Is America Over And Done With?!?

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at VERIZON.NET
Sun Nov 4 21:32:01 MST 2007

The Dream That Was America – or – Moscow on the Potomac

by <mailto:rhawes73 at>Robert F. Hawes Jr.
by Robert F. Hawes Jr.

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In Ridley Scott's film 
the ailing Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius 
(portrayed by the late Richard Harris) travels 
from the comforts of Rome to the muddy 
battlefields of second-century Germania on a 
mission. The Roman army, fighting under the 
capable leadership of General Maximus (Russell 
Crowe), has finally defeated the Germanic 
tribesmen, and Aurelius now longs to turn his 
attention from the maintenance of an empire to 
the restoration of a republic. The chief obstacle 
that stands in his way is his own failing health. 
Rome needs a young, strong and vigorous leader to 
take it down the path that Aurelius envisions. 
His son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) is weak and 
spoiled, full of base ambition, not at all the 
man for the job of relinquishing power. Maximus 
is the man Aurelius wishes to succeed him to the 
imperial seat, but Maximus is tired of war and 
strife, and more than anything else he simply 
wants to return home. In the following lines of 
dialogue, Aurelius struggles to convince Maximus 
that Rome still needs its finest soldier:

MAXIMUS: "5,000 of my men are out there in the 
freezing mud. 3,000 are cleaved and bloodied. 
2,000 will never leave this place. I will not 
believe they fought and died for nothing."
AURELIUS: "And what would you believe?"
MAXIMUS: "They fought for you and for Rome."
AURELIUS: "And what is Rome, Maximus?"
MAXIMUS: "I have seen much of the rest of the 
world. It is brutal and cruel and dark. Rome is the light."
AURELIUS: "Yet you have never been there. You 
have not seen what it has become. I am dying, 
Maximus. When a man sees his end he wants to know 
that there has been some purpose to his life. How 
will the world speak my name in years to come? 
Will I be known as the philosopher, the warrior, 
the tyrant? Or will I be remembered as the 
Emperor who gave Rome back her true self? There 
was once a dream that was Rome, you could only 
whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it 
would vanish, it was so fragile. And I fear that 
it will not survive the winter."

Most of you probably know the story. Commodus 
learns of his father's intentions, kills Aurelius 
and tries to do the same to Maximus, who barely 
escapes with his life. Maximus is sold into 
slavery, becomes a gladiator, and eventually 
fights in the Colosseum under the eye of 
Commodus. At one point in the film, Maximus 
points toward the bloodthirsty crowd awaiting him 
and exclaims, "Marcus Aurelius had a dream that 
was Rome... And this is not it. This is not it!"

Say whatever derogatory thing you will about 
Hollyweird; chances are, I'll see your insult and 
raise you a little righteous indignation. But 
every once in a while a film comes along with a 
message that rings true in a powerful way. 
was such a film. And while Gladiator isn't quite 
on the same level (the story it depicts is 
fictional), it carries its own impact. The 
struggle it portrays, that of a good man battling 
against evil in high places, has universal 
appeal. The ideals behind the story rise above its historical setting.

And every time I hear Richard Harris speaking as 
Marcus Aurelius I can't help but think: there was 
once a dream that was America too, and I fear 
that it may not survive the next election.

For a moment, set aside your party affiliation 
and whatever special interest you might have and 
travel back in time with me. We won't need to go 
far; the seventies and eighties will do just 
fine. This was the era in which I grew up.

It was also the latter part of the Cold War. The 
Soviet Union was our great enemy. Why? Because 
the Soviets were communists, and communists were 
the sworn enemies of freedom. They were not 
merely authoritarians but totalitarians. The 
Soviets believed in absolute state control over 
every aspect of an individual's life, and they 
were intent on spreading their system throughout the world.

I clearly remember being taught that, in the 
Soviet Union, fear ruled with an iron fist. 
Government spies were everywhere. The secret 
police could listen in on your phone calls at any 
time. They could read your mail. They could 
search your home and other property and seize 
whatever they liked. You could never be certain 
that you weren't being watched, no matter where 
you were. You had to carry identification papers 
everywhere you went, and many times you had to 
have permission to travel very far at all. And it 
wasn't just government agents that you had to be 
concerned about; you also had to live with the 
fear that your own friends, co-workers or family 
members might report you for "suspicious 
activities" or "politically questionable 
statements," sometimes for no other reason than 
to endear themselves to the communist party 
bosses. You had no enforceable rights where the 
state was concerned. Government agents could kick 
your door down in the middle of the night, drag 
you away to a state prison, torture you and even 
execute you. Your family would never know where 
you were. More than likely, you would not have 
legal council or ever see the inside of a 
courtroom. You were the property of the state, 
which was free to do whatever it liked with you.

We called this oppressive, militaristic 
mega-state "the Evil Empire," and we prided 
ourselves on being everything that the Soviets were not.

In America, the common man had enforceable 
rights, even where the government was concerned. 
Americans were not the property of the state. You 
could travel where you wished, and most of the 
time the government didn't care about what you 
were doing. Americans could say what they wished, 
engage in whatever peaceful political activities 
they wished, with no fear of violent reprisal. 
Americans did not disappear into gulags. If the 
government accused you of illegal activities, it 
had to give you a day in court and prove its case 
before a jury of your peers. Sure, America had 
its problems; virtually everyone admitted that. 
But we were still the "land of the free," and our 
institutions and daily lives backed that claim to 
a high degree, certainly in comparison to the Soviet Union.

This is the dream that was America versus the 
nightmare that was the Soviet Union.

Now, fast-forward in time. As I write this, fewer 
than twenty years have passed since the Berlin 
Wall fell and the Cold War specter lifted. The 
Soviet Union is gone, and America...well, if you 
had told us in the 1970s or 1980s what America 
would be like today, and where it seems to be 
heading, I don't think we would have believed you.

You see, today the American government tells us 
that it can spy on us whenever and however it 
likes. It can read our e-mail and postal mail, 
track our financial records, pry into our medical 
histories, force libraries to turn over lists of 
the books we read, force internet service 
providers to turn over records of our surfing 
habits, and tap our phones and record our calls. 
It can deny us the right to travel without 
certain government approved "papers." It can send 
its agents into our homes without warrant and 
remove whatever it wishes, without ever notifying 
us. The president claims that he can seize 
anyone, including American citizens, and turn 
them into non-persons. The government – the 
American government – can arrest you without 
warrant, put you into prison without charge, and 
hold you for as long as it pleases. It can deny 
you legal council and try you before a military 
court, where none of the regular rules of 
evidence and reasonable person standards apply, 
and where your guilt will be assumed. It can 
subject to you "enhanced interrogation 
techniques" (torture, by any other name – "Ve hev 
vays of making you talk"), and you will have no 
recourse. Your family may not be permitted to 
know where you are. President George W. Bush (a 
member of the party that once prided itself on 
being the "party of limited government," and that 
even now prides itself on being the party that 
brought down the Evil Empire) has decided that he 
can ignore whatever laws he chooses. He in fact 
is the law, in his own opinion. Further, he tells 
us that what he and the members of his 
administration do is not open to public scrutiny 
for "national security" reasons, that they are 
not accountable to anyone. In fact, they bristle 
if you question them at all, and suggest that 
maybe you don't have the best interests of the country in mind.

This is America, 2007; not the Soviet Union, 
circa 1980. Like it or not, we are, by degrees, 
becoming like the very thing we once hated. And 
we are becoming more like it all the time.

Some will call this unpatriotic nonsense. "We're 
nothing like the Soviets," they claim. "We're 
just changing to meet the changing threats of our 
time, and if you haven't done anything wrong, you 
don't have anything to worry about."


So, we can do the same types of things that the 
Soviets did but not be like them? We can adopt 
their police state tactics, spy on people like 
they did, hold secret courts like they did, kick 
down doors and haul people away like they did, 
throw people into secret prisons like they did, 
torture people like they did, refuse to answer 
questions like they did, ignore the laws like 
they did, and criticize the opposition as being 
disloyal like they did...and yet be nothing like 
them? Notice that I'm not saying that we're the 
same as the Soviets; I'm saying that we're 
becoming progressively more like they were, that 
we're on a slippery slope here, and that we're 
desperately trying to rationalize our way out of 
confronting the obvious (torture isn't torture as 
long as we don't call it that, etc.).

Tell me, how much evil do you have to do before 
you yourself become evil? Is there a certain 
magic number of people that we need to have in 
prison without charge before it becomes wrong? 
How many do we have to 
and stuff into cramped, freezing cells before it becomes un-American?

And as for not having anything to worry about as 
long as you haven't done anything wrong – please, 
don't tell me you've fallen for this! This 
argument assumes two things: 1) that the 
government is accountable to someone for what it 
does with you, and 2) that it has to prove that 
you've done something wrong before anything bad 
can happen to you. Neither one of these is 
necessarily true anymore. All the government has 
to do is classify you as a suspected "terrorist" 
and the legal niceties that we used to call 
"rights" suddenly vanish, along with all of their 
guarantees. If the president and his subordinates 
have the authority to ignore the laws of the 
land, then whether or not you've done anything 
illegal is a moot question by default, because 
the law no longer exists as far as you are 
concerned! You are no longer being judged by that 
standard; you are being judged by the whims of 
the powerful, whose motives and actions are not 
being judged by anyone. You cannot tie the hands 
of the law and then expect it to protect you.

Our Founding Fathers understood this. This is why 
they required an oath to support the Constitution 
on the part of our government officials, because 
they knew that the only way the common people can 
be safe from tyranny is if their government is 
restrained by the law. The Constitution isn't 
there to hinder us, it's there to protect us – 
because freedom is fragile. It must be guarded, 
handled delicately, cared for like the precious thing that it is.

Some will argue with the comparisons I've made to 
the old Soviet Union, because, like General 
Maximus, they refuse to believe that our country 
is caught up in corruption, that our leaders have 
anything but pure motives, and that our men and 
women in uniform are dying for nothing but the 
most honorable of causes. They too have seen much 
of the rest of the world, if only by way of CNN 
or Fox News, and they find it brutal and cruel 
and dark. America is their light in that 
darkness, and as long as it remains a bit 
brighter than what they see around them, they 
seem willing to overlook the fact that our "city 
on a hill" doesn't shine as brightly as it once 
did. Cruelty, brutality and darkness are creeping 
in here, but as long as we're not as bad as 
someone else, we're generally content with our 
illusions of safety and superiority. We find no 
contradiction, no hypocrisy in speaking the 
tyrannical language of the Soviet state with an American accent.

God forgive us. The men who froze at Valley 
Forge, who crawled up the beaches of Normandy 
into the murderous teeth of Nazi machine gun 
fire, who faced undreamed of horrors in steamy 
jungles thousands of miles from the comforts of 
home, did not fight so that we could let our 
country slip into the hands of those who would 
re-make us in the image of our enemies. Whether 
you agree with every cause that Americans have 
spilled their blood for or not, we can 
acknowledge that most of them believed that they 
were fighting for freedom, to protect the 
whisper-fragile American dream. They didn't 
sacrifice to give us Moscow on the Potomac. We 
owe them, ourselves, and the future generations 
who must live with the world we give them, more, 
much more, than to let this happen with so little struggle.

There was once a dream that was America. And 
friends, this is not it. This is not it.

November 2, 2007

Robert Hawes is the author of 
Nation, Indivisible? A Study of Secession and the 
Constitution. This article, along with his past 
writings, can be found on 
<>his blog. He 
lives in South Carolina with his family.

Copyright © 2007 
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