The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Published 9 years ago -

by Naomi Wolf


Review by Dan Geddes

The Bush Administration has polarized the American people as few presidencies before. Even while President Bush himself suffered from low approval ratings, the realization that his administration has relentlessly attacked the Bill of Rights has not penetrated mainstream political discourse.

The End of America is Naomi Wolf’s attempt to spread this realization to the mainstream. While some may find the claims in the The End of America to be self-evident, Wolf’s target audience are Americans who sense something is amiss but have faith that fascism could never come to America, and so there is nothing to be afraid of. Wolf directly addresses this belief in the power of America’s system of checks and balances and in the ability of the political pendulum to swing back and restore lost civil liberties. She asks readers on the right and the left to unite to restore the civil liberties lost during the Bush Administration.

Wolf writes that what prompted her to write The End of America was her discovery of the many parallels she found between the actions of the Bush Administration, and those of totalitarian states, such as those of Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union before and during the Second World War. She notes that Hitler and Mussolini both came to power legally and democratically (not by putsch as so many believe). Once in power both used the law to subvert the law in a gradual way. The Nazis knew there was a danger zone while they solidified their power, and that they must not act too quickly against all sources of domestic opposition, else they would stimulate a mass organized resistance. Their gradualism meant that most sensed the danger only after the bastions of any possible resistance (the unions, press, courts, army) had already been co-opted or crushed.

Similarly, in the US today, according to Wolf, many mundane aspects of American life (TV, movies, internet, shopping, sports) appear the same as before. Thus, most people are unaware or unconcerned about the erosion of civil liberties. So many people seem willing to trade liberty for security, which as Benjamin Franklin famously remarked, is a trade that in the end brings neither liberty nor security.

Wolf’s “letter of warning” comprises a general introduction followed by ten chapters, each describing one step that leaders have taken historically during the “fascist shift” in their countries. For each of these steps, Wolf points out actions the Bush Administration has already taken to further its authoritarian goals, and she also refers to similar actions taken by prior leaders such as Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pinochet, and others as they transformed fragile democracies into fascist states.

Wolf is careful to point out that she doesn’t think that the USA of 2007 is already a fascist state, but it has already experienced many of the steps characteristic of a fascist shift. The window of time for reversing these threats to the checks and balances system still exists, but is rapidly closing. The measures of the Bush Administration have already created a disturbing chilling effect on journalists, lawyers, and dissenters.

The ten steps taken toward dismantling a democracy are laid out as follows:

Step in fascist shift Bush Administration Fascist Precedents
Invoke an external and internal threat to pass authoritarian legislation * USA PATRIOT Act

* Military Commissions Act

* Fear of Islamo-fascism

* GWOT (“global war on terror”)

Hitler and Mussolini stirred up nightmares of:

* encirclement by the western, capitalist nations;

* Jewish conspiracy of bankers;

* Fear of internal instability;

* Fear of inflation;

* Fear of communist party;

Establish secret prisons * Guantánamo

* Abu Ghraib

* CIA’s secret prisons

* Dachau (prison for political opponents)

* Soviet gulag

Develop a paramilitary force * Blackwater (now being deployed inside the US)

* Federal takeover of state National Guard units

* SA, SS

* Brownshirts

* Arditi

Surveil ordinary citizens * USA PATRIOT Act

* TIPS (terrorism information and prevention system)

* Warrantless wiretapping

* SS

* Cheka

* Cointelpro (FBI infiltration of protest movement in 1960s and 1970s)

Infiltrate citizens groups * TALON

* Databases about US peace and citizens’ groups

* Cointelpro

* Soviet spying on intellectuals

Arbitrarily detain and arrest people * TSA no-fly list

* “detaining” protests at the Republican National Convention, 2004, 2008

* Nazis limited travel

* So did Pinochet

Target key individuals * Attacks on Bill Maher, the Dixie Chicks and others who dare to criticize * Target union leaders, intellectuals
Restrict the press * Political leanings of NPR and PBS staff being tracked

* Targeting journalists in Iraq

* All fascist regimes have kept tight control over the press.
Cast criticism as “espionage” and dissent as “treason” * Calls for New York Times reporters to be jailed for their NSA warrantless wiretapping stories

* Common belief that protesting the war makes one less patriotic

* This was common practice in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
Subvert the rule of law * Bush ignoring congressional subpoenas of senior staff over firing of US attorneys

* Bush’s presidential signing statements to qualify the effect of laws

* the gutting of Posse Comitatus Act (forbidding the military’s use in domestic law enforcement)

* Hitler bragged that he would use the law to destroy the law.


It remains difficult to know whether Wolf’s fears of encroaching fascism in America will be realized. While there has undoubtedly been an erosion of civil liberties under Bush, and a dark cloud of fear about exercising one’s first amendment rights, of course we still do not know where it will end or how bad it will get. Wolf’s point is that it is not yet set in stone, and that people can make a difference if they are willing to work hard to speak out and exercise their first amendment rights, before it is too late.

August 2009

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5 recommended
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