Wednesday, November 09, 2005

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Resuscitating America

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

-- Martin Neimoller, German pastor incarcerated by Hitler.

Maybe I am the oldest guy in America. At least I seem to be the only one who remembers how we derided the Commie-Pinko Atheist Russian Dictatorship back in the Cold War days for their reliance on fear, and the urgency with which they recruited citizens to spy on one another and report any suspicious activity. The pain of those years was multiplied as former Soviet subject nations came into their own, the STASI fell, and their secret files were opened. Fathers or mothers learned their children had turned them in to the secret police, or the files revealed that husbands or wives had turned in their spouses, brothers their brothers, sisters their sisters. First instill fear of the outsider. Then pit individual against individual, family member against family member. Then the fear of the insider also becomes fear for oneself. Then the State can do as it pleases. It was the old Stalinist way.

So here we are now, in this America, and the signs are up near the airports, near schools, around town: “Report any suspicious activity,” as we train our citizens to spy on each other. We have the gulags ready, can make access to an attorney impossible to achieve. American citizens can be “disappeared” as surely – though perhaps not yet as frequently -- as any in Argentina during its worst and saddest years. Secrecy and deceit are not just this administration’s primary tools of governance, they are rapidly becoming a national way of life. Fight Terrorism. Watch what you say. Report any suspicious activities or comments made by your neighbor. Betray your lover. Live in fear. Build a cocoon of secrecy around your words and deeds. Build a cocoon of deceit around your soul. Become the Isolato. The government can then do as it pleases. Its the old bushist way.

We are turning America into someplace else from a time past. It happens every time we turn our eyes away and do not speak out to say, “No, you can’t do that to those people.” G.W. couldn’t have done what he has without a lot of complicity from us. We have only one choice now: to create that other nation -- the one we thought we had, that we can be proud of and feel safe in, that will become a benign force in the world. Resuscitate America and bring it to life. Give it mouth to mouth and get the hope breathing again, jump start its heart, oxygenate its brain, and get it thinking and feeling again. If we don’t, some of us will be saying:

First they came after the trade unionists…
Then they came after gays and lesbians…
Then they came after those who spoke against their policies…
Then they came after the Muslims…
Then they came after the Episcopalians…
And did I speak out?
Then they came after me.