Academic journal article Social Justice

Patriot Acts

Academic journal article Social Justice

Patriot Acts

Article excerpt

   We are at the gravest of moments.
   --Senator Robert Byrd, October 10, 2002

   I woke up this mornin' and none of the news was good.
   --Steve Earle, Jerusalem, 2002

   For a nation to be, in the truest sense, patriotic, its citizens
   must love their land with a knowing, intelligent, sustaining, and
   protective love.... And they must not allow their patriotism to be
   degraded to a mere loyalty to symbols or any present set of
   --Wendell Berry, February 9, 2003


THE NEW CENTURY HAS USHERED IN PROFOUND CHANGES IN THE PAX AMERICANA, both in the global aspirations of the American Empire and in the realignment of political and ideological power within the United States. Right-wing internationalists now play a decisive role within the Bush administration and public discourse over foreign policy doctrines. The ascendancy of hawks is complemented by the decisive shift to the right in domestic policy. The conservative program, initiated in the Reagan years, emphasizes lowering the cost of labor, regressive tax cuts, reductions in environmental regulations, gutting of affirmative action and welfare benefits, and expansion of the military and criminal justice system (Wallerstein, 2002). The Bush administration, strengthened by decisive Republican victories in the midterm elections (November 2002), promises to fulfill these policy goals, with the Right now occupying significant positions of power in Congress, the Department of Justice, and key government departments. (2)

Under the banner of patriotism, the Right is making full use of its power within government and its influence in civil society to put ideas into action. Within months of September 11, 2001, the government propelled far-reaching antiterrorist legislation through Congress with minimal debate, gave the domestic intelligence apparatus unprecedented powers, justified racially motivated arrests and curtailment of civil liberties in the name of national security, and created a new federal bureaucracy to combat terrorism.

The history of the United States is filled with examples of the use of orchestrated state-sponsored campaigns to limit political dissent, rally a populist nationalism, and justify policies of repression in the name of national security during times of international crisis. Precedents for the government's invocation of prescriptive patriotism can be found, for example, in the crackdown on the pacifist movement during World War I, the roundup of Japanese Americans during World War II, and McCarthyist witch hunts during the Korean War. The current initiative to expand and justify "homeland security" evokes earlier campaigns, but it is also different in some important respects.

First, the speed and scope of changes in policies, institutions, and government bureaucracies is unprecedented. Second, the collapse of the Democratic Party and serious opposition within government and the organized political system has given the Bush administration carte blanche to implement an agenda that will have long-range structural consequences, not easily checked or reversed. Third, unlike previous conventional wars--in which there is a targeted enemy, clear rules of engagement, and time-limited goals--the "war on terrorism" is open-ended, multifaceted, and unlimited. "This is not a linear war; this is not a sequential war," explained General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We have a notion of things we would like to happen, but it's not in the sequential sense or this linear sense that our brains tend to work in" (quoted in New York Times, October 23, 2001: B2).

Our focus in this essay is on the extraordinary changes that have taken place within the repressive state apparatus since September 11, and on the cultural expressions of patriotism that inform and justify the rollback of post-Watergate reforms and chilling of civil liberties. We examine coercive and prescriptive measures taken in the name of patriotism during times of war in the 20th century before assessing the consequences of the 2001 Patriot Act and related changes in policy and government. …

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