HENRY GALLAGHER FIELDS — Healthy State, moribund people


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Have you reread Randolph Bourne yet this year?
Healthy State,
moribund people



Critics of the looming attack on Iraq point out its likely negative consequences, which are numerous and severe — economic disruption or even collapse, increased domestic terrorism, riots throughout the Middle East, deepened disgust worldwide over U.S. bullying, further loss of liberty for Americans. Why would anyone want such a dystopian outcome?

Though President Nincompoop may not have a clue about what will happen, his controllers certainly understand the likely developments. Accordingly we should understand that every development that will be harmful to the American people is conversely beneficial to the moguls who control the State. When we talk about benefits to be derived from the war, we shouldn't just think in terms of how it will fulfill the Eretz Israel dreams of Uncle Ariel and his neocon epigones, or fill the deep pockets of oil magnates. No, this war — in fact War itself — accomplishes much more. "War Is the Health of the State," as Randolph Bourne put it in his famous 1918 essay, penned during a war then described as "Great" but dwarfed soon enough by more ambitious projects of mass murder and destruction.

Exactly what did Bourne mean by his apt phrase? He distinguished between "government" — the everyday apparatus of administration — and the ethereal entity of the State. The government is your dim-bulb President, your corrupt, loud-mouthed senator, your pencil-pushing bureaucrat; the State is "America" and her sacrosanct Constitution. It is the State, not the government, that inspires high-level emotions such as awe or patriotism.

But during wartime, Bourne points out, government and the State become as one — patriotic Americans, overawed by the heroic warrior State, automatically obey the dictates of their government. The demands of the government become commands of the Deity. One's very life, not to mention comfort, must be sacrificed to the Moloch State.

Now of course the State has flesh-and-blood embodiments — in short, the very people who run the government — in our current case Messrs. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, and Wolfowitz. (No, I didn't omit any of the chief players.) Those men have little to lose from war and the chaos it breeds, and much to gain. (Little to lose except for their souls, of course, and we may suspect that those transactions are long since consummated.) If the economy moves deeper into recession, why, they must seize even greater powers over the economy. If any terrorist acts occur, why, they must bolster their powers over "homeland security," and unleash their secret police and official-media mouthpieces to stamp out any vestige of dissent. Messrs. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, and Wolfowitz are unlikely to be inconvenienced by war, chaos, and tyranny — quite the contrary, they will be newly empowered! — as long as they manage to remain respectable members of the political class. And upon retirement, to ensure that their chauffeurs will never have to drive them about in last year's Mercedes, the System will guarantee their personal fortunes in the traditional manner.


We already see the sacred trappings of the War State emerging. President Dimwit, with his delusions of adequacy, is transfigured into Churchill reincarnate — in truth, it must be said, the mythical Churchill, since the reality more closely resembled a pompous drunkard with a pre-adolescent boy's love of playing soldier. An impending unprovoked attack on an impoverished, backward satrapy is transformed into a crusade against Evil. The gaggle of grand duchies (plus Tony Blair) rounded up to "support" Washington's war is pretentiously styled the "Coalition of the Willing" — not the more nearly accurate "Coalition of the Bullied and Bought." The expected military occupation of Iraq and the siphoning off of her oil reserves is transmuted into "liberation." An act that strips Americans of the tatters of a freedom originally won by the bona fide patriots of the Revolution is given the acronym PATRIOT.

It is especially noteworthy that the conservative sheeple, forever jibber-jabbering about their purported desire for a limited government and individual freedom, are the most supportive of the War State, being the most entranced by the War State's sacred aura.

As terrorist strikes become regular occurrences in the American homeland and as the economy plummets ever downward, it is easy to envision a scene reminiscent of a writer somewhat more recent than Bourne. Easy to imagine, that is, the American people huddling behind their duct tape and plastic sheeting (practicing the new-style "duct and cover"), and listening (during those hours when the electric grid is functioning) to the triumphant declarations from CNN and Fox about the magnificent successes of the glorious American armies of liberation as they move from one unknown battlefield to another: Attention! Your attention, please! A newsflash has this moment arrived from the Malabar front.... Behold the Americans, listening year after year to the telescreen's news of victory after victory, each of which may well bring the war within measurable distance of its end and attain the ultimate goal, not limited to the triumph of Oceania over Eurasia but extending even unto the triumph of Good over Evil!

Now that is a godlike vision for a godlike State, not just healthy but immortal and superpotent. As for the American people, though — in their dimming field of vision they may detect some intimations of mortality.

February 26, 2003

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