It 's Time to Face the "Not-See" Menace
By Steve Bhaerman
cartoon by Brian Narelle
My wife Trudy was born in Germany and came here as a young child. When she was in her late teens, she returned there for a year to live and work. As she began to reacquaint herself with family members, she felt bold and comfortable enough to ask them the difficult questions: How was it that the Holocaust could happen? What had they known? What had they done?
The answers she received could be summed up as: "We 'd heard rumors about the death camps, but our government told us it was American propaganda -- and that 's what we believed." Now before we cast judgment about how bad the "good" Germans were, a little perspective. In his book Laughter In Hell: The Use of Humor During the Holocaust, Steve Lipman (who is Jewish) maintains that in the early days, Hitler was an object of ridicule. Many, if not most Germans didn 't like him. However, once Hitler came to power -- and showed muscle -- the average non-Jewish, non-communist, non-homosexual German faced a decision: Enroll themselves in Hitler 's vision of Deutschland Ãber Alles -- or make their lives unpleasant and their deaths untimely.
In "Matrix" language, they could either choose the Red Pill of painful awareness, or the Blue Pill of blissful ignorance. Those Germans whose conscience and consciousness offered them no choice but to choose the Red Pill realized they were very likely choosing a death sentence. For the Germans who swallowed the Blue Pill, the initial decision was easier. But as the war dragged on and the illusion shattered, they too ultimately had to face the awful truth about the devil 's mission they 'd signed on to. While some continued, no doubt, to deny any wrongdoing until the day that they died, others had to live with the sad truth that there had been a "tipping point" which gave the Nazis absolute power -- and that the German people had missed the point.
Fast forward sixty or seventy years from Nazi Germany to Not-See America, and those of us who haven 't swallowed the pill of "American Security Through World Domination" are seeing that tipping point looming on the horizon and coming closer each day. To use a familiar analogy, when you throw a frog into boiling water (please don 't try this at home), he will immediately leap out and save himself. But if you put a frog in room temperature water and bring it to a slow boil, the frog will never sense the increase in temperature ... until he 's cooked.
As soon as Richard Nixon left office in disgrace nearly thirty years ago, a small cadre of conservatives made their own twisted vow of "never again." Beginning with the Reagan Administration (which friends of mine living in Washington at the time called "the meanest and most ruthless" they 'd ever seen -- up until that point, of course), on through the Lee Atwater campaign for George the First, through Gingrich era in Congress, through the stealing of the election in 2000, and up to the current stonewalling going on, the temperature has been rising. And folks, we 're nearly cooked.
1 So what is it that will cause us to sit up, take notice, and jump out of the pot? When will we realize -- a la that 50s song "Stranded In the Jungle" -- that what we smell cooking is our cherished freedom and democracy? What will it take for us to say, "Great googamooga -- lemme outta here!"?
First we must face that it is the "Not-Sees" who enable the Nazis to come into power. In further conversation, Trudy 's relatives admitted that they believed what their government was telling them because it was easier to believe that than to face the huge lie and horrible truth. A little closer to home, here is an actual response that a real human being offered recently when confronted with a particularly egregious perpetration by our current Administration: "Well, it may be true but I don 't believe it."
Unbelievable? Believe it. Notice how out-of-the-comfort-zone topics get relegated to the box of "conspiracy theories." Here is my new working definition of "conspiracy theory": a conspiracy theory is something that if true, would be too threatening to face. So why even go there? Well, because we may be "going there" like it or not, and if we have the awareness we can stop the chain of events before we find that it is we who are in chains. And maybe it 's time for us to call those who refuse to connect the very connectable dots "coincidence theorists."
To put it another way, what if you had a life-threatening condition and finding out about it now would make it treatable and curable? Would it be worth the temporary discomfort -- if not outright horror -- in facing something too threatening to face? There are people, after all, who "wouldn 't face the truth to save their life." I assert the body politic -- or at least the design offered to us by the Founding Fathers -- is in grave danger. What Lincoln called "government of the people, by the people, for the people" has not yet perished from this earth. But it is on life support. And its life is in our hands.
So what are we not seeing? And what can we do?
First of all, I think it is wise to not strain the Nazi / Not-See analogy, but rather to use the parallel for clarity. So here is the point: Good, decent people can be manipulated by fear and prejudice to bring to power a force of evil disguised as security and protection. All it takes is for them to look the other way (i.e., not see) or wish it weren 't so, for that dark power to entrench itself absolutely. And we all know that in human affairs, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Here are a few dots, and you can make your own connections:
1. The 2000 Election. There is irrefutable evidence that tens of thousands of African-American voters in Florida were purposely disenfranchised by a plan implemented to weed out "felons." Most of the people turned away at the polls were not felons, but no matter. There was no redress, no revote, and the results stood. Tom DeLay dispatched a gang of intimidators disguised as "citizens" to disrupt the vote recount in Dade County. The Supreme Court made the final decision, and the selection results were 5-4, along ideological lines.
2. Sen. Jim Jeffords. In 2001, Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont actually left the Republican Party and switched to Independent so as to deny the Republicans a majority in the Senate. Why? He was concerned about the strong-arm tactics being used by the Republican leadership.
3. 9/11. On September 10th, President Bush 's popularity ratings were ... well, they were unpopularity ratings. Afterward? He became the Fearless Leader of the "Free" World. Four big unanswered questions about 9/11 still remain unanswered, and largely unasked:
1 v Why were the FBI agents on the trail of the actual hijackers in this country -- in their own words -- "thwarted"? Who did the thwarting and why?
v Who profited from United and American airlines stocks plummeting in the wake of 9/11? Who did the selling?
v Why were jets not scrambled immediately after the plane hit the first tower? Why the delay?
v Why were Osama bin Laden 's relatives whisked out of the country right after 9/11, and never interrogated by the FBI?
4. The 2002 Election. Let 's start with the elephant -- I mean the donkey -- in the living room, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), and his death in a plane crash. Now imagining that this was "no accident" is far-fetched, and over a line not many of us would like to cross. But when a regime is ruthless and secretive, conspiracy theories proliferate and undermine trust. The fact that many non-paranoid citizens harbor suspicions about this event, should in itself be considered a cause for concern.
So I would leave this one entirely up to the coincidence theorists: Two elections over a two-year period, two Democratic Senators (one of them the leading liberal voice in the Senate, the other running against John Ashcroft in Missouri), and two plane crashes. What are the odds? Pete Rose, can you help us out here? Or, it could very well be that Pat Robertson is right, and God is indeed siding with the Republicans.
Meanwhile in Georgia, where Diebold touch screen voting machines were used, there were two electoral upsets that defied the polls done just days before the voting. Both the Democratic candidate for Governor and the popular war veteran Sen. Max Cleland were inexplicably defeated. Sen. Cleland, incidentally, was subject to a mean and merciless character assassination campaign. Guess that beats real assassination.
5. The War on Iraq. According to recent testimony by Richard Clarke and others, this war was being planned from the day George W. Bush set foot in the White House (earlier, actually) and that the "diplomatic efforts" were a charade while war plans proceeded unfettered (shades of Hitler). In the wake of 9/11 and based on what is now known to be "spun" information, Congress was leveraged into a new War Powers Act, giving President Bush the power to make war on Iraq. While the majority of Americans would have supported this war only with the full backing of the United Nations, the war went forward without the support of the UN, the majority of people in the world, or for that matter the majority of Americans.
6. The Joseph Wilson, Valerie Plame Case. When Joseph Wilson blew the whistle on the false report of Saddam getting nuclear weapons from Niger, someone at the White House leaked the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, and blew her cover as an antiterrorist CIA operative, putting her life in danger and ending her career. This is not only an act of high treason, but we lost a valuable operative, someone it took years to establish and perhaps millions of dollars to train. So far ... no one has been prosecuted, and the White House has not been held accountable.
And on and on and on. We see an Administration that has put itself above the law in every way imaginable. We have a President who received less than 50% of the popular vote, who was elected by barely 25% of eligible voters. He proclaimed himself "a uniter, not a divider" and a "compassionate conservative," and yet he has consistently represented only two groups: The huge corporate interests that contributed to his campaign, and the Religious Right. He has ruled, not as an elected President but as a dictator who has forced his worldview (or more likely, his handlers ' worldview) onto all of us.
The Administration 's heavy-handed dictates have squeezed scientists who don 't buy the fundamentalist Christian ideology out of research positions, and pushed moderate Republicans and all others who don 't agree with him out the door as well. Think of Paul O 'Neill, Richard Clarke and other lifelong Republicans who were drummed out of government service, then subjected to smear campaigns and worse. Think of the OMB employee who was prohibited from telling Congress the real cost of the Prescription Drug Bill under threat of losing his job.
And take the press -- please! We have an Administration playing full-on hardball and a press playing hardly-have-balls, lobbing hittable grapefruits and failing to field the easiest grounders. Where have you gone, Edward R. Murrow, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you? Why isn 't the press doing any pressing? Well, probably because the press is owned by the same corporate interests who 've bought the Presidency.
Here is an interesting stat: Even when polls show George Bush trailing a Democratic opponent, a majority of people nonetheless believe that Bush will be reelected. What 's that about? It would seem to indicate a "disheartenment in the heartland," a sinking feeling that a regime that has consistently used lying and intimidation to thwart the will of the people and flaunt the rule of law will somehow find a way to stay in power once again this fall.
But seriously, folks ... we here in Not-See America may be coming very close to the tipping point where there is no longer any check or balance against a regime that knows no restraint. Or, we may just as likely be reaching a turning point where concerned citizens from all shades of the political spectrum begin speaking out and acting out to return the rule of law to America, and to reestablish a government that is truthful, just, and appropriately transparent.
I guess I am basically an idealist with a profound respect for the vision and courage of our Founding Fathers. They went up against a worldview that had dominated for centuries, proclaiming each individual a sovereign citizen, not a subject. The clichÃ© is that every generation must defend freedom, liberty and our democratic way of life. In the past, this has looked like stepping onto foreign soil armed with a weapon. In our time it means standing on our own soil, unarmed except for the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
So, what is to be done? What comes to mind (to the cynical part of my mind, anyway) is the classic cartoon. It 's a dungeon scene, and two very old men with long, white beards and in tatters, are strung up in chains. One is saying to the other, "Now, here 's my plan..." At the risk of sounding like that cartoon, here is my plan:
1. The Committee of 100. What if one hundred (or more) prominent Americans from all political stripes declared a state of Emerge 'n See, where we emerge from our fear and our Not-See trance, and face the truth of where our nation has been going, and make the conscious and courageous choice to change direction? They say the truth shall set you free, but first it will piss you off. In order to face the truth, we need leadership. And in this case, one hundred leaders are better than one. One hundred leaders can speak in one hundred different places at once. And by sheer numbers, they can encourage other truth-tellers and whistle-blowers to stand up and speak up.
As for who would be involved, I see Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians, Independents -- people like Bill Moyers, Arianna Huffington, John Dean, Gen. Anthony Zinni, George Soros, Sen. Robert Byrd, and well-known names from the fields of entertainment and media, the clergy, science and academia, business and finance, arts and letters, organized labor. In fact, I would expect to be surprised by who shows up for this.
Imagine the sense of relief for Americans to realize that we need not fear our own government. Imagine the genuine inspiration for the democratic impulse around the world. Imagine a nation facing the threat of terrorism, and the need to create a just world order -- together, disagreeing agreeably, but focused on finding the wisest and most functional pathways.
The Declaration of Emerge 'n See would be supported by two things: Truth and reconciliation. In other words, the declaration should proclaim that the truth will inevitably come out, and that the truth emerging for us to deal with is more important than punishing any particular perpetrators. Therefore, those who come forward now will experience leniency, if not outright pardon. This is a controversial notion, but it points us in the evolutionary direction of foregoing "getting even" for getting "odd." In seeing our collective complicity in the way things are, in creating a profound ceremony of both grief and forgiveness, we pardon not just the perpetrators, but ourselves -- the tacit participants.
2. The Canary Project. If we are going to ask the truth-tellers and whistle-blowers to emerge from hiding, we must take steps to protect them. The Canary Project is initially a website where anyone can see and hear video affidavits from the "canaries" who have been silenced, intimidated or worse. I say "canaries" for two reasons. First, canaries "sing." Secondly, there is the tradition of releasing canaries into mines to test for toxic gases. If the canaries die, then miners know not to enter. In our toxic political climate, if our own canaries cannot be protected -- well, then ... guess who 's next?
Who knows? Some of these people may need to have their voices disguised or wear cloth bags on their heads. In order for truth to out, there needs to be a place for anyone and everyone to hear the evidence, and the truth. These individuals may in the future testify in a court of law, once protections are guaranteed. And the best way for protection to be guaranteed is to have as many Americans as possible to know about these truth-tellers.
There is the legendary -- and it turns out, apocryphal -- story about King Christian of Denmark. As the story goes, when the Nazis invaded Denmark and announced that all Jews must wear a yellow star, the King and all Danes emerged wearing the star on their shoulders. While this never actually happened, the story accurately reflected the Danish attitude of solidarity with its Jewish citizens. Indeed, Danish citizens often sent care packages to Jews who had been taken to concentration camps, and just this concern made Danish Jews more protected from brutality. The lesson is, when we 're all "us" we cannot be separated, isolated, and picked off.
3. Concerned Clergy. Before the invasion of Iraq, many, many clergy people in this country expressed concern and opposition to preemptive warfare. Once the war began -- particularly in the light of Ari Fleischer 's ominous warning to "watch what you say" -- many of these concerned ministers, rabbis, priests and other religious people faded back into the "silenced majority."
Facing the truth requires moral authority, and not the moral authority of the Religious Right which rails against the "abomination" of two people of the same sex lying together in love, but looks the other way when an entire government lies together to perpetrate a "bomb-a-nation." Instead we need the simple moral authority of the Golden Rule, a version of which is the keynote of every major religion. We need right now the spiritual power of many, many people of conscience representing any and all faiths coming together to pray for the good of all.
Our national motto is E Pluribus Unum, out of many One. There are many paths, and One Spirit. In recognizing this, we see from a higher perspective, and religion becomes a true moral compass, not a tool for political manipulation. Why not have our spiritual leaders raise the question: How can we create a society where we are One Nation, Under Good -- instead of what we have now, one nation, under guard?
4. Mothers for a Healthier Future. Just as the principles of the Golden Rule (at the heart of every religious path) needs to inform our community and political life, we need the nurturing impulse of the real "pro-life" movement: mothers who care about their children 's future. Yes, we must take America back. And to do so, we must have a vision that takes America forward.
The current powers that be in power offer us perpetual warfare, environmental destruction, loss of civil liberties, growing gap between rich and poor, and rule by the Christian version of fundamentalist ayatollahs. They are pointing us directly backward, to a past of feudalism, theocracy and rule by royal decree. Let 's allow the mothers of our nation and the world -- the bringers of life -- to point us towards a life-affirming vision where we use our resources lovingly, wisely and creatively.
The fall of the Nixon presidency turned on one small decision that could have gone either way. Katherine Graham, still "green" as publisher of the Washington Post and not part of the old boy network, didn 't realize she was supposed to kill the Watergate story. She went ahead with it, and we all know what happened. Right now we have a regime which -- to paraphrase John Dean, who should know -- makes Mr. Nixon look like Mr. Rogers. They 've learned their lessons well from the Vietnam and Nixon eras, to slam shut every possible door of inquiry, to make sure Americans don 't see pictures of dead soldiers in flag-draped coffins, or dead children, forever collaterally-damaged.
Look at us. The world 's biggest and baddest superpower, and we are afraid of our own shadow. Our delicate psyches need to be protected from pictures of returning coffins. It 's time to courageously face the heart of darkness as our Founding Fathers did, and as we are asking our soldiers in Iraq to do and shine the light of truth on all that we have been unwilling to see.
I propose that we declare this Fourth of July a day of courageous truth telling and visioning for the future of our republic and the healing of the world. We might even call it "Man Hog Day" and declare a State of Emerge 'n See, where we emerge from fear and denial and see our shadow. Otherwise, we face a long, dark winter season that truth, justice and the real American way might not survive.
Steve Bhaerman is a writer and comedian. His alter ego Swami Beyondananda has a new book out in May, Swami for Precedent: A 7-Step Plan to Heal the Body Politic and Cure Electile Dysfunction. Steve and Swami can be found online at http://www.wakeuplaughing.com .