We Americans are a market-savvy people. True to our competitive spirit, excessive commercialization and cutthroat market competition have spawned generations of American entrepreneurs capable of pushing any product onto the world’s people through clever advertising or utter duplicity. Quality or shoddy, tangible or intangible, it doesn’t matter.
For it seems America’s latest export is “freedom,” and our latest rampage abroad is a classic case in deceptive promotion. It’s “Operation Enduring Freedom,” and its name-says-it-all message is directed not only at the civilians and humanitarian aid workers it bombs in Afghanistan, but to the international community as well: the US stands for freedom; if you support freedom, you’ll submit to US domination. A successful marketing scheme, indeed! Fear of being bombed back to the Stone Age (or something resembling Afghanistan) notwithstanding, allies and former adversaries of the US alike have endorsed America’s brutal “war on terrorism” in the name of freedom.
But close scrutiny of any faulty product, in this case American freedom, will reveal serious blemishes. US leaders as far back as the Sedition Act in 1798, for instance, have routinely violated freedom of speech. The Espionage Act of 1917 also put a lid on criticism of the government. Still in effect, it prohibits circulating “unpatriotic” material considered to pose a “clear and present danger” to national security such as in 1971, when the US government tried to thwart close examination of its vicious attack on North Vietnam by opposing publication of the “Pentagon Papers.”
US media are hardly free, more accountable to paying advertisers and government pressure than to the public in determining what is “newsworthy.” While Americans claim “freedom of the press,” skewed analysis provided by American news outlets in favor of US policies, as well as their unabashed dissemination of nationalistic viewpoints and everlasting predisposition against groups and states deemed “hostile” by the State Department demonstrate that corporate-controlled media simply amount to state-run media better financed. Perhaps back-door meetings between government officials and Hollywood agents to gear film and television productions toward a more “patriotic” tone best demonstrate the covert ability of US leaders to turn “independent media” and the entertainment industry into propaganda channels in recent times.
Yet American leaders have their style of freedom to sell, and a great way to divert attention from the poor quality of a product is to attack an alternative. So few opposing countries haven’t fallen victim to American mudslinging, those “undemocratic rogue states” our leaders so often condemn. Their cries of “human rights abuses” in China and “repression” in North Korea suggest that tyranny is foreign to the American experience.
But during the US Civil War, for example, President Lincoln granted his top-ranking officers extensive unreviewed authority to arrest any citizen on the basis of “disloyal” speech or acts. And state witch-hunts against “subversives” dating as far back as the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution could hardly be interpreted as freedom of speech or assembly, climaxing with the historic 1940 Smith Act, which banned associations accused of advocating the overthrow of America’s Capitalist regime.
But Americans claimed these freedoms, even as our government ruined the careers of hundreds in Hollywood during the 1950’s for their suspected past political affiliations, invaded free speech for “gravity of evil,” imprisoned the leadership of opposition political organizations such as the Communist and Black Panther Parties, and even jailed Chicano high school student protest leaders in 1968 for “subversion.”
While monstrous state agencies like the FBI are sanctioned by the government to monitor and detain often innocent, “unpatriotic” civilians, ultimate credit for America’s lack of freedom belongs to ordinary American people. Widespread compliance and an arrogant sense of national superiority lend to such a belligerent government as prominent personalities and religious leaders from all backgrounds direct fellow Americans to passively “stand united” behind a war hawk president elected not by the masses, but by five Supreme Court Justices with a right-wing agenda.
It amounts to curbing freedom in the name of freedom when millions of Americans, frightful of terrorist doings, are coerced to unconditionally support their leader’s campaign against an enemy barely defined. In the process, more Americans become hesitant to question air strikes that obviously kill thousands of guiltless Afghani citizens, and the hostile US foreign policy at the root of current anti-American sentiments. These days, a voiced opinion critical of the President has become grounds enough for job termination in some instances, while others report being attacked by “patriotic” Americans simply for their part in a peace demonstration.
An extravagant 20 billion dollar military spending spree approved by all but one member of Congress was the ultimate showcase of America’s new “unity.” Representative Barbara Lee, sole opponent of this ridiculous budget package, continues to receive death threats as more Congressional Representatives reveal their opposition was suppressed by fear. Worse yet, agencies concerned have reported nearly 1,000 separate hate crimes against Arab Americans since September 11, while the majority of “freedom-loving” Americans have endorsed special identification cards for innocent Arab Americans and their surveillance during a recent poll. We forget that the victims of September 11 weren’t only persons who inhabited those doomed buildings and airliners. They are countless darker-skinned Americans victim to undying ignorance and racial prejudice.
Their plight recalls that of 120,000 innocent Japanese Americans who fell prey to a similar bout of hysteria shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. For them, “freedom” was years in ten concentration camps located throughout America’s inland deserts and swamplands. The old US legal motto “innocent until proven guilty” seems especially hollow these days as 614 ethnic Arabs remain in State-custody without legal charges in the ongoing investigation into September’s collisions.
A truly free society tolerates and thrives on opposing viewpoints, celebrating diversity and promoting the open flow of information. A free people live without fear of persecution based on ethnicity, religion or ideological orientation. It’s a way of life hardly akin to American society, yet our government proudly boasts otherwise. Forget the world, hundreds of millions within the US have succumbed to this masterpiece of false advertising.