Dead Tree Book Log: The End of America by Naomi Wolf

December 31, 2007 at 5:39 pm (books, frightening things, politics) ()

A few weeks ago, I read Naomi Wolf’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. Wolf extensively and dauntingly documents what she calls current U.S. government’s “echoes” of past fascist shifts around the globe. Suffice it to say that the book presents the tireless factual groundwork from which to draw innumerable parallels between this most recent U.S. administration’s move toward a closed society (promulgated by the utilization of ten steps, which Naomi Wolf defines and titles her chapters as: Invoke an external and internal Threat, establish secret prisons, develop a paramilitary force, surveil ordinary citizens, infiltrate citizens’ groups, arbitrarily detain and release citizens, target key individuals, restrict the press, cast criticism as “espionage” and dissent as “treason”, and subvert the rule of law) and the successful closure of societies past.

While I can’t say I was utterly shocked by the premise that, hmm, the U.S. lately has been looking a little like, well, certain fascist dictatorships of latter centuries, it was still somewhat surprising just to hold so many pages positively littered with evidence with which to support such an observation. And also surprising that, well, the fascist shift now taking place in the U.S. is not at all veiled, really. Not only are the tactics now being used “echoes” of ones used before in Germany and/or Italy, etc., in many cases they are actually just the same ones, right down to the carefully chosen words used by the decider and his cohorts to rationalize them. And the utilization is overt and known. Which brings us to the book’s most important lesson.

The fascist shift will be reported on. We will continue to read about wiretapping, about waterboarding, about Blackwater. But this is not a sign that democracy stands inevitable and impenetrable in defense of its purveyors. This is a part of the shift itself, and is calculated. Knowledge of the shift is not uncensored because the powers that be would have us well informed and intellectually able to engage the reality of our situation, but because we cannot be intimidated if we do not know what’s going on, and fascist shift requires citizen intimidation. We’ll read about all of it in the papers, in the magazines, and hear about it on the radio. But nothing will seem that different in the majority of our daily lives. Until it all does.

And now, the moral of the story manifested in action. On a more concrete and personal level.

I’m an anxious traveler. The night before I was to fly home to my family and friends from the Big City for the holidays, I finished the chapter called “Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens”, set primarily in airports. I finished reading about “the list”–yes, there really is a list– of outspoken and dissenting political activists and academics kept by the TSA and, on the internet, the cruelties suffered by one Icelandic traveler Erla at JFK airport because of a three week visa overstay in the U.S. a decade ago.

And so I awoke frazzled, grasping for my photo ID and ticket information, and faced with a dilemma I had never been inspired to acknowledge before. I had packed a ton of books, mostly purchased for last semester’s political resistance class, into my suitcase and was planning to finish The End of America aboard my next flight. When I realized: they will see what I’ve been reading. They will know what information I have been ingesting about this, what I’m likely to say about that. They will know. “They” might track my e-mails, access my medical records, infiltrate any community group they think I might join. And have thus been successful enough in their endeavors that at 7:00 a.m. on the morn of my departure from school and long awaited return home, this is what I’m worried about. I am not only stressed and paranoid: this is what I am supposed to fear.

So, of course, I left all my packed books in their places and continued on my way with Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot in my carry-on. I had to. I paid both time and money to learn something in that political resistance class, after all. I didn’t get strip-searched when I went through security. Or even a second glance. I am completely low-profile, after all (but don’t most of us believe we are? It could be anyone…)

And when I took my seat aboard the aircraft, unabashedly opened my book and flashed the cover, I saw that the guy across the aisle from me was…dun dun dun…reading the same one. We gave each other a knowing nod, he said “crazy” a few times, and I made it home safely. Presumably, so did he.

But, given the systems recently put in place, it’s just as logical that it was by chance. Or that he didn’t. Or that we will simply think we know until we don’t. And in the name of defending democracy, we must reclaim the ordinary, every day patriot’s task of defending it, for it may only defend us until it no longer does.

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1 Comment

  1. Daisy said,

    Eeeek

    And I see exactly what you mean about the writing style, hahah

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