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Monday, June 22, 2009

Democracy - it's scarier than you think...

How responsible are we for our country’s actions? The US government has deliberately done the following: Spied on its citizens, jailed them without benefit of council, flouted the rule of Habeas Corpus, a fundamental human right which dates all the way back to the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215, bombed and massacred civilians, overthrown peaceful, democratically-elected governments and mined the harbors of nations with which it was not at war, tortured prisoners, beaten people demonstrating peacefully, and often legally, for all manner of things, stolen land, exterminated indigenous peoples, polluted and irradiated its citizens, tested pathogens and nerve agents on prisoners, and too many other things to mention.

Currently, we are at war. Every week brings news that tens, even hundreds of civilians have died from our raids, firefights, drone attacks, bombings. The fact that the enemy often uses an essentially captive local population as human shields is often cited as the ‘reason’ such carnage has been visited upon them, as if that justifies the deaths of completely innocent men, women and children.

Yet we do nothing. By and large we did nothing while men and women were beaten in Selma, while the Bush administration kidnapped and tortured hundreds of people in black sites around the world.

And there are more tacit, implicit crimes we fail to object to with our bodies, our fortunes, our sacred honor:

The US Government spends my tax dollars on nuclear weapons that I am morally opposed to, and I go along with it, because the alternative, going to prison, is too unpalatable for me. It squanders my hard earned pay on over 1000 military installations around the world, many of which are a plague upon local peoples. From the birth defects and miscarriages in the Philippines caused by widespread pollution at Clark air force base to the theft of land, irradiation and impoverishment that our bases have visited upon hundreds of communities in places like Micronesia, America has stained other peoples with our profligate waste and heavy hand.

We are told over and over that America stands for peace, freedom, democracy. People the world over can tell you that our actions starkly contradict our words. We do not even remotely walk our talk.

Here is our government’s idea of freedom: America ostensibly wanted the Palestinians to be free and Democratic, until they freely and democratically voted in a regime that the US Government reviled. The fact that I revile Hamas too is unimportant; the people spoke. Along with Israel, America responded to Hamas’ win with an almost complete embargo, one that crippled the local economy and amounted to nothing less than collective punishment, which is prohibited under the Geneva Convention.

Being a democracy doesn’t ensure that we will be a force for good in the world. Hitler was voted in democratically. True, the Nazi’s themselves may have set the Reichstag fire, which catapulted the Nazi Party from a plurality to a majority, but subsequent elections ratified this state of affairs. The people, whether duped or not, willingly ushered in one of the darkest regimes in history. We the people can be stupid, easily manipulated, bigoted, violent, greedy.

Am I arguing against democracy? Not at all. As Winston Churchill said, it’s the worst of all political systems, except for all of the other ones.

But, we should realize that democracy, like almost any other human social construct, can and is used for both good and evil. Not only should we not feel smug about being the world’s oldest democracy, we should be alarmed at how dangerous and destructive ours is, and actively protest against the evil things it does in our name.

And sometimes that means breaking the law, through civil disobedience, just as those brave souls did in Selma so long ago.

When is that line crossable? When do we really stand up for freedom, true freedom, not some empty Neocon slogan that is an Orwellian synonym for control? When is it morally acceptable to revolt against the tyranny of the majority?

For me it boils down again to human rights. Are people’s rights being abridged? If so, we have the moral right to call people’s actions, government’s actions, into question.

In fact, we have the moral duty.