29 January 2008

The End of America, by Naomi Wolf

Chelsea Green Publishing, 2007. 168 pages. ISBN 978-1-933392-79-0.

This is a disturbing little book. It's extremely well-written, relatively dispassionate, and coldly logical. It did not make me feel well.

The full title is The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. Wolf has written it directly and emphatically, outlining her points clearly and describing nothing less than an emergency to her fellow citizens of all political persuasions.

While her claims may at first seem extreme and alarmist, a reading of her carefully thought-out arguments brings to one some rather unwelcome revelations. Reaching back through the history of the Bush administration to the date of her writing (late 2006) Wolf itemizes instance after instance of power-grabbing initiatives by the Bush Executive Branch.

In her introduction (go to this site and scroll down toward the bottom, there's a link to download a copy of the introduction and some other material from the book) Wolf says
"I began to take a second look at how leaders in the past had cracked down on societies over which they had
gained control..."

End of America compares moves made by the Bush administration to steps taken by leaders such as Mussolini as they established totalitarian control over their countries.

How can we ignore such legislative travesties as the USA PATRIOT act and the Military Commissions Act? This last, which suspends habeas corpus, should make any American of any political persuasion furious. The idea that the President (whoever he or she is, no matter of what political party) would have the ability to imprison any citizen without charge, without the right to representation, and even without disclosing that the imprisonment has been accomplished or where the citizen is -- this is in my mind a definition of the opposite of what the Bill of Rights and Constitution exist to protect.

Wolf's comparisons of strategies, and of language, are chilling. She points out the significance of the term "homeland" as we now use it, and how it was used as the Nazi party came to power in Germany in the 1930s. It is considered "over-the-top" to make comparisons with the Nazis and Hitler:

"I also know that there is a kind of intellectual etiquette, an unwritten rule, that Nazism and Hitler should be treated as stand-alone categories. But I believe this etiquette is actually keeping us from learning what we have to learn right now. I believe we honor the memory of the victims of Nazism with our willingness to face the lessons that history—even the most nightmarish history—can offer us about how to defend freedom."
Wolf points out her own bona fides in this,

"As someone who lost relatives on both sides of my family in the Holocaust..."
There will still be detractors, those who will say that this book is unnecessarily paranoid, that there just isn't any basis for believing that our leaders are headed in this direction.

I found the most chilling aspect of this work to be the idea that we are supposed to know that our government will deal with us if we speak out against it. We are supposed to be aware of the downhill slide from legal interrogation of prisoners with Constitutional rights to the covert torture of helpless "disappeared" captives.

It serves the ends of what Wolf terms the "Fascist shift" for us to have a growing fear of our government. We know that it imprisons our fellow citizens without recourse to traditional legal protections, and we know that it has reached out to foreign nationals and governments and committed crimes. We know that if the magic word "terrorism" is invoked, all bets are off, and all rules are suspended. There is no real effort to conceal these things, there is no need. The more this incipient knowledge is revealed, the less likely we all become to resist any initiative taken by the Executive.

I put this book down about a month ago and put off writing this review. I was just too uncomfortable. As time has gone by, I have found myself brushing off her arguments as too extreme, even obsessive. And then I think back, and I understand that this, too, is probably a predictable reaction. People who live in societies that are becoming more repressive no doubt feel just as I do.

Therefore I say, read this little book, and judge for yourself. If Naomi Wolf is wrong then we have nothing to fear and there is no harm in the reading. If she is right, we may be at an important point in our history, where we will need every intelligent and alert American to be aware of what our government is doing, and to fight to retain the freedoms that have made this country the beacon of light that it once was in the world.

1 comment:

Xygent said...

I ain't read the book, Mr Lester, but I've seen the author on various tubes. (Too bad she is so often subject to being confused with Naomi Klein.) The case she makes seems self- evident to me, as you might guess.

My reactions when the book came out are themselves a gauge of how far things have deteriorated. I recall wondering why the book hadn't been suppressed, discredited, or co-opted. Fortunately, being a long-time Chomsky fan, I understood how the corporate-owned media define the boundaries of public debate, thereby marginalizing potential threats to Common Sense. Thus waned my cognitive dissonance.

The other thing that surprised me is that those who have not studied history, or at least watched documentaries about the rise of Nazism in the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, seem not to realize how gradually fascism acquires its iron grip. Putsches are thus unnecessary, and the frog boils to death.

Myths help, too.

It can't happen here.