Are you old enough to remember when liberal groups openly admitted that the war on Iraq was illegal and fraudulent, based on oil and profit and sadism?
Well, can you recall when the proponents of the war claimed it was a defense against nonexistent ties to terrorists and nonexistent weapons?
Even if you've wiped those memories, let me assure you, NOBODY ever claimed that attacking and destroying Iraq was necessary to protect civil liberties in the United States (which have been seriously eroded during the course of the war).
Yet, in recent months the generic defense of murdering large numbers of people far away has taken over as the explanation for the war on Iraq.
The ACLU on Friday used the voice of my fellow Charlottesvillian Khizr Khan to claim that attacking Iraq was done "in defense of our country's ideals."
Also on Friday, CAIR -- which I can recall supporting Dennis Kucinich for president because he opposed the war -- claimed (also through the voice of Khan) that Iraq was destroyed "to continue to have the freedoms guaranteed in the pages of our Constitution." CAIR even suggests that participating in such activities as attacking Iraq -- killing over a million people -- is a duty of American Muslims.
Is it possible that civil liberties groups do not know that war is the primary source of violations and restrictions on civil liberties?
We're often told that wars are fought for "freedom." But when a wealthy nation fights a war against a poor (if often resource-rich) nation halfway around the globe, among the goals is not actually to prevent that poor nation from taking over the wealthy one, after which it might restrict people's rights and liberties. The fears used to build support for the wars don't involve such an incredible scenario at all; rather the threat is depicted as one to safety, not liberty. Those people are going to blow us up, not limit our rights in court or restrict our public demonstrations to fenced-in pens where they can't be seen. (We're going to have to do those things to ourselves!)
Sometimes we're told that evil people are going to blow us up because they hate our freedoms. But then, that would still mean we were fighting a war for survival, not for freedom -- if there were any truth to this absurd propaganda, which there is not. People can be motivated to fight by all kinds of means, including religion, racism, or hatred of a culture, but the underlying motivation for anti-U.S. violence from nations where the U.S. funds and arms dictators or maintains a large troop presence or imposes deadly economic sanctions or bombs houses or occupies towns or buzzes drones overhead " is those actions. Many nations equal or surpass the United States in civil liberties without making themselves targets.
What happens, predictably and consistently, is just the reverse of wars protecting freedoms. In close proportion to levels of military spending, liberties are restricted in the name of war -- even while wars may simultaneously be waged in the name of liberty. We try to resist the erosion of liberties, the warrantless surveillance, the drones in the skies, the lawless imprisonment, the torture, the assassinations, the denial of a lawyer, the denial of access to information on the government, etc. But these are symptoms. The disease is war and the preparation for war.
It is the idea of the enemy that allows government secrecy. It is the idea of war that most effectively concentrates government power in fewer hands and expands that power at the expense of the people. Only by restricting, reducing, and eliminating military spending can we restrict, reduce, or eliminate war; and only by restricting, reducing, or eliminating war can we do the same to this erosion of rights and liberties.
The nature of war, as fought between valued and devalued people, facilitates the erosion of liberties in another way, in addition to the fear for safety. That is, it allows liberties to first be taken away from devalued people. But the programs developed to accomplish that are later predictably expanded to include valued people as well. First foreigners are imprisoned, tortured, assassinated, or hunted by drone. Then people in one's own country are targeted as well, accused of having joined the enemy. They may be stripped of their citizenship (in the UK version) or their citizenship stripped of all rights or privileges (in the US version) but come home to roost the abuses of wartime will. And there they will remain, even beyond the termination of wartime, should that termination ever arrive.
Militarism erodes not just particular rights but the very basis of self-governance. It privatizes public goods, it corrupts public servants, it creates momentum for war by making people's careers dependent on it. Over a half century ago, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower warned:
"We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations. 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. " 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."