As soon as World War II ended, the U.S. government proceeded to convert the Soviet Union from a wartime partner and ally to a new official enemy of the United States, one that Americans were told posed a greater threat to the country than even Nazi Germany. The ensuing “cold war” brought about the most fundamental change to America’s governmental system in U.S. history, a change that ultimately led to the murder of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi at the hands of their own government.
In his Farewell Address in 1960, Dwight Eisenhower alluded to this monumental change in America’s constitutional structure and in American life:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
Eisenhower was referring to the vast U.S. military establishment that was permitted to remain in existence after World War II as a permanent feature of American life. It was an apparatus that the American people had never before had during peacetime. Keep in mind, after all, the deep antipathy that the Founding Fathers had had toward standing armies, militarism, and military establishments, as I pointed out in part 2 of this series (see the November Future of Freedom).
A vast permanent military establishment wasn’t the only big change for postwar America. Two years after World War II, the National Security Act brought into existence the Central Intelligence Agency, a super-secret federal agency that would ultimately wield the same type of omnipotent powers wielded by totalitarian regimes, including the powers to kidnap, detain, torture, assassinate, and execute people without due process of law.
The combination of a vast permanent military establishment and the CIA came to be known as the “national-security state.” It comes as no surprise that this new governmental apparatus soon became the most powerful and influential part of the federal government.
The driving force behind the growth in power of the national-security establishment was an overarching fear of communism that U.S. officials inculcated in the minds of the American people. U.S. Sen. Arthur Vandenberg told President Harry Truman that Truman would have to “scare hell out of the country” in order to secure approval of a $400 million foreign-aid grant to “contain” communism in Turkey and Greece.
Fear became the coin of the realm for Americans living under the national-security state during the Cold War. Fear of the Soviet Union. Fear of Red China. Fear of North Korea. Fear of North Vietnam. Fear of communists and communism.
That’s what fueled the decades-long obsession with Cuba after Fidel Castro ousted the pro-U.S. dictator Fulgencio Batista from power and then declared that Cuba would be independent of U.S. control.
Keep in mind that Cuba under Castro never attacked the United States or even threatened to do so. It was always the other way around. The United States has always been the aggressor against Cuba, as manifested by the national-security state’s invasion at the Bay of Pigs, terrorist attacks against Cuban businesses, and assassination attempts against Castro.
Few Americans raised any moral concerns about that. Still shell-shocked after the horrors of World War II and having been inculcated during wartime with a mindset of deference to authority, Americans passively accepted what U.S. officials were saying about the gravity of the communist threat and the need for ever-increasing military and intelligence budgets. The deep fear of communism and the ardent anti-communist fervor throughout the Cold War gripped Americans so fiercely that conscience and moral principles were subordinated to “national security,” which became the most important term in the American lexicon, notwithstanding that it had no objective meaning and was found nowhere in the U.S. Constitution.
From the late 1940s through the 1980s, U.S. officials in the military, CIA, and FBI went on an anti-communist crusade in America. They spied on American citizens who were suspected of being communists or socialists. They tapped people’s phones. They encouraged Americans to become snitches against their neighbors. They secretly conducted surveillance against members of the U.S. Communist Party and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and in fact did everything they could to infiltrate and destroy both organizations.
They even extended their anticommunist crusade to America’s civil-rights movement. That’s what their surveillance of Martin Luther King was all about. They were convinced that King was a mole for the worldwide communist movement. That’s why they spied on him, tapped his telephone, and blackmailed him in the hopes of driving him to commit suicide.
As a libertarian, the last thing I would ever do is defend socialism or communism. Libertarianism stands in direct opposition to all forms of statism. But as a libertarian I also stand for the right of every person to believe in and promote whatever philosophy he wants and, equally important, to actively participate in the political process to advance his particular philosophy.
As Thomas Jefferson observed in the Declaration of Independence, every person has the natural, God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, each in his own way, and it is the duty of government to ensure the protection of fundamental rights.
That’s not what the U.S. national-security establishment did during the Cold War. In the name of anti-communism it attacked people’s fundamental God-given rights. In fact, that is one of the real ironies of the Cold War — that the U.S. national-security state was employing communist methods to suppress American communists and socialists in the alleged attempt to keep America safe from communists and socialists. Such communist-like methods included not only attempts to destroy or ruin Americans who believed in socialism and communism but also such dark-side practices as medical experimentation on unsuspecting Americans, coups, torture, kidnappings, assassinations, and partnerships with criminal organizations and brutal dictatorships.
The Cold War anti-communist crusade engendered by the U.S. national-security state also embroiled the United States in major wars in Korea and Vietnam, wars that violated our own constitutional system owing to the lack of congressional declarations of war. Both conflicts were nothing but civil wars, but U.S. officials scared the American people into believing that without U.S. intervention, the communists would soon be on their way to the United States.
In fact, throughout the Vietnam War U.S. officials steadfastly maintained that South Vietnam was a domino that, if permitted to fall, would produce a cascading effect that would ultimately mean a communist takeover of the United States. It was all a delusion. At the end of the Vietnam War, the Pentagon and the CIA lay defeated, but the United States never fell to the communists. Yet more than 58,000 American soldiers were dead and many more wounded. Many of those soldiers had been forced, through conscription, to “serve their country” by fighting and dying in a faraway land for nothing.
The advent of the national-security state, combined with an overarching fear of communism, also led to what author Chalmers Johnson called an empire of military bases all over the world, along with a foreign policy of intervention in the affairs of other nations. It was all justified under the rubric of keeping America safe from the communists and communism.
As could be predicted, U.S. national-security officials began extending their war on American communists and socialists to Americans who were opposing their war in Vietnam. U.S. officials looked on antiwar advocates as “subversives” and even as traitors — that is, people who were refusing to support the troops and trying to bring down the U.S. government, no doubt with the aim of bringing a communist regime into power.
That was clearly the national-security mindset with respect to Frank Teruggi. Recall the previously discussed secret FBI surveillance reports on Teruggi. He was “in contact with an anti-war dissident in Munich.” He was a member of a group called “the Chicago Area Group for the Liberation of the Americas.” He was working for a Chilean newspaper named FIN, which provided “Chilean information for the American left.” He “attended a ‘Conference on Anti-Imperialist Strategy and Action’ held by returned Peace Corps volunteers.” He was a member of “political organizations supporting socialism and national liberation movements in Latin America.”
What is wrong, in a criminal sense, with any of those activities? What’s wrong with opposing a war, especially one that is being waged illegally, immorally, and unconstitutionally? What’s wrong with working for a newspaper that caters to leftists? What’s wrong with being a socialist, communist, progressive, leftist, liberal, conservative, libertarian, or anything else? What’s wrong with opposing the U.S. government’s imperialism, which includes coups, assassinations, foreign aid to dictatorships, and meddling in the political affairs of other countries?
Aren’t such activities what genuine freedom is all about? If people aren’t free to subscribe to and advocate different, even unpopular, political and economic philosophies and to oppose governmental policies and practices, then how can they be considered genuinely free?
The truth is that it wasn’t Teruggi who was the subversive or the traitor. He was doing nothing more than exercising fundamental rights, the type of natural, God-given rights to which Jefferson referred in the Declaration of Independence. Teruggi had every right in the world to subscribe to any political or economic philosophy he wished and to oppose any governmental policy or practice.
The real subversives and the real traitors were the people within the U.S. national-security state apparatus, an apparatus that was alien to the founding principles of our nation, an apparatus that had been grafted onto our governmental system without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment, an apparatus that took America down to the dark road to communist-like policies and practices, an apparatus that scoffed at the U.S. Constitution, an apparatus that warped American values, corroded people’s morals, and stultified the consciences of the American people.
Indeed, another of the many ironies of the Cold War was that U.S. national-security state officials were doing the same sorts of dark things to pro-communist and prosocialist Americans that communist officials in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, East Germany, North Korea, North Vietnam, and Red China were doing to anti-communists.
Another irony in all this is that Teruggi’s so-called socialist beliefs were no different from the progressive beliefs of many U.S. presidents in the 20th century, especially Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.
Unfortunately, illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of Americans who subscribed to progressive beliefs or who opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam wasn’t the only thing that U.S. national-security state officials did. Obsessed with the delusionary fear that communism was coming to the United States by means of the election of a socialist-communist president in Chile, U.S. officials embarked on one of the most extraordinary foreign interventions in U.S. history, one that would ultimately result in the assassination, kidnapping, rape, torture, disappearance, or murder of tens of thousands of innocent people, including two Americans named Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi.
This article was originally published in the December 2014 edition of Future of Freedom.