Boys will turn anything into a toy, preferably a violent one. Many a pacifist mother who disallows toy guns finds her boys shooting with sticks. Another truism is that to a boy with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Unfortunately, boys come in all ages, and toys come in all sizes, ready for new uses, some of them lethal. While this tendency has always been with us, in the US it has lately turned into a more serious problem than ever before. So serious that it threatens the nation.
Boys will turn anything into a toy.
Unfortunately, boys come in all ages.
Consider the trend to militarize city police forces. Police departments all over the country were gifted with weapons left over from our useless $4-trillion wars in the Middle East. They received thousands of weapons, little more than costly junk, unusable for legitimate police work. Small departments in central states found themselves the recipients of armored personnel carriers, various military assault weapons and sniper rifles, grenade launchers, night-vision goggles, and so on. These are hammers, so of course the boys must use them for something.
Some police forces apparently also received a “sound cannon”. This is a weapon that focusses sound on a small area at some distance. People within this focus become intolerably uncomfortable. In fact, this weapon proved ineffective for war, so it was repurposed for civilian use. Military shows were set up to look like crowd control against demonstrators, so it’s no surprise that’s exactly how it is being used. Apparently a force or two across the bay from us, in Berkeley or Oakland, got one. So what did they do? They aimed it at a group of people who were exercising their constitutional right to assemble and peacefully demonstrate against the ongoing police killings of unarmed black men.
Militarizing cops courts misuse.
If there is a better demonstration of the danger of the hammer principle, I haven’t heard of it. In recent weeks we have been treated to images of swarms of cops armored in black, with their military assault tools, threatening unarmed demonstrators. It’s chilling to see a sniper drawing a bead on a peaceful, unarmed protestor, who, without knowing it, is an instant from sudden death. Everyone with any sense recognizes that nothing good can ever come of this. We all know that the police have no need of attack weapons, and we all know that they will eventually use them if they have them.
The same danger is seen with all sorts of devices and practices of the military and the government.
James Risen (Pay Any Price) documents several of the dangerous decisions that have destroyed our peace and privacy since the 9/11 attacks, and now threaten the very foundation of our democracy. In addition to torture and “black” prisons, in the news lately, these include the Bush administration’s use of drone craft to bomb al Qaeda militants. This was never effective, because for every militant killed some 28 others were also killed. This included whole families, village meetings, children, wedding and funeral parties, and so on. Drones, in fact, have been very effective as recruiting tools for radical anti-US militants, and the only reasonable course is to stop using them.
But the lesson apparently was lost on Obama, because the vast majority of drone attacks have occurred since Bush left office. Their effectiveness for terrorist recruitment has been enhanced in that time.
Drones are the perfect recruiting tool
—for Islamic terrorists.
Among the other things Bush did was to establish yet another brave new layer of bureaucracy in Washington with Homeland Security. HS is now staffed with nearly a quarter-million people. Many of these people are assigned to places like the Canadian border, where they have very little to do. So they use their “terrorist hammer” to harass local residents on both side of the border, frequently threatening them with arrest, demanding useless paperwork and the like in places where the only threat is Homeland Security itself, and no one has ever seen any sort of militant. The HS people also repurposed their hammer to arrest pacifist US citizens who want to move to Canada, something clearly not in their job description.
Consider now the National Security Administration. Pre-9/11, the NSA’s primary activity was Cold War code busting and the like, listening in on the Soviet Union. After 9/11 they were forced to acknowledge not only that the digital age had already arrived, but that the lack of inter-bureau communication and turf defense of our various duplicative spying agencies had created the greatest security blunder in our history. Systems were set up for mass analysis of communications data.
But some people in the Bush administration realized that these surveillance tools would have greater potential if it weren’t for that pesky Constitution and it’s insistence that people had a right to privacy. Never mind, they said to themselves in secret meetings, this is a national emergency. We must surrender a teeny bit of our rights in order to be safe from Muslim terrorists who will arrive en masse at our borders any day now. So that hammer got turned into a weapon that is being used to record everything each and every one of us does, including writing this blog, in the name of national security.
would have greater potential
if it weren’t for that
Any person in the country could be picked up and interrogated on the slightest pretense. Nor, given our similar descent into secret “enhanced interrogation”, which everyone with a normal conscience immediately recognized as torture, could any guarantee be made that we would not be subject to indefinite imprisonment and officially approved “harsh methods” (torture). It happened to others equally innocent, who found themselves farmed out to black sites in distant lands for months of daily torture. Obama disallows it, but given the secrets the CIA and others kept from Bush, who knows?
Not everyone within the government went along with this reinterpretation (i.e., destruction) of constitutional rights, but it was Edward Snowden who heroically exposed the massive scope of the secret illegal, immoral, and unconstitutional activities of our own government to the world. Knowing that the moral rightness of these exposures would mean nothing to a government that would so readily violate the Constitution, Snowden left the country before releasing what he had found.
The free and democratic United States of America is well on its way to becoming a third-rate nation ruled by men who live only for money, and are only partly accountable to the founding principles of their own government, if that. Our freedoms and our international reputation continue to erode. Edward Snowden, James Risen, Chelsea Manning, and a limited number of others make up the thin line of defense we have against the continuing weakening and eventual demise of our democracy.