Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Fascists among us

Cross posted to Daily Kos and Freedom Democrats (a week ago)

The Philadelphia Daily News has published a disturbing commentary that comes close to being a piece of fascist propaganda: Stu Bykofsky's "To save America, we need another 9/11". Before laying into Bykofsky, I'll acknowledge that he later wrote "I WAS WRONG ABOUT ANOTHER 9/11", in which he claims that the headline exaggerated his thesis a little bit. However, the same can be said for the headline of his "apology" because he doesn't admit to having been wrong; instead, he claims that he was misunderstood.

Despite his clarifications, I still think that he expressed fascist sentiments in "To save America...". The basic thesis is that the September 11th attacks generated a sense of unity among Americans, which has since fallen apart even though we still need it in order to fight Islamist terrorism. The main problem in his argument is its circular logic: We need to be attacked, so that we will be united, so that we can fight the enemy, so that we won't be attacked. It apparently doesn't dawn on him that if we aren't attacked again, then we won't have any need for this unity. In other words, he's seeking national unity for it's own sake -- which is the core of fascism.

Another fascist element in "To save America..." is the implicit message that Americans should rally behind the President. He may not even realize that his call for unity implies subordination to the President. Of course, one way to maintain unity would be for the President to give some consideration to others, but that isn't going to happen with this President. Furthermore, the President has the political advantage; being the executive, he gets to initiate things, and no "disunity" is apparent until opposition develops. Consequently, an ideology of unity gives the Presidency a major political advantage.

Finally, Bykofsky's assumption that Americans would unite after another attack is quite debatable. Sure, we united after the 2001 attacks, but back then we felt a shared sense of confidence in a number of institutions, including the Federal government. Since 2001, many Americans have lost that sense of confidence in the Federal government, so we may not turn to it to protect us in the wake of another attack. Indeed, given the large number of neo-cons/Republicans who have been pining for another terrorist attack, there's a good chance that many Americans will succumb to "Bush did it" conspiracy theories. More skeptical Americans may still decide that the Federal government is a hindrance in fighting terrorism, rather than an asset.

Finally, I have to acknowledge a few writers who have inspired this analysis. First, there is Milton Mayer's "They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-1945", which has made me sensitive to the types of appeals that persuade "little folk" to support fascism (thanks to mstein for recommending this excellent book). Also, there are three stories at DKos addressing "To save America...", but I didn't notice the above analysis in any of them, so I wrote my own analysis.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Damn the draft

A political consultant over at Open Left is advising progressives to keep quiet about the threat posed by a military draft, largely in the hope that fear will produce favorable political conditions. It's been a long time since I've read an essay that was wrong on so many levels; it's insulting, threatening, and idiotic.

1) Insulting: All of this talk about the morality of a draft (whether for military or civilian projects) effectively glorifies a subset of human activities, while diminishing all others. Why is a soldier morally superior to me? Do all socially beneficial activities require the threat of sudden death? What about engineers and scientists who forgo most leisure time to improve our lives (including military technology)? How about the doctors who are on call constantly? How about those who spend all of their leisure time working on a project that they think is REALLY beneficial to society (whether it is art, an invention, or developing open source software)? How about those who take care of sick relatives and neighbors. Apparently none of these things matter, and all of these activities can be cut short if the draft board decides that "society" would be better off if the person picked up trash along a highway. And we are considered selfish if we prefer to rely on freedom of choice to guide our lives, and professional service to guide our economy.

2) Threatening: Any draft system threatens to seriously disrupt the lives of millions, and will put many of them in harm's way. Any suggestion that we should just let that happen is a threat to me and everyone I care about. This threat can be mitigated by making dangerous service voluntary (either by giving alternatives or permitting domestic military service), but we're still talking about serious disruption to our lives and communities.

3) Idiotic: Much of this argument for a draft is based on the completely speculative theory that a draft will move society and politics in a progressive direction. It just as likely could trigger an outright rebellion (as people see the government as a threat to their lives), or conversely it could result in an authoritarian society where military discipline conditions everyone to just go along with the President's orders. The truth is that we have no idea of what to expect from social engineering schemes like this--and yet we are expected to disrupt millions of lives and squander billions of dollars in the hope that it will generate some sort of beneficial outcome.

While the above flaws in the argument appear to be independent, they are actually united by a common theme: arrogance. All of these flaws arise from the assumption that a bunch of professional politicians in Washington (and their delegates) can judge the lifestyles of millions of Americans and assign each of them to their most socially useful role.