To the editor ...

The esteemed Mr. Wright underestimates the power of the state to prevent terrorism from interfering with the functioning of the state. Totalitarian states such as the Soviet Union have tended to suffer less in the way of terrorism than more open polities have. Therefore, in order to effectively counter terrorism it is simply necessary for the state to move in a totalitarian direction — a direction that all states take during wartime.

States have used various effective anti-terrorist tactics. One of them is collective, preemptive punishment. Whole groups of people, whom the state regards as potential "terrorists" — i.e, rebels against the state — are preemptively isolated and punished before they have a chance to commit a single terrorist act. (One variant of this approach is to put such people in concentration camps — gas chambers optional.) "Uncle Joe" Stalin, more so than Hitler, is the past master of this approach. Note that today the Chechens are giving the Russian government fits with their "terrorist" (i.e., anti-state) activities. During his administration, Stalin anticipated that the Chechens might rebel if they ever had a chance, so he preemptively exiled the entire group to central Asia. About half the Chechen population died in the process. Needless to say, the Chechens could not then engage in terrorism against the Stalinist state.

Once all potential "terrorists" have been incarcerated or killed, the state can effectively establish totalitarian control over the rest of the population to prevent any type of unanticipated "terrorist" activities. Extensive use of the secret police and citizen informants has been a tried-and-true means of achieving such control. Note that the policies of the current Cheney/Rumsfeld/Ashcroft administration reflect this approach, especially the proposed Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS).

Now, of course, the government must suppress ideas blossoming in the wrong heads even more vigorously than it suppresses explosives, guns, and poisons falling into the wrong hands. As Max Lerner once put it in a book title, "Ideas Are Weapons," and the leaders of states have always viewed ideas as the most dangerous type of weapon. Accordingly, to counter possible "terrorism," rulers must impose censorship, bring the Internet under control, wiretap, monitor the mail, install listening devices in private homes, and so forth.

There seems to be empirical evidence that the elimination of all forms of individual liberty can successfully protect the state from terrorism. Most states, however, are wise enough to allow (or cause) some degree of terrorism against individual subjects in order to keep up the proper vigilance and hatred against all enemies, real or imagined. That serves to maintain public support for the totalitarian methods the state uses to combat "terrorism." Of course, should any of the subjects dare to complain about state oppression, they are naturally punished as budding "terrorists."

Stephen J. Sniegoski
August 12, 2002

Mr. Wright replies

As usual, Dr. Sniegoski makes some excellent points. In fact, I agree that the Empire could possibly end all threat of terrorism if it clamped down hard enough. However, it won't, because that is not in the nature of Polite Totalitarianism, and the American people are not yet ready to knuckle under to an overtly totalitarian state. Not yet.

Ronn Neff reminded me about a passage in Orwell's 1984, in which Julia speculates to Winston Smith that the bombings occuring every now and then in the capital city are being perpetrated by the state, to help keep the population in line. There's certainly no question that the terrorist attacks have served the interests of the ruling classes admirably; in fact, such people as Donald "Death's Head" Rumsfeld and John "Psycho" Ashcroft can hardly contain themselves, they're so pumped. If things go on like this it won't be long before we'll be seeing random identity checks on the streets. But terrorism will remain a "threat," even so.

August 18, 2002

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