T Nation

Not So Free Anymore

I’m scared to publish this.

Times have changed. It used to be that in America I felt free to write anything that I wanted, at any time. Not so any longer.

E-mails are just letters under another name. They are letters that you have written to your friends, lovers, family or business associates and sealed into an envelope, affixed a stamp and dropped into a mailbox on the street or at the Post Office. Phone calls are just conversations under another name. Phone calls are just private conversations with your friends that you hold over a glass of port after dinner in your dining room – conversations in which you might express your displeasure over the healthcare initiatives put forth by the last administration or the way they lied to the American people. Or it could be a conversation in your living room in which you rail against the current administration and the way they lied to the American people, their obsession with secret prisons and their right to torture captured people or their right to hold American citizens against their will without charges, or lawyers or judges, for years.

I honestly fear repercussions for publishing this – being placed on a ‘watch’ list, being subject to special attention at the airport, or worse… And I can’t believe that we have gotten to a point where I, or any other citizen, has to worry about that.
I honestly fear repercussions for publishing this – being placed on a ‘watch’ list, being subject to special attention at the airport, or worse… And I can’t believe that we have gotten to a point where I, or any other citizen, has to worry about that.

The current administration suggests that when we are asked to ‘temporarily’ give up our civil rights it is only to give the government the tools to fight “the war on terrorism”. They say that is why we should allow them to monitor and record our personal phone calls. They say that is why we should allow them to search us on public transportation such as a subway or to search us on a public street.

They say that the detainees in Guantanamo do not have rights because they did not sign on to the Constitution of the U.S., which grants those rights. (unalienable human rights?) Our government is saying that someone in the world doesn’t have basic human rights, even if they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, because they are not subject to the Constitution. And we the citizens of this country cannot have those basic human rights because of people like those in G-itmo. I would almost say that is faulty circular logic, but I’d be wrong, because there is no logic there.

And of course the founding fathers said that we all had those basic rights naturally and that they are inalienable, just because we are human.

What is terrorism? Isn’t it violent acts to achieve political goals? When in our history have we not had terrorism? Wasn’t it terrorism when Timothy McVeigh blew up half of the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma? Wasn’t the first World Trade Center bombing terrorism? Wasn’t it terrorism when the German’s had U-boats off our shores to sink civilian ships such as the Lusitania? Or when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor? Or when the British marched in our streets and blockaded our ports and burned our Capital? Or when the Tories fought to preserve their beloved Crown’s rule here in America?

Did we suspend our civil liberties at those times? Did we give up our right to free speech at those times? Did we give up our rights to be randomly searched on the street or in the subways? Did our forefathers give up their rights to be secure in their property? Did they consent to have their mail read by the government at its discretion? Did we all agree to have our phone calls monitored by the government?

When they intercept and read your email, even if it is done by some colossus of a computer, they are steaming open your sealed envelope and reading your private letter. And that is AGAINST THE LAW.
When they intercept and read your email, even if it is done by some colossus of a computer, they are steaming open your sealed envelope and reading your private letter. And that is AGAINST THE LAW.

When they give themselves permission to listen to your phone conversations, they are giving themselves permission to sit in your living room and monitor your conversations with your friends. And they did this without the consent of the governed, and that is AGAINST THE LAW.

I was a soldier once, and was taught that torture was an ineffective tool to get information. Aside from the fact that it was AGAINST THE LAW, one couldn’t trust information that was obtained through torture.

Wasn’t our country built, and our Constitution based, on the belief that all men have certain, unalienable rights as human beings? Did our modern politicians miss that class?

And, by the way, if the government has taken our rights away in order to fight the “war on terrorism,” and we have seen that terrorism has been around for a long time, when do we get those rights back? Do they stay gone as long as there are Timothy McVeighs out there who might do something? Do our children get those rights back or our grandchildren? Will they just be taught that they could have had those rights, if it were not for the terrorists? Will they have to at least learn what rights their parents had, so they will know what to ask for when there exist no more terrorists in the whole world?

Perhaps they won’t be taught that they are (were) rights at all, but rather just something that the government gives people when it wants to.

Our civil rights do not exist so that a few criminals can get away with crime, though that does unfortunately happen sometimes. Our civil rights exist to protect the many from the few.


I’m worried about this too, but here it is.

“Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes. But I warn you, if you don’t tell me that this means war, if you still try to defend the infamies and horrors perpetrated by that Antichrist- I really believe he is Antichrist- I will have nothing more to do with you and you are no longer my friend, no longer my ‘faithful slave,’ as you call yourself! But how do you do? I see I have frightened you- sit down and tell me all the news.”

It was in July, 1805, and the speaker was the well-known Anna Pavlovna Scherer, maid of honor and favorite of the Empress Marya Fedorovna. With these words she greeted Prince Vasili Kuragin, a man of high rank and importance, who was the first to arrive at her reception. Anna Pavlovna had had a cough for some days. She was, as she said, suffering from la grippe; grippe being then a new word in St. Petersburg, used only by the elite.

All her invitations without exception, written in French, and delivered by a scarlet-liveried footman that morning, ran as follows:

“If you have nothing better to do, Count [or Prince], and if the prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too terrible, I shall be very charmed to see you tonight between 7 and 10- Annette Scherer.”

“Heavens! what a virulent attack!” replied the prince, not in the least disconcerted by this reception. He had just entered, wearing an embroidered court uniform, knee breeches, and shoes, and had stars on his breast and a serene expression on his flat face. He spoke in that refined French in which our grandfathers not only spoke but thought, and with the gentle, patronizing intonation natural to a man of importance who had grown old in society and at court. He went up to Anna Pavlovna, kissed her hand, presenting to her his bald, scented, and shining head, and complacently seated himself on the sofa.

“First of all, dear friend, tell me how you are. Set your friend’s mind at rest,” said he without altering his tone, beneath the politeness and affected sympathy of which indifference and even irony could be discerned.

“Can one be well while suffering morally? Can one be calm in times like these if one has any feeling?” said Anna Pavlovna. “You are staying the whole evening, I hope?”

“And the fete at the English ambassador’s? Today is Wednesday. I must put in an appearance there,” said the prince. “My daughter is coming for me to take me there.”

“I thought today’s fete had been canceled. I confess all these festivities and fireworks are becoming wearisome.”

“If they had known that you wished it, the entertainment would have been put off,” said the prince, who, like a wound-up clock, by force of habit said things he did not even wish to be believed.

“Don’t tease! Well, and what has been decided about Novosiltsev’s dispatch? You know everything.”

“What can one say about it?” replied the prince in a cold, listless tone. “What has been decided? They have decided that Buonaparte has burnt his boats, and I believe that we are ready to burn ours.”

Prince Vasili always spoke languidly, like an actor repeating a stale part. Anna Pavlovna Scherer on the contrary, despite her forty years, overflowed with animation and impulsiveness. To be an enthusiast had become her social vocation and, sometimes even when she did not feel like it, she became enthusiastic in order not to disappoint the expectations of those who knew her. The subdued smile which, though it did not suit her faded features, always played round her lips expressed, as in a spoiled child, a continual consciousness of her charming defect, which she neither wished, nor could, nor considered it necessary, to correct.

In the midst of a conversation on political matters Anna Pavlovna burst out:

“Oh, don’t speak to me of Austria. Perhaps I don’t understand things, but Austria never has wished, and does not wish, for war. She is betraying us! Russia alone must save Europe. Our gracious sovereign recognizes his high vocation and will be true to it. That is the one thing I have faith in! Our good and wonderful sovereign has to perform the noblest role on earth, and he is so virtuous and noble that God will not forsake him. He will fulfill his vocation and crush the hydra of revolution, which has become more terrible than ever in the person of this murderer and villain! We alone must avenge the blood of the just one… Whom, I ask you, can we rely on?.. England with her commercial spirit will not and cannot understand the Emperor Alexander’s loftiness of soul. She has refused to evacuate Malta. She wanted to find, and still seeks, some secret motive in our actions. What answer did Novosiltsev get? None. The English have not understood and cannot understand the self-abnegation of our Emperor who wants nothing for himself, but only desires the good of mankind. And what have they promised? Nothing! And what little they have promised they will not perform! Prussia has always declared that Buonaparte is invincible, and that all Europe is powerless before him… And I don’t believe a word that Hardenburg says, or Haugwitz either. This famous Prussian neutrality is just a trap. I have faith only in God and the lofty destiny of our adored monarch. He will save Europe!”

She suddenly paused, smiling at her own impetuosity.

“I think,” said the prince with a smile, “that if you had been sent instead of our dear Wintzingerode you would have captured the King of Prussia’s consent by assault. You are so eloquent. Will you give me a cup of tea?”

“In a moment. A propos,” she added, becoming calm again, “I am expecting two very interesting men tonight, le Vicomte de Mortemart, who is connected with the Montmorencys through the Rohans, one of the best French families. He is one of the genuine emigres, the good ones. And also the Abbe Morio. Do you know that profound thinker? He has been received by the Emperor. Had you heard?”

“I shall be delighted to meet them,” said the prince. “But tell me,” he added with studied carelessness as if it had only just occurred to him, though the question he was about to ask was the chief motive of his visit, “is it true that the Dowager Empress wants Baron Funke to be appointed first secretary at Vienna? The baron by all accounts is a poor creature.”

Prince Vasili wished to obtain this post for his son, but others were trying through the Dowager Empress Marya Fedorovna to secure it for the baron.

Anna Pavlovna almost closed her eyes to indicate that neither she nor anyone else had a right to criticize what the Empress desired or was pleased with.

“Baron Funke has been recommended to the Dowager Empress by her sister,” was all she said, in a dry and mournful tone.

As she named the Empress, Anna Pavlovna’s face suddenly assumed an expression of profound and sincere devotion and respect mingled with sadness, and this occurred every time she mentioned her illustrious patroness. She added that Her Majesty had deigned to show Baron Funke beaucoup d’estime, and again her face clouded over with sadness.

The prince was silent and looked indifferent. But, with the womanly and courtierlike quickness and tact habitual to her, Anna Pavlovna wished both to rebuke him (for daring to speak he had done of a man recommended to the Empress) and at the same time to console him, so she said:

“Now about your family. Do you know that since your daughter came out everyone has been enraptured by her? They say she is amazingly beautiful.”

The prince bowed to signify his respect and gratitude.

“I often think,” she continued after a short pause, drawing nearer to the prince and smiling amiably at him as if to show that political and social topics were ended and the time had come for intimate conversation- “I often think how unfairly sometimes the joys of life are distributed. Why has fate given you two such splendid children? I don’t speak of Anatole, your youngest. I don’t like him,” she added in a tone admitting of no rejoinder and raising her eyebrows. “Two such charming children. And really you appreciate them less than anyone, and so you don’t deserve to have them.”

And she smiled her ecstatic smile.

“I can’t help it,” said the prince. “Lavater would have said I lack the bump of paternity.”

“Don’t joke; I mean to have a serious talk with you. Do you know I am dissatisfied with your younger son? Between ourselves” (and her face assumed its melancholy expression), “he was mentioned at Her Majesty’s and you were pitied…”

The prince answered nothing, but she looked at him significantly, awaiting a reply. He frowned.

“What would you have me do?” he said at last. “You know I did all a father could for their education, and they have both turned out fools. Hippolyte is at least a quiet fool, but Anatole is an active one. That is the only difference between them.” He said this smiling in a way more natural and animated than usual, so that the wrinkles round his mouth very clearly revealed something unexpectedly coarse and unpleasant.

“And why are children born to such men as you? If you were not a father there would be nothing I could reproach you with,” said Anna Pavlovna, looking up pensively.

“I am your faithful slave and to you alone I can confess that my children are the bane of my life. It is the cross I have to bear. That is how I explain it to myself. It can’t be helped!”

He said no more, but expressed his resignation to cruel fate by a gesture. Anna Pavlovna meditated.

“Have you never thought of marrying your prodigal son Anatole?” she asked. “They say old maids have a mania for matchmaking, and though I don’t feel that weakness in myself as yet,I know a little person who is very unhappy with her father. She is a relation of yours, Princess Mary Bolkonskaya.”

Prince Vasili did not reply, though, with the quickness of memory and perception befitting a man of the world, he indicated by a movement of the head that he was considering this information.

“Do you know,” he said at last, evidently unable to check the sad current of his thoughts, “that Anatole is costing me forty thousand rubles a year? And,” he went on after a pause, “what will it be in five years, if he goes on like this?” Presently he added: “That’s what we fathers have to put up with… Is this princess of yours rich?”

“Her father is very rich and stingy. He lives in the country. He is the well-known Prince Bolkonski who had to retire from the army under the late Emperor, and was nicknamed ‘the King of Prussia.’ He is very clever but eccentric, and a bore. The poor girl is very unhappy. She has a brother; I think you know him, he married Lise Meinen lately. He is an aide-de-camp of Kutuzov’s and will be here tonight.”

“Listen, dear Annette,” said the prince, suddenly taking Anna Pavlovna’s hand and for some reason drawing it downwards. “Arrange that affair for me and I shall always be your most devoted slave- slafe wigh an f, as a village elder of mine writes in his reports. She is rich and of good family and that’s all I want.”

And with the familiarity and easy grace peculiar to him, he raised the maid of honor’s hand to his lips, kissed it, and swung it to and fro as he lay back in his armchair, looking in another direction.

“Attendez,” said Anna Pavlovna, reflecting, “I’ll speak to Lise, young Bolkonski’s wife, this very evening, and perhaps the thing can be arranged. It shall be on your family’s behalf that I’ll start my apprenticeship as old maid.”

-Leo Tolstoy