Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The End of America, The Book Review

I referenced the book The End of America a few weeks ago in a letter to the NYTimes that I posted here at WDNC. As I said at that time, there is much more to be said about this book. Author Naomi Wolf has been doing the talk show circuit and also posting essays at Huffington Post and Daily Kos. I have a collection of those links coming soon. Below is the book review I wrote in the new issue of the Journal (it is not yet online but I'll post an update with the link when it is available).


"The End of America:
Letter of Warning To a Young Patriot
by Naomi Wolf

North Coast Journal Book Review
By Dave Berman

World renowned feminist and best-selling author of the landmark "The Beauty Myth," Naomi Wolf is back with "The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot," a brief 155-page look at the historical patterns found in all dictatorial regimes. Extensively footnoted, this book draws out astounding parallels between Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Pinochet and more. Laid against the backdrop of 21st century America, Wolf shows those currently in power have followed the playbook closely.

Wolf refers to "historical echoes" when describing such recurrent totalitarian manifestations as secret prisons, mercenary or paramilitary forces, surveillance of ordinary citizens and infiltration of their organizations, restrictions on the press, and speech in general, arbitrary detainment and release of citizens, evocation of a constant internal and external threat, allegations of espionage and treason at critics and dissenters, and subverting the rule of law.

This book is very much the warning the subtitle promises. The introduction of such authoritarian practices typically occurs gradually, and in a similar sequence. Wolf calls this the "fascist shift" and describes tell-tale signs that an open democratic society is being closed down. In other words, you know your government's gone fascist when...

Many in Humboldt know we're already there. "The End of America" provides great context for helping evolve the thinking of un-like-minded neighbors. Thomas Paine, author of the seminal American revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense, wrote that not everyone will recognize the need for revolution simultaneously. There have to be people who get it first and then help others to see. For those who already understand, Wolf offers compelling if not exhaustive material ideal for reframing understanding of the changes our country has undertaken, in our name and without our consent.

For the folks at the other end of the spectrum, the ones who think this premise is exaggerated and inapplicable to present-day America, there is precedent for this. Another echo Wolf traces is the intentionally blurred definition of truth and reality. Fascist governments work hard at perception management, influencing or controlling media, propagandizing, adopting laws that do the opposite what they purport to do. This is never expected to create uniform belief but to disorient and confuse, divisively inhibiting resistance.

What Wolf offers the doubters is a calm and rational assessment of well researched facts and anecdotes, with sources for confirmation. The book is a warning and Wolf's concern comes through genuine and true without being shrill or off-putting to readers perhaps still struggling to admit the extent of America's fascist shift. The hope she conveys is that it is not too late and Americans can come together to restore the Constitution, the rule of law, and the freedoms and liberties envisioned by the Founders.


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Monday, October 22, 2007

Death of a President - What Would You Do?

"Death of a President" is the name of a movie that came out in 2006 and won the International Critics' Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. I had never heard of this film before last week but I have since watched it and recommend it. The DVD case I got at the video store summarizes the film: "Death of a President is a fictional 2008 TV documentary broadcast on the assassination of President George W. Bush on October 19, 2007."

Needless to say that didn't happen and this writing, of course, is in no way a threat to anyone. This isn't really going to be a movie review, but I will say the film is a suspenseful thriller, quite amazing in its production values. Bush, Cheney, Rice and other real life villains are represented with seemingly undoctored real world video clips. This makes the "mockumentary" easily believable.

When I first heard about this movie, just its premise, I became particularly interested in a scene I imagined would inevitably be a part of the film. See today's subject. What would you do?

I remember after 9/11 there was propaganda shown on American TVs depicting Arabs dancing and celebrating. It was later revealed that the footage was from some other time and in no way a response to 9/11. [NOTE: I was subsequently informed disputes this. Please draw your own conclusions.]

"Death of a President" is so realistic that this question loomed larger and larger as I awaited the violent scene. It took a few minutes past that point before word reaches protesters spread out across an enormous intersection and onto a major road with stand-still traffic. As one shouts to another and so on cheers and horn honks erupted. What would you do?

I've said many times that we have to protect ourselves from our government. Despite that I don't often write about my fears. I will say today that the question presented in this essay is one I've wondered for a long time but never felt safe enough to write about it. I suppose the bravery needed to make such a film has inspired me, at least to use the film as context for presenting my stifled question.

This question, now that I'm finally exploring it, is morbid and grotesque. That's no excuse to ignore it. Imagining the reaction is not the same as wanting the situation to exist. I do not want anyone to be assassinated.

It must also be a credit to this film that it could evoke a visceral response in me, one of sadness at that. The shooting scene and the initial news briefs do what all good movies do, which is manipulate the viewer's emotions. I wonder what this says about how I would react to such news were it real? What would you do?


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