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ARCHIVES: War of the Words

(This article was first published in the July 2002 issue of Newtopia.)

UNDERSTANDING THE LANGUAGE OF NEO-MACCARTHYISM IN AMERICA

“We’ve been here before. From the Alien and Sedition Acts to Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus and his imprisonment of anti-war editors, from the suppression of speech during World War I and the Palmer Raids to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the repression of the McCarthy days, the government has seized upon times of peril to scapegoat immigrants and to suppress liberties.”

The Progressive, “The New McCarthyism”

History repeats itself?

Am I really writing this? After all we have been through, after everything we have supposedly learned from the pain and shame and misery of McCarthyism, after watching decent, patriotic, innocent American’s posed THE question, “are you now or have you ever been a Communist”, are we really having to once again grapple with this idea of what is “Un-American”? Please tell me this is a horrible dream from which we will wake up, still possessing the wisdom and sensibility with which we went to sleep on Monday, September 10th, 2001.

The Red Scare may be relegated to history, but the policies that drove the American Inquisition seem alive and well and living in our backyards. We should ask ourselves what, if anything, did we learn from McCarthyism? When we look back at how we behaved during the Cold War, we seem to feel almost universal shame and bewilderment towards the wholly transparent and malicious nature of the Anti-Communist campaign. Who doesn’t shake their heads in amazement and disgust when we watch footage of those poor souls, one after another, hauled up to get berated by the Committee on Un-American Activities? It was a travesty, we all know that. We all get angry when we see that, regardless of our individual political dispositions, because we know that it was all a sham, all done for agendas and malicious intent. We know it was wrong, through and through.

Or do we?

We seem to forget, or maybe we were never told, that the whole thing had nothing to do with Communism. It had to do with certain members of a certain sphere of influence trying to expand that sphere, impose a way of life, eradicate dissent. It was multifarious. It was the Industrialists, the Military, and the Corporations not wanting to employ or fund fair labor practices, profit sharing, social services. It was about huge government budgets, defense contracts, election campaigns, and money. It was about the rich not wanting to share with the poor that made them rich. It was about War.

And here we are, with another war, and now, another Great [insert appropriate color] Menace. And here we go again using that public fear to hunt down those who they claim pose a credible threat to “national security”, those who pose a threat to the sphere of influence of these new crusaders. Many of those being singled out are our family and friends. And they all have one thing in common.they are all Americans.

Did anyone ever stop to consider that it has never been illegal in America to adhere to a certain ideology or belong to any particular political party, regardless of whether or not the party could ever get on the ballot? That in fact the freedom to believe or disbelieve anything you wanted is what makes us America? That our Bill of Rights is our legal permit to believe whatever the hell we choose to believe, whether our elected officials and policymakers approve or not? Those rights mean that if, for whatever reason, you want to march down the middle of the street with a Pro-Bin Laden placard wearing an Arab headdress, you have that right by law. I wouldn’t advise it, in fact I strongly advise against it, but again, it’s your choice and your freedom.

And as pertains to McCarthyism, people forget that Communism itself was never illegal nor, for that matter, was it “Un-American”. Communism is based upon a book, just a series of thoughts and ideas strung together, presented as an alternative to the status quo of the times from whence it came, before they even considered America an issue. Communism was Anti Capitalism, or more appropriately, the antithesis of Capitalism. And so it was labeled “Un-American”, even though it as an ideology posed no threat to America as a nation or as an idea. But yet out came the anti-Imperialist rhetoric of Lenin without a thought to the fact that Communism, as practiced by the Soviet Union, wasn’t even Anti-Imperialist.

You don’t agree? Let’s look at the formal definition:

im·pe·ri·al·ism ( m-pîr – -l z m) n.

1. The policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations.

2. The system, policies, or practices of such a government.

Would anyone like to tell me the Soviets weren’t engaged in that particular practice? Okay, so what was Communism then? It was many things. Defined as:

com·mu·nism (k m y -n z m) n.

1. A theoretical economic system characterized by the collective ownership of property and by the organization of labor for the common advantage of all members.

2. Communism

a. A system of government in which the state plans and controls the economy and a single, often authoritarian party holds power, claiming to make progress toward a higher social order in which all goods are equally shared by the people.

b. The Marxist-Leninist version of Communist doctrine that advocates the overthrow of capitalism by the revolution of the proletariat.

Communism arose as a counter-ideology to the prevailing notion of Aristocracy, which kept everyone poor and miserable. They attempted to reverse that trend in full.

And, of course it’s counterpart, Capitalism, was created by those who had money and land, but no title, and didn’t want another King taking away everything they had earned/taken/stolen/cajoled/acquired. Defined as:

cap·i·tal·ism (k p -tl- z m) n.

An economic system in which the means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned and development is proportionate to the accumulation and reinvestment of profits gained in a free market.

Even the Capitalists acknowledged Communism wasn’t feasible and would never work in the long run. But true Capitalists couldn’t advance their ideology without a clear-cut enemy to point it at. And find that enemy they did in the Anti-Capitalist rhetoric of the Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union. Both nations wanted it all after WWII, and both set out to get it, or so we are told. But-and here’s the funny part-the Soviet ruling body was as guilty of co-opting “Communism” as the American governing body had been of co-opting Capitalism, which to this day is masqueraded to their people as “Freedom.” The Constitution never said anything about Capitalism, Communism, or any -ism for that matter. It just said something about “all men are created equal” and something about “inalienable rights”. That wasn’t too far off what their Communist adversaries were espousing. It just boiled down to a difference between the definitions of the word “men” and the word “rights”. Those concepts seem to rise above and beyond political ideology and appear more like basic humanity. We seemed to win, in the end, because we remained true to the fundamentals of Capitalism and the Soviets had to employ totalitarian measures to enforce their version of Communism.

So how is it possible that ten years after the Cold War the same thing is happening again, when Communism has seemingly gone away? Because the fundamental principles that all these governing bodies adhere to has not gone away. That engine is still turning over, and instead of being fueled by the blood of Communists, it is fueled with the blood of terrorists.

Well then let’s examine the new terminology:

ter·ror·ist (t r r- st) n.

One that engages in acts or an act of terrorism.

adj. Of or relating to terrorism: characteristic of someone who employs terrorism (especially as a political weapon); “terrorist activity” n : a radical who employs terror as a political weapon.

Ahhhhhhhh, that’s it. Radicals, politics and weapons, right? So, instead of Capitalists and Communists we now have Imperialists and Terrorists. And so each side has license to hunt the other down? No way, not this time. The Imperialists claim the right and responsibility to hunt down the Terrorists. They have decided to rid the world of Terrorism, just like their father’s generation endeavored to rid the world of Communism. Does anyone object? Of course not. Who will argue with that? Who actually wants terrorists? No one. I would even venture to say that those employing terrorism would rather they didn’t have to blow themselves or others up. But drastic times call for drastic measures, don’t they.?

But you see, despite being named as such, this new war isn’t a War on Terrorism anymore than the Cold War was a true War on Communism. What this is, again, is a war against those who are trying to once again keep Imperialism in its place, or, as some view it, keep us in our place. Oh, and by the way, these enemies of ours aren’t “terrorists”. They employ terrorism. There is a difference, you know. Terrorism, in itself, is not an ideology; it is a practicum. So what are those people, you ask? They are also called Fundamentalists. Defined as:

fun·da·men·tal·ism (f n d -m n tl- z m) n.

1. A usually religious movement or point of view characterized by a return to fundamental principles, by rigid adherence to those principles, and often by intolerance of other views and opposition to secularism.

2. a. often Fundamentalism An organized, militant Evangelical movement originating in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century in opposition to Protestant Liberalism and secularism, insisting on the inerrancy of Scripture.

b. Adherence to the theology of this movement.

3. n : the interpretation of every word in the Bible as literal truth.

Or the Qur’an?

So, when forced to expound on this whole terrorist threat, our government claims Islamic Fundamentalists are the ones trying to undermine and destroy us. Okay, that certainly makes sense.

But wait, hold on again. Didn’t that definition just say Fundamentalism was born in Late 19th Century America? And doesn’t the definition of fundamentalism sound remarkably like the point of view held by our President and Attorney General?

So, really, we should scratch everything we said and rephrase the whole issue: This is a war of Christian Fundamentalists against Islamic Fundamentalists. That seems more like it.

But if that’s the case, what is each defending in this war? We claim the Islamic Fundamentalists aren’t defending anything, that they are attacking freedom. We must ask ourselves if there is some credible evidence that the Islamic Fundamentalists are trying to convert the world to Islam, but there doesn’t seem to be any, much like the Chinese aren’t trying to convert the world to Communism. Both have enough to worry about, and both consider the West “other” in their respective languages. Our government has translated this “other” as the word “infidel”, and claim that is proof. They want to reform us, cure us of our wicked ways. Of course we have no such moral judgments of the Islamic world here in America, right? Well, we must ask ourselves if the Christians are concurrently trying to convert the world to Christianity? The answer may surprise you: Has anyone ever heard the word Evangelization?

Now, we’re getting somewhere! Wait, no we’re not. I forgot our government said right off the bat that this isn’t a “holy war”, that it was not a war against Islam, per se. Yet the Islamic Fundamentalists keep using this word, Jihad, which is pretty directly translated as “Holy War”, regardless of how many talking heads on CNN want to claim the Muslim people got their own language wrong, that they were supposed to be going to war internally against their own inner Satan. Yes, that’s the Great Satan, the talking heads say, not American Imperialism.

But we know the US still actively practices Imperialism. All one needs to do is look at Israel.

The Islamic Fundamentalist’s problem isn’t with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Most of the Islamic world has already turned their back on the Palestinians as it is. Are any of them offering the Palestinians asylum? A place to stay for the night and a hot meal? Not exactly. Jordan was only too happy to get rid of them, Egypt said don’t even think about it, and who would want to live in Syria? Despite the fact that the media has yet to actually say the words, the whole issue is about an American militarized colonial presence in the Middle East, in the form of the Israeli Army.

We put down Iraq twelve years ago when they got a bit uppity, didn’t we? Great. We probably should have, at least if we wanted to avert another oil crisis we should have. But running roughshod over Saudi Arabia, sending women soldiers and Jews into Mecca, and refusing to leave when the work was done was enough to inflame Islamic Fundamentalist rage. And then, to add insult to injury, we continuously send American corporations and Christian evangelical missionaries into Islamic societies to try to convert them to burgers and bibles. Those two scrags who we pulled out of Afghanistan, who the media labeled “aid workers”, were lucky they weren’t beheaded when they were caught trying to teach little Afghani kids about Jesus. What right do Christians have to behave in such a manner in an Islamic Fundamentalist region? None, really. I doubt you’ll hear anyone lauding the merits of the former Taliban regime, and it’s quite apparent even the Afghani people were overjoyed to see them go. But we had no right to be there. It wasn’t our place, nor did we have any claim to it. Once more it’s about a tiny minority trying to expand their sphere of influence to those who don’t want it, and have every right to refuse it. Come on, America. What if the tables were turned? Would you want Osama Bin Laden and the bearded Mullahs telling you how to live? This isn’t about “good” and “evil”, as our President would have you believe. This situation is devoid of any overt moral judgments. It is about base territoriality and preserving one’s particular way of life.

Ok, so what do we have here? I don’t have the slightest clue anymore. Do you?

The Cold War was ostensibly a war of Capitalists versus Communists, but when you look at it, it was simply a war of opposing Imperialists. Capitalism and Communism were just the vehicles these Imperialists utilized to gain converts, the rhetoric they employed to argue their points and make it a moral issue of “good” and “evil”. Was Stalin evil? You won’t find many to argue against that. Was Nixon evil? Think before you answer.

Those who made the decisions in both Superpowers, those who benefited from the Cold War, were a tiny, extremely powerful minority. Then as now. All the rest of us got shafted in the process, and had to put up with ridiculous hokum like McCarthyism and the Purges. I am amazed the ruling Oligarchies of both Superpowers didn’t get together and subjugate all the rest of us. But of course, there was one important distinction: The American Imperialists, at their core, remained religious Fundamentalists, whereas the Soviet Imperialists became Atheists. That, in my humble opinion, is how Soviet Communism was able to be eroded in the hearts and minds of the Soviet people. Regardless of what you think of Religion or Spirituality, ultimately it is the most personal, intimate relationship a human being has: that between he and his God. To take that away from people, to tell them God is a lie and to forbid his worship, is to invoke the wrath of one of our most inherent needs as a species, and that which, ironically, makes us most human and most unique.

If you break it down to the individual, most people would never willingly choose to harm or kill another human being, regardless of their race, creed, religion, politics or government. Live and let life is the prevailing doctrine amongst us little people; fear, hatred, and murder.those are tools employed by the State for political ends. History has shown us that.

In the end the Capitalists won. Or did they? What did the US gain from the downfall of the Soviet Union besides Russian mobsters and the threat of purloined nuclear warheads? Conversely, what did Russia receive from the United States besides McDonald’s and narcotics.

So, really, once again, the whole thing is still about Imperialism. And here we go again, another generation, another enemy, but the same Manual instructing us how to wipe out the dissenting voices against this new breed of Imperialism, which, of course, no one is calling Imperialism, but rather “Freedom.” It isn’t even “American” Imperialism, because no one really can say what that is, and when you break it all down, Imperialism knows no country, only a Board of Directors and a few lucky shareholders.

There are a few things of which people should be acutely aware before deciding to jump upon any particular bandwagon. Since both the old and new forms of McCarthyism seem to share a common phraseology in the milieu of “Un-American Activities”, the first thing to understand is the appropriate definition of “Un-American.”

un-A·mer·i·can ( n -m r -k n) adj.

a. Considered contrary to the institutions or principles of the United States.

b. Considered contrary to the best interests of the United States.

Simple enough, right? Allow me to expound.

Take, for example, former FBI Agent Robert Hansen, who sold ten years worth of secrets to the Soviets/Russians. Those actions-betraying his country’s security-acted contrary to the best interest of the United States, which might easily make him Un-American under definition “b”. But he did it for profit, not for ideology or to bring down America, which is entirely in line with the precepts of Capitalism, the purported “institution or principle” of the United States espoused in definition “a”. So, was he “Un-American”? 99.99999999% of us would say yes, and I don’t think you’ll actually find the guy representing the .0000000001% who would say no.

Well of course that example was ridiculous! So is this Neo McCarthyism! They both sleep in the field of the absurd.

It is NOT “Un-American” to criticize the actions or policies of our elected officials. In fact the Constitution states quite clearly that it is our responsibility and obligation to police them as we see fit. The public trust and the notion of a “government of the people, by the People, and for the People” is the whole reason we created this quasi-democratic Federal Republic in the first place. But, sadly, it hasn’t been the “People” calling the shots in a long long time, if ever they did. The Election of 2000 and the appointment of George W. Bush as President should be sufficient proof.

Every piece of evidence of this Neo McCarthyism almost unilaterally involves the suppression of certain American citizens’ outright criticism of our government’s policies, be that suppression through the direct actions of the government itself and its policing entities, the media, or through corrupted public opinion. Read Matthew Rothschild’s article in The Progressive and tell me that any of those people being detained at airports on their way to exercise their Constitutional right to peacefully protest the School of the Americas, or those who protest the Death Penalty, or the ruthless bombing of Afghan civilians, or the elimination of our Civil Liberties, are Anti-American. Since when is it Anti-American to oppose the infliction of pain and suffering on another, especially innocent civilians caught in the proverbial crossfire? By that logic, I am Anti-American, and trust me, I am anything but Anti-American. But I and many like me are certainly opposed to unconstitutional acts by anyone, within and without our nation’s borders, regardless of whether they consider themselves above the law by virtue of wealth or power or their dubious elected status.

Rothschild says it quite succinctly:

“‘I’ve been talking a lot about the parallels between what we’re going through now and McCarthyism,’ says Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU. ‘The term ‘terrorism’ is taking on the same kind of characteristics as the term ‘communism’ did in the 1950s. It stops people in their tracks, and they’re willing to give up their freedoms. People are too quickly panicked. They are too willing to give up their rights and to scapegoat people, especially immigrants and people who criticize the war.’

Attorney General John Ashcroft is rounding up or interrogating thousands of immigrants in what will go down in history as the Ashcroft Raids. The FBI and Secret Service are harassing artists and activists. Publishers are firing anti-war columnists and cartoonists. University presidents are scolding dissident faculty members. And rightwing citizen’s groups are demanding conformity.”

So wake up, America, you should know better, and you shouldn’t let it happen. It’s up to you to make a difference, to call out unconstitutional measures when you see them, and not be duped by the smoke and mirrors routine of “imminent, credible threat”. No one gave us the right to rule the world, nor is it our responsibility. And if you take a minute to think about it, it really isn’t even a responsibility we should want. Are all comparisons to the former Roman and British Empires benign? Hardly. Bin Laden et. al are just the most recent group trying to put us back in our place and keep us out of their front yards. They don’t want to take over America, they don’t even like us, they think we’re decadent, and they want none of our culture. All they want is what is theirs, and they want us to stop imposing our culture on them and leave them the @$#! alone.

But we don’t care what they want, and we consider them a threat regardless because they are not us. But, you see America, the military-industrial Christian Evangelical Right is not us either. They are a part of us, but we are letting them speak for us and run the show. We suffer because of it, our freedoms and rights are rescinded, not theirs. We have to try however possible to remember that Capitalism and Free Market Economies are not freedom to the 5,999,999,990 other people in the world. They are the ones who will be employed (and I use the term lightly) to run the machine for the One-Percenters. And I can tell you right now they don’t appreciate our government and its corporations trying to replace their beliefs and their way of life with those of our government anymore than the Africans and Indians appreciated the British subjugating them, or the Southeast Asians by the French, of the Russians by the Soviets. And now, seemingly, the rest of the world, including we at-home Americans, by the military-industrial Christian Evangelical Right.

And lastly, if you still don’t think that’s who is calling the shots, you haven’t been paying much attention, but I encourage you to investigate for yourself. All the evidence is there, if you know what to look for.

But then again, that’s just it. No one really is paying attention to the other side of the argument, because we are being threatened with severe reprisal if we do. I guess it’s a good thing I write for the Liberal Press. If anyone read it, I’d probably be in a Federal gulag right now with the rest of those labeled “terrorists”, who before 9/11 were simply referred to as Americans.

Newtopia founder and editor emeritus CHARLES SHAW is an award-winning journalist and editor, author of the critically-acclaimed memoir, Exile Nation: Drugs, Prisons, Politics & Spirituality, and Director of the documentary, The Exile Nation Project: An Oral History of the War on Drugs & The American Criminal Justice System.

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