COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | CAROLYN CHASE
Cut To The Chase

Here at home

To the extent that wars can be noble, in terms of lofty goals, this war is well on its way. It is also racking up its long list of pain and horrors following up the initial shock and awe.

You cannot win any arguments that running an evil dictator out of town isn't worthwhile. Not too many want to have the next discussion about the costs. The argument doesn't go much further than: War is hell, but what else can we do? Let's just do the best war possible. Because the sad response is that, even in this day and age, we don't know what else to do. The best war possible is still a horror. And we are then still confronted with what else to do.

Surely, we must determine the ways to stop the rise of leaders and systems using fear, intimidation and violence. I keep wondering, how does that occur?

The history of the force of power to corrupt is epic. As power seems to always seek more power, the lessons to balance and check powers are much more difficult to retain.

The need for war to dislodge tyranny is called forth by systems that allow a combination of powers to become unchecked.

It happens when leaders are allowed to succeed using intimidation and fear in their rise to power.

Unfortunately, people can easily become embroiled in a culture where fear and intimidation are endemic and also become dependent upon the system that uses those techniques. As Upton Sinclair put it, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

I have not really agreed with most comparisons of the war in Iraq with the two most often chosen, depending on your politics: World War II or Vietnam (a.k.a., "the obviously good war" or "the obviously bad war"). The selection of the comparison usually tells you more about the political views of the selector than whether the lesson to be learned should be applied at this time and place.

I'm becoming more persuaded about the importance of certain lessons to be learned from the World War II arguments. But way too much focus is put on Hitler as an individual -- as we will see that too much focus has been on Saddam.

An equally if not more important question is: Who were the people being, and what kind of processes allowed for the concentration of powers -- and lack of checks on those powers? What context and systems give the world such powerful men and their cadre of insiders and powerful friends in control of the military and industry -- who then employed and directed the actions of thousands of others using the power of the state purse combined with arrogance, propaganda, fear and intimidation, until they were essentially out of control?

We must understand that such leaders and their supporters do not ever gain power by themselves, but are empowered first by a few, then by hundreds and then thousands of others who become tolerant of initial smaller abuses of process and power as long as their interests are advanced. Over time, abuses build up and can further corrupt.

Most people are understandably distracted by the drama of war and the exultation of toppling a cruel dictator. But we must also keep our attention here at home, where our own great powers are becoming increasingly unchecked and showing a lack of balance.

Reports of people being arrested here at home and held without charges or due process became even more alarming when it was revealed that some were also being held in solitary confinement. They were not allowed to see relatives or visitors, or have any activities of any kind. This is wrong. Not only are we are allowing it to happen, the Department of Justice is defending it and pushing for permanent increased secrecy and lack of due process.

I don't know what we can do, but we must do something to check the way these powers are being used and to stop their abuse. I would very much like to meet and speak with the agents allowing people to be locked up without due process. Do they speak out against it? Do they have anyone they can tell that what they are being ordered to do is wrong? Do they see that it's wrong? Those of us on the outside will have fewer and fewer chances to restrain power if those on the inside have already lost their perspective so much that they cannot speak out against abuses, or if abusive practices are seen as justified.

With estimates approaching a trillion dollar deficit each year for the next five years, the dead still being counted, the maimed facing uncertain futures, and now people being detained without charges and held in without due process in solitary confinement by our Department of Homeland Security, somehow I'm not feeling more secure here at home. I am feeling decidedly less secure as I watch the build-up of a national security state to unmeasured proportions.

Doesn't anyone else find the term "Department of Homeland Security" creepy?

Hitler's security office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt and its SchutzStaffel, known quickly simply by its most famous agency's initials: the SS) has often been translated as "office for the security of the homeland."

In 1961, in his farewell speech, President Eisenhower cautioned against the "total influence, economic, political, even spiritual," -- of the military industrial complex.

The initial goal of taking over Iraq will be attained and was never really in doubt, due to our ability to apply overwhelming force. Meanwhile, here at home, it seems to me there are some critical historical lessons to be considered in how to keep our own great powers checked and in better balance.


Chase is editor of San Diego Earth Times and chair of the mayor's Environmental Advisory Board. E-mail her at carolyn.chase@sddt.com.

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