From: John Perry Barlow [email@example.com]
October 17, 2002 2:30 AM
To: John Perry Barlow
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.
THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC IS DEAD. HAIL THE AMERICAN EMPIRE. OR ELSE.
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
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
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
(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.
- Iraq possesses and is developing weapons of mass destruction - an
unquestioned if Orwellian phrase that makes no qualitative distinction between
a hundred pounds of spoiled hamburger and a 50 megaton bomb.
- Iraq has flouted a number of U.N. resolutions and international accords
regarding such weapons, many of which the United States has also ignored or
- A member of Al-Queda is thought to have visited Iraq.
- Iraq has shown a willingness to use military force in the Middle East,
again, not unlike ourselves.
- Saddam Hussein is a real son-of-a-bitch who is easier to find than Osama
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
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
These statements are not merely polemical on my part. They are American
On September 20, the Bush Administration released its National Security
Strategy. You can find it at http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.pdf. 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
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
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
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
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.
PEACE IS WAR, LOVE IS HATE
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
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
http://www.forbes.com/asap/2002/1007/042.html 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
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
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
(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
I observed with mounting anxiety the way in which the
"news" I watched that morning was subtly but continuously slanted to support the
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
A lot of what's wrong may be the very sort of thing you're reading right
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,
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
COME TOGETHER WHEREVER, OCTOBER 26, 11:00 AM.
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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.
Barlow, Cognitive Dissident
Co-Founder & Vice Chairman, Electronic
Berkman Fellow, Harvard Law
resolution before us today is not only a product of haste; it is also
product of presidential hubris. This resolution is breathtaking in
scope. It redefines the nature of defense, and reinterprets the
to suit the will of the Executive Branch. It would give the
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,