“Resist much, obey little,
Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved,
Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city of this earth,
Ever afterward resumes its liberty.”
Walt Whitman, 1855
It is a difficult time to be a libertarian, a little “d” democrat. “Security,” the Sirens sing from every quarter. Be quiet, keep your head down. Say nothing controversial – especially on the “social media.” Your reputation, your job may be at stake. “Hits” are being put out on individuals by no less than the government of the USA – at least one of them an American citizen. “The Constitution stops at the water’s edge,” 19th century imperialists argued. Who would have thought they meant execution by executive fiat, without indictment, without trial? Drone attacks are an almost daily fact of life in our “ally” states, such as Pakistan. A drone has led to an arrest within the borders of the US. Can attacks be far behind? Where is the outrage? Outrage…? Does anyone who gives a rat’s rear? Cat got your tongue?
“Come on, you SOB’s, do you want to live forever?” Sgt. Maj. Daniel Daly challenged his men at Belleau Wood in 1918. A logical corollary would be, “Who would want to live forever?”
Today’s Baby Boomers, apparently. We give up the last vestiges of our heritage as freedom-loving Americans for Social Security and Obamacare. Back in the 60’s, Stonewall Jackson had a country hit entitled, “The Minutemen are Spinning in Their Graves.” Yeah, Stonewall? If you thought so in the 60’s, look around you now. Do you believe that this is a generation heir to those who boarded the Mayflower in quest of a better life? Or those who crowded the lower decks of hundreds of trans-Atlantic liners to become part of Emma Lazarus’ “huddled masses,” enduring the indignities of Ellis Island for the opportunity of Manhattan sweatshops, the mines of Colorado, or the meat-packing plants of Chicago in hopes of a brighter future for their posterity? These are the descendants of Daniel Boone, Jim Bridger, and Mother Jones’ generations who are willing to answer the most intrusive questions on the census, give phone number on cash transactions, and provide Social Security number upon request to avoid confrontation?
Lincoln set the pattern: suspending habeas corpus, censoring the press, and assuming near-dictatorial power. No measure was too extreme if the Union lived. Chattel slavery was destroyed to make all Americans slaves of the wartime government – in fact, if not in name. Americans accepted it as a necessary expedient. Who could foresee that permanent war for world domination waited?
Oh, there were always a few voices crying in the wilderness – William Jennings Bryan, Norman Thomas, and other assorted square pegs, but they got no traction. Then along came Jimmy Carter with intentions of putting American foreign policy on a moral foundation, and the Iranians smelled weakness. We discovered that being an imperial power is like riding a tiger. Hence, our legacy will be increasingly amoral and self-serving acts of repression rather than the Spirit of ‘76.
The morning’s headlines trend toward China – escalating tensions between the world’s two “superpowers” fuel the drama king Drudge’s dramatic: “New Cold War?” Well, yes. Economic and political rivalry has always led to international posturing, strutting, and one-upmanship. Rome vs. Carthage, Athens vs. Persia, England vs. France… Contribute your own favorites to the list. The cock-crow and strutting biological impulse finds its mirror image in international relations. Are we prisoners of biological/social tendencies, or free moral agents? If the latter, why can we not disengage, and (for once in our history) do the right thing?
The Chinese have the unenviable task of keeping order and providing a focus for the energies of 20 percent of the world’s population. For the past century, they’ve had to face the head-winds of western imperialism – cultural, military, and economic. They have had U.S. military forces in varying stages of activity within their borders or on its periphery for a century and a half. Is there any wonder that they don’t trust us, or the US? For that matter, I don’t trust us, or the US.
Resist much? Now is the time. Let us dare to be the Quakers of the 21st Century. Let’s demand rational and principled behavior of our leaders. Let’s act in the interest of humanity, and of ourselves – rather than in that of great wealth and imperial ambition.
Sonny Scott is a Chickasaw County resident and a community columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.