• The imposed limit on free thought

    James Rotheberg

    September 10, 2019

    You’re seeking a job. Maybe your first job. One of the sentences you’re likely to read in the job ad description is, are you a team player? Since this is your first job, you may be wondering what type of personality they are trying to attract with this particular bit of inquiry.

    You may have learned of figures like Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, Baruch Spinoza and David Hume, Rosa Luxemburg and Hannah Arendt, and Charles Darwin, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

    After assessing this highly compressed list against a “team player” construct, it may dawn on you that this corporation — let’s call it a corporation — is not seeking a person given to non-conformity and individual, critical thought. Countless other lists could illustrate this same point.

    Of course you would be correct in concluding that the corporation is merely filling a replacement part in a machine, which part would be useless if it interfered with the other parts, or, in some way, negatively affected the machine. The machine is constructed in such a way as to make all parts exchangeable and disposable.

    This is the way of all bureaucracies, of all hierarchal structures. Multi-national corporations want their team players to be secretive, intelligence agencies want their team players to be mute, and the United States government wants its team players (citizens) to be patriotic.

    The mechanisms available for maintaining hierarchal control range from force to persuasion. On the forceful end are jailings, firings, intimidation, retribution and character assassination. On the persuasive end are career advancement, financial incentives, increased authority, and the tool with the utmost utility and finesse, propaganda. Propaganda keeps us in the team player category by making us think we know things.

    For example, consider American attitude on foreign aid. Polls reveal Americans estimate that upwards of 25 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, when the actual figure is under 1 percent. This indicates that people pay attention to the propaganda about how much good the country is doing in the world.

    If the government wished the estimate to be more realistic, it could make clear that what is called “aid” is really the intrusion of the U.S. into the political, economic and military affairs of a target country for the purpose of making it into a dependency. That would nod the estimate down. Way down.

    It’s as if there’s a mass psychosis in the country. Our government boasts about its power over other countries at the same time as it claims to want to bring them up. Nobody is forced to ignore this naked contradiction, as influential media people routinely do. How to understand it?

    They may not be censored, although some surely are. They may not be self-censoring, although some surely are. There’s another explanation. It shouldn’t surprise if big time reporters land consistently on the same side as Washington, because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t be in the positions they presently occupy.

    We also know things like Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election may have affected the outcome, that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad gasses his own people, and that Venezuela under Nicolás Maduro refused humanitarian aid. We’re supposed to know this because it is repeated on our tv’s and in our newspapers.

    We know that Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange have committed crimes because they’ve been accused of committing them by our high officials.

    Edward Snowden is lucky in that he is, at least temporarily, out of the clutches of the U.S. empire, thanks to Russia. Which makes him back page news for now. When he was front page, calls went out from political progressives for him to willingly return to the United States and face the music for his day in court.

    Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange presently occupy prison cells on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Freedom of speech doesn’t give one the right to shout “fire” in a crowded theater, and neither does it afford the right to shout “crimes” in the halls of the national security complex. And crimes there are.

    From the crime of aggression (the supreme international crime) that was the Iraq War, to the crimes of torture, humiliation and terror that accompany all war, and on to murder, assassination, illegal detention and mass unwarranted surveillance of citizens (collectively referred to by government as “classified material”).

    But we don’t know anything about these crimes, like we know about Snowden’s and Manning’s and Assange’s, because nobody has been accused of committing them by our high officials. That’s a startling difference. Monstrous crimes go unrecognized while revealing evidence of them is criminal.

    The Iraq War was a seminal event so this is worth going through. In what sense can the war be said to be illegal, a crime? Here’s chapter and verse. UN Charter, Chapter VII, Article 39: The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.

    Article 41: The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures.

    Now there was no prior assent given for an invasion by the Security Council, nor were collective measures called for from the member nations. The invasion was, as explicitly stated in 2004 by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, illegal from the point of view of the UN Charter. Don’t be lulled by the “point of view”. Murder is illegal from the point of view of the penal code.

    For those who wonder what international law has to do with U.S. law, more chapter and verse. The UN Charter is a treaty ratified by the United States on 26 June 1945. Article VI of the Constitution provides that all treaties made under the authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land.

    The G.W. Bush administration had no illusion about this technical point, neither did the Tony Blair administration. Illegal attempts were made (now the subject of a movie) to wrestle the swing nations in the Security Council into submission. Failing to work, the plan for invasion shifted into an all out exploitation of UN Charter Article 51 — the inherent right of self-defense —legitimate if true. But it was all lies, the mobile biological weapons lab, the chemical weapons, the aluminum tubes, the memorable smoking gun/mushroom cloud mixed metaphor.

    So the perpetrators were spared their Nuremberg for two reasons. Iraq didn’t defeat the United States and take over its government, and there is no precedent of a nation indicting itself.

    Meanwhile, Manning and Assange remain political prisoners, and Snowden a political prisoner in absentia. It is vitally important to fight for their freedom. No team player will do it. Émile Zola did it when he wrote, “J’accuse”, in defense of Alfred Dreyfus, taking on the French military high command. So much more developed is our national security state that it may take a thousand Zolas. But what stands out are individuals acting against the pack. History does reward them.


    James Rothenberg, of New York State, writes on United States social and foreign policy. [email protected]

    First published in Counter Currents.

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