Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reactionary Wartime Policy, Then and Now

The recent 5-4 ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States in Boumediene v. Bush and Al Odah v. U.S. is rightly seen as a victory for those who oppose the hard-line stance of the Bush Administration. While some believe the decision was merely a corrective to re-establish the role and the scope of the Court, this case also encapsulates a microcosm of popular opinion. It was also the most recent measure by which the court sought to curb the authority of the Executive branch, which has taken liberties the likes of which have not been seen in years.

Sadly, many people cease to understand the logic of putting terrorist suspects on trial at all, and the most hawkish of them feel as though they should have been summarily executed on the battlefield in a "shoot first, ask questions later" fashion. Even John Kerry infamously modified his stance against capital punishment by adding a caveat that the death penalty would never be used, except, of course, for terrorists. It had the feeling of an awkward pledge tacked on for purely political reasons, and it's one of the reasons Senator Kerry did not win the Presidency in 2004.

In making their decision, the justices certainly were aware of the gross inequalities and suspension of basic civil liberties perpetuated by the Woodrow Wilson administration during World War I. Arguably, these reactionary measures were far more intense, evasive, and unfair than anything proposed by the current administration. Yet, what must be added is that the policies of ninety years ago set an unfortunate precedent that the current gang of thieves now in office were more than eager to emulate in their own administration.

The Wilson administration suppressed dissent, now officially branded disloyalty. For reasons of their own, private interests helped shape a reactionary repression that tarnished the nation's professed idealistic war goals.

Congress rushed to stifle antiwar sentiment. The Espionage Act provided heavy fines and up to 20 years in prison for obstructing the war effort, a vague phrase but "omnipotently comprehensive," warned an Idaho senator who opposed the law. In fact, the Espionage Act became a weapon to crush dissent and criticism. Eventually, Congress passed the still more sweeping Sedition Act of 1918, which provided severe penalties for speaking or writing against the draft, bond sales, and war production and for criticizing government personnel or policies. Congress emphasized the law's inclusive nature by rejecting a proposed amendment stipulating that "nothing in this act shall be construed as limiting the liberty or impairing the right of any individual to publish or speak what is true, with good motives, for justifiable ends." Senator Hiram Johnson lamented, "It is war. But, good God...when did it become war upon the American people?"

-The American Journey

Though the policies of the Bush administration arguably are not as restrictive as those stated above, this current bunch hasn't made any pretense in covering its tracks. Its belligerent attitude towards those who call its over-reaching actions into question is to bully them into a state of submission, often labeling them unpatriotic and implying heavily that they are treasonous and eager to give aid and comfort to American enemies.

In the end, the government was primarily responsible for the war hysteria. It encouraged suspicion and conflict through inflammatory propaganda, repressive laws, and violation of basic civil rights, by supporting extremists who used the war for their own purposes...this ugly mood would infect the postwar world.

In time, we will see the impact of the younger Bush's policy, with the perspective only hindsight can provide. I hope the miscarriage of justice perpetuated by these goons does not inspire subsequent leaders to destroy basic rights under the pretense of waging war and seeking justice under the law.

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