An examination of the erosion of personal liberty accompanying the rise of the national security state.
Thanks at least in part to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, Americans are more aware than ever before of the massive amount of data that the government keeps not just on suspected terrorists and enemies of the state, but also on ordinary citizens. Even so, in specific terms, writes Harper’s contributing editor Horton, “Americans know less about what their national security forces are doing than ever before.” This contradiction perfectly describes the way things are today: We know that there are spies among us, but we don’t know what they’re really after—save that they keep their activities from us by arguing that to know too much would endanger our safety. Thus ignorant, Horton notes, citizens cannot participate fully in decisions about war and peace, matters that are now left to technocrats to decide. How we got there, by the author’s account, is a fascinating process. One consequence of converting the military to an all-volunteer force, he argues, was that it “deflated public interest in national security issues generally.” Wars are waged in our name without our full knowledge, while the engineers of those wars labor ever more diligently to reduce American casualties through mechanization so that American citizens will have even less cause to complain. Horton paints a somber picture, especially when he describes the failure of the civilian government to control these military and paramilitary strains; as he writes, “congressional oversight has failed in its fundamental charge of preventing large-scale infringement of the rights of citizens hidden from the public view by secrecy.”
Big Brother is watching indeed. This useful book catches him in the act and even offers some thoughts on how to poke his eyes out.