By Robert Hawes
It is one thing to know something intellectually, and quite another to see it suddenly happen before your eyes. I experienced such a moment in 2005, during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when I watched (via the Internet) as police officers went door-to-door in New Orleans neighborhoods, forced law-abiding citizens into the streets, cuffed them, and then searched their homes for firearms before leaving them bewildered and helpless. There were no warrants involved. No probable cause was mentioned. No charges of wrong-doing were filed. Intimidation and brute force were the order of the day. And as much as I wish I could believe otherwise, I’m afraid that what we saw in New Orleans is merely a preview of coming attractions.
Since September 11, 2001, the federal government has been busily advancing preparations for the day when it might impose martial law throughout the United States, thus presenting us with the specter of the sort of thugery we witnessed in New Orleans being carried out all across this “land of the free.” A quasi-legal apparatus has already been put into place for this, via such legislation as the PATRIOT Act, the John Warner Defense Authorization Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the National Security and Homeland Security Directive. But legislation, although important in creating the illusion of legitimacy, is only one of the two boots with which the authoritarian state tramples freedom; the other is propaganda, and it is even more essential than force because it allows the state to conquer by stealth, and thus with a minimum of effort.
The state that employs only force to achieve its aims will rule only as long as it can subdue the people; but if it can successfully use propaganda, it can rule indefinitely because the people will subdue themselves. Propaganda deludes the slave into seeing his servitude as sacrifice, even as an honor. It transforms political prisoners into the enemies of the people, turns massacres into purgings, makes partisanism look like saintly perseverance, sells torture as retribution, portrays dissent as sabotage, and masks aggression in the guise of crusading. As Adolf Hitler observed in Mein Kampf, “By an able and persistent use of propaganda heaven itself can be presented to the people as if it were hell and, vice versa, the most miserable kind of life can be presented as if it were paradise.”