- Name: Lonnie Bruner
- Location: Washington, DC, United States
I live in DC, sail the Chesapeake Bay, have a lovely wife who's a web designer, a young son, an unruly hound dog, and am interested in most everything in the world. Oh yea, and I love the smell of burning trash in the Third World. That just gets me going.
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Friday, March 07, 2008
"American Gulag": Last Depressing Political Post. I SWEAR.
Why are intellectuals allowed to spew this nonsense in the US with little public condemnation?
People should be careful with their words, especially words like "fascist," "Nazi," or "Gulag" --- which in our modern lexicon have gained about the same death as someone saying, "Best. (Blank). EVER." --- now rendered meaningless by overuse. Words like "Gulag" and "Soviet Union" need defending so they don't fall victim like other dead words and phrases, digested back into cliché, then shat out to describe heavy-handed police tactics or used as a fashion statement.
Maybe I'm a humorless crank, but I once confronted someone wearing a hammer and sickle t-shirt at a party; no one stepped up to defend me --- just acted like I was being silly.
Let's recall what the Soviet Union was. This is the first page of Martin Amis' book Koba the Dread (thanks Greg):
Here is the second sentence of Robert Conquest's The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine:I'd like to give a big FUUUUUUCK YOOOOOUUU to the people in this country who have casually used any of these words to describe the United States or to gain their own political brownie points.
"We may perhaps put this in perspective in the present case by saying that in the actions here recorded about twenty human lives were lost for, not every word, but every letter, in this book."
That sentence represents 3,040 lives. The book is 411 pages long.
"Horse manure was eaten, partly because it often contained whole grains of wheat" (1,340 lives). "Oleska Voytrykhovsky saved his and his family's ... lives by consuming the meat of horses which had died in the collective of glanders and other diseases" (2,480 lives). Conquest quotes Vasily Grossman's essayistic-documentary novel Forever Flowing: "And the children's faces were aged, tormented, just as if they were seventy years old. And by spring they no longer had faces. Instead, they had birdlike heads with beaks, or frog heads---thin, wide lips---and some of them resembled fish, mouths open" (3,880 lives).
The famine was enforced famine: the peasants were stripped of their food. On June 11, 1933, the Ukrainian paper Visti praised an "alert" secret policeman for unmasking and arresting a "fascist saboteur" who had hidden some bread in a hold under a pile of covers. That word fascist. One hundred and forty lives.
Like anything, the situation is complicated. I mean, the countries of Laos and Vietnam --- both places I've been to --- are hardly Stalinist prison camps, yet you see the hammer and sickle everywhere you go.
I think you can't compare it directly to the swastika, because the H&S has been used by many different countries with varying degrees of human rights violations --- 90% of which are nothing like Amis' book's quote.
I'm willing to concede that, I suppose.
That sentiment was a very common opinion from the American Left throughout the 70 years of the torturous Soviet experiment. Sadly, a lot of apologists for Soviet crimes came out of academia.
Luckily, the exploited masses rose up against the USSR and brought it down relatively non-violently.
And I'll say it: the government of the Soviet Union was evil. End of story.
The Soviet regimes from 1917-1989 were essentially the same, with varying degrees of repression --- all raised under Stalin. Brezhnev et al were raised under Stalin's wing. So the entire history of the USSR is basically Stalinist at its root until its death with the deaths of the Stalinist cabal in the 1980s.
I think its demise had little to do with Reagan, despite the what the trimphalism of the US Right keeps drilling into our collective minds.
The US is a democracy. It's fallacious to compare the two on the same moral plain as you've done.
Just because you can point to a more fascist government doesn't mean ours shouldn't be carefully watched. The Founders knew that tyranny was alwasy just around the corner and that eternal vigilance was the price of freedom.
So LB, how comfortable are you with where the Constitution has gone in the past, say, 6 years since the Patriot Act passed? A lot of people are pretty worried, and I think they're right to be.
--The Real Anonymous
Tyranny is always just around the corner. The Founders knew that, and that's why they wrote the government-restraining constitution.
Fascism? It can't happen here.
Actually, the fasces as a symbol is not quite as pat as all that and it shows up all over the place, including those cool old Mercury dimes. If I were me, I'd be worried about the goddamned Masons.
Meanwhile, the point seems to be less about how the US is going down the crapper and more about sensationalist wingnuts raping language and history to justify their outrage and to sell books. Their imprecise use erodes the value of the word and trivializes the actual Gulag.
I share your anger about the trivialization of the brutality of the Soviet regime. But I think that anger is better directed at those in America who still cuddle up to people like Fidel Castro.
"Just because you can point to a more fascist government doesn't mean ours shouldn't be carefully watched."
Well, you are obviously implying that the US is currently fascist, but I'd like to hear you actually say that you think it is. Come on, do you have the balls to say those words?
Expose yourself publicly so everyone can see what a fucking fool you are.
I wouldn't say we're at fascism yet, but we're drifitng into a kind of soft fascism that has historically led to what even you would have to concede is hard fascism.
Consider: the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, 1 out of 99 adults. In 2002the rate was 1 out of 142 adults. So we've seen a per capita increase in incarceration of about 50% in just 6 years.
That doesn't sound like creeping fascism to you? Has the crime rate really exploded 50% in 6 years, or is the government just finding more and more reasons to imprison people?
See if you can compose an answer using language you wouldn't be embarrassed for your (hot) mom to read.
--the Real Anonymous
Your concerns about the US prison population are important; I agree it's an issue. Something that's an embarrassment and needs major fixing at a radical level.
But I wholeheartedly disagree with your total fucking egregious misuse (there's your naughty word. Eat it, bitch!) of the word "fascism". The way you are applying it renders it completely meaningless --- not to mention insulting to the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives to REAL fascist/near-fascist (Myanmar, Belorus, etc) regimes and fought to end their existence.
RE: Patriot Act. I don't support the Patriot Act so all the shit you said about that was a simple straw man. However, Anonymous, where are the disappeared as a result? Where are the murdered? Where is the press censorship? Where are the government black lists? Where are the police firing wantonly at protesting students? Nowhere.
Let's take the example of modern Poland --- a country I just visited. They had a right wing government that gained power for about 1.5 years. That government dug up a lot of former Communist government documents to find out about ANYONE who had associated themselves with the Communist regimes pre-1989. Most of these documents were unreliable, and many people who had documented contact with the former Communist gov'ts, had merely talked to them --- no collusion.
So what happened? The gov't created a fucking Black List to prevent these people from gaining employment, etc. Even that, I would not call "fascist" --- more like "authoritarian", not sure exactly.
If anything like that happened in the US I'd be in the STREETS to fight it just like the Poles did. I've done it before, trust me.
Fact is, nothing even close is happening in the US, and likely --- hopefully --- WILL not.
You're living in a fantasy where those with your ideology are the heros battling the unenlightened (myself) and evil dictators who oppress the stupid masses.
Yawn. We've heard it all before.
I would dare you or her to visit Auschwitz and still throw around the word "fascist" like you're doing here.
On second thought, I bet you WOULD do that.
Oh, before I forget, like I said in the original post, FUUUUUUCKK YOOOOOUU.
I'm not saying there's no difference between, say, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Myanmar on one hand, and what we've got here in the US now. The differences are obvious, the greatest being that you can leave America in 2008 if you don't like it, while the other three examples had turned into essentially nation-sized prisons.
The U.S. is not yet totalitarian, and is not yet fascist, but the trends are in that direction, and it's happening quickly...and "it can't happen here" -- which you used almost verbatim in your most recent post -- is the cliched cry in every country where it happened.
And then years later people shake their heads and say, "I never thought it could have happened to us."
Maybe you'll be one of them!
The Real Anonymous
Alex -- I think a smart guy like you can figure it out!
Let me ask you both a question -- what would you have to see happen in the U.S. in order for us to be a "fascist" state in your view?
Remember there is a difference between "fascist" and "totalitarian."
"Fascism is an authoritarian political ideology (generally tied to a mass movement) that considers the individual subordinate to the interests of the state, party or society as a whole."
And from the San Francisco Chronicle this week:
"California courts have held that ... parents do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children," Justice H. Walter Croskey said in the 3-0 ruling issued on Feb. 28. "Parents have a legal duty to see to their children's schooling under the provisions of these laws."
Parents can be criminally prosecuted for failing to comply, Croskey said.
"A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare," the judge wrote..."
On our way...
No matter what the evidence is, you guys simply cannot bring yourselves to question your government.
A 47-story building in the middle of Manhattan falls down, the evidence points only one way, you can't believe your own eyes.
A Boeing 757 crashes in a 20-foot hole, leaving no identifiable debris...I send you a youtube of news footage of an aerial shot of the hole, clear as a bell and still you believe what the government tells you.
The steps that would-be dictators take to obtain and consolidate power are spelled out for you in simple terms, and illustration after illustration appears in the news every day, and still your reaction is "it can't happen here," with insults and obscenities hurled at anyone who suggests otherwise.
Your minds are owned by the US government. They can do whatever they want with them, and they will.
You're wrong, he's not making it up: he's educated solely by youtube, 911truth.org and wikipedia. That's enough for him.
And don't feel bad about it -- my mind was the same way until a short time ago, and the vast majority of Americans' minds are still that way now.
We were talking about fascism -- well, one thing dictators have learned in the past century is that you don't only have to control people with guns and barbed wire -- you can control them just as effectively if you control their minds, through propaganda and sophisticated techniques of mass mind control.
Most people think Operation Paperclip http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Paperclip just brought Nazi scientists to the US who worked on military weapons projects, but they also (more secretly) brought over a few hundred top German "mind scientists," whose job in the Nazi Era had been just these mass mind control techniques. The CIA put them to work here...and here we are, 60 years later, where Alex's mind has been so saturated with "the government is your friend" propaganda that I show him footage from the afternoon of 9/11/01, taken from a news helicopter flying low, directly over the 20-foot hole in the ground at Shanksville, which shows nothing at all resembling debris from an airplane...and Alex will still tell you that a Boeing 757 crashed there, because the government said so, and anyone who points out the obvious lack of, you know, a jumbo jet, is labeled crazy and subject to Alex's wrath.
9/11 was a big psy-op more than anything else...
Anyway, here's some background on how they did that to Americans' brains:
It's time for you to confront your onw brainwashing. Again, go to 1:38 in this NBC Nightly News clip from 9/11/01, hit pause on YouTube, and tell me a Boeing 757 crashed a few hours before in that hole.
Of course it didn't. Your government is lying to you.
Take, for example, this sentence:
"If either of you guys are interested in knowing how your mind got to the point where it is unable to even consider that the US government could intentionally hurt you..."
Boy, he sure loves flogging that strawman, doesn't he?
I'm constantly surprised by the realization that these idiots truly believe that my disagreement with them stems from a lack of understanding on my part.
I'm almost as surprised by their ability to use scientific-sounding mumbo-jumbo to try and prove a premise which is ludicrous on it's face.
The combined effect is like having a maniac at an Insane Asylum screaming that the reason I can't see his third eye is because the NWO mind-control beams are dynamically rewiring my visual cortex. It'd be funny if it wasn't so bizarre.
Go to 1:38 in that video and tell me where the jumbo jet is that crashed into that 20-foot hole a few hours earlier.
Perhaps you can ask your buddy James Fetzer about it. He claims to be a physics professor, so I'm sure he can explain to you what happens when two objects with a large difference in velocities (and a massive difference in mass) collide on an angle.
Man, that's rough. How is Dale, btw?
Also, Katie (my wife) was at a party in N. Virginia recently and met a guy who watched the plane fly into the Pentagon. Apparently, it fucked him up for months. For days after 9/11/01 he was actually cowering in his closet in a stupor.
Better watch you, Lonnie. The Troofers are after you.
And for the record, we've already had the militia firing wantonly into civilians, but it happened over thirty years ago.
We don't really have the vast expanses of space to create a first-rate gulag system here in the USA...even the Black Panthers that were incarcerated rather than murdered were still in touch with the outside...though I wouldn't call cointelpro the actions of a democratic government...
Are you implying that the only reason the US hasn't implemented an enforced slave labor system based 95% on millions of people innocent of any crime in the 20th century is because of the size limitations of this country?
If so, you should seriously read up on your history of the Gulag. Martin Amis is a good place to start.
That said, why so dismissive of any statements at all that suggest citizens need be more vigilant against government intrusion and breaches of policy?
There's an old dangerous notion that seems ever-popular today, that if you're not doing anything wrong, you've got nothing to worry about.
Tell that to the thousands who were (are) detained in Guatanamo Bay for no other reason than they had the wrong name, or knew the wrong individual? These people were deprived of their liberty, without due process, for months and in some cases years only to be deported or returned to the US with no reparation for the lost jobs, spouses, or other bits and pieces of a former life that can never be recovered. The overarching reach of terrorism response should frighten anyone. TSA watchlists are already regularly used to monitor and apprehend deadbeat dads. Sounds good, right? I don't like deadbeat dads very much either. I just hope they don't ever bring back the sedition laws, and then track those "fomenting insurgency" in the same way. Or prosecute abortionists this way. Because when you're detained as a potential terrorist, you do not get a fair trial. you get a military commission trial. You might confess to just about anything (and many have) considering the rules of these trials allow the use of evidence obtained through abusive interrogation techniques prior to January 2006 (just as long as the military judge finds the evidence “reliable” and “in the interests of justice.”)
What's more, these same interrogation methods and activities are protected from disclosure! Even defense counsel aren't allowed to know what methods were used, even if said counsel wants to challenge the use of evidence obtained by ILLEGAL TORTURE.
Think I'm making this up?? Well, it's not some conspiracy theory stuff, this is all right there in black in white if you care to read up on the policy behind the Patriot Act.
Of course, the Patriot Act isn't the first time this great democracy hit the pause button on our constitution. If you think the US hasn't flirted around with fascism, talk to someone who was "interned" during the second world war because they were of Japanese descent. i could go on and on, but it's a tired subject.
I'm no 9/11 "troofer," as you call it. I don't believe 9/11 was a giant government orchestrated PR job. Frankly, I don't give this current administration credit for carrying something like that out. Besides that, I've looked at all the videos, and I find them fascinating in the same way I like to watch predictions about how science or medicine will look in the future. I can't marry the concepts with what I know to be reality. But you're being dangerously complacent in your thinking to profess so confidantly that there is a vulnerability to our US democracy.
While I do not believe 9/11 was government-orchestrated, I certainly do believe it is accelerating two frightening trends. The first is increased government secrecy for the sake of so-called public safety and the second is increased public disclosure in the interest of knowledge or convenience.
The concept of public safety and security in the United States is morphing and the power balance is shifting as a result. Homeland security spews out a continuous stream of fear, sometimes unfounded.
You act as though the US status as a democracy insulates us all against fascism and say you'd be the first fighting in the street if things were to get really bad. How about the fact that we are spending 12 billion a month to fund an unjust and protracted war with thousands and thousands of fatalities, all based on a revolting bed of lies? Weapons of mass destruction, the war on terror, oh, and let's not forget "American-style freedom and democracy in Arab countries" And of course, now we all know (and most of the thinking set knew from the beginning that these were a mix of conscious deceptions and outright hallucinations by neocons whose real contribution to the war was writing a fucking memo while thousands of Americans died. (Sorry for the nauthy word, anonymous).
Second is, The current climate of fear, civic ignorance and the lack fo government accountability in the so-called "war on terror" invites us (or requires us) to give up (sometimes unknowingly) more and more privacy. Surveillance cameras are everywhere and ordinary citizens are clamoring for them. I am on a list serve for my capitol hill neighborhood where some crime was committed and a suspect was aprehended. The resulting discussion held many of my neighbors asking if we could increase the number of surveillance cameras. Obviously, it's pretty compelling. Cameras make me feel safer because if a crime takes place, we can punish the criminal and, in some cases, remove the criminal from society. In other instances, the national security agency is allowed to snoop (without warrant!) on conversations, internet transactions, and other human communication in the name of increased security. And yet, this big brother concept is rather uniformedly trained on citizens but the camera is not typically trained on those in power. Why are there no cameras in police interviewing rooms when confessions are being obtained? The problem with all this open-society bullshit is that the openness is one sided. I give up my privacy, anonymity, and civil rights, and in return the inner working of those who weild the power grow ever more opaque. Does this encourage liberty? Is this the hallmark of a strong democracy?
Is this fascism? I don't know. I don't want to split hairs over syntax, but no, for the record, I would NOT say the US is a "fascist regime" right now. I think many lawmakers and government officials are trying to right the ship, but it's a difficult process. How can those in power take such risks when ordinary Americans don't even risk dangerous thought?
To you, fascism is a loaded word and shouldn't be used lightly. I agree. But all is not well, Lonnie. If the continuous erosion of our civil rights hasn't bothered you yet, you must be walking around with your eyes closed.
This is not new. It's worse than it's ever been in my lifetime, but it's nothing new. American Democracy has seen worse. But I personally think we should ask for more accountability, and we should remain vigilant. And if we're not going to think critically, we shouldn't castigate those who aren't drinking the koolaid.
Well, then we have nothing to disagree about.
I sympathize with your concerns: Guantanamo (I'm against it), Patriot Act (I'm against it), US torture (I'm against it), etc ... I'm not dismissive of people being critical of all those things. Your whole comment was just driving needles into a strawman.
Here's what I'm against: people using terms like "fascism", "Gulag" (like Mark Dow) etc in meaningless ways. I thought my quote from Martin Amis made it clear why. Those words are important and need protecting.
Faye, something changed in me after I visited Auschwitz; I really did have nightmares for days. Now I have no time for people using those words to describe any activity they don't like about this or that democratic government. And I think a few well-placed FUs are effective in reminding people how serious I am about it.
American Gulag is a catchy title. I haven't read the book, nor do I intend to. It probably conjures up for most people an image of an oppressive prison system that has more to do with controlling bodies than with rehabilitating criminals. Is it literally true as in is there a one to one correlation between the Soviet Union's gulag and the US prison system? No. Good title though.
And Martin Amis is a crock, gulag or no gulag. Life's too short for me to read Martin Amis.
I'll forget most of my disagreements with you on this issue because you did elbow a dig at Northern Virginia.
But one point: ok, there's not a "one to one correlation", sure. Not even a 100 to 1 or 1,000 to 1. Anyone got a million? 20 million died under Stalin; how 'bout that? How high do we need to go before the American Left stops comparing the Stalinist slave prison system to a few dozen POWs in some US military base. (I'm against Guantanamo, so don't even start flogging that straw man).
I DO agree with you -- wholeheartedly -- about this strange trend lately to bastardize loaded words. Words like fascism and gulag (and I'll add one more -- genocide) are heavy for a reason.
There are two parts to this. The first is the hammer and sickle as a fashion statement on a shirt trend. Either these people don't understand the enormity of what they're endorsing or referencing with their shirts, or they're assholes. And some claim they do understand, but wear it only for ironic purposes, should know that they're wearing something that will offend -- and upset, clearly -- some people. I think those people who wear the shirts with sincerity will tell you that what they support is communism in theory or on paper. Unfortunately, that hammer and sickle is a symbol, and you can't divorce the symbol from that which it symbolizes. So I'm with you on that.
Another trend that I find personally offsensive is the misuse of terms. I think it started with the word rape. The word started being used out of context but still to depict something heinous -- i.e. "The rape of Nanking." Of course now, you can get "raped" in the produce aisle at Whole Foods, if by "raped" you mean "ripped off" and apparently, many people think it's appropriate to use these terms synonomously. Perhaps worse, I had a boss once who had taken to using the word "abortion" casually. Whatever you feel about the issue, it's obviously going to arouse some feelings. Yet, my boss would say things like "The situation in Iraq is an absolute abortion" to depict horror. That's weird on several levels -- it's offensive if you're pro-life because the word triggers emotions. it's offensive if you're pro-choice, because you're not only being flippant about a serious topic, your infusing the term for a clinical procedure with negativity and horror.
Then there's another favorite: "cultural genocide." A friend of mine was playing a benefit show for a cause related to halting "mountaintop removal" style coal-mining in the United States. Certainly the things they were doing were absolutey terrible. But how in the world do they say it is a deliberate deprivation of cultural heritage? And why did genocide get coopted for even this cultural use in the first place? I actually felt sympathy for the woman's cause, but she lost her credibility with me when she used that term so casually.
I'm taking all this time to agree with your original post because I don't want you to think that all my comments above were criticizing you over your thoughts.
I just think you lost your temper with some of the comments, some of the comments weren't very polite, but had valid points about US atrocities as well as the multi-faceted nature of communist nations.
My former housemate grew up in the former Czechoslovakia. She didn't go to college until she was in her early twenties because, when she finished high school, you had to sign a communist oath in order to get higher education.
She lived through communism, and she is quick to point out, even to strangers on the street, the message they are shouting with their attire. And yet, she herself has drawn many parallels between oppression (yes, oppression) here and oppression under her former communist government. She actually goes so far as to say that, at least with the communists, you knew what to expect from your oppressor.
She didn't live through a Gulag, but she gets my vote for knowing what she's talking about.
Read the fifth comment from the top where I wrote:
"Like anything, the situation is complicated. I mean, the countries of Laos and Vietnam --- both places I've been to --- are hardly Stalinist prison camps, yet you see the hammer and sickle everywhere you go.
I think you can't compare it directly to the swastika, because the H&S has been used by many different countries with varying degrees of human rights violations --- 90% of which are nothing like Amis' book's quote.
I'm willing to concede that, I suppose."
As far as me being "a bit dismissive about the potential for fascism", you're incorrect. I'm A LOT dismissive of that.
Anyway, did you ever read that Harper's article where they had senior military officials sit down and discuss the possibility of a coup in the US? It's here if you're interested. Short story: that possibility is EXTREMELY unlikely.
Check out how far they got and who one of the- admittedly alleged- conspirators was.