point at which he was apprehended. The problem with the way
the government wants to handle him, however, is that there is almost
no way for an independent observer to discover or make a judgment
about how serious a threat he posed.
the government position is that the president has the right to declare
Padilla and others, unilaterally, without any review or oversight,
to be "enemy combatants" or "illegal combatants."
This declaration is said to be enough to put him in confinement
for an indeterminate period of time, without access to relatives
or even to an attorney, and without any specific charges being proferred
against him. So long as he is held incommunicado, it is virtually
impossible to determine whether he is a serious threat or not. We
have to take the president's word for it.
I have been known to be critical of the American judicial system
in the past, and no doubt I will be in the future. But whatever
its faults and shortcomings, it is a system designed (and evolved)
to determine precisely those kinds of questions. The procedures
described as "due process," which roughly require that
somebody be charged with a crime and have access to an attorney
in a trial open to the press and public can certainly be abused.
But they are important safeguards for all of us.
idea that the president, with a simple declaration, can cause somebody
to be imprisoned indefinitely without formal charges being filed
really should be anathema to freedom-loving Americans. That's the
kind of thing Stalin did. And the nature of government power is
such that if they get away with it when dealing with people most
of us don't like or whom we fear is that similar procedures will
eventually be used against others. We live in a country, after all,
in which laws ostensibly designed to ensnare known criminal racketeers
are being used against anti-abortion protestors.
notion that only such indefinite detentions can work against terrorists
or would-be terrorists is also rather invidious. We used normal
criminal procedures against those who bombed the World Trade Center
in 1993. Maybe we got the right guys, maybe we missed a few, but
some of those bombers are serving life sentences. To suggest that
filing charges against Jose Padilla and beginning a normal criminal
case against him would cause his immediate release and leave the
nation immediately vulnerable to his dastardly designs is simply
not very intelligent or accurate.
argument that Jose Padilla and other accused terrorists are getting
better treatment, even if it isn't in line with our traditions and
ideals, than they would get in Iraq or some other dictatorship,
strikes me as irrelevant. The assertions may well be true, of course.
There are plenty of governments around the world that are much worse
than ours. Does that mean we should follow them on the path to total
or totally corrupt government? Does the fact that a worse abuse
occurs overseas make an abuse in this country less reprehensible?
is the country I live in and love. I hope my sympathies are broad
enough to deplore outrages by other governments. But I am an American,
inspired by the ideals of the founders and deeply desirous of seeing
this country live up to and perhaps even surpass those ideals. I
believe deeply that people thrive best in an atmosphere of individual
freedom and respect for the rights of all. This is the country that
has come closest to making those ideals a reality. Thus it seems
to me that I I
can't speak for you have a special obligation to speak up
when its rulers depart from those healthy ideals.
more thing. Several writers called me a "liberal." Depending
on the definition, maybe I am one, but I'm hardly a modern American
liberal as the term is broadly understood these days. I'm not a
"lefty" who developed a sudden interest in the Constitution.
My interest is of long standing. Specifically, for one writer, I
have written editorials deploring the installation of cameras at
every intersection to bolster government revenue with traffic tickets.
I am about as close to a Second Amendment fundamentalist as there
is in these times, believing as I do that the right is
designed to be a check on tyrannical government rather than a benefit
for hunters. I have howled incessantly at "Fourth Amendment
violations in the form of drug abatement laws that illegally seize
property," believing to the contrary that they are a license
to steal under color of law, which is immoral no matter how "legal"
short, I am a patriot and a constitutionalist. My main concern about
war well, at least one main concern is that it provides
justification for our constitution to be undermined and subverted
by people in power seeking more power. I don't necessarily think
such people are evil or guided by a long-term master plan to wipe
out American freedoms. Many seriously believe that trading a little
liberty for security is the best way or the only way to handle the
challenges that face us. I believe they are wrong. I believe even
more strongly that we need to consider all sides of
such issues before acquiescing in short cuts or apparently pragmatic
approaches that might not be practical at all.
believe America is still the best place to conduct a civil debate
over such issues, but if we don't get into the debate we are in
danger of losing at least some of the freedoms that make this country
such an attractive place.
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