T he New York Times recently published a story about China that reveals, indirectly, the revolutionary transformation of the U.S. government that occurred at the end of World War II. The article focuses on the nature of the Chinese communist state as a “national-security state” and points out that that “national security” laws are being used to maintain the communist regime’s grip on power.
In what might be construed as an attempt to distinguish the national-security nature of the U.S. government, the author of the article, Edward Wong, opens the article by stating,
China’s new national security law, released in draft form this month, has little to say about such traditional security matters as military power, counterespionage or defending the nation’s borders. Instead, to the surprise and alarm of many here, it reads more like a Communist Party ideology paper and a call to arms aimed at defending the party’s grip on power.
In his Farewell Address in 1961, President Eisenhower observed how the U.S. military-industrial complex had fundamentally altered America’s governmental structure. This shouldn’t have been any big surprise. At the end of World War II, there were those who argued that America had to undergo a fundamental restructuring of America’s constitutional system to oppose America’s World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union, in what was termed a “cold war.”
One big problem with that notion, however, was that a national-security apparatus — one consisting of a vast permanent military establishment and a secretive intelligence agency with omnipotent powers — was a governmental structure that was inherent to totalitarian regimes. It goes without saying that a totalitarian-like apparatus doesn’t exactly mesh well with a government of limited powers which the Constitution originally called into existence.
That’s why Ike, in his Farewell Address, pointed out that this apparatus posed a grave threat to the liberties and democratic processes of the American people — much as the same apparatus poses a similar threat to the liberties and democratic processes of the Chinese people.
But the argument was that in order to defeat the totalitarian regime of the Soviet Union in the Cold War, it was necessary for the United States to adopt a the same type of totalitarian structure that the Soviet Union had — i.e., a national-security apparatus consisting of an enormous permanent military establishment and a secretive governmental agency with such omnipotent powers as assassination, kidnapping, torture, regime-change operations, invasions, coups, and the like.
Keep in mind that during all previous wars, the U.S. government had demobilized its wartime armies, discharging most of the soldiers into the private sector and leaving a very small military force as part of the executive branch of government. That policy was consistent with the deep antipathy toward standing armies that was held by the Framers, the Founding Fathers, and our American ancestors. It’s not a coincidence that the Constitution failed to provide U.S. officials with the power to establish standing armies and secretive agencies with omnipotent powers in times of peace.
That’s why the adoption of a national-security state at the end of World War II was so revolutionary. That’s why Ike pointed out in his Farewell Address that it was entirely new to the American way of life.
What all too many Americans unfortunately fail to realize is that that new-fangled apparatus, which was adopted without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment, fundamentally altered both America’s governmental structure and American society.
The military, the CIA, and the NSA effectively became the fourth branch of the federal government and most powerful branch of the four. As Michael J. Glennon points out in his book National Security and Double Government, while the real power in Washington resides in the military, the CIA, and the NSA, they permit the other three branches to maintain the same aura of authority that they had from the founding of the United States up to World War II. In that way, the American people can be deceptively made to feel that everything is the same as it always has been.
The irony is that in the process of opposing the Soviets, the national-security branch caused the U.S. government to resemble the totalitarian regime it was opposing.
Imagine: conducting medical experimentation on unsuspecting Americans … and then intentionally destroying all the records of such experiments once Congress discovered what was going on, so that the American people wouldn’t learn the details.
Imagine: ousting democratically elected regimes in foreign countries and intentionally lying about the U.S. government’s role in such operations.
Imagine: Secret kidnappings and secret assassinations against foreign government officials who had done nothing more than believe in socialism, communism, or some other unapproved ism or who had simply stood in the way of a secret U.S. regime-change operation.
Imagine: Secretly hiring people into America’s governmental structure who had previously served as officials in the government of America’s World War II enemy, Nazi Germany.
How is any of that consistent with the principles of liberty and a constitutional republic envisioned by America’s Founding Fathers?
Equally important, the national-security state also changed the American people.
It certainly subverted the conscience of the American people, as manifested by their complete deference to whatever the national-security state was doing in the name of the Cold War and “anti-communism” and, now, what the national-security state does in the name of the “war on terrorism.”
It caused Americans to live the “life of the lie” — the life that holds that Americans continue to live in a free country notwithstanding the fact that a large portion of their government consists of the same totalitarian-like, national-security edifice that forms the basis of totalitarian regimes, such as those in China and the Soviet Union.
It induced Americans to accept any and all infringements on their freedom and privacy in the name of “keeping them safe” — safe from enemies that have been produced by the interventionist foreign policies of the U.S. national-security state.
It gave rise to the culture of militarism throughout America — a malignant cancer that continues to spread through the entire body politic today, corroding and perverting churches, sporting events, airports, and just about every other facet of American life. In the process of glorifying the troops, who form the primary enforcement arm of the national-security state, Americans have elevated the national-security branch of the federal government to the level of a god.
Notice one other important thing: When the Cold War ended, the national-security apparatus that had been grafted onto America’s governmental system to fight the Cold War didn’t end. Instead, the national-security establishment figured out a way — i.e., its “war on terrorism” — to maintain and even expand its overarching power within the federal government. That’s because the aim of the national-security apparatus, like its counterpart in China, has never been about “freedom” or “security” but instead has always been about maintaining its grip on power.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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