Also, if this broadcast feels as spammish to you as it obviously is, I
hope you remember that individual responses generally elicit personal
replies. And whether or not I have time to write back, I always read
your replies with careful delight.>
1. What Has Happened.
2. Why This Has Happened.
3. What We Might Do About It Now.
THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC IS DEAD. HAIL THE AMERICAN EMPIRE. OR
My old pal Mitch Kapor said years ago that what I needed was a
“hyperbolectomy.” Were such a procedure to exist, this would
probably be a good time to get one, since I suddenly find myself
incapable of discussing the present state of the American Experiment
without veering off into Very Large Statements.
With that admonition in mind, I hope that you will continue to
read this rant, adjusting it to your own reality settings. This is
just how bad it looks to me. From my perspective, this is not
hyperbolic at all.
I believe that the American Republic died in the U.S. Senate last
Thursday morning and was buried yesterday morning in the East Room of
the White House.
Despite a deluge of calls, letters, and e-mails, which Capital
Hill staffers admitted ran overwhelmingly against the
ludicrously-named “Resolution Authorizing the President to Use
Force, if Necessary, to End the Threat to World Peace from Saddam
Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction,” Congress extended to
George II the authority to make unlimited and preemptive war against
another nation that has neither attacked us nor shown the ability or
inclination to do so.
(Thank you, by the way, for your own contributions to this flood
of futile dissent. They may have ignored you, but you will sleep
better for knowing that you were not one of the “silent
The resolution was deemed necessary on several grounds.
- Iraq possesses and is developing weapons of mass destruction – an
unquestioned if Orwellian phrase that makes no qualitative distinction
between a hundred pounds of spoiled hamburger and a 50 megaton bomb.
- Iraq has flouted a number of U.N. resolutions and international
accords regarding such weapons, many of which the United States has
also ignored or abrogated.
- A member of Al-Queda is thought to have visited Iraq.
- Iraq has shown a willingness to use military force in the Middle
East, again, not unlike ourselves.
- Saddam Hussein is a real son-of-a-*censored* who is easier to find than
Osama bin Laden.
Despite the fact that we have been exposed to far worse during
our history – whether by Bloody Old England, the Kaiser, Nazi Germany,
Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union, Red China, or, hell, France on a bad
day – we have never before declared war without being attacked nor
have we extended an American President the right to do so at his
The dangerous possibility of such behavior was explicitly
foreseen by the architects of the American Republic when they designed
the Consitution. As James Madison declared in a letter to James
The only case in which the Executive can enter on a war,
undeclared by Congress, is when a state of war has ‘been actually’
produced by the conduct of another power, and then it ought to be made
known as soon as possible to the Department charged with the war
Their reasons were eloquently restated by Abraham Lincoln in an
1848 letter to his law partner, William H. Herndon. Herndon had
suggested that the United States would be prudent to attack Mexico
before they attacked us, as they clearly appeared willing to do.
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation
whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you
allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary
for such purpose – – and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study
to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after
you have given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should
choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the
British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,
‘I see no probability of the British invading us’ but he will say to
you ‘be silent; I see it, if you don’t.’
The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making
power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following
reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their
people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of
the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the
most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so
frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of
bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole
matter, and places our President where kings have always
Robert Byrd quoted that passage in his brilliantly Quixotic
speech to the Senate last week. The Senate ignored him as easily as
they ignored you and millions of others who believe in American
And now we have a King, George II, where presidents have always
Today, as he signed his coronation decree, he lied, “I have
not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become
But, folks, he *has* ordered the use of force and began doing so
shortly after seizing office. Though you’d scarcely know it to read
the papers, we’ve been bombing the crap out of Southern Iraq since
February 16, 2001, when we hit five radar installations in the
vicinity of Baghdad. Since then, the bombing has been increasing
steadily. There have been 48 bombing raids south of the “no-fly
zone” so far this year. Iraq claims that 1300 civilians have been
killed in these bombings – and, while I doubt that number, many of
these casualties have been confirmed by international observers. I’ll
bet the last thing those innocent wretches saw looked a lot like force
It is not simply that we have made a Caesar of Bush, we have, in
effect, assented to allowing him the entire world as his Empire.
What this resolution is truly about is the elimination of all
sovereignty but our own. This is about our becoming the Dad of the
World. Having declared ourselves immune from international prosecution
for war crimes, we have proposed our right to disregard the
sovereignty of any country that, in our opinion, doesn’t deserve
If another country harbors people we regard as terrorists, they
have forfeited their sovereignty. If they cobble together a few of the
weapons we possess in stupefying abundance, we will cross their
borders and disarm them by force. Indeed, if they do anything that
might eventually, left to develop unchecked, threaten American
interests, we will stop them as brutally as we must.
These statements are not merely polemical on my part. They are
On September 20, the Bush Administration released its National
Security Strategy. You can find it at
http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.pdf. It speaks plainly of American
“convincing or compelling states to accept their sovereign
responsibilities.” According to whom?
In other words, Nations of the World, if you don’t make smart
choices, you will just have to accept that there will be consequences.
Now go clean your rooms.
Reading this document, which makes ironic use of the word
“freedom” every third sentence or so, one begins to imagine
the United States as the jut-jawed marshal, patrolling the world’s
mean streets, showing the lonely courage that is the sinew of
But as a fellow Wyomingite, Don Cooper, wrote me after my last
rant, the metaphor is horribly flawed. The Code of the West required
proof of guilt and threats made bad. The scoundrels actually had to
actually raise hell before the marshal took up arms against
What we are doing in Iraq is more like this, to quote
A storekeeper is sweeping the wooden sidewalk in front of
his shop and sees a rough stranger approaching. He runs across the
street to the Marshal’s office crying out and waving his broom in
the air. The Marshal comes out, asking what all the fuss is about.
‘It’s a bad guy ridin’ into town, Marshal. I can tell he’s up to
no good. Got that look about him. Word is he is planning to rob the
bank, steal a horse, burn down the church and slap a barmaid.’ The
Marshal is aghast, ‘Well, not in my town he ain’t!’ The Marshal grabs
his shotgun and waits out in front of the saloon. When the stranger
rides up, the Marshal levels his shotgun and blows him off his
This isn’t American. It’s chickenshit.
I feared it would come to this when I realized, ten years ago,
that we were the last credible superpower left on the planet. But Bill
Clinton, whatever his manifold weaknesses, knew that if we were were
to possess such towering power, we would have to wield it with the
humility necessary to create moral as well as military force.
He might have had a zipper as slick as his tongue, but he was not
facile when it came to deploying more lethal weapons. Furthermore,
Bill Clinton knew himself to be an unlikely instrument for Almighty
God. I suspect Clinton secretly hopes there isn’t One.
But George II has been working for the Lord ever since he was
divinely instructed some years back to stop snorting blow. He knows
that God wants us to have oil and that the world’s second largest
petroleum reserves are not to be entrusted to a people whose divine
messenger was, to quote Jerry Falwell, “a terrorist.”
I don’t think that our new Emperor is an evil man. But he has the
kind of unquestioning belief in his own virtue that is the richest
loam for growing evil. He is simply too weak to possess this kind of
power without misusing it. And now we have removed all the
Constitutional impediments that might have checked his hubris. We have
thrown ourselves on the mercy of a conscience too clear to be
PEACE IS WAR, LOVE IS HATE
How has this tragedy happened?
Why have Americans – whom I still believe are, in their essence,
a decent people – allowed themselves to become complicit with such
It’s because the terrorists won. Through incredibly deft
manipulation of our media, encouraging that which is worst in
our government, they have already inflicted astonishing casualties on
the American mind.
Wherever he may be, I hope the ghost of George Orwell is up to
date on contemporary American politics. If he is, I’ll bet he’s having
a swell time.
I could give you a million examples of what I’m talking about,
but I’ll tell you a story instead.
A couple of weeks back, I was asked to do a brief live interview
on MSNBC, the result of a piece I wrote which appears in the current
Forbes ASAP on the irremediable failure of the American intelligence
system. (You will find it at
http://www.forbes.com/asap/2002/1007/042.html and I will spam you the
longer version sometime soon).
I had misgivings about doing this, since I think television is
very bad for you, no matter which side of the camera you’re on. But,
since one of my many missions is trying inspire an intelligence system
that actually increases political understanding, I figured I would
seize whatever silly pulpit they briefly provided me.
They put me in a dark little room with a huge camera and a
monitor that was displaying the current out-going feed from MSNBC.
They wired me up and I waited for my cue, with nothing to do but watch
the tube and try to keep myself from hallucinating as a result.
There ensued a series of events that compelled me to watch a
stream of televised news longer than any I’ve seen since 911. (When it
became obvious, once and for all, that there was no viewing level that
wasn’t inimical to clear thought.)
Like so many other bad things, it was Bush’s fault. After I was
all wired up and seated in involuntary viewing mode, I was suddenly
preempted by an informal press briefing from the Cabinet Room.
There, apparently sitting across the desk from me, was our still
unannointed Monarch. I sat there in speechless awe as he said, among
other astonishing things, that we might have to attack Iraq in order
to preserve peace.
That’s right. We must start a war that there might have
When the anchors came back on after the press briefing, they made
absolutely no note of the surreal logic we’d all been exposed to. It
made sense to them, I guess.
Nor did they make any mention of the the Malaprop Effect, such as
when the Resident said, “He [Saddam] faces a true threat to the
U.S,” and didn’t stop to correct himself. (And, indeed, didn’t
even appear to notice.)
Then we got back to “the news.” All of it was
straight out of 1984. Saddam Hussein has always been the object of the
Two Minute Hate. Osama bin Laden was never our Emmanuel
The anchor-bimbo actually hissed whenever she uttered Saddam’s
name, and she did so involuntarily. I remembered the line from
Orwell’s novel, “The horrible thing about the Two Minute Hate was
not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to
avoid joining in.” I managed not to.
There was plenty more Newspeak to follow. For example,
practically everyone who spoke, anchor or civilian, used the phrase
“weapons of mass destruction,” as if they knew what they
were talking about. I don’t think they do.
What this insidious phrase does is to equate biological,
chemical, and nuclear weapons in their degrees of lethality. But, as I
said before, there is a vast difference between a cylinder of
poisonous gas and a 5 megaton thermonuclear bomb. The former is easy
to make but very hard to deliver in any massively destructive way. The
latter is hard to make and easy to deliver, at least over short
distances. But when it arrives, it doesn’t just kill a few hundred
(Actually the latter is not terribly hard to make. I could
probably do it with a good machine shop and a hundred kilos of weapons
grade Plutonium. Making weapons grade Plutonium is very hard, but
fortunately for the evil-doers, the U.S. and Russia have already
manufactured so much of this vile stuff over the last 57 years that
Iraq could, if it wanted to, probably pick it up from the right
Russians simply by signing a few subrosa oil contracts.)
Never mind that. My point is, we’re not thinking about these
things to that level of detail. We’re thinking things like
“Weapons of mass destruction, bad. Iraq, bad. America, good.”
Or Eurasia, bad. Oceania, good.
We’re also accepting rather blandly American support for a brutal
military dictatorship in Pakistan which really *does* have nuclear
weapons as well as the means to deliver them quite a distance. Why are
we not disarming Pakistan? Why, for that matter, are we not disarming
France? Or, perish the thought, ourselves?
I observed with mounting anxiety the way in which the “news”
I watched that morning was subtly but continuously slanted to support
For example, while reporting a story regarding considerable Labor
Party unrest over Blair’s support of Bush, one of the anchors casually
(and rhetorically) asked, “But isn’t that just the old Socialist
wing of Labor coming back to life?” The question hung in the air
like a mild mind toxin while they rushed off to the next bit of gory
This involved a deranged person who had tried to slit the throat
of a Greyhouse bus driver in California with a pair of scissors,
causing him to veer off I-5. There were a number of vivid injuries for
the cameras to feed on. One of the anchors asked about the attacker, a
Mexican-American, “Do we know if this guy has any terrorist
Now is a time to think clearly. But the government and the media
are mutilating the very structure of rational thought by attacking the
language. Noam Chomsky was and is right about this.
Even the more reliable media, like, say, the New York Times, are
editing reality in a dangerous way.
For example, somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 people
spontaneously gathered in Central Park on October 6 and it barely made
the papers. What few stories did appear placed a distorted emphasis
that some of the bullhorn wielders had made anti-semitic
It’s no wonder that many of us have been brain-washed into an
uneasy stupor. You are what you watch.
But what about the millions of us who are agitated as hell about
this? I know lots of different people, and they aren’t all
seditious scum like me. Hell, I come from Pinedale, Wyoming, the most
conservative place in the non-Islamic world. And yet about one in a
hundred people that I talk to approves of what’s going on. Why don’t
we matter anymore?
It pains me deeply to say this, but I think that part of the
problem may be the Internet.
A lot of what’s wrong may be the very sort of thing you’re
reading right now.
The Internet, has, as expected, provided a global podium to
everyone with an opinion. Cyberspace has become an infinite set of
street corners, each with its lonely pamphleteer, howling his rage to
a multitude all too busy howling their own to listen.
All of our energy goes into things like this BarlowSpam, energies
that might be better spent in creating traditional blocs like the NRA,
or the AARP, or some large group capable of either buying Congress or
scaring the shit out of them. This screed won’t scare an elected
official anywhere. And it wouldn’t generate enough money to elect or
defeat a dogcatcher.
As much as I loathe organizations, we need to organize.
And we’d better start doing it now before the Empire decides it’s
necessary to declare a National Emergency and make it lethally illegal
to oppose it. It could get that bad.
Or it might get oddly worse than that. The Empire has discovered
something important. The best way to deal with us is to ignore us
altogether, as they did last Thursday. Our calls and letters had no
But those were the acts of citizens. In an Empire, there are no
citizens, only subjects.
Empires in the past found it expedient to jail, torture, and
execute recalcitrant subjects. This one has learned that you can get a
lot further with less trouble simply by pretending that the opposition
These arrogant bastards are so persuaded of their sublime duties
to God and Exxon that they no longer need concern themselves with
public outrage or even, I shudder to say, elections.
Let us prove them wrong. We must make ourselves painfully visible
COME TOGETHER WHEREVER, OCTOBER 26, 11:00 AM.
What is to be done?
Well, for a start, I recommend that wherever you are in the
world, you should pick an arbitrary public location in your area, call
or e-mail everyone you know who feels as you do about this madness,
and ask them to meet there at 11:00 am on Saturday, October 26.
Ask them also to call or e-mail everyone *they* know with the
same message. Thanks to what my friend Howard Rheingold calls
“smart mobs,” a lot of people can gather very quickly this
way. The microwave threads between cell phones can be like formic acid
for ants. Make an instant electronic hive of humanity.
Be very peaceable and difficult to provoke, but don’t worry about
getting a permit. If no one’s in charge, there’s no one to hold
In Washington, DC and San Francisco, those locations have already
been chosen. They are:
In DC -
Constitution Gardens adjacent to the
Vietnam Veterans War Memorial
21st St. & Constitution Ave. NW
In San Francisco -
Justin Herman Plaza
Market and Embarcadero
Unfortunately, there is a problem. And, as someone who went
through this in the 60’s, it’s one I’m very familiar with.
The organization that nominated these two locations,
(Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), is an honest-to-god
Communist front. I’m not kidding. It is to the left of Mao. It is also
virulently anti-semitic, and appears to be saddling up the wild horse
of war opposition to pursue a lot of causes most you probably don’t
support, like Shining Path in Peru.
It is so radical that I almost wonder if it isn’t a set of agents
provocateurs created by the Empire to discredit the whole peace
I also know that, after the poem I asked you all to read aloud,
many of you concluded that I was also of this general political slant.
But I am not a leftist propagandist. Hell, I was still a Republican
until George II forced me to declare myself the obvious, an
I didn’t write that poem. Had I done so, it certainly would have
included an aeon of silence for the 50 million killed by Communism
under Stalin and Mao, a millennium of silence for the many millions of
Jews slaughtered by everyone from Goliath and his Philistines to
Hezbolleh. I would have mentioned the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan
Death March, the Hutus and the Tutsis. The poem was clearly leftist
propaganda. Still, I felt it made a start on it. We could mourn the
remaining blanks ourselves.
I got a lot of angry mail back regarding precisely these kinds of
omissions and the rote socialism of its rhetoric.
I am very concerned that people will not engage in these
gatherings, or that they will be easily misinterpreted, once they
perceive these same qualities in A.N.S.W.E.R.
But I say it doesn’t matter who names the gathering point.
Wherever we normally reside in the political spectrum, this is not
about the left wing or the right wing. It’s about how to stop these
wing-nuts from turning the world into a military playground for the
Fortune 500. It’s not about ideology. It’s about human decency and
common sense. The important thing is that we all get together in such
numbers that the ideologues of A.N.S.W.E.R. will be but a small part
of something so big that neither the media nor the Empire can ignore
I also recommend against speeches, though I suspect they are
unavoidable in Washington and San Francisco. The less said the better.
What do we need to say? We know how we feel. We don’t need to be
So, even though I have grave misgivings about the organizers of
the gatherings in DC and San Francisco, we can come together in such
overwhelming diversity that there can be no party line aside from a
love of peace, liberty, and the right of all nations to determine
their destinies without American imposition.
The second thing I recommend we all do is vote. I know many of
you gave up on this a long time ago, for which dereliction of
citizen’s duty you are getting exactly the government you deserve. But
there’s still time. Many states permit registration right down to the
I particularly hope you will vote heavily against everyone who
supported this treasonous resolution, no matter how enlightened they
appeared before. Right now, a weakling with good intentions is worse
than an outright Facist.
They didn’t listen to your phone calls or letters. Let them now
hear your silent voice speaking from the voting booth.
You should also organize on behalf of everyone who had the
courage to resist it. Give money and time to their campaigns. Write
letters to their local newspapers, expressing your support for them
and praising them for their courage on behalf of the Constitution.
Right now, I agree absolutely with George Bush on one thing. One
is either with him or against him. I am against him. As Jefferson,
Madison, Monroe, and Lincoln would have been.
And if that makes me a terrorist, I am proud to be
John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
Co-Founder & Vice Chairman, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Berkman Fellow, Harvard Law School
Home(stead) Page: http://www.eff.org/~barlow
The resolution before us today is not only a product of haste; it is
product of presidential hubris. This resolution is breathtaking
scope. It redefines the nature of defense, and reinterprets the
to suit the will of the Executive Branch. It would give the President
authority to launch a unilateral preemptive attack on a sovereign
is perceived to be a threat to the United States. This is an
and unfounded interpretation of the President’s authority under
Constitution, not to mention the fact that it stands the charter
United Nations on its head.
— Senator Robert Byrd to the Senate, October 3, 2002