War & Democracy 27 February 2006Posted by Todd in Democracy, Democratic Theory, History, Political Commentary, Politics, Social Sciences.
This week, one of my classes will be studying briefly the American response to World War I. The parallels between the Bush administration's "War on Terror" and the Wilson administration's efforts to garner support for and push America toward war seem too precise to be real: appeals to nationalism and democratic zeal, stifling of dissent, propaganda deployed unashamedly to manipulate public opinion, the interaction of business and Congress in the decision to declare war, and the erosion of Civil Rights in the name of "national security." Perhaps these are merely inescapable tropes of the modern democratic state, and it shouldn't be at all surprising that we're revisiting these things yet again in the 21st century.
At the end of WWI, when debates were raging over the League of Nations, the Wilson administration continued its clamp-down on dissent by using its propaganda office to stir up public fear against socialists, communists, and anarchists. I reread over the weekend the National Popular Justice League's 1920 report concerning U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer's and the Justice Department's illegal and unconstitutional actions against American citizens and legal aliens. The NPJL enumerated five violations of the U.S. Constitution by the Justice Department, which they had documented: 1) cruel and unusual punishment; 2) arrests without warrant; 3) unreasonable searches and seizures; 4) provative agents [entrapment and intimidation]; and 5) compelling persons to witness against themselves [torture]. The words of their conclusion ring true 86 years later:
There is no danger of revolution so great as that created by suppression, by ruthlessness, and by deliberate violation of the simple rules of American law and American decency. It is a fallacy to suppose that, any more than in the past, any servant of the people can safely arrogate to himself unlimited authority. To proceed upon such a supposition is to deny the fundamental American theory of the consent of the governed. Here is no question of a vague and threatened menace, but a present assault upon the most sacred principles of our Constitutional liberty….
Unfortunately, I see no danger of revolution at all in 2006 America. Salon.com has an interview in today's issue if you want to see how depressingly we not only resemble, but surpass the Wilson administration and the NPJL's 1920 report.