By Sherwood Ross
Peculiarly, a lot of what American patriot Tom Paine wrote in 1775 about the British Crown seems to apply to President Bush today.
For example, Paine believed that "any excuse can be made to serve the purpose of malignity when it is in power." And when ever was there a more deceitful example of this than Bush's lie that Iraq had WMD?
As historian John Keane wrote in his excellent Tom Paine: A Political Life (Little, Brown and Co.), despots - as Paine saw them - plunder "the pockets and lives of their subjects, since that is the most effective way of raising and feeding armies and making their subjects afraid, obedient, and willing to pay taxes. Wars between despotic states thereby tend to increase rulers' lust for power over their own populations. War, wrote Paine, is 'the art of conquering at home' [original italics]."
And so we are, indeed, conquered at home. We live under a regime that can arrest and imprison any of us for as long as it likes, one that denies our privacy, scraps our international treaties, and shreds our Bill of Rights.
We been given no honest reason for launching the war on Iraq. The real reason most probably is oil, just as Paine wrote that the reason King George III made war on America was because "her crime is property."
As President Bush confiscates our taxes for Iraq, and squanders the lives of our troops, let's recall Paine's words about the crimes of the Crown: "Hath your property been destroyed before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on, or bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or a child by their hands, and yourself the ruined and wretched survivor?"
These words ring true in thousands of American homes tonight, where loved ones have been killed or maimed in Iraq; where millions of people are sliding into poverty as a result of Bush's anti-compassionate policies; and where 40 million people have no health coverage. The bell tolls even louder for millions of Iraqi families whose nation Bush has turned into a veritable charnel house.
And what would Tom Paine have made of the wanton cruelty that George Washington forbade his soldiers to engage in but that can now be described as "routine" under Commander in Chief George Bush's military?
"It is time to have done with tarring, feathering, carting and taking securities for their future good behaviour," Paine wrote charitably of British sympathizers. "Every sensible man must feel conscious shame at seeing a poor fellow hawked for a show about the streets." What Paine might have said of men stacked in human pyramids or hung from chains until dead!
Paine inveighed against the death penalty. Condemning the excesses of the French Revolution, he said, "as France has been the first of European nations to abolish royalty, let her also be the first to abolish the punishment of death, and to find out a milder and more effective substitute." What would Paine have said about the death penalty verdicts Bush upheld as Governor of Texas?
As for all citizens bearing government's burden equally, Paine's view was very different from President Bush's call to ditch the "death tax." According to Keane: Believing as Paine did that the earth is "the common property of the human race," it followed that "the propertied have an obligation to help the poor, not by charity alone, but by accepting a government-administered inheritance tax system designed to redistribute and equalize income."
As for Bush's boasting about "freedom," let us recall these words by Paine: "When it shall be said in any country in the world, 'My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive' - when these things can be said then may that country boast of its constitution and its government."
With two million men in jail, and the poor growing by the millions, Bush has precious little to boast about. Speaking of jails, when do you suppose Bush might pardon the hundreds of thousands of Americans imprisoned on flimsy marijuana convictions while he, who tramples the law of nations, whose tongue spills lies, and whose hands drip with the blood of more than half a million innocent souls, enjoys the run of the White House?
Sherwood Ross is a reporter. Reach him at email@example.com.