From: John Perry Barlow []
Sent: Thursday, October 17, 2002 2:30 AM
To: John Perry Barlow
Subject: BarlowFriendz 8.8: Pox Americana



    /_              _\
                              --------->  B a R L o W F R i e N D Z ----->

------------------------------>  -------------------> -------->

1. What Has Happened.
2. Why This Has Happened.
3. What We Might Do About It Now.



My old pal Mitch Kapor said years ago that what I needed was a "hyperbolectomy." Were such a procedure to exist, this would probably be a good time to get one, since I suddenly find myself incapable of discussing the present state of the American Experiment without veering off into Very Large Statements.

With that admonition in mind, I hope that you will continue to read this rant, adjusting it to your own reality settings. This is just how bad it looks to me. From my perspective, this is not hyperbolic at all.

I believe that the American Republic died in the U.S. Senate last Thursday morning and was buried yesterday morning in the East Room of the White House.

Despite a deluge of calls, letters, and e-mails, which Capital Hill staffers admitted ran overwhelmingly against the ludicrously-named "Resolution Authorizing the President to Use Force, if Necessary, to End the Threat to World Peace from Saddam Hussein's Weapons of Mass Destruction," Congress extended to George II the authority to make unlimited and preemptive war against another nation that has neither attacked us nor shown the ability or inclination to do so.

(Thank you, by the way, for your own contributions to this flood of futile dissent. They may have ignored you, but you will sleep better for knowing that you were not one of the "silent Germans.")

The resolution was deemed necessary on several grounds.

Despite the fact that we have been exposed to far worse during our history - whether by Bloody Old England, the Kaiser, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union, Red China, or, hell, France on a bad day - we have never before declared war without being attacked nor have we extended an American President the right to do so at his pleasure.

The dangerous possibility of such behavior was explicitly foreseen by the architects of the American Republic when they designed the Consitution. As James Madison declared in a letter to James Monroe:

The only case in which the Executive can enter on a war, undeclared by Congress, is when a state of war has 'been actually' produced by the conduct of another power, and then it ought to be made known as soon as possible to the Department charged with the war power.

Their reasons were eloquently restated by Abraham Lincoln in an 1848 letter to his law partner, William H. Herndon. Herndon had suggested that the United States would be prudent to attack Mexico before they attacked us, as they clearly appeared willing to do. Lincoln replied:

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose - - and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us' but he will say to you 'be silent; I see it, if you don't.'

The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.
Robert Byrd quoted that passage in his brilliantly Quixotic speech to the Senate last week. The Senate ignored him as easily as they ignored you and millions of others who believe in American principles.

And now we have a King, George II, where presidents have always stood.

Today, as he signed his coronation decree, he lied, "I have not ordered the use of force. I hope the use of force will not become necessary."

But, folks, he *has* ordered the use of force and began doing so shortly after seizing office. Though you'd scarcely know it to read the papers, we've been bombing the crap out of Southern Iraq since February 16, 2001, when we hit five radar installations in the vicinity of Baghdad. Since then, the bombing has been increasing steadily. There have been 48 bombing raids south of the "no-fly zone" so far this year. Iraq claims that 1300 civilians have been killed in these bombings - and, while I doubt that number, many of these casualties have been confirmed by international observers. I'll bet the last thing those innocent wretches saw looked a lot like force to them.

It is not simply that we have made a Caesar of Bush, we have, in effect, assented to allowing him the entire world as his Empire.

What this resolution is truly about is the elimination of all sovereignty but our own. This is about our becoming the Dad of the World. Having declared ourselves immune from international prosecution for war crimes, we have proposed our right to disregard the sovereignty of any country that, in our opinion, doesn't deserve it.

If another country harbors people we regard as terrorists, they have forfeited their sovereignty. If they cobble together a few of the weapons we possess in stupefying abundance, we will cross their borders and disarm them by force. Indeed, if they do anything that might eventually, left to develop unchecked, threaten American interests, we will stop them as brutally as we must.

These statements are not merely polemical on my part. They are American policy.

On September 20, the Bush Administration released its National Security Strategy. You can find it at It speaks plainly of American  "convincing or compelling states to accept their sovereign responsibilities." According to whom?

In other words, Nations of the World, if you don't make smart choices, you will just have to accept that there will be consequences. Now go clean your rooms.

Reading this document, which makes ironic use of the word "freedom" every third sentence or so, one begins to imagine the United States as the jut-jawed marshal, patrolling the world's mean streets, showing the lonely courage that is the sinew of virtue.

But as a fellow Wyomingite, Don Cooper, wrote me after my last rant, the metaphor is horribly flawed. The Code of the West required proof of guilt and threats made bad. The scoundrels actually had to actually raise hell before the marshal took up arms against them.

What we are doing in Iraq is more like this, to quote Cooper:

A storekeeper is sweeping the wooden sidewalk in front of his shop and sees a rough stranger approaching. He runs across the street to the Marshal's office crying out and waving his broom in the air. The Marshal comes out, asking what all the fuss is about. 'It's a bad guy ridin' into town, Marshal. I can tell he's up to no good. Got that look about him. Word is he is planning to rob the bank, steal a horse, burn down the church and slap a barmaid.' The Marshal is aghast, 'Well, not in my town he ain't!' The Marshal grabs his shotgun and waits out in front of the saloon. When the stranger rides up, the Marshal levels his shotgun and blows him off his horse.

This isn't American. It's chickenshit.

I feared it would come to this when I realized, ten years ago, that we were the last credible superpower left on the planet. But Bill Clinton, whatever his manifold weaknesses, knew that if we were were to possess such towering power, we would have to wield it with the humility necessary to create moral as well as military force.

He might have had a zipper as slick as his tongue, but he was not facile when it came to deploying more lethal weapons. Furthermore, Bill Clinton knew himself to be an unlikely instrument for Almighty God. I suspect Clinton secretly hopes there isn't One.

But George II has been working for the Lord ever since he was divinely instructed some years back to stop snorting blow. He knows that God wants us to have oil and that the world's second largest petroleum reserves are not to be entrusted to a people whose divine messenger was, to quote Jerry Falwell, "a terrorist."

I don't think that our new Emperor is an evil man. But he has the kind of unquestioning belief in his own virtue that is the richest loam for growing evil. He is simply too weak to possess this kind of power without misusing it. And now we have removed all the Constitutional impediments that might have checked his hubris. We have thrown ourselves on the mercy of a conscience too clear to be reliable.



How has this tragedy happened?

Why have Americans - whom I still believe are, in their essence, a decent people - allowed themselves to become complicit with such monstrosity.

It's because the terrorists won. Through incredibly deft manipulation of  our media, encouraging that which is worst in our government, they have already inflicted astonishing casualties on the American mind.

Wherever he may be, I hope the ghost of George Orwell is up to date on contemporary American politics. If he is, I'll bet he's having a swell time.

I could give you a million examples of what I'm talking about, but I'll tell you a story instead.

A couple of weeks back, I was asked to do a brief live interview on MSNBC, the result of a piece I wrote which appears in the current Forbes ASAP on the irremediable failure of the American intelligence system. (You will find it at and I will spam you the longer version sometime soon).

I had misgivings about doing this, since I think television is very bad for you, no matter which side of the camera you're on. But, since one of my many missions is trying inspire an intelligence system that actually increases political understanding, I figured I would seize whatever silly pulpit they briefly provided me.

They put me in a dark little room with a huge camera and a monitor that was displaying the current out-going feed from MSNBC. They wired me up and I waited for my cue, with nothing to do but watch the tube and try to keep myself from hallucinating as a result.

There ensued a series of events that compelled me to watch a stream of televised news longer than any I've seen since 911. (When it became obvious, once and for all, that there was no viewing level that wasn't inimical to clear thought.)

Like so many other bad things, it was Bush's fault. After I was all wired up and seated in involuntary viewing mode, I was suddenly preempted by an informal press briefing from the Cabinet Room.

There, apparently sitting across the desk from me, was our still unannointed Monarch. I sat there in speechless awe as he said, among other astonishing things, that we might have to attack Iraq in order to preserve peace.

That's right. We must start a war that there might have peace.
When the anchors came back on after the press briefing, they made absolutely no note of the surreal logic we'd all been exposed to. It made sense to them, I guess.

Nor did they make any mention of the the Malaprop Effect, such as when the Resident said, "He [Saddam] faces a true threat to the U.S," and didn't stop to correct himself. (And, indeed, didn't even appear to notice.)

Then we got back to "the news."  All of it was straight out of 1984. Saddam Hussein has always been the object of the Two Minute Hate. Osama bin Laden was never our Emmanuel Goldstein.

The anchor-bimbo actually hissed whenever she uttered Saddam's name, and she did so involuntarily. I remembered the line from Orwell's novel, "The horrible thing about the Two Minute Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in." I managed not to.

There was plenty more Newspeak to follow. For example, practically everyone who spoke, anchor or civilian, used the phrase "weapons of mass destruction," as if they knew what they were talking about. I don't think they do.

What this insidious phrase does is to equate biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons in their degrees of lethality. But, as I said before, there is a vast difference between a cylinder of poisonous gas and a 5 megaton thermonuclear bomb. The former is easy to make but very hard to deliver in any massively destructive way. The latter is hard to make and easy to deliver, at least over short distances. But when it arrives, it doesn't just kill a few hundred commuters.

(Actually the latter is not terribly hard to make. I could probably do it with a good machine shop and a hundred kilos of weapons grade Plutonium. Making weapons grade Plutonium is very hard, but fortunately for the evil-doers, the U.S. and Russia have already manufactured so much of this vile stuff over the last 57 years that Iraq could, if it wanted to, probably pick it up from the right Russians simply by signing a few subrosa oil contracts.)

Never mind that. My point is, we're not thinking about these things to that level of detail. We're thinking things like "Weapons of mass destruction, bad. Iraq, bad. America, good." Or Eurasia, bad. Oceania, good.

We're also accepting rather blandly American support for a brutal military dictatorship in Pakistan which really *does* have nuclear weapons as well as the means to deliver them quite a distance. Why are we not disarming Pakistan? Why, for that matter, are we not disarming France? Or, perish the thought, ourselves?

I observed with mounting anxiety the way in which the "news" I watched that morning was subtly but continuously slanted to support the war.

For example, while reporting a story regarding considerable Labor Party unrest over Blair's support of Bush, one of the anchors casually (and rhetorically) asked, "But isn't that just the old Socialist wing of Labor coming back to life?" The question hung in the air like a mild mind toxin while they rushed off to the next bit of gory footage.
This involved a deranged person who had tried to slit the throat of a Greyhouse bus driver in California with a pair of scissors, causing him to veer off I-5. There were a number of vivid injuries for the cameras to feed on. One of the anchors asked about the attacker, a Mexican-American, "Do we know if this guy has any terrorist connections?"
Now is a time to think clearly. But the government and the media are mutilating the very structure of rational thought by attacking the language. Noam Chomsky was and is right about this.

Even the more reliable media, like, say, the New York Times, are editing reality  in a dangerous way.

For example, somewhere between 15,000 and 30,000 people spontaneously gathered in Central Park on October 6 and it barely made the papers. What few stories did appear placed a distorted emphasis that some of the bullhorn wielders had made anti-semitic remarks.

It's no wonder that many of us have been brain-washed into an uneasy stupor. You are what you watch.

But what about the millions of us who are agitated as hell about this?  I know lots of different people, and they aren't all seditious scum like me. Hell, I come from Pinedale, Wyoming, the most conservative place in the non-Islamic world. And yet about one in a hundred people that I talk to approves of what's going on. Why don't we matter anymore?

It pains me deeply to say this, but I think that part of the problem may be the Internet.

A lot of what's wrong may be the very sort of thing you're reading right now.

The Internet, has, as expected, provided a global podium to everyone with an opinion. Cyberspace has become an infinite set of street corners, each with its lonely pamphleteer, howling his rage to a multitude all too busy howling their own to listen.

All of our energy goes into things like this BarlowSpam, energies that might be better spent in creating traditional blocs like the NRA, or the AARP, or some large group capable of either buying Congress or scaring the shit out of them. This screed won't scare an elected official anywhere. And it wouldn't generate enough money to elect or defeat a dogcatcher.

As much as I loathe organizations, we need to organize.

And we'd better start doing it now before the Empire decides it's necessary to declare a National Emergency and make it lethally illegal to oppose it. It could get that bad.

Or it might get oddly worse than that. The Empire has discovered something important. The best way to deal with us is to ignore us altogether, as they did last Thursday. Our calls and letters had no effect whatever.

But those were the acts of citizens. In an Empire, there are no citizens, only subjects.

Empires in the past found it expedient to jail, torture, and execute recalcitrant subjects. This one has learned that you can get a lot further with less trouble simply by pretending that the opposition doesn't exist.

These arrogant bastards are so persuaded of their sublime duties to God and Exxon that they no longer need concern themselves with public outrage or even, I shudder to say, elections.

Let us prove them wrong. We must make ourselves painfully visible to them.




What is to be done?
Well, for a start, I recommend that wherever you are in the world, you should pick an arbitrary public location in your area, call or e-mail everyone you know who feels as you do about this madness, and ask them to meet there at 11:00 am on Saturday, October 26.

Ask them also to call or e-mail everyone *they* know with the same message. Thanks to what my friend Howard Rheingold calls "smart mobs," a lot of people can gather very quickly this way. The microwave threads between cell phones can be like formic acid for ants. Make an instant electronic hive of humanity.

Be very peaceable and difficult to provoke, but don't worry about getting a permit. If no one's in charge, there's no one to hold accountable.

In Washington, DC and San Francisco, those locations have already been chosen. They are:
In DC -

Constitution Gardens adjacent to the
Vietnam Veterans War Memorial
21st St. & Constitution Ave. NW

In San Francisco -

Justin Herman Plaza
Market and Embarcadero

Unfortunately, there is a problem. And, as someone who went through this in the 60's, it's one I'm very familiar with.

The organization that nominated these two locations, International A.N.S.W.E.R.
(Act Now to Stop War & End Racism), is an honest-to-god Communist front. I'm not kidding. It is to the left of Mao. It is also virulently anti-semitic, and appears to be saddling up the wild horse of war opposition to pursue a lot of causes most you probably don't support, like Shining Path in Peru.

It is so radical that I almost wonder if it isn't a set of agents provocateurs created by the Empire to discredit the whole peace movement.

I also know that, after the poem I asked you all to read aloud, many of you concluded that I was also of this general political slant. But I am not a leftist propagandist. Hell, I was still a Republican until George II forced me to declare myself the obvious, an Independent.

I didn't write that poem. Had I done so, it certainly would have included an aeon of silence for the 50 million killed by Communism under Stalin and Mao, a millennium of silence for the many millions of Jews slaughtered by everyone from Goliath and his Philistines to Hezbolleh. I would have mentioned the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, the Hutus and the Tutsis. The poem was clearly leftist propaganda. Still, I felt it made a start on it. We could mourn the remaining blanks ourselves.

I got a lot of angry mail back regarding precisely these kinds of omissions and the rote socialism of its rhetoric.

I am very concerned that people will not engage in these gatherings, or that they will be easily misinterpreted, once they perceive these same qualities in A.N.S.W.E.R.

But I say it doesn't matter who names the gathering point. Wherever we normally reside in the political spectrum, this is not about the left wing or the right wing. It's about how to stop these wing-nuts from turning the world into a military playground for the Fortune 500. It's not about ideology. It's about human decency and common sense. The important thing is that we all get together in such numbers that the ideologues of A.N.S.W.E.R. will be but a small part of something so big that neither the media nor the Empire can ignore us.

I also recommend against speeches, though I suspect they are unavoidable in Washington and San Francisco. The less said the better. What do we need to say? We know how we feel. We don't need to be told.

So, even though I have grave misgivings about the organizers of the gatherings in DC and San Francisco, we can come together in such overwhelming diversity that there can be no party line aside from a love of peace, liberty, and the right of all nations to determine their destinies without American imposition.

The second thing I recommend we all do is vote. I know many of you gave up on this a long time ago, for which dereliction of citizen's duty you are getting exactly the government you deserve. But there's still time. Many states permit registration right down to the wire.

I particularly hope you will vote heavily against everyone who supported this treasonous resolution, no matter how enlightened they appeared before. Right now, a weakling with good intentions is worse than an outright Facist.

They didn't listen to your phone calls or letters. Let them now hear your silent voice speaking from the voting booth.

You should also organize on behalf of everyone who had the courage to resist it. Give money and time to their campaigns. Write letters to their local newspapers, expressing your support for them and praising them for their courage on behalf of the Constitution.

Right now, I agree absolutely with George Bush on one thing. One is either with him or against him. I am against him. As Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Lincoln would have been.

And if that makes me a terrorist, I am proud to be one.   

Be Free,


John Perry Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
Co-Founder & Vice Chairman, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Berkman Fellow, Harvard Law School
Home(stead) Page:

[snip --XJ]

The resolution before us today is not only a product of haste; it is also a
product of presidential hubris.  This resolution is breathtaking in its
scope.  It redefines the nature of defense, and reinterprets the Constitution
to suit the will of the Executive Branch. It would give the President blanket
authority to launch a unilateral preemptive attack on a sovereign nation that
is perceived to be a threat to the United States.  This is an unprecedented
and unfounded interpretation of the President's authority under the
Constitution,  not to mention the fact that it stands the charter of the
United Nations on its head. 

-- Senator Robert Byrd to the Senate, October 3, 2002