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License for Tyranny

February 4, 2004

Jim Bovard, in the words of the Orange County Register, is "Washington’s most hated truth-teller." In his latest book, Terrorism and Tyranny: Trampling Freedom, Justice, and Peace to Rid the World of Evil, he sustains that long-standing reputation with surefire dignity and aplomb.

You get a feeling about a book and its author, when, in the book’s very first sentence, he rivets you to your chair with jackhammer force by stating that "the war on terrorism is the first political growth industry of the new millennium." The rest of the book falls out from that thesis, as Bovard takes the reader on a journey through the war on terrorism, starting with the mostly forgotten Reagan crusade, and onward through to the Bush anti-terror campaign.

Jim Bovard is, without a doubt, the best political researcher-writer in politics today. While most writers add a few footnotes to their writing, Bovard adds some first-rate writing to his immaculate set of footnotes. He doesn’t make wild judgments or blanket allegations. Instead, he provides an encyclopedia’s worth of timely quotes laid out in chronological fashion, to funnel the reader through an extensive framework of US government double-dealing, coercion, corruption, and propaganda milling. Occasionally, he provides us with a timely comment or two, enabling the reader to discern that this author clearly separates opinion from fact.

For starters, perhaps the most unforeseen and brilliant facet of Bovard’s chronology is his application of the war on terror’s inauguration as being firmly planted in the Ronald Reagan camp. It’s as if he expected the reader to forgive and forget, or at least not conjure up those deep-rooted memories in light of the Bush administration’s present tyranny spree.

Starting there, we note Bovard’s overt reminder that Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig "proclaimed that fighting terrorism would be one of the Reagan administration’s highest priorities." The October 1983 attack on the Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon took place—as the author points out—in a combat zone, however, the surprise attack was immediately portrayed as an act of "terrorism." The media and political powers-that-be helped to legitimize that classification by leisurely deconstructing the definition of terrorism, and echoing similar sentiments over time.

Portraying US combat troops as victims of a terrorist act instead of casualties of combat was the first step to assuaging the public’s need for suitable explanation concerning our military presence in Lebanon. A bunch of young, American Marines bludgeoned in their safe haven spurred on a cry for justice from the folks at home. Following this calamity, the gyrations provided by the Reagan spinmeisters were forever representative of that which future administrations would offer up as supposedly chaste information. Under Ronald Reagan, terrorism had officially become an approved target for the U.S. government.

Fast-forwarding to the Bush Era, the grab for federal power reached an all-time high. As Bovard calls it, "safety through servility." Immediately upon 9/11, the Senate passed the "Combating Terrorism Act," and as Bovard points out, "with no debate." In spite of the substantial provisions that it provided for wiretapping and email snooping with Carnivore, the Bush administration sought far greater powers than this act alone could provide.

John Ashcroft and his Justice Department got to work convincing the public that more protection, and hence, a larger scope of federal powers was needed, and as swiftly as possible. The rhetoric rained down upon the American populace from the likes of Ashcroft, Orrin Hatch, Tom Daschle, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who suggested that the inclusion of some poignant, WMD rhetoric in a September 20th, 2001 Bush speech was advantageous because "it’s an energizer for the American people."

The Senate’s bill, Ashcroft’s own bill—the Mobilization Against Terrorism Act—and a house version eventually mated and spun off the Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, or, the Patriot Act. The final version was entirely Bush-approved, as his administration protested and plundered its way to the passage of an end product that was free from any Senate or House obstructions of unbridled power. Says Bovard:

In their campaign for the new act, Bush, Ashcroft, and others implicitly threatened congressmen with political destruction if they did not quickly grant the Bush administration’s demands. . . . Some of the Patriot Act’s provisions are "sunset" provisions that will expire in 2005 unless Congress extends them. But it would be naïve to expect future Congresses to show fortitude in the face of executive branch fear-mongering.

The Patriot Act’s increased active surveillance, increased database surveillance, forced DNA procurements, freedom to grope consumer credit reports, new citizen spy programs, and anti-encryption laws are all a part of our future, thanks to Ashcroft & Company. Arbitrary federal power finally came home to roost.

Perhaps the most provocative argument is the author’s reference to the notion that federal agencies' definitions of terrorism don’t allow for government—or "government’s agents"—to be included as terrorists. The Defense Department, FBI, and the State Department all conveniently define terrorism in a "common theme" that consistently reflects "that only private citizens and private groups can be guilty of terrorism," when indeed, governments can be and have been, throughout history, the most substantial executors of oppression and death the world over. In chilling likeness, Bovard transmits this bit of wisdom:

The notion that "states cannot be terrorists" is not a Bush innovation; it extends back at least to the early twentieth century. The League of Nations in 1937 defined terrorism as "criminal acts directed against a State and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or the general public." The League’s efforts to build an international consensus against private terrorists ended after Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakia and invasion of Poland.

The reader is left with the postulation that States will be States, and they are all capable of committing horrific evils if left unrestrained. A malevolent State grabs arbitrary powers and dispenses them to charlatan departments, to be used against the general public with the support of a kept media and its distinct powers of propaganda and misinformation. When the current administration in command and its media devotees can, with little impediment, clear a path for the complete annihilation of the Constitutional system of checks and balances, we are left with an invincible executive office unaccountable for a single transgression. Consequently, an otherwise trivial noun, terror, has become the executive power’s best friend.

The economic consequences of endless campaigns against terrorism are alarming. Over time, and especially since 9/11, the terrorism-fighting industry has been used successfully to help navigate transfers from the private sector to the public sector. Thus Jim Bovard’s "political growth industry." Whereas technology growth in the security sphere could have occurred in the private sector, funds and resources are being siphoned off to grow the public sector. For instance, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, upon taking office in 2002, promised that her state would grow its economy through its own Homeland Security industry that would be partially financed by the feds. Accordingly, many states conferred upon their own taxpayers the same despotic burden.

In his book, the unconventional Jim Bovard has mastered the art of uncovering deception and spin when and where it is buried beneath a stack of establishment posturing, legally binding decrees, and walls of near-impenetrable propaganda. Unlike Bill O’Reilly’s books, between these covers lies a genuine no-spin zone.


Karen De CosterKaren De Coster, CPA is a freelance writer and Business Consultant in the Midwest. Send her  MAIL and see her Mises.org  Articles Archive. Also, see her website at www.karendecoster.com.  Bovard writes for  Mises.org as well.


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