Tuesday, September 05, 2006

September 5

On 5 September 2002, George Bush spoke to community members in South Bend, Indiana. Amid boilerplate remarks on the economy and national security, the president observed that
[m]y biggest job . . . is to protect you, the American people. That's my biggest job now, is to secure the homeland, is to make sure that we're safe, is to make sure our American families are protected. That job still exists, and it's important today because there's still an enemy out there that hates us.

It is really important for all of us to communicate the right message to our children when we talk with these harsh words. But you need to tell your kids that these killers hate America because of what we love. And what we love is we love freedom. We love the fact that freedom can worship an--the freedom to worship an almighty God the way we see fit. We love our freedoms. We hold them dear, and we're willing to defend them. We love freedom to speak. We love freedom to assemble. We love freedom of the press. We love those freedoms.

That same day, Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet presented a briefing to “select Congressional leaders” on classified intelligence related to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a nation that was alleged by the administration to pose a "gathering" threat to the United States. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott described the briefing as “interesting and troubling,” one that would offer leaders “a lot more to think about.” Majority Leader Tom Daschle characterized the 90-minute meeting as “helpful.”


A mere 209 years earlier, the French National Convention began instituting a series of measures designed to purge the nation of its internal and external enemies. Terror, the deputies declared, would henceforth be “the order of the day.” Within two weeks, the Law of Suspects was passed, enjoining the public to root out and disclose “enemies of liberty,” whose vague crimes were swiftly addressed in trials that were anything but scrupulous. Over the next fifteen months, tumbrels filled with such “enemies of liberty” were wheeled each day to Place de la Revolution, where -- if they were not beaten to death by jeering mobs along the route -- “the national razor” restored the balance of liberty. As many as 40,000 enemies of the revolution were dispatched in such fashion.

The “incorruptible” Maximilien Robbespierre -- leader of the Jacobin faction who oversaw la Terreur -- would eventually find his own head cleaved from his body in the name of liberty. Several months before his revolutionary career ended at the guillotine, Robbespierre explained to his partisans that the people of France faced a dire confrontation between tyranny and freedom. In his essay on “Terror and Virtue,” Robespierre explained:
The two opposing spirits that have been represented in a struggle to rule nature might be said to be fighting in this great period of human history to fix irrevocably the world's destinies, and France is the scene of this fearful combat. Without, all the tyrants encircle you; within, all tyranny's friends conspire; they will conspire until hope is wrested from crime. We must smother the internal and external enemies of the Republic or perish with it; now in this situation, the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people's enemies by terror.

If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country's most urgent needs.