The War Against Dissenters

by Philip Greenspan

October 21, 2002


"It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government."
--Thomas Paine

Iraq War

With an expanded war in Iraq becoming more likely the media has been flooded with analyses from commentators and reporters both here and abroad.

I have read a substantial number and have not, to the best of my recollection, read any that claim that this war will be fought for any of the reasons given by the administration. Most assume the war will be fought for oil, politics (a "wag-the-dog" attempt to cover up the deteriorating economy and the failed war on terrorism prior to the election), expansion of the empire, control of the Middle East, or assisting our Israeli ally.

While few have actually stated that Bush is lying in his reasons for going to war all have implied it. Surprisingly, it does not matter whether the columnist is pro or anti war, from the right, center, left, liberal, conservative, reactionary or radical. None buy the stated reasons as the real reasons.


Among other topics that have been explored in some depth since the war on terrorism commenced is the USA PATRIOT Act.

Of the articles I have read from commentators both liberal and conservative, there is no challenge as to the movive for enacting it; all presume that it is an attempt to improve the ability of law enforcement agencies to ferret out the terrorists.

A substantial number do question the substance of the act. They think it has so curtailed basic rights and protections as to be unconstitutional.

Others question its effectiveness in assisting law enforcement. Everything that was necessary to uncover the plot was well known by the intelligence agencies before 9/11. The failure to stop the terrorists was not caused by an inability to collect data but by an inability to 'connect the dots.' In other words, they failed to properly analyze data that they had received.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) the only Senator who voted against the bill asserted, "The Administration's proposed bill contained vast new powers for law enforcement, some seemingly drafted in haste and others that came from the FBI's wish list that Congress has rejected in the past. You may remember that the Attorney General announced his intention to introduce a bill shortly after the September 11 attacks. He provided the text of the bill the following Wednesday, and urged Congress to enact it by the end of the week. That was plainly impossible, but the pressure to move on this bill quickly, without deliberation and debate, has been relentless ever since." (1)

Could it be that this complex 342-page bill had been drawn up before 9/11 and was just waiting for an opportune time and occasion. Feingold accused the Justice Department of exploiting "the emergency situation to get some things they've wanted for a long time?" (2)

342 pages! Yipes, it takes a couple of weeks just to read a non-fiction book that size -- without complex legal jargon. Who could write such a complex bill so fast?

And if existing laws had provided all the evidence needed to locate and prosecute the terrorists, why would this Act be necessary? Perhaps there was another motive!

Federal Criminal Jurisdiction

Prior to the Vietnam War, crime was essentially handled at the state level. There were practically no federal criminal laws.

But the turbulent 60s saw massive protests, that occasionally became violent, for civil rights and against the war. To control such outbursts the Federal government decided to take an active role.

But the resulting statutes did not directly address violent actions. By convincing the public that drugs were a danger that had to be eradicated to restore law and order, laws against crimes unrelated to violence were enacted. The real motive behind such legislation was to suppress those groups who were the dissenters-namely blacks and anti-war activists. (3)

Martin Luther King, Jr., a respected civil rights and anti-war advocate and leader, was considered a threat by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Isn't it just common sense that his major supporters, also considered threats, would be the ones targeted by those new criminal statutes?

The results are history. With the aid of new federal laws the prison population has soared -- the largest per capita incarceration in the western world, with the overwhelming number in the minorities and underclass. Just the groups that the establishment fears!

Dissent has been suppressed. The two million currently incarcerated as well as many others who are intimidated by the harsh criminal laws, reduce the number of potential dissidents. Upon release many discover that their states disenfranchise former convicts.

Très bien, get those bums off these streets, and don't let them have a voice in this great government!

Pacifying the Home Front

To successfully prosecute a war it is necessary to heed the lessons of Vietnam. Most importantly, gain and maintain support for war on the home front.

How can that be done? Eliminate the draft and keep casualties to a minimum. As body bags return support drops. Accordingly, since Vietnam all wars have been fought by recruits against weak opponents (Panama, Grenada, Afghanistan); they were of short duration; and, if an opponent offers some resistance, hit it quickly with an overwhelming force.

Iraq, a country that had lost a half million men in an eight-year war with Iran, was a step above the other weak sisters. To quickly knock it out, over 500,000 U.S. troops were dispatched to the mid-east.

But one additional factor is required. A factor that has plagued every wartime administration. DISSENT.

Righto, ya' gotta curb those dissenters!

Suppressing Dissent

History discloses that in wartime dissent invariably becomes disloyalty. The dissenter suddenly becomes a traitor and a criminal.

During the Civil War, Lincoln issued a proclamation ordering the arrest and trial of persons "discouraging volunteer enlistments, or resisting militia drafts." In World War I, the Socialist leader Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to 10 years for his public opposition to the war. (4) During World War II, 18 leaders of the Socialist Workers Party, an organization opposed to the US entry into the war, were convicted and sentenced to prison under a recently passed Smith Act. (5) In the post WWII period, members of anti-war groups, among the most notable being Daniel and Philip Berrigan, have served numerous sentences for their activities. (6)

The history of these repressive government actions would indicate that similar measures are contemplated now. The PATRIOT Act will make them easier to accomplish, subjecting the accused to more onerous procedures and punishments.

The Road to War

When an administration has been intent on war, it has been able to mobilize Congress along with its loyal corporate and media sympathizers and apologizers to support its efforts. Their power and prestige have persuaded the patriotic general public to respond enthusiastically. As long as a war lasts, confidence in the government must continue.

Should that confidence be eroded by a new anti-war leader with the charisma of Eugene V. Debs or Martin Luther King, the PATRIOT act will be invoked and he will be quickly dispatched from the scene.

Post 9/11 Hysteria

The trauma of 9/11 unleashed an unprecedented patriotic reaction that suddenly created an aura of wise leadership and counsel on a lightweight whose ratings had, until then, been steadily eroding. The omnipresence of flags conjured up the images of the ubiquitous swastikas in Nazi Germany, and it seemed that the public was showing as much deference to America's fuehrer as the good Germans did to theirs.

When the dullard made a speech, he was praised as another Churchill. When he requested unlimited war making power and unprecedented criminal laws, the Congress, composed of men and women presumed to be bright and intelligent, responded with almost unanimous support. The lone voices of opposition were subjected to abusive threats and defamatory assaults.

War against a pitiful third-world basket case, Afghanistan, was greeted with enthusiasm by almost the entire population irrespective of past political beliefs.

The Anti-War Movement

Has the unprecedented blank check that Congress handed Dubya set back the anti-war movement? If we look back to history, it seems the answer is NO.

The anti-war movement during the Vietnam War took years to build. It commenced with a miniscule number of draft-card burners, all of whom were almost unanimously condemned. Only after continual losses on the battlefield accompanied by increasing numbers of American casualties did the movement become effective.

Over a year has passed and that potent patriotic pandemic is receding. A more restrained response may be expected to any of the administration's announcements of new abominations. The most recent pro-war resolution cut last year's almost unanimous figure to a count in the Senate of 77-23, and the House, 296-133.

More importantly the American public, in spite of the pro-war rhetoric, and the sanitized news the media has been feeding them, have awakened to the reality of the disastrous policies being pursued.

They are becoming aware that almost every country in the world is opposed to a war against Iraq (Israel, and the leaders, but not the citizens of Britain, Italy and Australia excepted.) Recent numbers indicate protest turnouts in London with estimates as high as 400,000; and in Italy, one and one half million.

In Israel, numerous anti-war groups opposing their government's occupation of Palestine have been active for years. One group, Women in Black, protests in major Israeli cities every week. Courage to Refuse, an organization of Israeli combat soldiers and officers, will not serve in the occupied territories.

Rallies in other foreign countries indicate how strongly the anti-war fever is felt.

In the US, the hawks have won every battle against the anti-war critics -- Congress's pusillanimous cave in is the most recent. But there is no light at the end of this tunnel and more home front battles will ensue.

The number of US rallies and the number of participants in them is continually growing. New recruits are joining the ranks of the anti-war dissidents; and the ranks of the hawks are slowly suffering desertions.

Upcoming rallies scheduled in cities all over the country should indicate by their numbers just how far the anti-war sentiment has come. Early indications are most optimistic. (7)

No single voice that could be silenced by the government has been spearheading these efforts. Should the anti-war groups grow from numerous independent organizations, as appears likely, the USA PATRIOT act might not be able to silence them all. There may be so many participants the jails could not hold them.

If you are opposed to the war, find out where and when the nearest rally is to be held and join in.


"Wars throughout history have been waged for conquest and plunder.... the working class who fight all the battles, the working class who make the supreme sacrifices, the working class who freely shed their blood and furnish their corpses, have never yet had a voice in either declaring war or making peace. It is the ruling class that invariably does both. They alone declare war and they alone make peace....They are continually talking about your patriotic duty. It is not their but your patriotic duty that they are concerned about. There is a decided difference. Their patriotic duty never takes them to the firing line or chucks them into the trenches."
--Eugene V. Debs: Canton Ohio; June 16, 1918. Excerpts from a 10 year prison sentence speech!

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References and Notes

1.  Statement Of U.S. Senator Russ Feingold On The Anti-Terrorism Bill, October 25, 2001; http://feingold.senate.gov/~feingold/releases/01/10/102501at.html  (back)

2.  Statement on the Antiterrorism Bill; http://feingold.senate.gov/~feingold/speeches/01/05/2002909530.html  (back)

3.  Christian Parenti; Lockdown America; 1999; Verso, London, New York. Pages 6-13  (back)

4.  Benjamin Ramos, Esq.; "War as an Excuse to Ban Free Speech and Abolish Political Opposition During World War I;" 09.17.01; The Sierra Times; http://www.sierratimes.com/archive/files/sep/17/edBR091701.htm  (back)

5.  Martin McLaughlin; "The fate of democratic rights in the event of war: a reply to readers;" 22 April 1999; World Socialist Web Site; http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/apr1999/repl-a22.shtml  (back)

6.  Edwin E. Moïse; "Vietnam War Bibliography: The Catholic Antiwar Movement;" http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~eemoise/cathanti.html
See also, Sam Seidel; "Daniel J. Berrigan, S.J. Biography - draft #1 - April 8, 2002;;" http://courses.brown.edu/Joy_Ann_James-AF0130_S02/materialadd6.pdf  (back)

7.  Evelyn Nieves; "Anti-War Protests Get Louder In Calif.;" The Washington Post; October 14, 2002; http://www.commondreams.org/headlines02/1014-02.htm  (back)


Philip Greenspan's bio is concise and right to the point: 76 years old, married 50 years, 2 children, 3 grandchildren. Veteran World War II Army of the U.S. Graduate Brooklyn Law School, member of the NY bar. Private law practice, followed by employments in the motion picture industry -- distribution and exhibition, and data processing industry -- retailing and stock market; retired 6 years.

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Published October 21, 2002
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