George W. Bush is at it again. This time, reports Sy Hersh in The New Yorker, it'll be Iran. (Those of us who guessed it would
have been Syria first apparently underestimated his hubris.) And
this time he wants to be able to use nukes.
In the novel 1984 by George Orwell, the way a seemingly democratic
president kept his nation in a continual state of repression was by
keeping the nation in a constant state of war. Cynics suggest the lesson
wasnt lost on Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon, who both, they say,
extended the Vietnam war so it coincidentally ran over election cycles,
knowing that a wartime Presidents party is more likely to be reelected
and has more power than a President in peacetime.
This wasnt a new lesson, however, and Orwell was not the first to
note that a democracy at war was weakened and at risk.
On April 20, 1795, James Madison, who had just helped shepherd through
the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and would become President of
the United States in the following decade, wrote, Of all the enemies
to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it
comprises and develops the germ of every other.
Reflecting on wars impact on the Executive Branch of government Madison
continued his letter about the dangerous and intoxicating power of
war for a president.
In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive [President]
is extended, he wrote. Its [his] influence in dealing out offices,
honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing
the minds, are added to those of subduing the force of the people.
The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality
of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state
of war...and in the degeneracy of manners and morals, engendered by
No nation, he concluded, could preserve its freedom in the midst
of continual warfare.
But its not just Madison who warned us. More recent presidents have
also noted the danger of a craven political usurpation of democracy,
particularly when fed by the bloody meat of war.
As he was leaving office, the old warrior President Dwight D. Eisenhower
had looked back over his years as President and as a General and Supreme
Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and noted
exactly what Madison had warned against.
Our military organization today bears little relation to that known
by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting
men of World War II or Korea, Eisenhower said in sobering tones
in a nationally televised speech. Until the latest of our world
conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American
makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords
as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of
national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments
industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million
men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment.
We annually spend on military security more than the net income of
all United States corporations.
Nonetheless, Eisenhower added, This conjunction of an immense military
establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience.
The total influence, economic, political, even spiritual, is felt
in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.
We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must
not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources
and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition
of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial
complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power
exists and will persist.
He concluded with a very specific warning to us, the generation
that would follow. We must never let the weight of this combination
endanger our liberties or democratic processes, he said. We should
take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry
can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military
machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that
security and liberty may prosper together.
But Americans have been terrified by the prospect of terrorism, endlessly
hyped by the Republican majority, and the warnings of Madison and Eisenhower
are forgotten by many - and unknown to most of the current generation
that now studies "to the test" instead of delving into the deeper lines
of American history.
Citizens of other nations, however, immediately recognize what the
Republicans are up to.
In October of 2002 - nearly four years ago - I wrote the
of a trip I'd just taken to Buenos Aires:
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