Charlie Brown and the Brownshirts

Decades ago, the old Nazi, Hermann Goering, leaned into his microphone at the Nuremberg trials and held forth on war and propaganda. The Nazis, with their Reichstag fire, their humanitarian intervention in the Sudentenland, their stories of Germany under attack from within and without, were masters of propaganda.

“Why of course the people don’t want war,” began Goering. “That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along.”

The Nazi leader paused, then continued. “All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.”

Goering may have added that there are some among the led who are quite willing to join the leaders of the country in denouncing the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. I’ve met a number of them. Today’s willing Brownshirts troll Internet opinion sites, on the look out for “the enemy,” anyone who raises objections to a war that’s murdered an estimated 4,050 Afghan civilians, and promises to murder more, Afghan, and Somali, Iraqi, and who knows who else, in this, a year president George W. Bush promises to be a “war year.” Once the enemy is found, he is berated in notes replete with sophomoric rhetorical tricks, ad hominem argument and appeals to authority and what the majority believe. “You’re a nut-case,” or “your views are irrational,” or “you sound just like Chomksy and let me assure you, most people see Chomksy as absolutely bananas.”

While the Brownshirts profess to be great patriots, their country’s founding fathers would be shocked by the simple-minded, unthinking and reflexive willingness of 21st century Americans to blindly follow their “commander in chief”, America’s own version of “Il Duce.” It was Jefferson, the revolutionary, who once mused about the salutary effects of replacing the government every now and then, especially one that had inverted the desired order of the people over the government, rather than the other way around. “When my commander in chief says line up, I line up,” remarked one anchorman. Jefferson’s ghost must have writhed in agony. It would take American historian Howard Zinn to remind Americans that the president isn’t their commander in chief, he’s the military’s. But the media, hostile to dissenting views, even those consistent with that most revered of American documents, the constitution, weren’t going to give Zinn a platform to spout his “nut-case” views.

It’s an open secret at the American Civil Liberties Union that most Americans, if asked to approve the Bill of Rights, would reject it. Ever since Washington embarked a century ago on its project of building a globe girding empire, Americans have found their esteemed founders’ views alien, frightening and dangerous. And definitely “unpatriotic.” Certainly “unhelpful.” Benjamin Franklin warned about giving up civil liberties for security: you’ll soon find yourself without either. Were he alive today, old Ben would be denounced, someone else to be harangued by the Brownshirts. Ashcroft wouldn’t like him, either.

Most troubling of all is the collective insanity that impels Americans to let themselves be lied to over and over. Given their leaders’ addiction to lying (about Hiroshima being chosen for the first atomic explosion because “it is a military base, and we wanted to minimize civilian casualties,” about the reasons for bombing North Vietnam, about approving Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor and subsequent slaughter of East Timorese, about the Bay of Pigs, about bankrolling the Mujahadeen before the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, about arms for the Contras, about the Sudanese pill factory destroyed by cruise missiles being a biological weapons factory, about who engineered the coup that ousted Chile’s elected president Salvadore Allende, about UN weapons inspectors in Iraq not being US spies, about genocide in Kosovo, about the real reasons for bombing Yugoslavia) you’d think Americans would be a tad less trusting. Instead, their willingness to believe their leaders goes on unceasingly, just as strong as ever. Are Americans massively uninformed or just pathologically incapable of learning from experience? Journalists — stenographers of those in power — have much to answer for. And Washington’s elite, architects of much of the misery in the world (including that in the US), have much to answer for, as well.

Charlie Brown, who, without fail, fell for Lucy’s assurances that she wouldn’t pull the ball away at the last minute, is perhaps the closest metaphor for the American people, as distinct from the sociopaths who rule over them. Naively trusting, always willing to believe the best of those who have only their own interests at heart. And, owing to their innocence, always falling on their asses.

Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

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