This is from I.F. Stone’s Weekly, a pre-digital ancestor of today’s blogs. Stone was writing in 1954, one of those recurring periods in American history when the dark angels of our nature appear to have the upper hand. Appearances may once again deceive, of course, but Eisenhower was president back then. Suppose it had been McCarthy.
The impossible search for “absolute security” is incompatible with a free and healthy society. If this is to be national policy, why should anyone be trusted? There is a momentum here which plays into the hands of those who are prepared to be most unscrupulous and extreme in pandering to a growing paranoia.
One of the charges against Oppenheimer is that he testified for others who were security risks. Can we, then, trust the long list of men who testified on his behalf? They included some of the most distinguished names in American banking, business, education and science. But will this protect them from a Jenner or a McCarthy? Will the men who smeared General Marshall hesitate before these lesser lights in their struggle to achieve power by panic?
The way is cleared for them by the Draconian rhetoric of the report. “There can be no tampering,” it says, “with the national security, which in times of peril must be absolute, and without concessions for reasons of admiration, gratitude, reward, sympathy or charity.” This is resonant with, the fanaticism of terror; this is the spirit in which Robespierre sent Danton to the gallows, and Stalin condemned Trotzky and Zinoviev. Neither “gratitude” nor “charity” is to stand in the way of “security” …
“Security” is set up as a standard, as if it were a known quantity, easily weighed and determined. But actually where does security lie and who is to determine it? The answer of this report, if read closely, is that the military and the secret police are to be the judges.
Not Congress, not popular discussion, not free debate, but the Generals and the FBI are to determine what “security” is and make the rest of us conform to that standard. The society sketched out by this report is a combination of the garrison and police states. We have come full circle in our constitution.