I. A Meeting in a Park
He wondered why almost no one visited this small corner of the park. How peaceful and lovely it is here, he thought. A soft breeze gently rippled the water in the pond. He thought that the families with young children must prefer the much larger lake; the children enjoyed feeding the birds that gathered there. There were no birds here; there were no signs of life at all. Perhaps that's why it's so peaceful. He laughed at himself reprovingly for having such a thought. I sometimes think you don't like people very much, he chastised himself. He reminded himself that he cared about people very much. He had dedicated his life to protecting innocent people. Ah, you're not so bad, he joked to himself. You're just tired. He was tired, and he was not entirely happy about his task this morning. But he recognized what needed to be done, as he always did.
He leaned back on the bench and closed his eyes. Let yourself relax, just for a few minutes. He had learned to do this while remaining fully alert to the slightest sound, so he heard the soft footsteps as another person entered the secluded haven. He opened his eyes and turned toward the sound. He hated the fact that the woman had the girl with her. But there was no other way to do it. Damn it, he thought. He smiled, a warm, genuine smile. "Good morning," he said.
"Oh ... hello," the woman said. She looked momentarily disconcerted. He was an attractive man, well-dressed in a business suit. He has a kind face, she thought. She offered a small smile in return.
"Please come and sit down," he said. He moved closer to one end of the bench to make room for them. After a moment, the woman walked over to the bench, still holding the girl's hand.
After the woman and the girl settled themselves, the woman opened a bag she was carrying. "Let's have our cookie now, Joanna," she said to the girl. Joanna's face brightened with delight as she extended her hand to take the cookie. "Thank you, grandma." "You're welcome, darling."
The grandmother glanced again at the man to her side. It is
a kind face, she thought. "We always buy a few extra ones. We probably shouldn't," she laughed gently, "but they're so good. Would you like one?"
"Only if you're sure you don't want to save it for later."
"No, no, we have plenty, believe me. Please have one."
"Thank you very much." After a moment, he said, "My goodness, these are delicious."
They ate their cookies in silence. When they were finished, they continued to sit there for a few minutes without speaking, enjoying the soothing peace of this forgotten corner of the world.
"I was surprised to see you, to see anyone. Joanna and I have been coming here for months, and there's never been anyone else here. We feel as if it's our secret place." She laughed, very gently.
"I'm sorry," the man said. "I feel as if I'm trespassing."
"No, no, I shouldn't have said that. It's a public park. I just wasn't expecting it. But you seem to enjoy this spot the way we do."
"It's beautiful here. So peaceful. You can almost forget the rest of the world is there."
"I know. Sometimes, these days, I need to forget that. There are just too many upsetting things happening."
An expression of deep unhappiness flickered across the grandmother's face. "Oh, dear. I shouldn't have said that either. I try not to speak of such things when I'm with Joanna." She put her arm around the girl, giving her a gentle hug, and kissed her on the forehead. "it's all right, sweetheart. Nothing at all for you to worry about. Just things that old people think about sometimes."
"I understand, grandma. It's okay. I always feel safe with you." The woman hugged her again.
"A wise child," the man said. He and the grandmother exchanged a warm glance of understanding.
"But I know that you've been very worried for a long time," the man went on. The woman turned a mildly puzzled face toward him. "You ... know?"
"I'm sorry," he said. "I tend to explain this badly. There's never an easy way to start." He reached into his pocket and took out a small folder. "I work for the Department of Internal Security. Here's my identification badge."
He extended it toward the woman, who looked at it for a long moment. "Richard Maddox," she read out loud. "Yes, that's me. It's as bad a picture of me as the one on my driver's license." She offered only a wary smile in response to his soft laugh. "I ... I don't understand," she said after a moment.
"Our Department didn't have any particular reason to be aware of you. It was just the result of the random searching we do, through emails, comments on websites, things like that. I'm sure you've heard about all those programs. There have certainly been lots of stories about them. At first, we didn't like all that coverage. But when we saw that people quickly got used to the idea that we kept track of so many things, we decided the publicity was a great advantage. People didn't protest all that much, not in ways that we might have cared about. People understand that we're just trying to keep them safe. You understand that, don't you, Mrs. Hamilton?"
Her body jerked slightly in surprise. It was the first time he had used her name. "I ... this ... this is making me very uncomfortable. Perhaps we'd better go." She gripped Joanna's hand firmly and started to rise.
"Please don't go," he said. "I'm here to reassure you. Please. I need to talk to you." He had placed his hand on her arm; the pressure he exerted was strong and insistent. She experienced a rising sense of danger. She looked around the little glen, as if searching for other people, for safety.
"That's right," he said. "We're in the middle of the park. What could possibly happen here? We're just talking. Please."
It's silly to be frightened of him, she told herself. He was right. They were just talking. They were out in public. What could happen here? She relaxed, just a little, and sat back on the bench.
"So what made you aware of me in particular?"
"Well, you left lots on comments on lots of websites. And you expressed a lot of worries and concerns -- about Social Security and Medicare, about the treatment of women, about the environment, about the Supreme Court. A lot
of concern, and a lot
of comments. And a lot of emails, too. Of course, we agree with all your worries about what the other party might do, but we were upset to see that you were so worried about what the President would do. And you expressed so much concern about the President and his plans that we thought you were almost asking
to be noticed, asking to be reassured. That's why I've come to talk to you."
She listened very intently. As he spoke, she was thinking, well, that's true. She had left lots of comments about those subjects, she had written lots of emails. She did want her concerns to be noticed, to be understood. And she had seen and heard all those stories about the government's surveillance programs. If she were honest with herself, she realized, she couldn't say she was surprised.
"Yes. Yes, I see," she said after a few moments had passed. "I would like to believe the President will make sure the policies he says he believes in are followed and protected. I guess ... I just didn't expect to be reassured in such a personal
"It's a new day, Mrs. Hamilton. A new time. We have dangerous enemies. Sometimes they turn up in unexpected places. We have to be vigilant. The President has talked a lot about all of that, too. I'm sure you're aware of what he's said about how committed he is to protecting innocent Americans, aren't you?"
"Yes ... yes, I suppose you're right. I just hadn't thought it through all the way."
"Almost no one does. I have to admit that I find that very disappointing. I mean, I'd like to think people understand the meaning of what they say they support. On the other hand, it makes our job easier in many ways." Mrs. Hamilton began to look worried again, even frightened. Damn, he said to himself. You always say too much in these meetings. This isn't the time to question the complexities of what you do, what you have
"But look," he quickly went on. "As I said, I'm here to reassure you. You don't need to worry anymore about Social Security or Medicare, or Supreme Court appointments, or any of the other things you've written about so often. So
often." He smiled at her, and quietly laughed. She finally offered a small laugh in return. "The President is fully committed to the policies he's talked about, the policies you support. Of course, we never know how obstructionist the other party will be, or what difficulties they'll cause. So there are some elements that aren't within the President's control. Still, to the greatest extent possible, the President will make sure all those things you're so strongly committed to will be protected. We want to make sure you know that."
"All right. But ... but, couldn't someone have just sent me a letter?" She looked at him with an amused expression.
"Sure, I suppose we could have done it that way. But everyone complains about how impersonal government has become, the curse of bureaucracy and all that. You've written about that,
"Yes, yes, I have." She laughed again.
"So we thought a personal visit would be much better. We want to emphasize how strongly we're committed to the policies we all want. Much better to hear it from someone in person, don't you think?"
"It is much more convincing than a form letter." She smiled. After a moment, she asked, "And that's it? That's what you wanted to tell me?"
He extended his arms, palms turned upwards, as if to say, That's all I've got. He still wasn't able to lie about it right to someone's face, especially to a lovely woman like Mrs. Hamilton. Not that it mattered at this point. But still.
"We should be going. Say goodbye to the nice man, Joanna." They had stood up. Joanna turned to Maddox and said, "Bye!," smiling radiantly. God damn it, he thought. He had stood, too. He raised his hand and gave a little wave.
They had taken just a couple of steps when he spoke again.
"Mrs. Hamilton." She stopped; she and Joanna turned to him. "Yes?" She didn't look at all frightened any longer. It usually happened that way. It always surprised him.
"I'm afraid there is one more thing. After we'd become aware of you because of all those comments and emails, we did some further checking. Just routine stuff. But it turned up some donations you've been making regularly to a few charities. Two of those charities appear on the list of organizations we've designated as terrorist groups."
"What are you talking about? I don't give money to terrorist groups."
"I realize that. You thought you were donating to charities. But the charities are fronts for terrorist organizations. And you've made donations to them regularly for years. And it wouldn't matter so much, except that we recently received intelligence indicating that one of those terrorist organizations is planning a major attack right here in the city. It's something big, so stopping the attack has been given the highest priority. We have to do everything possible to stop it, and to stop everyone who has any connection to it. Any connection at all. I've checked and rechecked all of this with the main office. We have no choice, not if we want to protect innocent American lives."
He said all this with great calm and deliberation. He wanted to be sure she understood. Not that it mattered, he told himself again. But still. He saw the color drain from her face. She gripped Joanna's hand with all her strength. He saw that, too. She understood.
"To stop everyone ..." Her voice trailed into nothingness.
"But ... but we're in the park.
Someone could come by at any moment."
"No one ever comes here, except you. And Joanna. I can't tell you how sorry I am that Joanna is with you. There wasn't any other way to do it. But Joanna ... well. Unavoidable collateral damage. Awful."
He looked genuinely pained. She thought, He still has a kind face. How can he have a kind
face? In the next moment, he took his hand out of his pocket and raised the gun.
In the same moment, she started to scream, "Run, Joanna, r---." There were two soft sounds, pock-pock.
A small hole opened in Joanna's forehead, followed a split second later by a hole in Mrs. Hamilton's forehead. For a moment, both bodies remained frozen in place. Then they both slowly crumpled to the ground, and the blood began to pool around their heads.
He put the gun back in his pocket. He looked around to make certain no one else could be seen. That wasn't actually a problem. The drones that regularly swept over the park would pick up anyone who might have witnessed the murders. If there were witnesses, they could be dealt with easily enough. But it was better not to have any loose ends.
He began to walk out of the glen. When he reached the turn in the path, he turned back to take one last look. The pools of blood continued to spread on the ground beneath the bodies. There was nothing else to see in this quiet corner of the park.
There were still no birds here. There was no sign of life at all.
II. The Meaning of What You Support
This story is not fiction. Yes, I've invented the characters, the dialogue and the specific actions. But in terms of its essentials, I repeat for emphasis: this is not
fiction. This is the meaning of the policies you support and sanction if you vote for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for President. If you vote for either man, you condone the murders of Mrs. Hamilton and Joanna.
In fact, events exactly like what transpires in my story have happened countless times over the last several years. They haven't happened here in the United States -- at least, not that we know of. But such murders take place regularly in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, and in additional countries. The victims include American citizens. But they were murdered abroad, not in America. The specific locale is irrelevant. If you sanction murders that happen abroad -- murders of Americans or people who are not Americans -- you sanction murders here at home as well.
If you vote for Obama or Romney, that is certainly your right -- although you will forever forfeit the right to speak of "rights" at all. If a human being can be murdered for any reason, or for no reason at all, merely on the arbitrary order of someone who claims the power to issue such orders, she has no rights at all. You thus sanction the destruction of all rights, of all human beings -- including yours. The victim may be Mrs. Hamilton, or Joanna -- or you.
If you vote for Obama or Romney, do so proudly. I want you to say: "I vote for Obama/Romney proudly.
I am proud
to be a knowing accomplice to their murders, including the murders of innocent human beings." Say that,
and those of us who refuse to surrender our souls will know where you stand.
This is not a complicated issue. It is stunningly straightforward. Those who seek to complicate and confuse it do so because they will not identify the meaning of their support, either to themselves or to anyone else. When they wish still to be regarded as "civilized," murderers and their accomplices will engage in endless irrelevant arguments and invent complexities where none exist. Don't let them get away with it. They are knowing accomplices to murder.
Make them say it.
I have explained this issue repeatedly for several years. For those who remain confused -- and I am marginally sympathetic in certain cases, given the strenuous efforts exerted by so many to create confusions out of nothing -- allow me to offer a brief review. In "Murder with Malice Aforethought
" from June 2010, I wrote:
Obama and his administration claim the "right" to murder anyone in the world, wherever he or she may be, for whatever reason they choose -- or for no reason at all. Obama and his administration recognize no upper limit to the number of people they can murder in this manner: they can murder as many people as they wish. And they claim there is nothing at all that may impede their exercise of this "right."
This is the game entire. Understand this: once Obama and his administration have claimed this, there is nothing left to argue about. They can murder you -- and they can murder anyone else at all. What in the name of anything you hold holy remains to be "debated" once a vile, damnable "right" of this kind has been claimed?
This is a war crime [under the Nuremberg Principles]: "murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory..."
It is also a crime against humanity: "Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population..."
Under Principle VII, all those who are complicit in these crimes are also guilty.
Expanding on this in the second part of "Reflections on a Bestial Culture
" in June of this year, I said:
Be sure to understand this issue. The claim of absolute power -- the claim of dominion over all of human life itself, and the assertion of a damnable "right" to unleash death whenever and in whatever direction they wish -- is not remotely equivalent to any dispute over lowering Social Security benefits, raising the retirement age, or any similar question, at least it is not equivalent to any sane person. The claim of absolute power is sui generis; it is a claim unlike any other. It is not -- I repeat: it is not -- simply another "question of policy." It is certainly possible that, in particular cases, the deprivation of medical benefits (as just one example) may ultimately result in a person's death sooner than would have occurred otherwise. But for some period of time, however brief, the persons so affected are left with the possibility of action; they can still try to save themselves, even if those efforts are finally unsuccessful. But the claim of a "right" to dispense death arbitrarily -- the claim that the State may murder anyone it chooses, whenever it desires -- constitutes a separate category altogether, a category of which this particular claim is the sole unit. When death is unleashed, all possibility of action is ended forever.
Yet you can read various harsh denunciations of this policy, and you will almost never encounter language of the kind I employ here. Even for the most vehement of "dissenters," the assertion of absolute power is treated as another in a list of wrongs, perhaps an especially egregious wrong, but not a claim which demands a fundamentally different response. For such writers, it is certainly nothing to take to the streets about; it is no cause for withdrawing one's support in every way possible from a system of evil dedicated to death.
Later in the same essay, in discussing the Obama administration's urgent participation in the lengthy New York Times article
about Obama's Kill List, I wrote:
[T]his in effect announces the identity of the article's true author: the author is the U.S. government, the State itself. Through these "advisers," the highest levels of the U.S. government have told the story they want to tell. And what is that story? It is simply this:This
The State is become death. Our target can be anyone we choose. Yes, this means you. No, there is nowhere to run.It is not every day that the State announces in the august pages of "the paper of record" that its primary program, the central mission to which it patiently and carefully devotes its vast resources, is the elimination of human life, wherever, whenever and to whatever extent it wishes.
is what you support
if you vote for Obama. Let the meaning of the phrase sink in: a vote for
Obama. If you vote for Obama, you vote for
the murder of anyone, anywhere, anytime. Your vote is not accompanied by a short treatise which explains that you vote for
policies one through five, but against
policies six through 10. Your vote is an either-or proposition. This, too, is not a complicated issue. If you vote for Obama and you oppose his murder program, how do you propose to stop his murders if he is reelected? You're not
going to stop them. Anyone who votes for him knows that. It's worse than pointless to argue the point with them. They know
the murders will continue.
The same is true for Romney. As one example, look at this exchange from the Republican primary debate on November 12, 2011
Scott Pelley: And that is time. Thank you, sir. Governor Romney. Governor Romney, recently President Obama ordered the death of an American citizen who was suspected of terrorist activity overseas. Is it appropriate for the American president on the president's say-so alone to order the death of an American citizen suspected of terrorism?
Mitt Romney: Absolutely.
Give the bastard a point for clarity and brevity. The totality of Romney's views make it indisputable that he means that "Absolutely." A vote for Romney is a vote for
murder without end, of anyone, anywhere, anytime. Grant the principle in one case, and you have granted it in all cases.
This issue is a very simple one. This question stands alone; there is no other issue that begins to approach it. I understand very well that people care passionately about ensuring the continuation of Social Security (they hope), or protecting the environment (they hope), or establishing full equality for women (they hope). Take another look at the story that began this essay. Even if every other issue you care about is, in fact,
advanced and safeguarded by Obama (or Romney, if that's your preference), if the President and his associates have the power to order the murder of anyone
reason, that is the end of the argument. If you're dead, the other issues don't matter a damn. If people can't understand this, it's because they refuse
to understand it.
Many people refuse to understand it, including famous and well-regarded writers and dissenters. It gives me no pleasure to offer harsh criticism of men like Daniel Ellsberg and Noam Chomsky, but this is not a time for avoiding confrontation and argument. The repeated public announcement of the State's assertion of absolute power demands the most forceful response possible. I hold both men in very high regard for their past work (and even for some of their more recent work); in the case of Ellsberg, I am deeply grateful for his past acts of astonishing heroism. But past work and past actions are no guarantee for the future. People change; there lies the possibility of glory, and the possibility of ignominy. I expect, I demand
to be held to the same standard myself.
With regard to the following passages, keep in mind what I said in the earlier essay:
Even for the most vehement of "dissenters," the assertion of absolute power is treated as another in a list of wrongs, perhaps an especially egregious wrong, but not a claim which demands a fundamentally different response. For such writers, it is certainly nothing to take to the streets about; it is no cause for withdrawing one's support in every way possible from a system of evil dedicated to death.
Daniel Ellsberg recently wrote the following. To make certain his argument can be evaluated fairly, I offer an excerpt which is not brief
An activist colleague recently said to me: “I hear you’re supporting Obama.”
I was startled, and took offense. “Supporting Obama? Me?!”
“I lose no opportunity publicly,” I told him angrily, to identify Obama as a tool of Wall Street, a man who’s decriminalized torture and is still complicit in it, a drone assassin, someone who’s launched an unconstitutional war, supports kidnapping and indefinite detention without trial, and has prosecuted more whistleblowers like myself than all previous presidents put together. “Would you call that support?”
My friend said, “But on Democracy Now you urged people in swing states to vote for him! How could you say that? I don’t live in a swing state, but I will not and could not vote for Obama under any circumstances.”
My answer was: a Romney/Ryan administration would be no better -- no different -- on any of the serious offenses I just mentioned or anything else, and it would be much worse, even catastrophically worse, on a number of other important issues: attacking Iran, Supreme Court appointments, the economy, women’s reproductive rights, health coverage, safety net, climate change, green energy, the environment.
I told him: “I don’t ‘support Obama.’ I oppose the current Republican Party. This is not a contest between Barack Obama and a progressive candidate. The voters in a handful or a dozen close-fought swing states are going to determine whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to wield great political power for four, maybe eight years, or not.”
As Noam Chomsky said recently, “The Republican organization today is extremely dangerous, not just to this country, but to the world. It’s worth expending some effort to prevent their rise to power, without sowing illusions about the Democratic alternatives.”
Following that logic, he’s said to an interviewer what my friend heard me say to Amy Goodman: “If I were a person in a swing state, I’d vote against Romney/Ryan, which means voting for Obama because there is no other choice.”
Note the list of "serious offenses" that I highlighted. Ellsberg lists "a drone assassin" as another "serious offense." It's not another
"serious offense." It is the ultimate
offense -- against civilization, against every person now alive, against life itself.
A vote for
Obama is support
of Obama's assassination program. Ellsberg can call it whatever he wants; the fact of his support is not altered. I assume that Ellsberg's report of Chomsky's identical view on this question is accurate. (If it is not, I would appreciate being pointed to a source for refutation.) Assuming their views to be the same, they are both accomplices to murder. I want them to say it.
Certain remarks of Glenn Greenwald's fall into a related, but different category. The Greenwald comments are different because, at least in this column -- from December 31, 2011
-- Greenwald is at pains to say "that I am not 'endorsing' or expressing support for anyone’s candidacy..."
(I do not read Greenwald with any regularity, so if he has since endorsed Obama, I would be interested to know that. I don't read him regularly in large part because of the error I am about to discuss, and a number of similar errors; see the concluding section of this essay
for one example.) The column offers a detailed examination of Obama's "heinous views" and actions "on a slew of critical issues," and contrasts Obama's views with those of Ron Paul. Greenwald (correctly) criticizes those who seek to minimize or avoid just how heinous Obama's record is.
Then he writes (the italics and highlighting are his):
It’s perfectly rational and reasonable for progressives to decide that the evils of their candidate are outweighed by the evils of the GOP candidate, whether Ron Paul or anyone else. An honest line of reasoning in this regard would go as follows:
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.Without my adopting it, that is at least an honest, candid, and rational way to defend one’s choice. It is the classic lesser-of-two-evils rationale, the key being that it explicitly recognizes that both sides are “evil”: meaning it is not a Good v. Evil contest but a More Evil v. Less Evil contest.
As in the Ellsberg example, Greenwald lists "American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process" together with other heinous policies and acts. To be sure, the slaughter of Muslims (and not only children), the evils of the prison complex and the Surveillance State, and the other items he lists are indeed heinous -- but murder by arbitrary whim remains the ultimate heinous crime. These are not policy choices of equal weight and meaning.
As I have written before: "the claim of a 'right' to dispense death arbitrarily -- the claim that the State may murder anyone it chooses, whenever it desires -- constitutes a separate category altogether, a category of which this particular claim is the sole unit. When death is unleashed, all possibility of action is ended forever."
For this reason -- and it is the only reason required -- it is not
"perfectly rational and reasonable" to decide that "the evils of their candidate are outweighed by the evils of the GOP candidate."
There is no evil beyond the claimed "right" to murder by arbitrary edict, to murder anyone, anywhere, anytime. If you support this particular evil -- and if you vote for Obama, you support it -- then you will support anything.
I want to mention two comparatively minor points. The inclusion in Greenwald's list of the purported preferred policies of "a President with no association with racist views in a newsletter" is a reference to the Paul controversy about this issue. But it's an astonishing claim to make in Obama's favor.
Obama himself has expressed viciously racist views (see generally this
, as well as all the links collected there; see this, too
, as well as this
for a narrower example concerning black fathers) -- and much more significantly, the most lethal racism is embodied in countless aspects of Obama's foreign policy,
a subject which I recall Greenwald himself has addressed. To mention "associations with racist views in a newsletter" in the context of Obama's own record
is trivial and ludicrous.
The second point is that, in response to this Greenwald post, Roy Edroso offered some very heated criticism
of Greenwald's argument. Greenwald made some remarks in Edroso's comment section, but all the comments have disappeared from Edroso's site, apparently the result of a site redesign. However, I'd saved the comment; Edroso references Greenwald's comment in an update to his post, and I'm certain Greenwald would confirm its content if questioned. In any case, the comment merely repeats the essence of Greenwald's argument as set forth in his original column, so I need not rely on it for my criticism. But his rewording is worth noting. Here is Greenwald's comment as I had saved it originally (again, the italics and highlighting are Greenwald's):
Roy - I appreciate the post, but I actually did lay out in detail exactly why one could still rationally and reasonably support Obama despite the issues you flagged (on which I do think Paul is clearly better). This is what I said could constitute exactly that sort of endorsement:
Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.
I think it's far from clear that the issues in bold are insign[i]ficant or outweighed by the horrible positions Obama has taken.
No, it's not "far from clear." Obama's assertion of an unrestricted "right" to murder whomever he chooses for whatever reason he likes is of the greatest "significance," and it "outweighs" every other item.
As I noted, since Greenwald did not endorse Obama in his column (and has not, to my knowledge), I view this as different in that sense from the Ellsberg-Chomsky argument. Nonetheless, failing to identify the full meaning of the claim to absolute power -- and why the claim is fundamentally different from every other issue -- remains a grievous error, one which necessarily must lead to horrifying and tragic results.
III. The Lesson of History
The twentieth century saw a series of conflicts and catastrophes that are terrifying to contemplate. Yet as I have sometimes remarked, as awful as the slaughter and devastation were, what sometimes almost seems worse to me is that it appears we have learned nothing at all.
Over six years ago, on September 30, 2006, I wrote "Thus the World Was Lost
" after the passage of the Military Commissions Act. Most people have already forgotten that Act; it is almost never mentioned now. We have learned nothing, and we remember nothing. After discussing that Act and its meaning, I noted: "People often exhibit a visceral rejection of comparisons of our dire predicament to the rise of Nazi Germany." I addressed that rejection in the earlier article.
I then offered some excerpts from a book by Milton Mayer. I thought of editing the excerpts for inclusion here, but I then decided to repeat the excerpts as I had first posted them. The continuing relevance of these passages grieves me more deeply than I can find words to express.
This is what I wrote:
Finally, I offer several excerpts from Milton Mayer's illuminating and frightening book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45. I will not belabor the parallels,and I leave you free to draw what conclusions you will.
In Chapter 14, "Collective Shame," Mayer refers to the "excesses" of the "radical" Nazis, and discusses how some people attempted to oppose them [the highlights throughout are mine]:
""Yes," said my colleague, shaking his head, "the 'excesses' and the 'radicals.' We all opposed them, very quietly. So your two 'little men' thought they must join, as good men, good Germans, even as good Christians, and when enough of them did they would be able to change the party. They would 'bore from within.' 'Big men' told themselves that, too, in the usual sincerity that required them only to abandon one little principle after another, to throw away, little by little, all that was good. I was one of those men.A few pages later, Mayer tells the story of a chemical engineer, who brought Mayer "even closer to the heart of the matter..."
"You know," he went on, "when men who understand what is happening--the motion, that is, of history, not the reports of single events or developments--when such men do not object or protest, men who do not understand cannot be expected to. How many men would you say understand--in this sense--in America? And when, as the motion of history accelerates and those who don't understand are crazed by fear, as our people were, and made into a great 'patriotic' mob, will they understand then, when they did not before?
"We learned here--I say this freely--to give up trying to make them understand after, oh, the end of 1938, after the night of the synagogue burning and the things that followed it. Even before the war began, men who were teachers, men whose faith in teaching was their whole faith, gave up, seeing that there was no comprehension, no capacity left for comprehension, and the thing must go its course, taking first its victims, then its architects, and then the rest of us to destruction. ..."
One day, when we had become very friendly, I said to him, "Tell me now--how was the world lost?"The engineer recounts how his refusal to take the oath would have meant the loss of his job, and that he would have had difficulty getting another, at least in his chosen field. But he tried "not to think" of himself or his family -- but of "the people to whom I might be of some help later on, if things got worse..."
"That," he said, "is easy to tell, much easier than you may suppose. The world was lost one day in 1935, here in Germany. It was I who lost it, and I will tell you how.
"I was employed in a defense plant (a war plant, of course, but they were always called defense plants). That was the year of the National Defense Law, the law of 'total conscription.' Under the law I was required to take the oath of fidelity. I said I would not; I opposed it in conscience. I was given twenty-four hours to 'think it over.' In those twenty-four hours I lost the world."
He finally took the oath: "That day the world was lost, and it was I who lost it." But in fact, the engineer did save lives:
"For the sake of argument," he said, "I will agree that I saved many lives later on. Yes."As their conversation continues, and to make the case for the engineer's decision to take the oath as strong as possible, they agree that "only" three million innocent people were slaughtered by the Nazis, while the engineer saved as many as a thousand lives. The engineer asks:
"Which you could not have done if you had refused to take the oath in 1935."
"And you still think that you should not have taken the oath."
"I don't understand," I said.
"Perhaps not," he said, "but you must not forget that you are an American. I mean that, really. Americans have never known anything like this experience--in its entirety, all the way to the end. That is the point."
"You must explain," I said.
"Of course I must explain. First of all, there is the problem of the lesser evil. Taking the oath was not so evil as being unable to help my friends later on would have been. But the evil of the oath was certain and immediate, and the helping of my friends was in the future and therefore uncertain. I had to commit a positive evil, there and then, in the hope of a possible good later on. The good outweighed the evil; but the good was only a hope, the evil was a fact."
"And it would have been better to have saved all three million, instead of only a hundred, or a thousand?"
"There, then, is my point. If I had refused to take the oath of fidelity, I would have saved all three millions."
"You are joking," I said.
"You don't mean to tell me that your refusal would have overthrown the regime in 1935?"
"Or that others would have followed your example?"
"I don't understand."
"You are an American," he said again, smiling. "I will explain. There I was, in 1935, a perfect example of the kind of person who, with all his advantages in birth, in education, and in position, rules (or might easily rule) in any country. If I had refused to take the oath in 1935, it would have meant that thousands and thousands like me, all over Germany, were refusing to take it. Their refusal would have heartened millions. Thus the regime would have been overthrown, or, indeed, would never have come to power in the first place. The fact that I was not prepared to resist, in 1935, meant that all the thousands, hundreds of thousands, like me in Germany were also unprepared, and each one of these hundreds of thousands was, like me, a man of great influence or of great potential influence. Thus the world was lost."
"You are serious?" I said.
"Completely," he said. "These hundred lives I saved--or a thousand or ten as you will--what do they represent? A little something out of the whole terrible evil, when, if my faith had been strong enough in 1935, I could have prevented the whole evil."
The claim of a "right" to murder anyone for any reason is the greatest expression of evil we can imagine. Both Obama and Romney claim the President has such a right. Obama has actualized his belief on many occasions. Any individual who claims such a right cannot, by definition, represent a "lesser evil" of any kind. He claims as his own the greatest evil possible. Every other issue, no matter how important it may be in itself, no matter how passionately we may feel about it, is necessarily less significant.
For the German engineer, taking the "oath of fidelity" represented a "certain and immediate" evil. The same must be true of support for a person who claims the right to unrestricted, unbounded murder. As the engineer said: "I had to commit a positive evil, there and then, in the hope of a possible good later on. The good outweighed the evil; but the good was only a hope, the evil was a fact."
It is a fact
that Obama and Romney both claim the President possesses absolute power, the power over life itself -- and this with regard to every human being alive. It is a fact
that a vote for Obama or Romney means that you support
their claim. Demand that anyone who says he or she will vote for Obama or Romney declare: "I vote for Obama/Romney proudly. I am proud to be a knowing accomplice to their murders, including the murders of innocent human beings."
Make them say it. I still have hope for the future, but whatever hope I have rests on our understanding, identifying and accepting the meaning of what we are doing.
To vote for Obama or Romney is to be a knowing accomplice to their murders.
If that is what you are, say it.
Say it -- and be damned.
Then we can defend ourselves.
(There remains much more to be said, including how one stops supporting evil. I will begin to deal with that in the next article on this subject.)