In his July 4, 1821, address to Congress John Quincy Adams pointed out that America does not go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy.” His use of the term “monsters” encompassed brutal and tyrannical foreign dictators. While such monsters could always be found in nations all over the world, it would not be the responsibility of the U.S. government, Adams said, to send military and intelligence forces out to do something about them.
Today, the world continues to be filled with brutal and tyrannical dictators. However, there is now a big difference between the U.S. government of Adams’ time and the U.S. government of our time. Unlike our 19th-century American ancestors, modern-day Americans live under a national-security state apparatus, one whose mission, practically from its inception in 1947, is to serve as the world’s policeman, one who goes abroad in search of monsters to destroy.
This national-security state apparatus consists of three principal agencies: the U.S. military, the CIA, and the NSA. Arguably, these three agencies have grown into a fourth branch of the federal government and the most powerful branch at that. In the process, the national-security state has become the great destroyer of American freedom and privacy.
After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. officials immediately went on the offensive, claiming that the terrorists had been motivated by their hatred for America’s “freedom and values.” The notion that U.S. officials wanted to inculcate into the American people was that the U.S. government had done nothing to incite anger and hatred around the world and that the terrorists, out of envy, had just decided to select the United States as a target.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. Actually, the 9/11 attacks were rooted in anger and hatred for what the U.S. national-security state had done to people in the Middle East for years. After they lost the Soviet Union as an official enemy with the end of the Cold War, U.S. officials went into the Middle East and began searching for a monster to destroy. The monster that became the obsession of the national-security state throughout the 1990s was Saddam Hussein. During that decade, there was virtually no concern with communism, Islam, or terrorism. Everything was Saddam, Saddam, Saddam.
U.S. officials continually told us that Saddam was the new Hitler who was on a course to conquer the world through nuclear and biological warfare. In an attempt to oust the monster from power, the U.S. national security state bombed Iraq’s water-and-sewage treatment plants and then imposed one of the most brutal and deadly system of sanctions on Iraq in world history. Hundreds of thousands of children were dying of illnesses. When U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright was asked by Sixty Minutes whether the deaths of half-a-million children from the sanctions were “worth it,” she said yes. There was also the stationing of U.S. troops near the holiest lands of the Muslim religion, knowing full well the anger and resentment that would produce. There were also the deadly no-fly zones over Iraq. Also, the unconditional military and financial support of the Israeli government.
That’s what produced the deep anger and hatred that ultimately manifested themselves in the 9/11 attacks, along with the terrorist attacks before 9/11 (the USS Cole, the U.S. Embassies in East Africa, and the 1993 attack on the WTC) and, along with Gitmo, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the many drone assassinations, the terrorist attacks after 9/11. All that ongoing anger and hatred is rooted in the U.S. government’s search of monsters to destroy.
Now we have learned that the third agency of the national-security state, the NSA, has been conducting a super-secret surveillance scheme on the American people. What’s the justification? 9/11 and the threat of terrorism, the threat that is rooted in what the other two national-security state agencies—the CIA and the military—have been doing as they go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.
That’s not all. The 9/11 attacks and the “war on terrorism” are cited as the justification for a broad array of other totalitarian-like powers by national-security state agencies, including the power to take Americans into military custody, torture them, execute them, and assassinate them, all without due process of law and trial by jury.
That’s how the three agencies of the national-security state work in tandem to produce a permanent state of crisis, a perpetual war, and never-ceasing infringements on our freedom and privacy, not to mention ever-increasing budgets for this permanent and voracious warfare machine. It is one nice little racket.
Adams warned us if what would happen if Americans were ever to adopt a governmental system in which the government would go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. He said, “The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.”
James Madison issued a similar warning. He stated, “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence against foreign danger have always been the instruments of tyranny at home.” He also stated, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
Americans must choose: freedom or the national-security state. As our Founding Fathers and our American ancestors understood, we cannot have both.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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