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Fear Itself
October 23, 2003
By Richard Girard

"People react to fear, not love - they don't teach that in Sunday School, but it's true." - Richard M. Nixon (1913-94), U.S. Republican politician, president. Quoted in: William Safire, Before The Fall, Prologue (1975).

"Those who love to be feared fear to be loved, and they themselves are more afraid than anyone, for whereas other men fear only them, they fear everyone." - Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622), French churchman, devotional writer. Quoted by Bishop Jean-Pierre Camus in: The Spirit of Saint Frances de Sales, ch. 7, sct. 3 (1952).

"I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America." - Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59), French social philosopher. Democracy in America, vol. 1, ch. 15 (1835)

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." - John F. Kennedy (1917-63), U.S. Democratic politician, president. Speech, 13 March 1962, the White House.

The United States is losing the war against terrorism.

We are losing because we are trading our most basic democratic ideals of freedom and tolerance for a very short-term and illusory feeling of safety.

The terrorists had a single motive on September 11, 2001: to undermine the foundations upon which this nation is built. Our civil liberties have for many years made the United States unique among the powers of the Earth. They are at long last being adopted, in whole or in part, by many nations around the world. The Eleventh of September has changed Americans' attitude towards those liberties, and hardened our collective hearts. The draconian Patriot Act has, for example, done more to abrogate individual liberty than any government law since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798.

After September 11th the American people began (with the Bush Administration egging them on for their own reasons) to think in terms of vengeance rather than justice, and safety rather than liberty. Tolerance of differing opinions among Americans has sunk to a level not seen since before Vietnam. This fear of terrorist acts, and potential terrorists, is almost identical to the fear of Communists and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Richard Nixon, the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Hollywood Blacklist, and Joe McCarthy were all icons of the early years of the Cold War. The American People had a very real and understandable fear - just as they do now with terrorism - of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin, the Red Army, and Communist subversion within the United States. These fears were exploited by political demagogues (Nixon and McCarthy chief among them) who wanted to see the liberties of those who disagreed with them curtailed. These scoundrels used the nation's fear to advance their own careers.

I have a theory that the Cold War was won in those dark days of the 1950's, not by our military's preparedness, nor by those who would have curtailed our liberties for personal gain, but by those who stood against demagogues like McCarthy. First and foremost among these heroes were Edward R. Murrow, Fred Friendly, and the production crew of CBS Television's program "See It Now."

The Soviets were not stupid. With the possible exception of Stalin, who was clinically if not legally insane, the Politburo knew that the Soviet Union could not defeat the United States in a straight up conventional war. They also knew from their scientists that a nuclear conflict was at best a suicide pact. As dedicated Marxists, the Kremlin knew that historically the reaction of any government to left-wing "subversion" was an authoritarian clamp down on liberties, especially freedoms of speech, association, and of the press. This had been the case with Athens after Pericles (in this case imposed by a victorious Sparta), the Roman Republic under Sulla, and France during the Bourbon Restoration. The eventual outcome of the reactionary abrogation of previously enjoyed liberties was invariably a popular uprising to recover the liberties that had been lost. Sometimes there was even a successful revolution that left a "popular" government, similar to Marx's theoretical "Dictatorship of the Proletariat," in control.

I believe (based on twenty years of study) the Soviet government reasoned that an armed, popular uprising against this theoretical authoritarian regime in the United States would provide the Soviet Union with an opportunity to assert hegemony over most of Western Europe. With America distracted by widespread internal unrest, the Soviets believed they could achieve their goal either by conquest or subversion of the democratic political process in countries like France, Greece, and Italy, or by some combination of the two. The Soviet leadership had every reason to believe that the history of Athens, Rome, and France would repeat itself with the United States.

They had not counted on Edward R. Murrow and company.

Murrow, with the support of CBS, chronicled McCarthy's lies and libels, his extortionate tactics, and changed the American people's view of the junior Senator representing Wisconsin from a tireless crusader and hero against the "Red Menace," exposing him for what he really was: a bully and a coward. To try and recover his power and prestige, McCarthy went after the U.S. Army. When Secretary of the Army Robert Welch intoned the famous words, "At long last Senator, have you no shame," it spelled an end not only to McCarthy's career, but an effective end to the anti-Communist witch hunt in America.

The end of the "witch hunts" also ended the one real chance the Soviets had to eventually subvert the United States and win the Cold War. The American people quit being afraid of Communists hiding under every bush, and remembered the courage and compassion that were at the heart of their nation's greatness. Americans may have still been afraid, but now they faced their fears and stared them down.

Over the next twenty years, the United States underwent a series of generally peaceful revolutions, some of which astounded the world. The Civil Rights movement succeeded because the majority of Americans did not believe that it was a subversive plot, but recognized it as a movement to right an injustice against other Americans, whose only crime was being born with the "wrong" skin color. The Vietnam protests ended Lyndon Johnson's political career, and - through the Pentagon Papers and other reports - opened millions of Americans' eyes to the brutal corruption and expediency that defined so much of American foreign policy after the Second World War. Finally, Richard Nixon was driven from the White House for his illegal actions during the Watergate scandal. Forcing President Nixon to resign had amazed the world because, as one diplomat observed, "the tanks did not roll down Constitution Avenue."

I believe that if McCarthy and his ilk had succeeded in their attempt to frighten the American People into surrendering some or all of their liberties over the threat of Communism; and if these demagogues had been successful in branding everyone who disagreed with them a Communist, pinko, or just plain unpatriotic; then one or more of those peaceful revolutions would have been violent, and the Soviet Union would have succeeded in taking control of Western Europe. And the wealth of Western Europe would have been sufficient to delay the fall of the Soviet Empire by years, if not decades.

The United States has now arrived at a similar point in the war on terrorism. I believe, as Benjamin Franklin once observed, that if our nation continues to try and trade safety for freedom, we shall soon have neither.

I have awoken every morning for the last twenty years wondering if this would be the morning that some group of terrorists had "nuked" New York or some other American city while I slept. Only two things surprised me on September 11th, 2001: how quickly the Twin Towers collapsed, and why it had taken so long for the terrorists to mount a successful major attack against the United States itself.

I believe that the terrorists have a two-fold goal in mind with respect to their effect on the United States. The first is to undermine America belief in itself. Bin Ladin and company, like the Soviets before them, believe that they can, through terrorism, transform America's domestic and foreign policies into something harsh, reactionary, and insular. These Machiavellian Muslims have decided if America is sufficiently divided and suspicious, it will undermine popular support for the war against the terrorists. Large, Vietnam-era type protests against the war will goad the United States Government into passing ill-conceived laws undermining the nation's Constitutional foundations. This in turn will cause greater internal upheaval, which may cause the institution of martial law. If that happens, the ensuing uproar in America and around the world will permit the terrorists to easily accomplish their second goal

That second goal is to unite the Islamic world using the alienated American colossus as a rally point for their unification. Once united, the terrorists believe by sheer size (one billion plus believers from Mindanao to Morocco) and economic power (that is spelled oil), this new Islamic Caliphate will be able to demand its place at the table of other great powers. This Islamic superpower could squeeze the industrial powers by threatening their oil supplies or the withdrawal of Islamic investment capital from Europe, Japan and America. Finally, an Islamic nuclear arsenal (whether Pakistani or Iranian) would be used to keep the developed nations at bay.

So what are we to do to prevent this monstrous future? First, like Edward R. Murrow fifty years ago, we must expose the lies and libels of these neo-McCarthyites, wherever we find them, whatever the source. We must hold our elected officials and our media to the highest standards of honesty and probity. Everyone makes mistakes, and if a politician or newscaster admits that they were in error, we must accept his contrite admission and move on. If a politician or pundit makes excuses or refuses to admit their error, then we should demand their resignation regardless of party affiliation or personal charisma. Hypocrisy and mendacity are no longer acceptable values for public figures in the United States.

Secondly we must practice tolerance and humility. Central to this process is the need to listen to others with opposing views, and discerning the emotions that lie beneath those views. All of us, if we are honest with ourselves, have arrived at our political beliefs emotionally, and then found the facts to support our position. We must remember that people with different views from our own are not evil or stupid, or even necessarily wrong. I have personally discovered that many times opposing opinions arise from incomplete knowledge of an issue on both sides. We should all keep this in mind.

Finally, we must face our fears as a nation, and condemn those who try to use our fears for personal or political advantage. Properly organized, and with intelligent oversight, we had enough pieces in place to prevent the Eleventh of September. We did not need the Patriot Act or the new Department of Homeland Security to ensure that three thousand Americans did not die that day. Part of it is the fault of the Bush Administration, having abolished (with National Security Presidential Directive No. 1) the multi-agency intelligence committees of the Clinton Administration without immediately replacing them. Part of it is the internecine fighting that has dogged our intelligence community since the Second World War. The final part is simple complacency by the Federal Government and the American people.

It is up to the American people to tell our elected officials which choice to make: liberty or security. If we choose security then the terrorists have won. Let's choose liberty.

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