October 24, 2012

Paths of Resistance (I): The Refusal to Identify and Reject Evil

The essence of my argument in "Accomplices to Murder" is contained in these two paragraphs:
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 [Obama] 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.
The fuller argument will be found in the preceding article.

Almost all Americans remain blithely unaware of the meaning and implications of their government's unrestricted program of murder, a program which targets anyone the State chooses, for any reason it identifies -- or refuses to identify. To be precise, we should say that almost all Americans refuse to acknowledge the meaning and implications of the State's murder program. If the State can -- and does -- murder anyone it chooses, there is nothing it cannot do. It can order the torture of human beings, directly or indirectly. It can detain individuals indefinitely, even when they are never charged with any crime, and with no hope for release. The United States government already does all these things. When I say that if you support the evil of arbitrary murder, you will support anything, I am not exaggerating in any manner at all. I am stating precisely the nature of the evil to which so many people grant their approval.

To dispel any doubt on this point, you only need read an article dated October 23, 2012, about the State's murder program in the Washington Post. The article is preceded by this note:
Editor’s note: This project, based on interviews with dozens of current and former national security officials, intelligence analysts and others, examines evolving U.S. counterterrorism policies and the practice of targeted killing. This is the first of three stories.
Given this identification of the article's sources, what I said about the NYT article concerning the government's Kill List is equally true of the Washington Post stories:
[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:
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.
Americans cannot legitimately claim ignorance of the immense evil being perpetrated by their government. They will not be able to claim, as others have tried to do in the past: "We never knew about the horrors that were being committed. How can you believe that we knew about that?"

Americans know all about it, in horrifying, endless detail. The State wants them to know. But the State knows that almost all Americans will refuse to admit what it means. Americans have chosen to sleepwalk blindly into the mouth of Hell. If these horrors should be practiced on a much broader scale, with the victims numbering in the many thousands, or even millions -- and depending on events, they well might be -- many Americans will no doubt plead ignorance despite the fact that the knowledge was freely and eagerly provided to them. They will ask for forgiveness. They should not be granted it, not by anyone who remains at all civilized, who is still human in the true meaning of that word.

Read the opening section of the Washington Post article:
Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the “disposition matrix.”

The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the “disposition” of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.

Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation’s counterterrorism ranks: The United States’ conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years.

Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight.

“We can’t possibly kill everyone who wants to harm us,” a senior administration official said. “It’s a necessary part of what we do. . . . We’re not going to wind up in 10 years in a world of everybody holding hands and saying, ‘We love America.'"
I submit that this is the essence of horror. We have seen all this before.

These opening paragraphs, and the article in its totality, describe what we might term the bureaucratization of terror, the phenomenon that Hannah Arendt wrote about extensively. Always remember that what these "U.S. officials" and "senior Obama administration officials" are discussing is the murder of human beings, including the murder of entirely innocent human beings. But they speak of a "disposition matrix," and the "accounting of the resources being marshaled," in the manner that might be used to discuss office supplies. "Oh, dear, we need more paperclips. Staplers, too." "Hmm. This group of men -- there seem to be about ten or twelve of them -- seems to be engaged in a 'suspicious pattern of activity.' We'd better dispose of them."

The story refers to "a former U.S. counterterrorism official" who mentions "a disposition problem." He means the problem of what to do with all those the State places in the category of "everyone who wants to harm us," a category which the government steadily increases in number. As the stories about the Kill List make clear, the easiest method of "disposition" is murder. When they're dead, the State doesn't need to be concerned about "disposing" of them further.

Just as we have seen before -- if anyone cares to remember -- the State which is determined to unleash horror on an ever-increasing scale seeks to transform the horror into an everyday, ordinary matter of following procedure, of following the rules, of routine:
Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it.
Moreover, the Obama administration is determined to make the horror a matter of routine that can be easily followed by the U.S. government indefinitely:
Less visible is the extent to which Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war. Spokesmen for the White House, the National Counterterrorism Center, the CIA and other agencies declined to comment on the matrix or other counterterrorism programs.

Privately, officials acknowledge that the development of the matrix is part of a series of moves, in Washington and overseas, to embed counterterrorism tools into U.S. policy for the long haul.

White House counterterrorism adviser John O. Brennan is seeking to codify the administration’s approach to generating capture/kill lists, part of a broader effort to guide future administrations through the counterterrorism processes that Obama has embraced.
Toward the end of the article, we read:
For an administration that is the first to embrace targeted killing on a wide scale, officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit.

During Monday’s presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney made it clear that he would continue the drone campaign. “We can’t kill our way out of this,” he said, but added later that Obama was “right to up the usage” of drone strikes and that he would do the same.
Regarding the bureaucratization of terror, Arendt is probably most famous for her analysis of this subject in connection with Nazi Germany. Just as many Germans later tried to claim that they, as "ordinary" Germans, knew nothing about the horrors practiced by the Nazi regime, many people have accepted the lie. Many people think that Germans would not have accepted, much less supported, the horrors if they had only known of them.

This is simply not true. It was not true in Nazi Germany; it is not true in the United States today. Germans knew all about the horrors -- and they accepted them, and often enthusiastically supported them. The same is true in America now.

Several months ago, in "Reflections on a Bestial Culture," I addressed this question in detail. In the last part of that series, I wrote:
In the third part of this series, I offered my imagined version of a new history book which discussed events in Nazi Germany, focusing on the Nazis' consolidation and expansion of power in the pre-World War II period. My imagined book dealt with the extent to which knowledge of the Nazis' actions, including their systematic attacks on civil liberties in general -- and notably including details of Nazi brutality -- was available to the general public. The first sentence of my imagined history announced this general theme: "It perhaps astonishes us today, but newspapers often published accounts of these firebombings, raids and murders while the campaign of terror was still underway." The "gimmick" of my imaginary book was to replace Nazi justifications and explanations with those offered by U.S. officials, as detailed in the NYT article about Obama's "Kill List." I attempted to demonstrate the close parallels between Germans' acceptance of growing Nazi horrors and Americans' acceptance of our government's actions today.
I then discussed a remarkable and profoundly disturbing book by Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany. (As I explained, I hadn't been aware of Gellately's book when I wrote my imaginary history.) Part of the Amazon summary of the book reveals how Gellately unmasks this dangerous lie:
Culling chilling evidence from primary news sources and citing dozens of case studies, Gellately shows how media reports and press stories were an essential dimension of Hitler's popular dictatorship. Indeed, a vast array of material on the concentration camps, the violent campaigns against social outsiders, and the Nazis' radical approaches to "law and order" was published in the media of the day, and was widely read by a highly literate population of Germans. Hitler, Gellately reveals, did not try to hide the existence of the Gestapo or of concentration camps. Nor did the Nazis try to cow the people into submission. Instead they set out to win converts by building on popular images, cherished ideals, and long-held phobias. And their efforts succeeded, Gellately concludes, for the Gestapo's monstrous success was due, in large part, to ordinary German citizens who singled out suspected "enemies" in their midst, reporting their suspicions and allegations freely and in a spirit of cooperation and patriotism.
A brief excerpt from Gellately's Introduction makes the point still more forcefully:
I began research for this book by addressing one of the major questions that has been raised since 1945, when we became aware of the concentration camps, namely, 'what did they know and when did they know it?' Did the Germans know about the secret police and the camps, the persecutions, the murders, and so on, and did they go along? Germans have defended themselves by saying they were unaware of, or poorly informed about, the camps, and were surprised by the revelations at the war's end. There was close to general agreement among historians for a long time, that the Nazis deliberately and systematically hid what they were doing, so it was possible that ordinary people really did not know.

This book challenges these views. It shows that a vast array of material on the police and the camps and various discriminatory campaigns was published in the media of the day. In the 1930s the regime made sure the concentration camps were reported in the press, held them up for praise, and proudly let it be known that the men and women in the camps were confined without trial on the orders of the police. The regime boasted openly of its new system of 'police justice' by which the Secret Police (Gestapo) and the Criminal Police (Kripo) could decide for themselves what the law was, and send people to the camps at will. The Nazis celebrated the police in week-long annual festivals across the country, and proudly chalked up their many successes in the war on crime, immorality, and pornography. Far from clothing such practices in secrecy, the regime played them up in the press and lauded the modernity and superiority of the Nazi system over all others.
My earlier article provides additional excerpts from Gellately.

This is precisely the technique now utilized by the U.S. government. Numerous government "officials" are cited in both the NYT and Washington Post articles. The government proudly describes its murder program (along with indefinite detention and many other horrors). It "boast[s] openly" about how it "codifies" and "streamlines" its system of murder without end. The American government "plays up" its "practices," and "laud[s] the modernity and superiority" of its "system over all others." As the Washington Post article expresses it: " officials seem confident that they have devised an approach that is so bureaucratically, legally and morally sound that future administrations will follow suit."

I repeat what I said earlier: the government wants Americans to know all about the horrors. It is increasingly eager to discuss its programs and to describe how it goes about murdering ever greater numbers of people. The government does this so that Americans become accustomed to the murders, precisely so that Americans regard the murders as a matter of routine, everyday business. I remind you of a crucially related point I made recently: In addition to pursuing its goal of global hegemony, the United States government uses foreign countries as a lethal laboratory in which to practice the techniques it intends to use domestically, at home within U.S. borders.

Yet most Americans refuse to identify the meaning of the government's actions. If they are aware of these horrors at all, they tell themselves that the government would never practice these horrors here at home, and certainly not against people like them.

These, too, are transparent and pathetic lies. I shall discuss these lies and related ones next time, when I will also turn to the nature and forms of resistance that are possible to us. For now, I emphasize the critical point: If the future should bring what are now unimaginable horrors, let no American ever be heard to say that he "never knew it would come to that." They know. They know about the horrors in detail; they are told about them repeatedly. They refuse to admit the meaning of what they know. If they did, they might feel they should resist the horrors -- and that is the one outcome they fear more than any other. Whatever may come, they do not want to have to take a stand. They do not want to have to choose.

But life is choice. We are always making a choice, even when we make strenuous, tortuous efforts to avoid it. At certain moments in history, to avoid choosing is the worst and most contemptible choice of all. At present, it is also the choice of most Americans.