When Democracy Failed

by "Elvish Wanderer"

I know I haven't posted in a week or so, it didn't feel appropriate due to the anniversary of 9/11. I wanted to leave people with their own thoughts for a while.... I have a queue of things to post on Monday. This was too important not to post.... it is long but worth reading sometime when you can absorb the full meaning. It is important to note that this is not a fictional story and it is not about George W. although the parallels will be clear to anyone paying attention.

When Democracy Failed
By "Rusticus"
Published free of copyright for 9/11/02 - pass it along

It started when the leaders of the government, in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, received reports of an imminent terrorist attack. A foreign ideologue had launched feeble attacks on a few famous buildings, but the media largely ignored his relatively small efforts. The government intelligence services knew, however, that the odds were he would eventually succeed.

But the warnings of investigators were ignored at the highest levels, in part because the government was distracted;
the man who claimed to be the nation's leader had not been elected by a majority vote and the majority of citizens claimed he had no right to the powers he coveted. He was a simpleton, some said, a cartoon character of a man who saw things in black-and-white terms and didn't have the intellect to understand the subtleties of running a nation in a complex and internationalist world.

His coarse use of language - reflecting his political roots in a southernmost state - and his simplistic and often-inflammatory rhetoric offended the aristocrats and the well-educated elite in the government and media.

But he knew the terrorist was going to strike (although he didn't know where or when), and he had already considered his response. When an aide brought him word that the nation's most prestigious building was ablaze, he verified it was the terrorist who had struck, and then rushed to the scene and called a press conference. (1)

"You are now witnessing the beginning of a great epoch in history," he proclaimed, standing in front of the burned-out building, surrounded by national media. "This fire," he said, his voice trembling with emotion, "is the beginning." He used the occasion - "a sign from God," he called it - to declare an all-out war on terrorism and its ideological sponsors, a people, he said, who traced their origins to the Middle East and found motivation for their evil deeds in their religion.

Two weeks later, the first detention center for terrorists was built, (2) holding the first suspected allies of the infamous terrorist. In a national outburst of patriotism, the leader's flag was everywhere, even printed in newspapers suitable for display.

Within four weeks of the terrorist attack, the nation's now-popular leader had pushed through legislation - in the name of combating terrorism and fighting the philosophy he said spawned it - that suspended constitutional guarantees of free speech, privacy, and habeas corpus. Police could now intercept mail and wiretap phones; suspected terrorists could be imprisoned without specific charges and without access to their lawyers; police could sneak into people's homes without warrants if the cases involved terrorism.

To get his patriotic "Decree on the Protection of People and State" passed over the objections of concerned legislators and civil libertarians, he agreed to put a 5-year sunset provision on it: if the national emergency provoked by the terrorist attack was over by then, the freedoms and rights would be returned to the people and the police agencies would be re-restrained. (3)

Immediately after passage of the act, his federal police agencies stepped up their program of arresting suspicious persons and holding them without access to lawyers or courts. In the first year only a few hundred were interred, and those who objected were largely ignored by the mainstream press, which was afraid to offend and thus lose access to a leader with such high popularity ratings.

Within the first months after that terrorist attack, at the suggestion of a political advisor, he brought a formerly obscure word into common usage. Instead of referring to the nation by its name, he began to refer to it as The Fatherland. As hoped, people's hearts swelled with pride, and the beginning of an us-versus-them mentality was sewn. Our land was "the" homeland, citizens thought: all others were simply foreign lands.

Within a year of the terrorist attack, the nation's leader determined that the various local police and federal agencies around the nation were lacking the clear communication and overall coordinated administration necessary to deal with the terrorist threat facing the nation, including those citizens who were of Middle Eastern ancestry and thus probably terrorist sympathizers. He proposed a single new national agency to protect the security of the fatherland, consolidating the actions of dozens of previously independent police, border, and investigative agencies under a single leader.

He appointed one of his most trusted associates to be leader of this new agency, the Central Security Office for the Fatherland, and gave it a role in the government equal to the other major departments. His assistant who dealt with the press noted that, since the terrorist attack, "Radio and press are at our disposal." Those voices questioning the legitimacy of their nation's leader, or raising questions about his checkered past, had by now faded from the public's recollection.

To consolidate his power, he concluded that government alone wasn't enough. He reached out to industry and forged an alliance, bringing former executives of the nation's largest corporations into high government positions. A flood of government money poured into corporate coffers to fight the war against terrorists and prepare for wars overseas. He encouraged large corporations friendly to him to acquire media outlets across the nation, particularly those previously owned by suspicious people of Middle Eastern ancestry. He built powerful alliances with industry; one corporate ally got the lucrative contract worth millions to build the first large-scale detention center for enemies of the state. Soon more would follow. Industry flourished.

But after an interval of peace following the terrorist attack, voices of dissent again arose within and without the government. He needed a diversion, something to direct people away from the corporate cronyism being exposed in his own government, questions of his possibly illegitimate rise to power, and the oft-voiced concerns of civil libertarians about the people being held in detention without due process or access to attorneys or family.

With his number two man - a master at manipulating the media - he began a campaign to convince the people of the nation that a small, limited war was necessary. Another nation was threatening them, and even though its connection with the terrorist who had set afire the nation's most important building was tenuous at best, it held resources their nation badly needed if they were to have room to live and maintain their prosperity. He called a press conference and publicly delivered an ultimatum to the leader of the other nation, provoking an international uproar.

It took a few months, and intense international debate and lobbying with European nations, but finally a consensus was achieved, England approved, and Hitler annexed Austria in a lightning move, riding a wave of popular support as leaders so often do in times of war. The local government was unseated and replaced by a new leadership friendly to Germany.

In a speech responding to critics of the invasion, Hitler said, "Certain foreign newspapers have said that we fell on Austria with brutal methods. I can only say; even in death they cannot stop lying. I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier [into Austria] there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators." (4)

Once the "small war" annexation of Austria was successfully and quickly completed, and peace returned, voices of opposition were again raised in the Fatherland. The regular release of news bulletins about the discovery of terrorist communist cells wasn't enough to rouse the populace and totally suppress dissent in the Parliament. A full-out war was necessary to divert public attention from the growing rumbles within the country about disappearing dissidents; violence against liberals, Jews, and union leaders; and the epidemic of crony capitalism that was producing empires of wealth in the corporate sector but threatening the middle class's way of life.

A year later, to the week, Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia; the nation was now fully at war, and all internal dissent was suppressed in the name of national security. It was the beginning of the end of Germany's first experiment with democracy.

As we conclude this lesson in history, there are a few milestones worth remembering.

February 27, 2003, is the 70th anniversary of Dutch terrorist Marius van der Lubbe's successful torching of the German Parliament building, the terrorist act that catapulted Hitler to legitimacy and reshaped the German constitution. By the time of Hitler's successful and brief action to seize Austria, in which almost no German blood was shed, he was one of the most beloved and popular leaders in the history of his nation.

Most Americans remember his Office of Fatherland Security, known as the Reichssicherheitshauptamt and Schutzstaffel, simply by its most famous agency's initials: the SS.

Reflecting on that time, The American Heritage Dictionary (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983) left us this definition of the form of government the Germany democracy had become through Hitler's close alliance with the German military and industrial complex:

"fas-cism (f?sh'iz'em) n. A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism."

Today, as we face international financial and domestic political crises, it's useful to remember that the ravages of the Great Depression hit Germany and the United States alike. Through the 1930s, however, Hitler and Roosevelt chose very different courses to bring their nations back to power and prosperity. Germany's response was to enrich corporations and the wealthy, privatize much of the commons, and create an illusion of prosperity through war. America passed minimum wage laws to raise the middle class, increased taxes on corporations and the wealthiest individuals, created Social Security, and became the employer of last resort through programs like the WPA.

To the extent that our Constitution is still intact, the choice is again ours.


  1. Historians still debate whether the Dutch communist, Marius van der Lubbe, who set fire to the Reichstag, acted alone or was encouraged by the Nazis. The most recent research indicates he acted alone, as he had tried unsuccessfully to set fire to several other German buildings in the previous week, was arrested, and then released because the Berlin police decided he was mentally retarded.
  2. The first German detention center was built at Oranianberg, within a month of the attack on the Reichstag.
  3. This law was also known as "The Enabling Act," and most of the legislators who voted on it didn't have time to carefully read or debate it.
  4. Adolf Hitler, speech at Koenigsberg (25th March, 1938)

A few sites with more information on these issues (add to the list before passing it along, if you know of others):

PS: [Added Later by Another] Ironically, it was only last night (9/10/02) when I was reading in the paper that I saw again a reminder that many of our civil liberties have already been taken away:

  1. any meeting of people (for religious purposes or political) can be watched and monitored without cause,
  2. people can be imprisioned (and are being imprisioned) indefinately without trial in 'terror cases', and
  3. property, papers, and personal effects (homes) can be searched (again without cause) and sized without trial, (both from the 'Patriot Act' and from various 'Drug Enforcement Laws').

Consider also the advent of TIPS (a plan to have 1 in every 25 Americans become a spy on all 'suspicious activity') and you have a very bad brew indeed!

The authors of this piece have released it into the public domain. Where credit for authorship is given, it is presented. If you pass it on, please maintain the attributions given. If you add commentary, be sure to note your authorship.

Source (where I found it) resistance_news on Live Journal