We’re not the first to mistakenly believe we’re still free

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.

OPINION – The surest way to be labeled a whacko these days is to affirm that freedom is in decline in America. A few simple questions can help establish the growing distance between our government and the people.

Are travelers being groped and electronically undressed by the TSA? Are militarized police strike forces executing SWAT raids over everything from illicit substances to gambling to unpaid student loans? Are banks required to report on our financial transactions without our knowledge? Are our emails and telephone calls being monitored for suspicious activities? Do national leaders claim the power to detain or assassinate anyone they deem an enemy for any reason and without due process? Are drones now keeping a watchful eye above American soil?

The answer to each of these questions is a disappointing “yes.” But anyone pointing out these trends can expect to be summarily labeled extremist or simply anti-government.

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, a majority of Americans still fervently believe that they are a free people. In that respect, we share a common blind spot with another group of people who also allowed abusive government power to grow unchecked.

Milton Mayer’s excellent book, “They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945,” written in the years following the Second World War. Mayer’s book is a study of the lives of ten ordinary German citizens and particularly what their lives were like under Nazi rule.

The most remarkable conclusion of the book was that many Germans, even after the war, were unable to admit that the Nazi regime was tyrannical. By conflating their own identities with that of the state, Germans were unwilling to condemn the lies, the aggression and the atrocities of their leaders. They sang patriotic songs, waved their flags and cheered their troops without a second thought about the morality of what was being done.

On the other hand, the Germans who recognized and spoke out about the growing threat were labeled as “neurotic” and “alarmist” for suggesting that tyranny was approaching. With each new encroachment they tried to warn their fellow citizens, but were told they were “just seeing things.”

One man described it as, “Each act, each occasion, is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join with you in resisting somehow.” But because the worst and final acts of the regime were separated from the earlier, smaller acts by hundreds of incremental steps, the great shock that should have awakened the masses never came.

As the cumulative effect on individual freedom mounted, those in power became increasingly insistent that the German people submit and obey. By being unwilling to make a stand early on, when the infringements were relatively minor, the German people eventually found themselves in a position where speaking out was virtually impossible.

Those who have the courage to read Mayer’s book will likely be astonished at the number of parallels between pre-World War II Germany and our nation today. Like the German people did, we tend to think of ourselves as patriotic citizens who are proud to be free. But like them, we also possess a fatal blindness that presumes that our government could never be found on the wrong side of history.

Even when confronted with specific evidence that abuses are taking place, we tend to minimize or excuse revelations of government wrongdoing as “isolated incidents” or “paranoia.” Some go so far as to argue that if a particular infringement of freedom hasn’t happened to them personally, then it must not be a problem. They fail to understand that if government is doing it to anyone, it can eventually do it to all of us.

The almost imperceptible and incremental baby steps by which full-blown despotism arrives add up far more quickly than we realize. The great shock that will awaken everyone will arrive too late. The future of our freedom in America depends upon us being able to recognize how the little infringements today lead to a total loss of freedom over time.  We’d also be wise to learn from those who have made similar mistakes.

email: [email protected]

twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright 2012 St. George News.


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  • David Doddridge March 5, 2012 at 11:04 pm

    I’m afraid Karl Marx was right on this subject. Economics is the driving force among nations. The people will not wake up until their pocketbooks are hit… hard. Look at 1776. Tea Act, Stamp Act, etc. were the driving forces to move the people. Loss of jurisdiction, quartering of soldiers in homes, caused the people to simmer, but money caused them to revolt. Same with Shay’s rebellion, and the War of Northern Aggression. DiLorenzo’s book, “LIncoln Unmasked” documents that Abe was quite willing to let the South keep their slaves, but if they meant to not pay the tariff’s, well….that means WAR.
    In the case of pre-war Germany, the third Reich was economically prospering. Hitler turned 6 million unemployed in 1933 to zero unemployment in 3 years. The whole world was in depression – but not Germany. So Hitler could get away with the abridgement of certain liberties….as long as the people could go shopping.
    Now we are simmering in America. When will we finally wake up? Well …. keep an eye on the World Bank. Greece may be the powder keg.

  • THOMAS DYCHES March 6, 2012 at 12:11 am

    “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations…” ~ James Madison, 1788

    Great article Bryan. I think we need to put emphasis on “gradual.” It was warrant-less wiretaps then surveillance of public buildings with x-ray equipment then pat-downs and porno scanners (of our children no less) and now it’s indefinite detention without due process or court hearing (guilty until proven innocent -forget you 4th Amendment). When do we finally draw the line? When people in our neighborhood start disappearing? Oh sorry, didn’t mean to sound “extremist” or “anti-government.”

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