The Warnings of History
The 70th anniversary wasn't noticed in the United States, and was barely reported in the corporate media. But the Germans remembered well that fateful day seventy years ago - February 27, 1933. They commemorated the anniversary by joining in demonstrations for peace that mobilized citizens all across the world.
It started when the government, in the midst of a worldwide economic crisis, received reports of an imminent terrorist attack. A foreign ideologue had launched feeble attacks on a few famous buildings, but the media largely ignored his relatively small efforts. The intelligence services knew, however, that the odds were he would eventually succeed. (Historians are still arguing whether or not rogue elements in the intelligence service helped the terrorist; the most recent research implies they did not.)
But the warnings of investigators were ignored at the highest levels, in part because the government was distracted; the man who claimed to be the nation's leader had not been elected by a majority vote and the majority of citizens claimed he had no right to the powers he coveted. He was a simpleton, some said, a cartoon character of a man who saw things in black-and-white terms and didn't have the intellect to understand the subtleties of running a nation in a complex and internationalist world. His coarse use of language - reflecting his political roots in a southernmost state - and his simplistic and often-inflammatory nationalistic rhetoric offended the aristocrats, foreign leaders, and the well-educated elite in the government and media. And, as a young man, he'd joined a secret society with an occult-sounding name and bizarre initiation rituals that involved skulls and human bones.
Nonetheless, he knew the terrorist was going to strike (although he didn't know where or when), and he had already considered his response. When an aide brought him word that the nation's most prestigious building was ablaze, he verified it was the terrorist who had struck and then rushed to the scene and called a press conference.
"You are now witnessing the beginning of a great epoch in history," he proclaimed, standing in front of the burned-out building, surrounded by national media. "This fire," he said, his voice trembling with emotion, "is the beginning." He used the occasion - "a sign from God," he called it - to declare an all-out war on terrorism and its ideological sponsors, a people, he said, who traced their origins to the Middle East and found motivation for their evil deeds in their religion.
Two weeks later, the first detention center for terrorists was built in Oranianberg to hold the first suspected allies of the infamous terrorist. In a national outburst of patriotism, the leader's flag was everywhere, even printed large in newspapers suitable for window display.
Within four weeks of the terrorist attack, the nation's now-popular leader had pushed through legislation - in the name of combating terrorism and fighting the philosophy he said spawned it - that suspended constitutional guarantees of free speech, privacy, and habeas corpus. Police could now intercept mail and wiretap phones; suspected terrorists could be imprisoned without specific charges and without access to their lawyers; police could sneak into people's homes without warrants if the cases involved terrorism.
To get his patriotic "Decree on the Protection of People and State" passed over the objections of concerned legislators and civil libertarians, he agreed to put a 4-year sunset provision on it: if the national emergency provoked by the terrorist attack was over by then, the freedoms and rights would be returned to the people, and the police agencies would be re-restrained. Legislators would later say they hadn't had time to read the bill before voting on it.