Since the end of World War I, American conservatives have undergone some important changes in both belief and practice. Yet one recurring characteristic of those professing to be conservatives has been constant: Paranoia. When they have held governmental power, this has often led to abusive persecutional practices on their part. Many of these practices have made unnecessary victims of innocent people. I shall explain.
By its very nature, conservativism wishes to preserve law and order and all that which has been already established. It wishes to protect the population from outside harm and also from what it views as moral decay. It resists change for the sake of change, and it fights any challenge to the established order or hierarchy. So far so good, from the standpoint of preservation. But when conservatives have allowed fear and emotion rather than concrete analysis to shape their thinking and formulate their policy, time and again they have employed political persecution against those who don't see eye to eye with them. That is where they have repeatedly broken the boundary of acceptable practice.
Near the end of World War I, the Bolsheviks gained power in Russia and established their communist state, the Soviet Union. This sent chills up and down the spines of many American industrialists, manufacturers, and even some members of the press. Small time criminals and professed anarchists were rounded up and imprisoned or executed, some of them deservedly so, but some perhaps not. All it took was the label of "anarchist" or "Bolshevik" to turn public and judicial opinion against an individual and ruin his standing or career. American conservatives applied this labeling technique with great zeal.
Following World War II, communists gained control of China and the Soviet Union began its strict control of the smaller countries of eastern Europe. Worse yet, it began to export revolution and even developed its own atomic bomb, an event which shocked and terrified the entire U.S. In 1950, with Russia's backing, communist North Korea attacked capitalist South Korea and nearly overran the whole country before U.S. and United Nations forces pushed the North Koreans back. Before long, wild allegations and accusations of hidden communists in our government betraying secrets began to circulate and were spread with reckless abandon by conservatives. One notable conservative, Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), claimed to have a list of active communists and "fellow travelers" (those unwittingly or naively aiding communists) working within our State Department. Paranoia spread like wildfire as McCarthy and his fellow conservatives began making allegations of communists under every bed. The Republican Party began a campaign of trying to paint all Democratic opponents as being "soft on Communism" and therefoore a threat to our national security, using this charge as a tool to get elected. While there WERE a very small number of spies in our government at the time, most of those accused had been active much earlier, in the 1930s and 1940s, and by the 1950s were out of government. Many of those accused were innocent, and nearly all were blacklisted from jobs and suffered terrible economic losses because of wild and reckless allegations made by McCarthy and his conservative allies. When McCarthy next accused the U.S. Army of being full of communists, he was finally exposed for the demagogic fraud he truly was, and his and the conservatives' influence waned. But by then, their paranoia and persecution had wrought untold suffering.
Today, we are once again seeing much the same fearmongering and paranoia being exhibited by American conserevatives as in the past. Instead of anarchists or communists under every bed, they are now finding "terrorists" under every bed. Those publicly disagreeing with the conservative political stand now find themselves wiretapped or unable to board airplanes. Their patriotism is questioned. In extreme cases, some being suspected of having "terrorist ties" have even been yanked off of foreign streets and flown to foreign interrogation and/or torture centers without being charged officially. Some have even ended up prisoners in Guantanamo, and all have been unable to defend themselves. None have received a proper trial. This represents an outright repeal of habeas corpus rights which were first establ,ished in western law by England's King John all the way back in 1215! The victims of these excesses by the current conservative Bush administration have even included two wholly innocent foreign nationals. Once again, conservative paranoia has crossed an unacceptable line, and again, it is high time this paranoia be replaced immediately wuth reason and justice.
Next week: The Metamorphisis of American Conservativism
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