As a student of American history and politics, in my lifetime I’ve witnessed a dangerous erosion of civil and personal liberties. Such an erosion is the hallmark of fascism. Back in the 1970s and ‘80s when my father was stationed in Berlin, he often discussed the totalitarian police state the East Germans created as a means of keeping its people in line. He often remarked about the ease with which plain clothes and uniformed police officers moved through and among the population because the people accepted it as part of keeping them safe from terrorists (sound familiar?), or in their words, outside aggression from “capitalist pigs.”
One thing he discussed at great length was how the East German government back then instilled within its population the notion of how keeping the borders safe was both for the common good and part of national pride. But the presence of a police state to keep everyone “safe” came at great cost to personal liberties as reflected in the constant surveillance of East Germans. Moreover, since its government spent most of its money defending its borders and on maintaining such a large police force, East Germans enjoyed little material comfort and poor quality goods and services in comparison to their West German counterparts.
I am now witness to the rise of an American totalitarian state that parallels that of Eastern Germany. Events in Oakland, California and Ferguson, Missouri bear this out with the increase in the militarization of local and state police. The US Congress authorized to these municipalities the sale of surplus military materiel to suppress gang and drug proliferation; however, such hardware found itself in local school districts in the aftermath of school shootings, thus militarizing local police forces.
Quite honestly, it is very heavy handed to call law enforcement on mischievous grade school children or even sentence high school students to misdemeanor crimes when the adults who run the schools can discipline the wayward children. Add to that the unfortunate reality in the US that police routinely target ethnic groups as subjects for gang and drug related crimes because American society has economically marginalized and politically disenfranchised them. Combined with the militarization of our law enforcement at the school and local levels, this ethnic profiling is evidence of an authoritarian police state.
It’s true that emergent American fascism does not draw its inspiration from Hitler’s Germany or from Mussolini’s Italy. But it’s also true that we can no longer pigeonhole fascism, an economic and political ideology, to a Second World War philosophy against which our country pledged to fight according to revisionist history. Fascism continued long after the regimes of both Hitler and Mussolini entered into the history books. One only needs to review the lessons of Franco’s Spain (1936-1975), Salazar’s Portugal (1932-1974), and most ominously Pinochet’s Chile (1973-1990), all of which the United States provided military materiel, logistical support, and financial assistance in the name of fighting “communism.”
Speaking of communism, I remember the waning days of East Germany before the wall came down, since my dad and family were stationed in the then-divided city of Berlin. Personal freedom was an expendable commodity sacrificed for the greater good of the State. Civil liberties were non-existent as each person contributed to doing their part in maintaining societal norms, by custom or by law. The secret police, the dreaded Stasi, monitored everyone (or so East Germans feared), locking up anyone who threatened the power of the state.
What saddens me greatly is that the United States now resembles the East Germany I witnessed in the 1980s. I never thought I’d see this happening in my lifetime, and neither did you.
KokonutGrove is the pseudonym of a student of American politics and a concerned U.S. citizen.