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Let the Show Trials Begin!

Show trials are media events that serve a cultural purpose:

...Media Events can transform reality and signal new possibilities for the future. In the case of great trials, this transformative power is both tangible (i.e. one is sentenced to death), and symbolic (i.e. public opinion is made aware of a new reality).
This power would seem to largely derive from the instrumental staging that military or government leaders develop. By creating a theatrical framework hidden under the guise of the legal process, show trials are able to tell convincing narratives about contested ideologies or events. These narratives are then distributed via the media to the public who eventually evaluate the trials ultimate transformative effects. In this process, collective memory is shaped, in some cases to fear and hate, and others to justice. The difference between these two outcomes is likely due to the presence of a rational-legal justice system, although the line between illegitimate show trial and legitimate show trial is exceedingly thin.

Stalin used show trials to compel obeisance to the state and achieve totalitarian control. Hitler used them against the White Rose movement and other dissidents to illustrate that protest was verbotten. The show trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg served up human sacrifices to simultaneously exorcise both the evil of Communism and the evil of the McCarthy witch-hunts.

Though show trials can be used for good (Eichmann in Jerusalem), they are also an excellent way for a totalitarian power to signal what the state expects of its citizens. ("There's a new sheriff in town and this is how it's going to be.") I may be wrong, but it feels like there's one in the wings coming up for the entertainment and edification of the American Public; in fact, it may be a double feature.

Once again Xymphora was my primary informant, and from him you can read just how chess genius Bobby Fischer was entrapped for extradition to return to Murka to face trial for "violating [a] United Nations sanction."

Year ago, when I read Fischer's comments about 9/11 in Harper's Magazine, I knew that wasn't the last I'd be hearing about it; I knew that someday he'd pay for his sins, and that it was only a matter of time before he'd be brought to task. And now that time has come. There was no way he wasn't going to pay for these comments:

This is all wonderful news. It is time to finish off the US once and for all.

I was happy and could not believe what was happening. All the crimes the US has committed in the world. This just shows, what goes around comes around, even to the US.

I applaud the act. The US and Israel have been slaughtering the Palestinians for years. Now it is coming back at the US.

The horror, of course, was that someone — an American, yet! — openly said what was behind the attack. That he wrapped it in a gloating coat of schadenfreude was just the sort of present that allowed the Brown Shirts to paint any serious inquiry into the causes of the attack as inherently "anti-american" and treasonous. Thus, when Chomsky or Zinn or any critic of Murkan foreign policy explored the reasons behind the attack they could easily just paint them with the same brush.

I'll never forget driving home from work the day of the attack. I was listening to Pacifica Radio where a caller was castigating the hosts for daring to explore the reasons for the attack. It was the first time I had heard the expression "Blame America First" and I knew right then and there that the Mighty Wurlitzer had already fashioned a plan to preclude serious inquiry into the reasons for the attack: the Mighty Wurlitzer was providing their constituents with a knee-jerk euphemism that would give them an escape hatch to shut down their brains whenever they heard someone ask "why". Thus anyone who wasn't just mindlessly keening and demanding their pound of retaliatory flesh at the horrendous attack was automatically painted as subversive. To ask "why" was tantamount to treason.

It didn't matter that Falwell and Robertson also gloated about the attack, blaming it on gays and the ACLU. Since they're rightwing nuts all they have to do is offer a lame apology and all is forgiven and forgotten. But should someone dare to actually claim that maybe the attackers had a legitimate grievance, that maybe it was in retaliation for things America had done, that maybe it wasn't simply because "they hate our freedoms", then that person must be punished. It's easy to forgive lies; it's difficult to forgive truths.

And, of course, attempts at understanding were conflated with sympathy for the attackers: even attempting to understand the reasons behind the attack meant that one must naturally sympathize and side with the terrorists. People naturally have difficulty apprehending the distinction between understanding and sympathy, Americans especially so. [My first major investigation, On Blaming a Shark, explores this theme.]

Like any malign despot who cannot tolerate dissension the thought police must make an example of the heretic. Bobby Fischer will pay the sacrificial price for his indelicate comment and suffer the modern version of the public flogging and burning. America needs to displace its frustrated fury for its plenitude of missteps and problems onto someone, preferably an "enemy from within"; that he happens to be a brilliant, eccentric non-conformist is only the frosting on the cake: it will allow the rubes to feel better about themselves by proving just how dangerous and inherently unpatriotic using one's mind can be. Plus it will have the added bonus of serving as a wonderfully entertaining distraction from the sound of the toilet flushing in the background.

(The latest news is that Fischer is seeking political asylum. Seeing as how Japan is cozying up to Murka lately it's hard to imagine that he'll get it.)

Will Bobby Fischer have a show trial? It's too early to say. But given the mindset of this administration and their desperate need to hide the wizard back behind the curtain anything will do, and a nice show trial would fit several bills at once.

Speaking of show trials, will Sadam Hussein have one? Doubtful. After Manuel Noriega was captured he disappeared from the media. Noriega and Hussein, after all, were Murka's bosom buddies who owed their jobs (and hefty paychecks) to the CIA and the Murkan taxpayer. The last thing the power elite want is their skeletons to come break-dancing out of the closet.

The other potential show trial concerns Charles Robert Jenkins, the 65 year old who deserted the army to go to North Korea 30 years ago. Senator McCarthy, for his HUAC show trials, was careful in choosing victims who would cower before them instead of stand up to them. I expect that right now there are all sorts of deliberations to see if they should try Mr. Jenkins to make an example of him for Murka's future cannon fodder. After all it might backfire if you vituperate some decrepit old man as he teeters on the brink of death. But a show trial might be just the ticket to get future bullet-catchers to think twice about having a conscience about their jobs.

[Oh, and a "Thanks for the honor!" to feverpytch who mentioned me in the same post as Xymphora.]