Last night on Interchange I talked with Scott Horton of Harper’s Magazine about government secrecy–more specifically the secrecy of “dark budgets” and “dark operations” and “dark lords”–inherent in the National Security State. [A Power Unto Itself: Scott Horton on the National Security Elite]
Horton traces the history of the meaning of “government by the people” (democracy) to the point where it has come to be degraded and changed into a secret or shadow or deep government by the few who hold “secrets” of supposed necessity for national security in his latest book, The Lords of Secrecy: The National Security Elite and America’s Stealth Foreign Policy. Which is to say, this is no democracy. His litmus test: do the people make the decision as to the legitimacy of war, do the people have knowledge of the reasons for engaging the nation’s army in wars that aren’t clearly defensive? If the answer is “no,” as it is in America, then there is no democracy.
Richard (Dick) Bruce Cheney is of course everyone’s example of this darkness and his is a true representation of what a “Lord of Secrecy” is. He is our monster, but he is by no means a unique character in history. Somehow folks think monsters can’t grow in America.
If Cheney is the Devil of Secrecy who is the angel? Horton offers Andrei Sakharov as a countervailing angel.
Sakharov was a Russian nuclear physicist, Soviet dissident and human rights activist. (John le Carré’s Russia House is based in some measure on the dilemma of that Sakharov confronted in his work as a weapons maker for a world power.)
He became renowned as the designer of the Soviet Union’s Third Idea, a codename for Soviet development of thermonuclear weapons. Sakharov later became an advocate of civil liberties and civil reforms in the Soviet Union, for which he faced state persecution; these efforts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. [Wikipedia]
Horton speaks of the exposure to this kind of information as publicity; publicity forms a triangle of the treatment of information by governments (or world management by world powers–which we might simply define as those powers which can destroy the known world) and the population they serve/manage: secrecy, privacy, and publicity.
It’s impossible to avoid this truth: the democratic government we learn about and laud and treat with a kind of smug reverence is very much a sham. We are now governed by an Executive Branch only and what faces out, the President, is only that, a face of illusion; while those security agency directors, like CIA Director John Brennan, are the real centers of power and influence (Target/Terror Tuesdays anyone?)
One could go on and on…
What has continued to amaze me is that this is always predictable. How many people have written about military power and bureaucracy? Was the bureaucratic evil of the Third Reich not example enough?
I had the thought to preface last night’s topics with quotes from Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” (known famously as “Civil Disobedience”). But that seemed, you know, pedantic. But hey, that won’t stop me here!
To begin a chat about Cheney/Brennan and the Lords of Secrecy:
This American government- what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? It has not the vitality and force of a single living man; for a single man can bend it to his will. It is a sort of wooden gun to the people themselves. But it is not the less necessary for this; for the people must have some complicated machinery or other, and hear its din, to satisfy that idea of government which they have. Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage.
About trying to expose the malfeasance:
Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them? Why does it always crucify Christ, and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels?
About walking in lock-step (goose-stepping in jackboots) with the Bureaucracy:
The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens.
About the inattention or apathy of the people towards this shadow path and torture regime:
Why, this people mean well, they are only ignorant; they would do better if they knew how: why give your neighbors this pain to treat you as they are not inclined to? But I think again, This is no reason why I should do as they do, or permit others to suffer much greater pain of a different kind. Again, I sometimes say to myself, When many millions of men, without heat, without ill will, without personal feeling of any kind, demand of you a few shillings only, without the possibility, such is their constitution, of retracting or altering their present demand, and without the possibility, on your side, of appeal to any other millions, why expose yourself to this overwhelming brute force?
I could of course simply quote the whole essay. It had already diagnosed this nation and its people by 1848; predicted because predictable.