As is my custom, I went across the street to Starbucks yesterday and bought the Saturday Pravda-on-the-Hudson, which is what I call the New York Times. It had an item in it that encapsulated for me the element that was missing in the late 1960s, that time when if you are of a certain age and political inclination, was the last time you believed you were living in a pre-revolutionary situation.
There were demonstrations back then, there were bombings (I explained to a peer that the Capitol building, in Washington, DC, was bombed, by the Weathermen, and he found it hard to believe), assassinations — three days ago was the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, by a car thief who was found weeks later in Britain with a Portuguese passport (which seems to me pretty sophisticated for a petty criminal).
What was missing then, and what is present now, is that now no one really believes in the United States government. Oh sure, during the Vietnam War we had the so-called “credibility gap” — which is to say, even the official spokesmen for the government had to admit that they were stretching the truth; but that’s exactly the sort of self-consciousness that is missing now.
I’ll give you an example, from my bottomless fund of stories from the history of Russia. Of course, even before we get started, you recall that the Soviet Union fell in a heap within a week or so, since no one any longer believed in Communism, with the probable exception of that great innocent babe, Mikhail Gorbachev, who inadvertently brought the whole edifice crumbling down. Rather than rely on that one episode, let me regale you with a story of 1917, told in Sergei Mstislavskii’s memoirs, published for the first time in English just as Gorby was collapsing the ramshackle post-Stalinist house of cards.
The story begins when the Petrograd Soviet learns that the Provisional Government is planning to send the Imperial family out of the country, to Great Britain as a matter of fact. Clearly the exiled tsar will soon gather a government-in-exile, and the British would be only too willing to help them to fight, perhaps crush, the socialist government of revolutionary Russia. So they vote, the executive committee of the Petrograd Soviet, to arrest the tsar, a move which 16 months later resulted in the machine-gunning of the gentleman, together with his entire family.
But how did it happen that the would-be exiled monarch was arrested? The Soviet sent our hero Mstislavskii (an old Slavic name, that: Mstislav the Great was the last ruler of the Kievan Rus) off to Tsarskoe Selo, the Petrograd suburb 25 miles to the south where the tsars spent the summer holidays. He brought a single detachment of machine-gunners with him, but left them in control of the railroad station and drove off to the City Hall.
Two well-uniformed colonels were there, and they initially told Mstislavskii it was forbidden even to reveal to him the exact building among the several palaces in which the Former Imperial Majesty was residing. With some shrewdness Mstislavskii refused even to allow them to consult their commanders, as he held himself to be in military and civilian control of the city. He then found a formula to overcome their opposition: he announced that they were under arrest and his prisoners.
“There’s nothing more to discuss,” he recalls his words; “gentlemen, you are now under arrest. And now I ask you, as my prisoners, where is the former Emperor?”
“In the Alexander Palace . . .” they answered immediately.
You see, there was no one who believed in the monarchy. High-ranking officers, sworn to protect the Emperor with their lives, knuckled under immediately upon confronting a sincere revolutionary shaking a fist. Mstislavskii used similar tactics at the Alexander Palace, speaking first to the troops there and then convincing the officers to pledge that they held the Former Emperor and his family under arrest: he even insisted, and prevailed upon them, to bring him to the Tsar’s personal presence to confirm that he was there and under house arrest.
How does this connect to the unobtrusive notice (it appeared on page A10) in yesterday’s Pravda-on-the-Hudson? Judge Rosemary Collyer of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on Friday that the Obama Administration cannot be held liable for assassinating three American citizens by remote-controlled drones, since it was “conducting war” at the time.
So, the Constitutional requirement that Congress must declare war is swept aside. After all, we have been fighting wars for more than 70 years now, big and small, and Congress hasn’t declared war for a single one of them — there must have been 20 or so; I tend to lose count. But that’s sort of attempting to warm oneself with the ashes of a burned-out fire. What’s much more striking is that there’s a Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, about not being deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. There is a stated exception for members of the armed services in time of war — that state, of course, which requires the approval of Congress — which by no stretch of anyone’s imagination actually applies to civilians living in Yemen, a country with which the United States is now at peace.
So the government of the United States can kill its political enemies without accusation, without trial, without conviction, and never provide any “due process” whatsoever; and this is the considered opinion of the federal judiciary! That is the very definition of tyranny.
No one can believe we live under the rule of law in circumstances like that, any more. No one can believe the President of the United States when he says, as he did in Brussels, Belgium, just twelve days ago
“That’s the question we all must answer: What kind of Europe, what kind of America, what kind of world will we leave behind? And I believe that if we all hold firm to our principles and are willing to back our beliefs with courage and resolve, then hope will ultimately overcome fear, and freedom will continue to triumph over tyranny. Because that is what forever stirs in the human heart,” he concluded his address.