NIGHTFALL     (Dec 12, 2001)

"It is not only under Nazi rule that police excesses are inimical to freedom.  It is easy to make light of insistence on scrupulous regard for the safeguards of civil liberties when invoked on behalf of the unworthy.  It is too easy.  History bears testimony that by such disregards are the rights of liberty extinguished, heedlessly at first, then stealthily, and brazenly in the end."
--Justice Felix Frankfurter

Well, it looks like we're at war again despite the fact that Congress last declared war on December 8th, 1941, almost exactly 60 years ago.

There's another difference between this war and that one: in 1941 we knew who our enemy was, something which seems to elude us now.  Oh, yes, we're at war with "terrorism".  What does that mean?

Does it mean the Nicaraguan military officers we trained at Ft Benning in the most efficient methods of extracting confessions from campesinos?  Or does it just mean "people who do bad things to us"?  Does our support of (for instance) the Shah of Iran make us responsible for the wide-spread and institutional murders his regime committed?  If it does, why are we surprised that people hate us enough to fly planes into the World Trade Center?  If it doesn't, why are we so down on the Afghanis?  Double standards are so confusing...

We lick our wounds and get a good testosterone fire going.  Unfortunately, that means important questions are going unasked.

Before embarking on a war ...any war... we ought to ask these two critical questions

  1. what do we hope to accomplish?
  2. what's the best method for accomplishing it?
and we should have answers that give us confidence before taking another step.

Do we hope to rid the world of terrorism as some have suggested?  You don't have to be in Mensa to suspect that may be impossible.  We must make our choices among the alternatives actually available; choosing the impossible will lead only to disappointment and despair.

Will carpet-bombing Afghanistan do more than simply rearrange their rubble?  Answer: yes;  it holds the promise of converting the Afghani people from neutrals to enemies.  And the Uzbeks.  And the Tajiks.  And the Pakistanis.  Perhaps all of the Muslim world, most of whom didn't care much for us before.

On September 12th the Afghani people were not our enemy, but we probably can't say that anymore.  We're methodically converting friends into neutrals and neutrals into enemies.  Eventually, everyone may hate us.  All because we didn't get good answers to two simple questions.

* * *

At home, we've allowed with nary a squeak of protest our Chief Executive to unilaterally abrogate the principle of "separation of powers" while repealing (by Executive Order) most of the Bill of Rights.  Persons suspected of involvement in terrorism no longer are entitled to trail by jury, habeas corpus, to confront witnesses against them, or even to see evidence considered "sensitive" (as defined by the prosecutors).  "Due process" for such suspects seems to be a blindfold and a cigarette.  How did we arrive at the position of becoming, almost overnight, a police state?

"As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression.  In both instances, there is a twilight.  And it is in such twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air - however slight - lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness."
- Justice William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court

Too late.  Too late.  Too late.


© Frank Clarke, 2001

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