on October 12, 2007
Not quite yet, but perhaps we're close. Naomi Wolf has written a book that fills a significant need at this point in our history. She sounds the call to warn American citizens...warn us that we may be slowly metamorphosing into that which we despise most: a country that bullies its citizens and is unaccountable to any recognized authority.
While some will see this book as alarmist --and reasonable people could debate this-- one of her points is undoubtedly true. That is, the decent into a repressive regime is slow and quiet. It usually does not come as an overnight announcement of martial law or suspension of elections. Instead, it happens over the course of years, so quietly that most may never notice until it's a fait accompli. Only then will people ask "how did this happen?".
Wolf compares and contrasts recent events in American history with those in Communist Russia, fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. This will undoubtedly put some readers off as any one of these references is a hot button that, once pushed, inflames blinding emotion. However, if you can get past that, the parallels are disquieting...even when read with a skeptical eye.
I hope that when I re-read this review in two years that I will be able to say that my concerns about torture, secret prisons, warrantless eavesdropping, a cowed media, and all the rest have faded away. If not, I'll have to acknowledge the prescience of Wolf's thesis.
on October 26, 2007
President Bush has carried on a century-long trend to its next step (which happens to be an horrendous one). My complaint about Naomi Wolfe is that she seems focused on President Bush, when really he is merely the latest figurehead in a generation-spanning agenda. Also, she ignores the complicity (and therefore the guilt) of Congress. Additionally, she claims that we are a democracy, and we are not: this is a constitutional republic. This is not merely semantics - a democracy does not have a rule book, just runs by the whims of the majority (in an ideal setting). A Constitutional Republic has a rule book, called the Constitution, and being a republic keeps the original rules somewhat intact unless a true majority is willing to work to change the rules (make amendments). On the other hand, she describes the realities of what happens to the relationship between the government and its people as a country or nation goes downhill. Those steps described were not made up by Ms. Wolfe. Many of those steps have been implemented in our country today. She is also inspiring to her listeners for she at least tells them that they can reverse this trend back toward freedom, which she is absolutely right when she says we are losing it faster than you can say "statism".
on September 17, 2007
I was thoroughly frightened by the content of this book, and truly hope others are as well. The path we are headed down in this country should be concerning to both Democrats and Republicans. Loss of our liberties will, after all, affect all of us. I would urge anyone who reads this to keep an open mind, and not immediately discard the message she is conveying simply because it focuses on troubling things being done by the current administration. These things would be troubling no matter which party the president belonged to. Being able to take a step back from blind party allegiance to actually see when there is a problem is a key factor in maintaining a healthy democracy. No leader deserves our blind allegiance, regardless of their political party affiliation. Our elected leaders should be accountable to us, not the other way around.
on October 14, 2007
This is a very frightening book. Frightening because it connects the current events of today with the events that led up to that mid-20th century horror of fascism, WWII, and the aftermath.
Drawing on history, from both European and other authoratarian risings, the author paints a grim picture of what could happen here. Ms. Wolf shows ten steps that all tyranical governments seem to enact in some order and shows the parallels between history and today. I became more and more chilled as I progressed down the chapters: Invoke a Internal & External Threat, Establish Secret Prisons, Develop a Paramilitary Force, Surveil Ordinary Citizens, Infiltrate Citizens' Groups, Arbitrarily Detain and Release Citizens, Target Key Individuals, Restrict The Press, Cast Criticism As "Espionage" And Dissent As "Treason", and Subvert The Rule Of Law. Sound like the headlines?
At times the author comes of as strident, but 14 pages of endnotes and 4 pages of bibliography make for a convincing case, as does her plain language and multiple examples.
I recommend this book for anyone who wants a view into what could happen or who just wants to avoid the worst case scenario that seems to be approaching if no one stands up to it. I have already ordered ten copies as Christmas presents.
on September 13, 2007
Americans have sadly taken democracy for granted. The author of this book sends a necessary letter of warning to get Americans to realize that the continuation of democracy depends on the participation and action of citizens. Ms. Wolf's book identifies 10 steps that have historically been used to shut down open societies and how those steps are currently being taken in our nation today. If you are thinking that sounds harsh, this book will surprise you with its research, argument and facts. If you've been feeling in recent years that something is just not right, Ms. Wolf cites historical examples and recent newspaper articles to demonstrate why you are sensing an erosion of rights and justice. This is a brave book and I applaud Ms. Wolf for caring enough about our country to write it. The American people have now been warned that our democracy is more delicate than we think. Time will tell if collectively people care enough to respond in a way that prevents the "fascist shift" Wolf outlines in this shocking new book.
on October 1, 2007
This is a simple, clear, and deeply alarming book.
Ms. Wolf looks to recent history to derive ten techniques that underpin dictatorships and police states. These are the basic ingredients that tyrants throughout the 20th century used to seize and keep control of their countries.
The ingredients are familiar and not surprising--frighten people by invoking an external and internal threat, establish secret prisons, set up a paramilitary force answerable only to the leader, place ordinary citizens under surveillance, add to the fear with arbitrary arrests and detentions, target actual and potential opponents, restrict the press, cast reporters and whistleblowers as spies and critics as traitors, and, in the end, substitute rule by decree for the rule of law.
Ms. Wolf systematically documents how far down this dangerous road the Bush administration, abetted by a rubber-stamp Congress, has pushed our nation.
We are not closing down Guantanamo, we're increasing its capacity. Blackwater and other paramilitary forces have free rein in Iraq, and, shockingly, contracts are in place for them to play an increasing role within the U.S. A new law is in place to remove control of the National Guard from the states and place it under federal control. Every newspaper reader is aware that the government has given itself the right to spy on ordinary citizens in a variety of ways, and continues to push for more. Through its policy of "special renditions" the government has "disappeared" a number of citizens of other countries, sending them to be interrogated and tortured in CIA-run "black sites" scattered around the world. Here at home, tens of thousands of citizens are on the Transportation Security Administration's secret watch list and are subject to repeated detention and searches when they try to fly. Many of these are people who have done nothing more than be active in groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union or other organizations that the Bush administration finds bothersome. The precipitous removal of Dan Rather is just one of many examples of increasing intimidation of the press. Congressmen and Senators have been accused by administration members of endangering our troops and the nation when they try to exercise their Constitutional oversight and legislative roles. Bush has issued an inordinate number of "signing documents" through which he claims the right to ignore or selectively enforce legislation passed by Congress. Fundamental rights such as habeas corpus--the right not to be arrested and detained without due cause and due process--are under attack.
Ms. Wolf makes and documents the case that the liberty that we cherish, and which has made American great, is under threat. She adds urgency to her plea by pointing out that while it often takes years for a would-be tyrant to put these ten ingredients into place, once they are there, once citizens become aware that voicing an opinion can lose them their job or get them arrested, once they know that their phone calls and emails are not secure, that groups they belong to are infiltrated by informers, that ordinary people can be arrested and held without due process, that agents of the government can do whatever they want with impunity, the final slide into a full-fledged police state can happen quickly.
It's up to each citizen to decide how far down this path our nation has been bullied, and whether or not to heed Ms. Wolf's call for action to stop the slide toward arbitrary rule. But at the very least, every citizen needs to know what is going on. Reading this book is a good place to start.
Wolf calls on both liberals and conservatives, on everyone who loves America and what America has always stood for, to take note and take action, before it's too late.
It's a call that deserves every patriot's urgent attention.
on October 5, 2007
Despite its subtitle, The End of America: A Letter of a Warning to a Young Patriot should be required reading for all American patriots regardless of age. Author Naomi Wolf has extensively researched to the rise of 20th century dictatorships in Germany, Russia, China, and Chile, and observed ten parallel steps that governments routinely take to guide the nation to a fascist takeover, and bring an end to any aspects of democracy. What is far more frightening than any horror novel is that the ten steps have been and continue to be applied here, in present-day America. One chilling example is step 2, "Create secret prisons where torture takes place," which is currently underway along with the current administration's assertion of the "right" to name any American citizen an "enemy combatant" and detain them indefinitely without trial. Also horrifying is step 3, "Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens," which is gradually being realized through the private service of Blackwater, a military force used by the American government in Iraq, that allegedly is prone to fire upon civilians and legally is not subject to military court-martial or Iraqi law. Wolf warns that daily life can appear to proceed normally as liberties crumble, until the instant that fascism takes power and the rule of law is suspended; to protect American liberty and democracy, citizens must act now - there is not one year, one month, one day to waste. Highly recommended.
on September 11, 2007
One of the classic findings of contemporary Psychology is the `hopelessness/helplessness' syndrome. The idea is that once a person has become conditioned to believe that no matter what they do, the outcome will be the same, they become overwhelmed with feelings of confusion, hopelessness, helplessness and apathy. Living in North America in the twenty first century is a study of this phenomenon. I experience this sense of helpless dread and its accompanying apathy every time I turn on the TV, listen to the radio or read the newspaper to hear yet again about our continuing loss of liberties and the tragedies that ensue as a result.
It was thus all the more refreshing to read Wolf's book "The End of America" and feel, much to my pleasant surprise, a rare sense of optimism at its conclusion. Using the same accessible and passionate voice that has made "The Beauty Myth" and "Misconceptions" bestsellers, Wolf eloquently argues that Americans are rapidly losing their liberties under the Bush regime and that the political tactics being used to implant these policies have historical parallels in other fascist dictatorships including Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Using example after example spanning from personal accounts of young jailed bloggers and peace activists to the very public crackdowns on dissidents like the Dixie chicks, to curtailing academic freedom in universities across the country, Wolf illustrates how our open, democratic society is being systemically shut down by the Bush administration.
The beauty of this book, however, lies not so much in its thoroughly researched and clearly articulated thesis, but in its ability to offer an optimistic alternative to the apathy that is plaguing the young patriots that this book addresses. Reading "The End of America", although seemingly depressing at first, is enlightening in its ability to offer its own thesis as an antidote to the trajectory America is on. It is only awareness of our own history and a clear sense of what is currently happening around us that can dismantle the governmental authority that is so threatening to us now. As Wolf writes, "..the founders did not mean for powerful men and women far away from the citizens or people with their own agendas or for a class of professionals to perform the patriots' tasks, or to protect freedom. They meant for us to do it: you, me, the American who delivers your mail, the one who teaches your kids" (p.5).
Wolf could not be more accurate in her statement. Psychology has taught us that the only way out of the helplessness/hopelessness cycle is by asserting control and recognizing that we have the power to change and shape our environment. In an era where nihilism and despair predominate, "The End of America" is a refreshing, accessible, passionate, timely and engaging guidebook to help us on our way.
on March 24, 2008
Naomi Wolf starts off this book in incredibly strong fashion, making the often forgotten point that liberty is not a self-sustaining state of nature for human beings; once freedom has been established, it needs to be nurtured and watched over if it is going to survive. That point alone makes this book worth reading. It is something that can't be said enough, yet is almost never said. Kudos to Wolf for bringing it up.
Wolf then goes into specifics about why she believes America's freedom is in jeopardy. She points out how many ways and on how many fronts the Bush administration has played very fast and loose with the Constitution of the United States. She makes a lot of good points and focuses in on what might be the most important criticism of the Bush Administration despite the fact that it isn't something we hear about much in the media. Again, kudos to Wolf.
But she quickly starts to undermine her own good thinking and hard work. She makes liberal use of analogies between the actions of the Bush Administration and the actions taken by the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. Some of them are actually well drawn and highly unsettling, but as the book goes on, she starts to stretch too frequently and it leads the reader to question her judgment on her first analogies which seemed solid on first reading.
Ultimately, a thoughtful reader will notice that every threat Wolf sees to America's freedom comes from Republicans and specifically the Bush Administration. You start to understand that Wolf seems truly concerned only about specific limitations on our freedoms from specific types of people. One point Wolf makes is that Bush has made appointments to education posts aimed at institutionalizing conservatism in American education and punishing liberal thought. As a college student of the 90s who skews more conservative, I had to smile. I was curious as to whether Wolf had been up in arms about the problems I'd experienced for voicing conservative economic views at an American university. I kind of doubt it.
Nowhere in this book does Wolf mention any of the threats to American liberty that come from the left. The founders of this country were terribly concerned about the tyranny of the majority and feared a pure democracy because it wouldn't protect the rights of the minority against the will of the majority. That's why they set up a republic. Wolf disturbingly uses the words "democracy" and "freedom" almost interchangeably. They are certainly not synonymous. Democrats in the United States regularly extend the umbrella of the Federal Government to cover things the founders never intended or plainly prohibited. This expansion of government authority is conveniently funded through taxes extracted with the threat of physical imprisonment at gunpoint and creates a huge base of power for politicians (like Bush) to abuse.
Protecting our freedom is one of the most important things to which an American voter can dedicate themselves. It is disheartening how infrequently we hear the media talk about the constant encroachments on our freedom by the federal government. Ultimately, this book reads as the writings of a Bush-hater who adopted freedom as her angle of attack rather than as a lover of freedom who worries about all threats to our liberty. That causes this book to fall well short of the important work it could have and should have been.
...will kill us all. At least that is what Naomi Wolf claims in this concise and powerful message about the end of America.
It was the Founding Fathers, she explains, who knew that democracy was "high maintenance" and would always be tested by those who would turn it into a tyranny. Having come from repressive societies, and well versed in the power grabs by despots and tyrants throughout history, they feared that an American President might be tempted to seize power unless checked by a vigilant legislature, judiciary, press, and society at large.
Moreover, she claims that it is relatively easy to seize power especially in a democracy because it is fragile in structure, and because we believe it could never happen to us. It begins with: "All dictators: invoke an external threat and [internal] threat; develop a paramilitary force, create a secret prison system, arbitrarily detain and release them; harass citizens' groups; target writers, entertainers, and other key individuals for dissenting; intimidate the press; recast dissent as 'treason' and criticism as 'espionage'; and eventually subvert the rule of law."
These techniques are not exclusive to right wing regimes, she contends. She illustrates how Stalin, Hitler, Communist China, Mussolini, and Pinochet, people with differing political philosophies all had two things in common. They wanted power, and they wanted to replace democracy with tyranny. No matter what part of the political spectrum they are from, she insists any president with increased power would be reluctant to give it up for the restoration of liberty.
Wolf convincingly shows how this administration has employed every tactic of a dictator. Indeed, they have created and nurtured a climate of fear after 9/11, allowed a paramilitary force such as "Blackwater" to operate with near impunity in Iraq and New Orleans. They have seized foreign nationals in our airports and rendered them to Syria, Egypt and other governments notorious for their "interrogations," as well as imprisoning American citizens without charge, or counsel, and tortured them. We are now being wiretapped and our emails read illegally. Entertainers and celebrities such as Bill Maher and the Dixie Chicks have been targeted. Maher had his show cancelled simply because he said the 9/11 terrorists were brave. Donahue had his top-rated show cancelled because he did not support the war, and many stations refused to air the songs of the Dixie Chicks for anti-Bush pronouncements. The message is clear to others who would criticize. This administration has already threatened the NY Times with a lawsuit for having published supposedly secret information. Any unfavorable press is denied the story or the seat up front. The Bush and Cheney team has also taken the charges of treason and raised it to an art form. Anyone who does not support the president is labeled as helping the terrorists, and as being more concerned about their rights than those of Americans. (This can be seen all over Amazon). But one of the most worrisome is the president's signing statements to bills. These statements were once only made for clarification. Now, Bush is using them to say what parts of the law he will recognize and what parts he will ignore. (He has done this over 750 times). Essentially he is saying that an equal branch of government may operate only in an advisory role to him.
With the exception of a few annoying lack of edits, Naomi Wolf uses the powerful lesson of history to show us how tyranny can happen in the one place that we think is immune to it, and she gives us all the parallels one could ask for.
The end of America will surely come. It may come from an external threat, but Wolf shows how easily it can come from within. All Americans have to do is give up liberty for the promise of security, and it will definitely arrive even sooner from apathy and ignorance.
Gore, Al, "The Assault on Reason."
Goldsmith, Jack L., "The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration."
Greenwald, Glenn, "How Would a President Act: Defending American Values from a President Run Amok."
Mann, Thomas E. & Ornstein, Norman, "The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track (Institutions of American Democracy)"
Dean, John W., "Conservatives Without Conscience."
Thomas, Helen, "Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public."
Boehlert, Eric, "How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."