Punished for the Crimes of Others

When everyone at your job is forced to attend an unexpected sexual harassment workshop, you can figure one of the Vice Presidents was hiking the Appalachian Trail.  And when there’s an unannounced class on ethics, it’s a safe bet the CFO got caught with his hand in the till.

Similarly, when Uncle Sam’s global adventures result in some terrorist blowback to the “Homeland,” we all wind up suffering for it.  Jerry Garcia’s phrase, “doing time for some other f*cker’s crime,” seems appropriate.

Consider the extent to which our movements are regulated and we’re spied upon for the sake of “fighting terrorism.”  Our residual status as “Land of the Free” has been replaced by a lockdown, “papers please” culture.

Your bank snoops your account for the feds, looking for any suspicious movement of money that might be associated with the financing of terrorism.  The NSA snoops your emails and long-distance phone conversations.

The TSA Gestapo running the internal passport checkpoints strip you down to your socks and toss your shampoo bottles–and that’s if you’re lucky.  If they don’t like your facial expression or choice of airplane reading matter, or your membership in the Wobblies or Free State Project puts you on their no-fly list, you may feel a rubber glove tickling the back of your tonsils.

Federal and state police staffers are constantly publishing helpful tips for the local Red Squads, regarding what bumper stickers or organizational memberships may indicate terrorist sympathies.

And if that’s not enough, we’re encouraged to spy on each other; the feds periodically try recruiting the plumber , the electrician, and the guy from the gas or power company to keep an eye open for contraband or signs of impermissible opinions inside your house.

But it’s all for our own safety, don’t you know.  As Cool Hand Luke would say, you shouldn’t be so good to me, Cap’n.

Never mind that all these measures are likely to be ineffective.  Asymmetric warfare is about agility, developing new tactics faster than bureaucrtic national security establishments can react.  After months of methodical committee meetings and grinding of organizational wheels, the plodding bureaucrats at Homeland Security spit out a policy brilliantly designed to thwart tactics Al Qaeda used a year ago and were probably smart enough to know would only work once.  The national security bureaucrats are always busy developing foolproof methods for winning the last war, like the French spending billions on the Maginot Line.

And never mind the question of their real agenda.  Never mind the possibility that the threat of “terrorism,” like that of “drugs,” is just used as an excuse for feeding their power lust.  Never mind the likelihood that the state tracks our every movement for the simple reason that, like the rest of us, it wants to know where it’s stuff is–and we’re its stuff.

Let’s just take the justifications at face value, and stipulate that the genuine aim of the policy is a good faith effort to “keep us safe,” to prevent another terrorist attack on the American public.

The fact remains that the primary reason for terrorism isn’t that “they hate our freedoms”–that (even Pat Buchanan gets off a good one now and then) Osama stumbled across the Bill of Rights and went ballistic.  The primary reason for terrorism is that word we used earlier–blowback.   This is where Krauthammer and Kirkpatrick usually start squealing about “Blame America First.”  But the United States has the closest thing to uncontested hegemony in human history; it has military bases and garrisons in half the countries of the world, at least rivals the greatest empires in the number of governments it has overthrown and installed, and has adopted as an explicit national security policy the prevention of any rival to its hegemony.  As Noam Chomsky has pointed out, an observer from Mars would probably assume that such a hegemonic global power just MIGHT have something to do with the state of world political and economic affairs.

In virtually every national civil war and insurgency, every ethnically-based territorial dispute, there’s a pretty good chance that United States arm sales, military advisers and CIA shenanigans hold the balance of  power.  From the standpoint of those engaged in such local conflicts, therefore, influencing American public opinion in a dramatic way is the key to victory.

And that just removes the question of real motivation back a step.  The military bases and garrisons, the carrier groups, the military budget that dwarfs those of the rest of the world combined, are there for a purpose.  And that purpose is to prop up a global economic and political  order.  In the immortal words of Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, USMC,

“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism….  Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints.  The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts.  I operated on three continents.”

Lest one dismiss that as the raving of an “America-hater,” consider the commendable frankness of corporate globalization’s number one defender, Tom Friedman:

“‘The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist.  McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas….  And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.”

(Of course that’s nonsense; the market would work just fine without the national  security state.  It’s the market that the global corporations really want protection from.)

So every time some goon in uniform demands your papers, take comfort in the fact that we’re all doing our little part to keep the world safe for Bill Gates.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory