Jefferson & the Reign of Witches

Kudos to the Baltimore Sun for its July 4th editorial. Contrary to the keen imagination of another former “Jefferson Fellow” now at Oxford, I (Scott), as far as I know, had nothing to do with the Sun editorial. :-}
The Baltimore editorial begins with the reference to Thomas Jefferson’s First Inaugural. (Yes, this is the same Jefferson address I invoked here at jwn last November 2nd, in challenging Senator George Allen’s claim to being a “Jeffersonian”). In the Sun’s version,

In his first presidential inaugural address in 1801, he (Jefferson) ticked off a long list of essential principles of government, featuring highlights of the Bill of Rights, and called preservation of the government “in its whole constitutional vigor” the “anchor of our peace at home and safety abroad.” These principles “should be the creed of our political faith,” he said. “Should we wander from them in moments of error or of alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety.”

The editorial credits Jefferson for having been “prophetic” about how the US government has (yet again) committed “a long train of abuses” (as Jefferson once wrote about another George III) against our constitutional liberties, in “moments… of alarm.”
If I had written the editorial, I’d have pointedly noted how for Jefferson, “freedom of the press, and freedom of person under the protection of the habeas corpus, and trial by juries impartially selected” were among the principles that:

“form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith.”

Through his long public life, Jefferson had extensive first hand experiences with the challenges of protecting such principles in perceived times of national emergency, including the treatment of prisoners of war. As I noted last November, Jefferson would have been particularly horrified by our present cavalier disregard of habeas corpus protections, given that he:

affirmed that habeas corpus applied to both citizen and alien alike, and.. argued against suspending it even in times of war or rebellion. In a 1788 letter to James Madison, Jefferson warned that the want of habeas corpus “will do evil…” and that suspensions thereof can become “habitual” and the “minds of the nation almost prepared to live under its constant suspension.”

In similar vein, the Sun editorial closes with an all too appropriate warning:

“Public outrage at the discovery of such clandestine abuses has typically resulted in the sort of corrective action Jefferson recommended. Such a process may be under way soon again as Congress and the courts begin to apply some restraints on an administration that as much as or more than any other has considered itself above the law. There’s little time to waste before Americans become so accustomed to their lost liberty that the loss becomes acceptable.

Harpers Magazine on July 4th featured a related, and also all-too-relevant Jefferson quotation about our present “Reign of Witches.” As Scott Horton notes, Jefferson was writing in 1798 to a friend on his hope that the Federalists had “overplayed their hand” with the Alien & Sedition Acts (an early version of today’s Patriot Act). Yet Jefferson nonetheless was concerned that he could be arrested if his letter was publicized, given how paranoid the country had become then (as now).

A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt… And if we feel their power just sufficiently to hoop us together, it will be the happiest situation in which we can exist. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake.

Helena here has repeatedly expressed her optimism that the tide in Washington has turned…; may the reign of the neocon warlocks soon pass over.

15 thoughts on “Jefferson & the Reign of Witches”

  1. “may the reign of the neocon warlocks soon pass over”
    oh, they will go away (for a while at least) but since our problems go much deeper than just them, we still will have a violent country on our hands.
    At a local SOS (Support our soldiers) rally in 2002, everyone there thought attacking a country that had never hurt us a fine idea – every last US military person there (that I talked to) expressed their stong wish to join in the slaughter, and all of them believed the ridiculous idea that we would bring “freedom and democracy” to Iraq instead of a failed state and genocide.
    And while a number of Americans are now against this “adventure” – I find very few who have taken this position because they realize that we have done great, great evil. Instead, they recognize that we are losing and will never win.
    But hey, they NEVER recognized the two or so million we killed in Vietnam for no reason either.

  2. Susan, you talk of these military people like they’re some “other”. Like they’re not human. I assumed you tried to change their minds with argument, but you sound like they don’t merit the effort.
    We are not a violent people anymore than Muslims are. Instead we need to counter misleading ideas loudly and try to get as many of us to listen.

  3. For your information, Susan, Iraq was already a failed state before the United States overthrew it. Saddam Hussein was a merciless dictator in a republic of fear, who (and I’m sorry to burst your bubble again..) committed genocide against the Kurds.

  4. well, you are not “bursting my bubble” to tell me that Saddam committed genocide. I think it is shameful that the US and other western countries helped him to do this. I think it is shameful that they were never brought to trial or brought to justice. I think it is shameful that Americans ignore this reality and pretend it does not exist.
    But Iraq was not a failed state in February 2003. The US invasion and occupation brought that one about.
    At the SOS rally, I walked up to the military people (all men) and thanked them for their service and said I hope they don’t get sent to Iraq. Every last one of them smiled and said they hoped they did go to Iraq, they wanted to be a part of this war effort. I did not spend time trying to change their minds on that occasion. There was no time. I have spent LOTS of time trying to change other peoples minds, mostly Senator Edwards. And I do mean LOTS OF TIME. Hours per day, actually. I used to write 6 to 8 page letters, single spaced, explaining why going into Iraq was a very poor idea. I also spend a lot of time trying to get the US troops out of Afghanistan, because from early 2002 onward, I could see where that was headed.
    But I did not do this because I felt they were/were not “worth it”. I did it to try and stop a genocide done with my tax dollars.
    I failed.
    And, I am still failing – I have not seen any impeachment hearings, Guantanamo is still open, human rights abuses still rampant, and the genocide in Iraq continues. And, Afghanistan is getting worse every day. Bombings of civilians continues in Iraq and Afghanistan daily.
    But, it does not matter if I fail or succeed. What matters is I speak out for what is right.
    What matters is that I speak out and stand up for justice. What matters is that I speak the truth.

  5. Ghosts of Abu Ghraib
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    Film Summary Through startling interviews with perpetrators, witnesses and victims, GHOSTS OF ABU GHRAIB examines and contextualizes the … all » abuses that occurred in the fall of 2003 at the notorious Iraqi prison abuses documented in photographs that are etched in our national consciousness.
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  6. Farah,
    Iraq was already a failed state before the United States overthrew it
    Farah I wonder which your sources make you to put this provocative statement?
    Are you Iraqi living at that time in Iraq to say this?
    Do you know what’s its mean a “Failed State”?
    Or, are you throwing these provocative statements and comments upon our friends here to disturbing this discussion?

  7. Inkan1969,
    So those people who wanted to go to Iraq, did any of them tell you why, Susan?
    Inkan, I really interested in you question what the answers may some Americans can give us why?
    Apart of defending their country “US” against Al-Qaeda and all of this, I really interested what’s these “heroes” offered by the military departments and US administration with bounces and rewards if they enlisted specially for white American not the Black that make them enlisted with the military to this killing mission?.

  8. Yes, they did give me some reasons – they wanted to get the WMDs away from Saddam, because Saddam was a bad, bad man. I pointed out that there were no nuclear WMDs in Iraq and any possible chemical or biological weapons could not hurt the USA. I pointed out that the surrounding countries did not want the US to invade and overthrow Saddam – they did not see Saddam as a threat – so therefore, it was unlikely that Saddam even had chemical or biological weapons (which are not WMDs anyway). They did not believe me when I told them that there were no nuclear WMDs, which was common in American society at that time – which shows that Americans are generally stupid and brainwashed, because that one WAS EASY TO FIGURE OUT.
    Of course, all the facts above meant the war/invasion was illegal and therefore a WAR CRIME did not figure in their thinking at all.
    They also said that they had been training to fight a war for years and they wanted to try out their skills.
    And they expressed the belief that they wanted to bring freedom to the Iraqi people. The fact that the Iraqi people did not ask for or what this violence in their country did not seem to matter to them at all.

  9. I don’t recall any of them saying they wanted to fight al Qaeda – they seemed to recognize that Saddam was not al Qaeda and that the al Qaeda fight was in Afghanistan.
    Of course, the dumb American public thought that Saddam was selling his imaginary WMDs to his imaginary “friend” bin Laden.
    Never underestimate American stupidity or their willingness to wear rose-colored glasses and live in denial, no matter how much horror they have visited on other people – or even other Americans!
    It is astounding in some respects.

  10. Susan,
    As a victim/veteran of the Nixon-Kissinger Fig Leaf Contingent (Vietnam 1970-1972) I want to personally thank you for your sober reminders to us all that the “professional” American military operates from far different motives — rampantly careerist in the worst of cases — than does most of the world’s working civilian population. Back in the days of my own bullied-into-enlisting indentured servitude, the “lifers,” as we “non-professionals” called them, had a happy slogan that encompasses your critique as much today as it did then: “Don’t knock the war, it’s the only one we’ve got.”
    For our “professional” warrior-wards-of-the-state, as I prefer to think of them, war means a guaranteed monthly paycheck, rapid promotion to higher rank and pay leading to an early retirement pension, along with a substantial probability of garnering more of the gaudy trinkets they so prize and ostentatiously wear proudly on their chests — what I prefer to call “Commendation Accumulation Syndrome.” Sure, a few could get killed in battle, but in practice the odds favor that not happening to the bulk of our “professional” military. I can best illustrate the workings of this manufactured mania with an example from Southeast Asia, thirty-five years ago.
    I once stood at attention in formation (at an isolated river support base two kilometers from the southeastern tip of Vietnam) while a full Navy captain awarded one of the military’s coveted decorations to a young Navy lieutenant who commanded the small Seal team detachment stationed at our remote facility. As I listened in disbelief, the captain waxed enthusiastic about the lieutenant’s heroic exploits in leading his entire team of eight enlisted men in chasing a Vietnamese person into a small hut. As the story went, the intended Vietnamese quarry pulled the pin from a hand grenade, dropped the armed explosive on the floor of the cramped dwelling, and dove out the hut’s only window — leaving nine bemused Americans staring down at a lethal little ball of death rolling around on the floor among their collective feet. Fortunately, the little bomb did not explode, which would have killed or maimed all of them. As I recall, the lieutenant glibly joked during the awards ceremony: “Attendance will be up at church on Sunday.”
    Now, as a Navy translator/interpreter, I had only received three weeks of infantry weapons and tactics training delivered to me by the Marines at Camp Pendleton before I deployed to Vietnam. Part of the instruction consisted of Marine drill instructors profanely screaming at us “stupid fucking swabbies” to “maintain interval,” and “never bunch up” because that only made it easier for someone to kill all of us instead of only a few. So, you can imagine my consternation at hearing of a Navy Seal officer getting his ticket punched for doing a thing so dangerous and dumb that not even a lowly Marine pfc would consider a sailor capable of it. Said the captain, though: “Keep up the aggression, and I’ll keep the medals flowing.”
    I never forgot those cavalier words of obtuse encouragement, because not too many months later, one of the Seal team’s enlisted men burst into the command bunker at our base to breathlessly report that “The lieutenant is dead.” It seems he “aggressively” led his team up a narrow canal in a canoe — and straight into an ambush. I’ll never forget the sight of four-or-five tiny Vietnamese men laboring to lift the lieutenant’s dead body out of their little boat and up onto the landing pier where we could retrieve it and take it to “sick bay” for our base doctor to examine and process.
    I have had to live with this and other tragic memories for most of my adult life. Yet the American military has labored for decades to erase from America’s public consciousness any remembrance of just why so many of us “non-professionals” used to say: “We are the unwilling led by the unqualified to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful,” and “we’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here,” and “we lost the day we started and we win the day we stop.” Instead, America — the Lunatic Leviathan — has lumbered and blundered again into just the sort of mindless agression that our “professional” military prizes for its own sake, regardless of any larger issues of national interest and/or simple humanity which the “professional” military considers irrelevant and “inefficient.” The senior officer corps of the United States military has for decades assiduously placed its own narrow career interests ahead of everything else and in so doing has betrayed not just the enlisted men and junior officers who bear the brunt of the casualties, but America and millions of the world’s civilian population as well. The brilliantly-hyped-and-polished, medal-encrusted halo has begun to wear a bit thin, though, and the threadbare pomposity of our fuck-up-and-move-up political/military bureaucrats won’t stand much more needed debunking before unravelling completely, along with their bloated budgets, redundant billets and bases abroad, and careless sqandering of our national honor.
    Again, I thank you, Susan, for saying what needs saying over and over again: namely, that America’s military, both active-duty and national guard, contains all too many men and women who simply don’t want to know the truth about Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, if you tried to educate them on the subject, they would in most cases just look at you with amused contempt, since you really don’t “understand” that “just doing their job” means that they look forward to “doing their job,” no matter what that means to either Vietnamese in Southeast Asia or Iraqis and Afghans in the Middle East. As for the vaunted pseudo-concepts of “patriotism” and “patriot” in America, I can only define them in the way that Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce did, respectively, as “combustible rubbish, ready to the torch of any man ambitious to illuminate his name,” and “the dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.” Like comedian Bob Hope never said, as I do, to our senior military officer corps: “No thanks for the memories.”

  11. And thank you Michael for yet another memorable “keeper” — one I’ll add to my print-outs for that officer son of mine to read — someday. (and for my students)
    I used to send him e-mail after e-mail of what struck me as wisdom…. ’til I figured out that he would tend to delete the pearls as “UFO’s” — apparently a Faux News short-hand for anything they find “flying in” from “left-field”….
    Lately, I do my best just to keep the line of communication open…. with hopes to just keep playing “Socratic Dad”…. questions, questions, questions…
    “Funny thing,” he does watch a good bit of “The Daily Show” — w/ John Stewart….. and I think he’s starting to “get it.”

  12. Michael- your words reminded me of Camilo Mejia’s book ROAD FROM AR RAMADI a bit. (I recommend the book.) But, as I see it – the problem is not the military so much as the American population, from which the military springs. Our military and it’s attitudes is just a symptom…….

  13. Michael Murray, I appreciate the history you’ve written down in this board. I see evidence of institutionalized military incompetance in the military’s failings in Afghanistan; with the poor troop strength and dependence on air strikes that lead to all these civilian losses. The military has been shrugging off the big losses similarly to how that Captain shrugged off that Lieutennant’s potentially deadly error. And a detachment from reality in the professional leadership might’ve contributed to the embrace of the Invasion of Iraq as a good strategic move. The military leadership is in need of reform.
    Susan, did you talk to career soldiers or recruits that ultimately want to leave? Two points struck me. They wanted to test their skills. I am concerned then of the lack of independent thought in military training. Soldiers can’t forgo independent thought when they follow orders. I’m also disturbed that none showed any interest in fighting al-Qaeda. I wonder how they had so lost that focus.
    I think you mean the attitudes of the American Population, Susan. How many wind up preoccupied with fear or too caught up in patriotism. Those are cultural issues that can change over time. Just saying the fault is the American Population makes it sound like it’s something genetic. Don’t fall into eugenics.

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