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Thursday, October 25, 2007

We Don't Bite the Hand that Feeds Us

Why aren't more Americans outraged by the Iraq War/Occupation? Perhaps it it is because so many Americans are "Dependent On D. C." (to borrow the title from Charlotte Twight's great book)? Perhaps it is because so many Americans are afraid to bite the hand that feeds them, as USAF Lt. Col. (Ret.) Karen Kwiatkowski suggests in the following excerpt?

How come more Americans weren’t outraged in 2002 and 2003? How come more aren’t outraged today, with trillions of dollars wasted, millions of lives ruined, and thousands of government lies put forth to explain those dollars and those lives away? 

We are a country founded on the ideas of freedom of religion. Yet the descendants of the strict Protestants who came to this country to worship God without government interference have largely embraced the war, and the godly president that demanded it.

We are a country that from the beginning took the idea of free speech and free assembly to be a God-given right, not something granted by government so long as we behave. Yet today, protesters of government policies, and the rest of us, have accepted the idea of "free speech zones" set up far away from the sensitive ears and eyes of our rulers.

We live in a country that once valued independence, of economy, of mind, of self. Today, according to the 2006 Heritage Foundation’s Index of Dependency, 52.6 million Americans, nearly 20% are dependent on government programs relating to government spending on health, government pensions, education, housing, and rural and food subsidies. Heritage is interested in tracking growth of government programs, and they have indeed been growing steadily throughout the last century.

More importantly, a study this year by economist Gary Schilling, reveals that, "Slightly over half of all Americans – 52.6 percent – now receive significant income from government programs, …That's up from 49.4 percent in 2000 and far above the 28.3 percent of Americans in 1950."

Even if we do not work directly for government, or government contractors, and are not economically dependent on the many government benefits available to us, for every carrot there is a stick. Most of us, to be honest, fear the disciplining hand of government, and we generally do not trust the legal system to deliver justice.

It is understood in America that justice is generally reserved for those with expensive lawyers. The Duke rape case illustrates that regular people can be accused, charged, and tried for crimes that even the government prosecutor knows they did not commit. At the other end of the spectrum, the Innocence Project illustrates that without money, education and connections, we will very likely be convicted for those crimes the government says we committed.

We may have our property taken by government through eminent domain, and through civil forfeiture if we are only accused of a crime, and the government wants what we have. If we are business owners, we fear IRS audits. If we wait tables for a living, we fear that the government may discover we haven’t declared all our tips. When we travel, we worry that we still have a container of shampoo in our bag, or whether our name is on a government list somewhere.

A big question shortly after the invasion of Iraq – when the fanciful tales told by the neocons, and the mainstream media, and the government began to fall apart – was how will the American people react now, upon learning the truth? After we the people realized we had been lied into an unnecessary and illegal overseas war, that our sons and daughters were fighting and killing Iraqis and dying simply because a small elite group of politicians and policy wonks wanted them to, what would we do then?

But we the people did very little. It’s one in a thousand. And who is that one in a thousand? Overwhelmingly, young people who enlist do so because their dad or uncle, or brother or sister or cousin did. They tend to be from poorer states in the South and the Midwest, or in cities and towns near existing military bases. They tend to be those for whom wearing the military uniform is the most profitable and honorable thing anyone in their family has done recently. Sociologist Charles Moskos has studied this phenomenon extensively, and writes of an American "warrior caste." He notes that it tends to be self-perpetuating, as children and extended family members of those who have served in, and made careers of the military, constitute a "very large" percentage of recruits each year. Conversely, there are far more families in America that have no military experience, and do not see the military as a viable option for them, their spouses, their siblings, their children, or their nieces and nephews.

We have here a kind of economic and political slavery – we accept a great deal of good from government, and we grant that generous government unprecedented access into our lives, our records, our privacy. We value a lawful existence, but we have allowed the legal system to grow far beyond the needs of a civil society. The United States incarcerates and executes more people per capita than any other country on the planet. In 2003, the Christian Science Monitor reported that we were Number 1 in the world – for our incarceration rate – with one in 37 American adults either in prison or having had been in prison at some point in their life.

Why do we apparently not really mind being lied into war by our government? Why do we tend to believe what government tells us rather than our own eyes, our own logic, our own morality? Why do we defer to a strong decider and fear real freedom in this country?

When you look at our overwhelming dependency on government – for jobs, income, help and subsidies – rather than ourselves, our communities and our churches, the answer is simple. When you realize that we are 25 times more likely to personally know someone who has been in a government jail than to personally know a soldier in Iraq, the answer is simple.

We support the government’s wishes in foreign policy, because at some very basic level, we do not wish to risk all that government grants us here at home. We wish to be seen as patriotic citizens because we equate the state with our own family welfare. We cannot easily separate our economic, educational, and political lives from the state.

This identification of individuals with the state is the fundamental tenet not of democracy, not of constitutional republicanism, but of fascism. Fascism is alien to American traditions – but it is attractive and often successful for a time in states with pre-existing and highly extensive welfare states.

Very simply, we don’t bite the hand that feeds us.

Our mainstream media doesn’t bite the hand that feeds it. Neither do congressmen and women, who realize that most of us don’t really know a soldier in Iraq – but a great many of us care deeply about that next health care bill, that sub-prime mortgage bailout we hope will save our home, that defense industry or government contract that employs us, that Medicare and Social Security check we hope keeps up with inflation.

They also know, much like the infamous toe-tapping Senator Craig, that we deeply fear government detention and incarceration, as well we should.

George W. Bush, advised by neoconservatives, brought us to a war in Iraq that we didn’t understand, and wouldn’t have wanted if we had known the truth in time. He, the Congress, and the beholden mainstream media worked overtime to repeat lies that we too willingly believed. Butbefore Bush launched this illegal war, a war and occupation that continues now in its fourth year, he established the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. In fact, Bush signed this particular executive order on January 29th, 2001, ten days after his first inauguration.

One asks, as Martin Luther King asked, what is the proper role of churches and religious organizations in standing up for peace, and civil liberties, building character at home and demanding it in our politicians? In the 1960s, the churches were free to answer positively and to act accordingly. Today, many churches and other centers of moral-minded community activism accept government money. They’d like it to continue, so they can do good works. Many who don’t get this money today may want to compete for it in the future.

We don’t bite the hand that feeds us.

I can’t tell you how to heal what we have become. At some basic level, when Americans decide to come home from Iraq, we will do it. But we are still in Korea, Japan and Germany, fifty years later, for reasons that have less to do with national security than national welfare. In the past decade we have launched new long-term military bases in several of the former Soviet satellites, and in Bosnia and Kosovo. Our bases in Iraq are matched by shiny new bases, or those under construction and expansion, in Qatar and Afghanistan and Djibouti. Most of us really don’t even want to know about all this unseemly activity.

Perhaps when the government hand stops feeding, medicating, educating and housing us, or perhaps when it incarcerates more than one in 37 of us, perhaps then we will be able to have a more moral foreign policy. Until then, perhaps it isn’t completely fair to place all the blame on that lousy Congress and our violent, small-minded president.

I had hoped to be able to share, at the conclusion of this already too long speech, some of the good things we might be able to do to improve the world condition, gain peace and reconciliation around the world, to forgive others and ourselves, and to go forward. Obviously, we should bring the troops home now, from everywhere around the world. But I truly don’t see our government as having any real part of this peace. I believe Randolph Bourne was right when he wrote in 1918, that "war is the health of the state."

I’d like to close with a bit more from his famous essay. Bourne wrote,

We cannot crusade against war without crusading implicitly against the State. And we cannot expect, or take measures to ensure, that this war is a war to end war, unless at the same time we take measures to end the State in its traditional form. The State is not the nation, and the State can be modified and even abolished in its present form, without harming the nation.

This is the right – and perhaps the only – direction for those who prefer truth to lies, life over death, peace instead of violent conflict, freedom over slavery and occupation.

--from "Iraq – What Happened, Why and What Do We Do Now?" by Karen Kwiatkowski at http://www.lewrockwell.com/kwiatkowski/kwiatkowski193.html.

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