It’s all so predictable. In response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, the French government has declared a state of emergency and French President Francois Hollande is calling for a constitutional amendment to provide him with extraordinary powers to “eradicate” the threat posed by the Islamic State. He is seeking quick legislation that would enable government officials to conduct warrantless raids on homes and take suspects into custody. He’s seeking wider surveillance powers over the citizenry. According to the New York Times, Hollande is also calling for “constitutional amendments that would enable the state to take exceptional security measures without having to resort to the most drastic options currently in the Constitution.” Hollande is making it clear that his state of “emergency” is only “temporary,” which is why he’s asked that the current state of emergency be extended only three months.
Now, doesn’t all this sound familiar? Where have we seen this before?
Oh yes, I’ve got it! Germany! The same thing happened on February 27, 1933, soon after Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. The event has gone down in history as the Reichstag Fire. Although no people were killed in the attack, it was as big an event in Germany as the recent terrorist attacks in France.
The responses by Hitler and Hollande to the terrorists attacks were exactly the same — a state of emergency and extraordinary emergency powers exercised by government officials, to be exercised only “temporarily” of course.
Like Hollande, Hitler went to the Reichstag and requested that he be granted temporary emergency powers in order to wage his wars on terrorism and communism.
That’s what Hollande is saying too. Appearing before a joint session of Parliament, he declared, “France is at war.”
The Reichstag granted Hitler’s request. The resulting law has gone down in history as the Enabling Act. It enabled Hitler to consolidate power in the name of combatting the threat of communism and terrorism. And while the act was to last only a year, the Reichstag dutifully granted Hitler’s annual request to renew the act.
James Madison, the father of the U.S. Constitution, wouldn’t have been surprised at Hitler’s and Hollande’s response to the terrorist attacks in Berlin and Paris. Here’s what he said about European countries:
The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.
Oh, wait a minute! I just remembered another government that had the same type of response to a major terrorist attack. That would be the U.S. government during the regime of George W. Bush. After the 9/11 attacks, Bush announced a war on terrorism and said that he was now exercising extraordinary emergency powers. Bush didn’t bother asking Congress to grant him extraordinary emergency powers. He said that as a commander in chief during wartime, he automatically wielded such powers.
That’s how it is that we now live in a country where the military wields the federal-court-approved power to take Americans into custody and imprison them in military dungeons and concentration camps without trial or due process of law — a country in which Americans can be tortured — a country where the government wields the authority to kill Americans with impunity. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the widespread secret surveillance schemes exercised by the NSA, all to keep us “safe” of course.
Bush too said that his emergency powers were temporary. Fourteen years later, Bush’s “state of emergency” is still in place.
Madison knew exactly what he was talking about when he wrote “Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended.” What he was saying was that whenever Roman citizens would begin to grumble about the ever-growing taxes, spending, borrowing, and monetary debasement that characterized the Roman Empire, Roman officials would incite a war and then call on the people to set aside their complaints and to rally to the Empire and support the troops.
Who can dispute the fact that the U.S. Empire has perfectly mastered that strategy? After the U.S. national-security state lost its official Cold War enemies — communism and the Soviet Union (which, ironically, had also been Nazi Germany’s official enemies) — the Empire went into the Middle East and intentionally began poking hornets’ nest, thereby inciting the rage and hatred that resulted in several acts of anti-U.S. terrorism, which then enabled “terrorism” to be declared a new official enemy of the United States.
And then the new official enemy — terrorism (or al-Qaeda, ISIS, communism, Saddam Hussein, Russia, China, whoever) — is then used as the excuse for assuming extraordinary emergency powers, which simultaneously entails a destruction of liberty at home. That’s what Madison’s point was when he said, “Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana sure knew what he was talking about too.