Thursday, June 22, 2006
(9:52 AM) | Adam Kotsko:
Against National SecurityOur nation's security is killing us. First of all, there is the huge and ever-growing military machine, which all relevant portions of the political spectrum have agreed is uncuttable. Our advantage over the rest of the world is already so huge as to be farcical -- but even more farcical is that increased spending on the traditional military has been justified by the threat of terrorism, against which traditional military force is virtually useless. We're drowning in debt, we're cutting needed social programs, we're sitting back and letting the people of New Orleans die -- all so that we can use our magical missile defense system against Al Qaeda's mighty box-cutters and provide the wonders of ineffective parliamentary government to a country that doesn't have consistent access to electricity.
Second, when national security becomes the unquestioned primary (or even sole) rationale for government, then it's only a matter of time before the national security apparatus starts lashing out against the citizens themselves. Thankfully we're still in the early phases of this, although the democracy-hating paranoia of the Bush regime means that we can't really know for sure how many of our fellow citizens might be off in some secret prison. But we should have known what was coming when innocent foreigners, guilty of nothing worse than perhaps a certain forgetfulness about paperwork, started to be indefinitely detained without charge and without access to legal counsel.
One might say that the innocent have nothing to fear in a national security state, but on the contrary -- it is precisely the innocent who have the most to fear, who can be tortured and detained endlessly for their refusal to give up information they never had in the first place. Because it's not about information at all, in the end -- it's about fear. Isn't that what stands at the basis of having a standing army: making sure other nations fear to attack us? And so when national security (note that I'm not putting this in scare quotes: these phemonena are inherent possibilities of the concept of national security) is allowed to propagate into all areas of life, the production of fear becomes an end in itself. Look at the history of the Latin American terrorist rulers whom we good Americans trained and financed: anyone can be "disappeared," at any time, so that fear becomes inescapable, so that the arbitrary violence of the state gets closer and closer to being the sole reality.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were terrible atrocities. In a rational world, however, we would have simply tracked down the perpetrators and brought them to justice, while allowing our collective mourning to run its course. There was no need for that day to "change everything," any more than Oklahoma City "changed everything." As soon as the Bush regime (with the complicity of the rest of our political elites) used those horrible attacks as a pretext to make national security the number one priority of our political life, they became an implicitly greater threat than Al Qaeda or any of the other dead-end fanatics out there could ever be. While Al Qaeda was lucky to be able to pull off one spectacular attack that incidentally resulted in the death of 19 of its most highly-trained men and that ultimately advanced none of their political goals, the executive branch of the United States federal government has virtually limitless violence at its disposal -- and as we're learning more and more, they're not afraid to use it.
So to whatever extent "the terrorists" or "Islamofascism" or "Saddam" or "Iran" or whoever else are supposedly a threat to us -- and who knows, maybe they actually are to some extent -- the government itself is an infinitely greater threat. That's what national security means.