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American Anniversaries From Hell

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Posted on Mar 28, 2013
Giacomo Carena (CC BY-ND 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

Don’t for a moment think, though, that any little survey of known knowns and known unknowns could cover the totality of America’s unacknowledged anniversaries from hell.  After all, there’s Rumsfeld’s third category, the “unknown unknowns.”  In our advancing world of secrecy, with the National Security Complex and parts of the U.S. military increasingly operating in a post-legal America, shielded from whistleblowers and largely unaccountable to the rest of us or the courts, you can be guaranteed of one thing: there’s a secret history of the post-9/11 era that we simply don’t know about—yet.  Call this last category “the unknown anniversaries.”  We not only don’t know when they began, but even what they are.

A Hidden History Waiting to Be Written

When I was a boy, I loved a CBS TV series  called “You Are There,” “anchored” by Walter Cronkite.  It took you into history—whether of Joan of Arc’s burning at the stake, the fall of the Aztec ruler Montezuma, or the end of the U.S. Civil War—and “reported” it as if modern journalists had been on the spot.  (For years, I used to joke that the typical moment went like this: “General Lee, General Lee, rumor has it you’re about to surrender to Grant at Appomattox!” “No comment.”)  The show had a signature tagline delivered in one of those authoritative male voices of the era that still rings in my head.  It went: “What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times… all things are as they were then, and you were there.”

If such a show were made about the post-9/11 years, it might have to be called “You Weren’t There.”  Our days, instead of being filled with “those events that alter and illuminate our times,” would be enshrouded in a penumbra of secrecy that could—as with Bradley Manning, CIA agent John Kiriakou, or other whistleblowers—only be broken by those ready to spend years, or even a lifetime in prison.  If the National Security Complex and the White House had their way, we Americans would be left to celebrate a heavily cleansed and censored version of our own recent history in which the anniversaries that should really matter would be squirreled away in the files of the state apparatus.  There can be no question that a hidden history of our American moment is still waiting to be uncovered and written.


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And yet, despite the best efforts of the last two administrations, secrecy has its limits.  We should already know more than enough to be horrified by the state of our American world.  It should disturb us deeply that a government of, by, and for the war-makers, intelligence operatives, bureaucrats, privatizing mercenary corporations, surveillers, torturers, and assassins is thriving in Washington.  As for the people—that’s us—in these last years, we largely weren’t there, even as the very idea of a government of, by, and for us bit the dust, and our leaders felt increasingly unconstrained when committing acts of shame in our name.

So perhaps the last overlooked anniversary of these years might be the 12th anniversary of American cowardice.  You can choose the exact date yourself; anytime this fall will do.  At that moment, Americans should feel free to celebrate a time when, for our “safety,” and in a state of anger and paralyzing fear, we gave up the democratic ghost.

The brave thing, of course, would have been to gamble just a little of our safety—as we do any day when we get into a car—for the kind of world whose anniversaries we would actually be proud to mark on a calendar and celebrate.

Among the many truths in that still-to-be-written secret history of our American world would be this: we the people have no idea just how, in these years, we’ve hurt ourselves.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt

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