The 'Ism' at the Gate

If you look at the past 100 years or so, you will see plainly that there has always been an "ism" at the gates.

The old idea of controlling the people and increasing government power by warning of an "enemy at the gates" dates back to the Roman Empire, and probably well before that. It is among those tactics that are obvious to any dishonest person coveting power.

The first isms at the gate were socialism, pacifism and anarchism; then came fascism; next was communism; and now it’s terrorism. The advantage of all the isms is that they appeal directly to another ism — nationalism, which is about the only one of the isms the great mass of people can comprehend.

Most people can’t tell you differences between socialism, communism, fascism or anarchism, but everyone knows who he or she is, and who isn’t one of the group. "By God, I’m an American, and those guys ain’t."

Don’t feel insulted. The human brain is wired to recognize differences. Be honest. If you’re white and you meet a black person, what first registers? His blackness. And vice versa. The priority of noticing differences was probably a needed survival skill when humans lived in caves. Most primitive tribes lived by the rule that every stranger was an enemy until he proved himself to be a friend. As a matter of fact, that’s still a good rule to live by.

What Americans ought to realize, however, is that the Establishment fans the fear about the current ism in order to increase its power and make money. You should know, for example, that American capitalists and American capital built a great deal of the Soviet Union’s infrastructure, even long after the Cold War started. In fact, while Americans were dying presumably to fight communism in Vietnam, the U.S. was trading with communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and protecting it in Cuba.

Establishment types never allow principle to interfere with their money-seeking. I recall a quote in a major financial newspaper by the then- president of one of America’s largest banks. He had been asked if he felt uncomfortable making loans to communist Poland. "We don’t care what kind of government they have," he said, "as long as they pay their bills."

I cherish that quote, along with one from an anonymous Kuwaiti who, when asked why he was not fighting to liberate his country from Iraq, replied: "Why should I? That’s what our American slaves are for."

The war on terrorism is phony. True, 19 of Osama bin Laden’s boys were able to hit us pretty hard, thanks to luck and our own government’s incompetence. But that was one organization and one hit. President Bush, after he got his instructions from the Establishment, declared war on every underground organization in the world, 95 percent of which were not even thinking of us, much less thinking about attacking us.

Colombian rebels are against the Colombian government; Irish Republicans oppose British control of Northern Ireland; Palestinian groups are fighting Israeli occupation; and so on and so on. People employing guerrilla-war tactics to seek independence, an end to occupation, the overthrow of a dictator or to attain some degree of autonomy are not our enemies.

Bin Laden is our enemy, and we should have concentrated on him. As it is, President Bush’s declaration of war on terrorism (a mistake on its face, because terrorism is a tactic, not a state) sent a message to every head of state in the world: If people oppose your government, call them terrorists, and you have our blessing to kill and torture to your heart’s desire.

The question is, When are we, the American people, going to stop being saps and realize that the foreign devils du jour are always designed to distract us from the ills, sins and injustices taking place in our own country? I suspect the answer is "never." I’ve come to believe that when the Founding Fathers said people were smart enough to govern themselves, they made a mistake. I, of course, include myself among the saps having believed in and been disappointed by many politicians.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969 to 1971, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.