The Downing Street Memos: Building a New
June 14, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The
just because many of my relatives got wiped out in the Holocaust,
or because my wife is Bavarian, but, like so many others around
the world, I am ineluctably drawn to the Hitler period in Germany.
How could this have happened - 6 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals
and others herded into camps and slaughtered? More than 50 million
killed on all sides in World War II? It's too much for the mind
And yet, I know that given the right set of circumstances, shameful
episodes could, and in many instances did, happen in our own country
(to African slaves, to Native Americans, to Japanese-Americans,
et al). Fold in the current rise of anti-rational thought and militarist
leadership in Bush America, symbolized best perhaps by the fact
that torture is now officially sanctioned U.S. policy, and America
would seem ripe for even worse excursions into the shadow world.
Probably the most instructive
book I've read in recent years along these lines, about how
easy it is for a nation to slide into totalitarianism, is Defying
Hitler by the Christian German writer Sebastian Haffner; as
a young man, Haffner lived through the 1930s in Germany and watched
the Nazis slowly slice away at long-held freedoms until one day
all citizens found themselves living in a brutal police-state.
Being someone deeply moved and influenced by the successful non-violent
activism of Jesus, Gandhi, King, Chavez, Day and others, I always
wondered what might have happened in Germany, and thus in modern
global history, if a strong and widely based non-violent movement
had existed there in the early-'30s. Suppose hundreds of thousands,
maybe millions, of ordinary German citizens had engaged in civil
disobedience in the early days of Nazi rule, had put their bodies
on the line to register and foment profound opposition to what Hitler
was planning to do to his country and the world.
Non-violent civil disobedience worked for the American suffragettes
in the early decades of the 20th Century, it worked for Mahatma
Gandhi in the anti-colonial campaign in India in the '30s and '40s,
it worked for Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement
in America in the '50s and '60s, it worked for Cesar Chavez organizing
a grape strike and boycott in California in the '60s and '70s, it
worked for so many recent non-violent "peoples' revolutions" that
forced corrupt or illegitimately-elected rulers around the world
to resign - could it have worked in '30s Germany in turning that
nation away from the imperialist, self-destructive course Hitler
envisioned for it?
And could it work today in our own country, given the regime and
problems we face as we slide more and more into a unique kind of
American fascism under Bush & Co., where government works in concert
with corporations and a non-rational, mostly religious, fundamentalism?
COULD HITLER HAVE BEEN STOPPED EARLY?
We will never know how successful a massive non-violent civil
disobedience movement might have been in stopping Hitler in his
tracks if it had confronted him early and often in the early '30s,
led by prestigious church and civil leaders. But, as we know now,
if political demagogues are not confronted wisely and in time to
slow down or block their violent plans, social and military and
ethical disaster is often the result.
Within a few years in Germany, for example, the Nazis were rounding
up the few outspoken religious and political figures and throwing
them into concentration camps. By the time the White Rose Society,
led by those saintly young students Sophie and Hans Scholl, began
circulating their anti-Nazi leaflets and posters, it was much too
late. It took a world war that led to those 50 million+ deaths to
settle the matter.
That's why German Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous quote is so
poignant and instructive. (There are many versions; this one, I
believe, presents the essence of what he said.)
"First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist
- so I didn't speak up. Then they came for the Social Democrats,
but I was not a Social Democrat - so I didn't speak up. Then they
came for the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist - so
I didn't speak up. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a
Jew - so I didn't speak up. Then when they came for me, there was
no one left to speak up for me."
After 9/11, and the beginnings of police-state law-enforcement
in America (including the secret arrests and hidden incarcerations
of U.S. citizens), it was time to update the Niemoller quote to
our own reality; here was my humble attempt.
"First, they came for the terrorist suspects, And I didn't speak
up, because I wasn't a terrorist suspect. Then they came for the
foreigners, And I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a foreigner.
Then they came for the Arab-Americans, And I didn't speak up, because
I wasn't Arab-American. Then they came for the radical dissenters,
and I didn't speak up, because I was just an ordinary troubled citizen.
Then they came for me, And by that time there was no one left to
speak up for me."
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED FROM HISTORY
Please don't misunderstand. I am not saying that America in 2005
is Germany in 1933, or that Bush is Hitler. But unless one chooses
to learn from history, one risks repeating or imitating it, or at
least aspects of it, and that's the instructive lesson we have to
take from the comparisons to European fascism.
Clearly, the situation in America is different. There is a functioning
Opposition Party, for one thing, which picked up 50% of the votes
in the two most recent presidential elections. And, although the
Bush forces control two branches of government, the Executive and
Legislative, their hold on the Judiciary is not complete - which
is why the fighting gets so tenacious about their nominees for the
Appellate and Supreme Courts.
What Bush & Co. have going for them, under the twisted strategies
of Karl Rove, is a masterful use of the Big Lie Technique, and their
firm hold on huge swatches of the American mass-media, especially
talk-radio, cable commentary, small-city/rural newspapers, and the
fundamentalist TV and word-of-mouth networks. In short, Bush & Co.
spin and propaganda, often fear- and scapegoat-based, is effectively
And they face a fairly disorganized and/or silenced opposition
- in Congress, in mainline churches, in academia, mainstream pundits,
etc. - which permits them constantly to set the agenda and batter
their way through to victory on issue after issue, especially as
their more civil opponents have still not figured out how to play
defense against the Bush brand of smash-mouth politics. (The Democrats
now are better in fighting back than they were during Bush's first
term, but seem these days to rise and hit back only on highly specific
THE OPPORTUNITIES OF DRY ROT
Consider: President Richard Nixon looked impregnable after his
landslide re-election victory in 1972. But years of mostly non-violent
anti-war resistance, often in the streets, may have weakened the
middle-class electoral foundations upon which his administration
rested. Certainly, the strength of that resistance led to over-reaching
on the part of a Nixon Administration infected by a paranoia so
strong that it helped engender the break-in at Democratic Party
headquarters at the Watergate. The fallout from that incident led
inevitably to the discovery of the crimes known as the "White House
Horrors" - the unconstitutional police-state felonies and the attempts
to cover them up - and eventually to Nixon's resignation in the
face of an imminent impeachment trial.
As in Nixon's case, the foundations upon which the Bush Administration
rests are dry-rotted. All seems secure on the surface - after all,
as has been noted, the Busheviks control both houses of Congress,
much of the Judiciary, much of the mass-media - but, in truth, they
are extremely insecure and vulnerable. A healthy majority of the
citizenry believes they lied the country into a war that has led,
and continues to lead, to tens of thousands of deaths and maimings.
Many in the world fear America's power but few respect their leaders.
Their actions have brought America into disrepute, into turning
environmental law-writing over to the polluting industries, into
humongous debt, into cutting and weakening popular social programs
and required infrastructure maintenance, etc.
So one is led to wonder: is it too late for a mass-based non-violent
opposition, one willing to put themselves in legal jeopardy with
civil disobedience, that could lead to bringing down the morally-illegitimate
Bush Administration? I think there is still a window of opportunity
to do so. But several things would have to happen.
BUILDING A "MOVEMENT" COALITION
1. A united Democratic Party would have to stand tall and take
the consequences for their courage in openly and forthrightly opposing
each and every one of the Bush Administration's dangerous, reckless
policies and behaviors. An active alternative party, perhaps the
Greens in alliance with a new entity, would have to present itself
as a possible and electable option for voters if the Democrats wimp
2. The leading anti-war organizations - now segmented into separate,
sectarian groups such as ANSWER, Not in My Name, United for Peace,
et al. - would have to unite in building a massive umbrella coalition
with but one goal in mind: regime-change at the top. The recently-born
Downing Street coalition demonstrates how quickly an effective
coalition can be built from the ground up; it now has 125 organizations
In the '60s and early-'70s, we had built ourselves a "Movement"
- the term derived from the Civil Rights Movement of the previous
decade - which could mobilize millions of peace-and-justice supporters
into the streets. The so-called Moratorium alliances of groups fighting
for justice and peace, especially to end the Vietnam War, frightened
the Nixon and LBJ administrations into over-reacting.
Not all of the new "Movement" protests would have to be in the
streets - the Internet has opened up so many other avenues for protest
these days - but imagine, for example, the impact a "Million Americans
for Impeachment" march would have in the nation's capital, with
respected religious and political and academic leaders involved,
with thousands of them willing to be arrested in non-violent, massive
sit-ins - based in love and hope - in order to end this immoral
war and change the way America is being misruled.
3. If this new "Movement" could be quickly built, it would need,
and want, to reach out to the millions of disaffected independents
and moderate Republicans who are appalled at the hijacking of the
Republican Party by extremist elements. These independents and moderate
Republicans are reachable, but sincere attempts have to be made
to bring them into the fold. The bigger the tent, the bigger the
influence. For example, they should be included, along with progressive
leaders, at the head of any Million Person March or other major
EVIDENTIARY PROOFS FOUND IN THE DSM
It's not clear what all the unifying principles and themes could
be that would energize this new Movement. Big issues might include
the draft, and Social Security. But one would think that maybe the
Iraq War would serve as the centerpoint, especially given the revelations
of the Downing Street Memos, which verify what many of us have been
asserting for years about how Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/et al lied and
rushed the country into an unnecessary war for their own twisted,
Here's a quick chronology of deception highlights:
- In January 1998, leaders of the neo-con Project for the New
American Century - a Hard Right think-tank that included such
key figures as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz,
John Bolton, Jeb Bush, Jim Woolsey, et al. - wrote a letter
to President Clinton urging that he invade Iraq and overthrow
Saddam Hussein. (Clinton declined; he was going after bin Laden.)
Later that year, when musing about a run for President in 2000
and how he would approach Iraq, Bush told
his ghostwriter: "If I have a chance to invade, if I had
that much capital, I'm not going to waste it."
- The first Bush Administration cabinet meetings in January
2001, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill reported, focused on finding
ways to attack Iraq. Later that year, Bush directed Defense
Secretary Rumsfeld to begin
considering military options for Saddam's removal. Even
after being told by his intelligence analysts that 9/11 was
the work of Al Qaida and not Iraq, Rumsfeld began badgering
his intelligence crew to try to include Saddam Hussein in retaliation
plans. Bush himself cornered anti-terrorism chief Richard Clarke
and strongly suggested that he find a way to include Saddam
in the mix.
- In March of 2002, Time Magazine reported that Bush told
several senators visiting the White House: "Fuck Saddam,
we're taking him out."
- In July of 2002, without going to Congress for permission,
Bush took $700 million from funds Congress authorized for the
Afghanistan war against Al Qaida/Taliban forces and diverted
them to the coming Iraq War. Meanwhile, of course, Bush
was telling the American people that he hadn't made up his mind
about attacking Iraq.
- The recently-revealed, top-secret Downing
Street Memo, dated July 23, 2002, which talks about a just-concluded
meeting between U.K. and Administration leaders at the Bush
ranch in Texas, said that the "intelligence and facts" to justify
the Iraq invasion to the public were to be "fixed around the
policy." "Terrorism and WMD" would be the basis, the memo reported.
Later, Paul Wolfowitz admitted that the Administration was having
trouble agreeing on a rationale that would be seen morally acceptable
and thus gain wide public support, so they finally
settled on WMD - which they were sure would work. And it
did, despite the fact that there were no stockpiles of those
- In the second top-secret Downing Street Memo, released by
the Times of London just a few days ago, the briefing paper
for that Blair-Bush meeting of July 23, 2002, reveals that the
British were worried about the illegality of the war action
and that both the U.S. and Britain were anxious to find some
legal excuse for their pending attack. They conceived of ways
to lure Saddam Hussein into doing
something belligerent that would make an attack more acceptable
in the U.S. and U.N.; bombing runs by U.S. jets went
on for months before the invasion, to try to provoke just
such a response. But Saddam, aware of what game was being played,
didn't react to the bait. Blair and Bush tried another ruse
at the United Nations: they believed Saddam would object to
allowing U.N. weapons inspectors back in, and thus create a
casus belli, but, surprise, the Iraqi leader said the inspectors
could return. Their preliminary work indicated that there were
no stockpiles of WMD.
- The U.N. inspections were cut off abruptly. The "shock and
awe" bombing and land invasion began in March of 2003, nearly
one year to the date from when Bush told the senators that Saddam
was a goner, "we're taking him out."
BUILDING OUR POLITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE
So the Iraq War scandals and coverups might well provide the organizing
principles for the new "Movement." But whatever the central issues
turn out to be, the point is that nothing will happen unless we
radically alter the way we confront the Bush Administration. They
have sown fear into the body politic, including the Left and moderate
middle; they have encouraged division and factional in-fighting
among progressives; they have marginalized and smeared mass-media
organs and spokesmen in opposition. Something has to change.
We can't count on the elections of 2006 and 2008 to bring the
major changes that are required - not just because of the time-gap
between now and then, but mainly because the same three GOP-supporting
corporations continue to own the proprietary software that counts
the votes. (Which is why a key part of our struggle must be to return
to paper ballots, hand-counted.)
After the 1964 defeat of the GOP's right-wing presidential candidate,
Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Hard Right began its long campaign to
assume power, knowing that it would take them decades to build the
required political/media/think-tank infrastructure that would lead
to victory, as it did in 1980 with Reagan's election and later with
Newt Gingrich leading in Congress and then Bush #2 in the White
We don't have the luxury of decades. We who want to return our
country to its moral Constitutional foundations must jump-start
the process of building and enlarging our political infrastructure
right now. If we don't, the forces of repression, militarism and
incipient fascism will suck us all further into their shadow vortex.
The time to move, to "Movement," is now.
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