"You know, something like this could never have happened in this country ten years ago," Bates said, his voice low. "Or even five years. . ."
I don't know how seriously I should treat this, and it probably doesn't deserve the attention I'll give it, but the other day I finished a little smegma-stain of a book called Super Hawks: Strike Force Charlie, by Mack Maloney.
It's yet another paint-by-numbers "male action adventure" of an A-Team type group Backed By Rogue Members Of The Government Sympathetic To Their Cause, fighting Al Qaeda in America, Doing What Must Be Done to defeat a terrorist plot to shoot down American air liners with Stinger missles.
The team had given up a long time ago on the niceties of conflict. Rules of war, Geneva Convention - all that crap. They moved in a new world, a place where things happened as fast as the bings and bangs of the Internet or the speed at which a picture could be flashed around the world. [. . .] They didn't have time for long-drawn-out investigations, or trying to explain themselves, or committees being formed. . .
While the terrorists cruise around the country in Greyhound buses posing as a soccer team on a cultural exchange mission, dropping off cells pre-positioned to attack airports, the team Stays One Step Behind Them At All Times, cruising around in their super-Stealth helicopter, Swooping In Just Before It's Too Late and Thwarting The Terrorists' Nefarious Plans...
Yes, this was a nasty business he was engaged in. He knew it. They all knew it, coming in. But it was nasty because it had to be. Brutal and nasty and painful and disgusting was the only language the Muslim fanatics understood, because that's exactly the way they conducted themselves.
I've capitalized so much of the plot summary, because it's a particularly standard example of the "lone wolf" type of plot we've seen so often. Rambo, Dirty Harry, Commando, Cobra, you know the type. The vigilante who must go beyond the limits of civilization and law, to defend civilization and law. It's nothing new. So why does it bug me so damn much?
. . .This was not how the typical U.S. soldier acted. The terrorists knew this because each had fought Americans in either Afghanistan or Iraq. These days American soldiers did not shoot first and ask questions later but actually did the exact opposite. So sensitive they were to inflicting unwanted collateral damage, many gave up their own lives rather than harm an innocent civilian.
But not these soldiers. . .
Probably because this seems to be an idea that is not only leaking from the extreme Right into the mainstream of American thought, but also into our own government. Pre-emptive war. "Special rendition" programs. Secret prisons. Secret wiretaps. Laws passed in the dead of night or during "terror" alerts. Missile strikes directed from the Oval Office, not the Pentagon. A continuing yet abstract state of emergency that legitamizes any action by those in authority, from local police to the White House. We're increasingly leaning toward this kind of vigilante mentality, and I guess this book kind of embodies everything that's wrong at the moment, everything I'm nervous about seeing in our country.
It was strange for Ozzi to hear it all, laid out by someone who was there for most of it. He couldn't imagine the multitude of national security violations they were racking up here. But like Fox said, breaking the law and violating national security were things the team couldn't worry about. Not anymore.
It would sit much easier with me if this was a unique kind of plot, but it seems not to be, as witness this article on the TV show "24". Not only is the vigilante mentality in the mainstream of government, it's also intruding into the mainstream of the media, and that's more worrying - that the public is internalizing these arguements of "the ticking time bomb", of the necessity of Doing Something NOW, of Anything Goes In Fighting "Them". Sure, it's nothing we didn't see, say, back in the Cold War with respect to Commies under the bed - but the propaganda methods are much more sophisticated now.
But the large man would not move. "He knows this guy!" he was screaming now, shoving the drawing of Ramosa into the clerk's mouth. "He probably knows a lot of things!"
"We got what we want," the smaller man said. "Time to go."
But the large man would not budge. "One bullet and we've got one less a--hole in this country," the man said. "Our country...."[edited]
One of the most disturbing things here is that the "ghosts", as the secret team is called, NEVER get the wrong person. Everyone they Enact Their Vengance Upon is a valid target - they never assault an innocent person based purely on race or appearance. The Muslims they attack are all actual terrorists or conspirators in terrorism. Which makes it all the simpler for the "ghosts" - they can attack any brown person they meet, knowing full well that in doing so they're not "profiling" or being racist, but in fact are Defending America. Which is pretty much, in our world what we're being told is happening - our actions aren't based on prejudice, control of resources, a mistaken idea of "justice", but on the idea that THEY are out there and that anyone who's caught, arrested, shot, killed or blown up is one of THEM. So why worry?
"I'm sorry, sir," the corporal said, trying to apologize. "We're just looking for some bad guys and -"
"I don't give a damn who you're looking for!" Rucker complained again, at full volume. "What is this? Nazi Germany? Iraq? I'm handicapped and I'm a veteran.... I don't have to take this -"
While the government and military seem more concerned with tracking down the "ghosts" than the terrorists, the Secret Team continues on its merry way in a post-9/11 America that seems strangely unconcerned about this paramilitary death squad seemingly killing at random. Terrorism, in this world, is a threat, and the memories of the Towers falling are still fresh even in 2004, but news reports of the mystery helicopter and its exploits seem almost disinterested. One can imagine, in our world, the breathless reports on CNN or FOX as the "ghosts" leave a trail of death behind them, the speculations that Hannity, O' Reilly, Limbaugh and their ilk would be broadcasting about "al-Qaeda commando teams". But, after all, from the perspective of the writer, they're killing the "right" people, and somehow the American people can mysteriously sense this - and who could oppose self-defense?
But at least he could say that he was as fanatical about America and killing mooks as the mooks were about hating America and killing him. In fact, he worked harder at it. This terrorist stuff did not come easy to Americans.
Classic fascism is a picture of totalitarian government, of a Leader who must not be constrained by abstract concepts of humanity or morality in his actions to Defend The People. While on its face "Super Hawks", with its picture of a free-lance antiterrorist team taking over for a government which is either unable or unwilling to fight The Bad Guys, would seem to be a refutation of fascism in that sense, is it really?
The people the guy had complained about.... in the big Greyhound bus....
In a heartbeat, just one word popped into Audette's mind, this just as the veteran's flight was approaching the field again.
Fascism, at its core, is based on the idea of "Just DO Something". Debate, compromise, give-and-take, negotiation, these are discarded in favor of *ACTION!!!*, of doing Something, Anything. Even beyond the vulgar concept of fascism as nothing more than brutality, it's an attitude that We Are In Trouble and They Are At Fault and We Must Do Somehthing RIGHT NOW, preferably taking Them out of the picture so they can't Threaten Us Further. It's the use of fear and paranoia to motivate action, action unconstrained by thought. And that's what we're seeing from our government - "shut up, we're in charge, they're coming to get us and if you know what's best you'll let us do what we must to save you".
It's not the question of "government vs. people" anymore. There's no contradiction when the government itself takes on these kinds of fascist vigilante ideas, when a philosophy that would fit better with a Third-World death squad become policy for the world's most powerful country. When those in power start acting as if they were little more than characters in a cheesy B-list action novel, that's something that's definitely worth being worried about.