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It’s Time to Flee the Country

"The disasters we've visited on the people of the Middle East are something for which we're ultimately responsible... But I fear much worse is to come domestically."

When I was a graduate student at Berkeley in the mid-1950s, my teachers included many brilliant refugees from Hitler's Germany. Sometimes, when we got to know them personally, we would ask them when they had bailed out. In some cases it was quite late. My professor Reinhard Bendix was a student at the University of Chicago in 1938 when his parents told him not to come home. Others left even later, some first heading to Cuba and others leaving only when it was almost too late.

My wife and I used to puzzle over these decisions (my wife herself had survived four years of Nazi occupation in Holland), and we toyed with constructing what we called a "Fascistograph"-a sort of checklist of social and political phenomena that might tell someone when to leave. I wish we had pursued our intellectual game more seriously, because I have the feeling that such a checklist might come in handy right now.

I see very little hope for America regardless of who is elected in November. All the candidates remaining in the race have said they will not "cut and run" in Iraq and Afghanistan. One may speculate that once in office, one or another candidate may be more flexible, but this is actually unlikely. The Republicans have swallowed both wars hook, line, and sinker, and the Democrats know that if they propose any sort of pullout they will be labeled "defeatists" and blamed for the miserable outcome. And, as many pundits have pointed out, the outcome is bound to be miserable either now or later. More civilians will be killed; more regions, tribes, or towns will turn to their own leaders-instead of to the elected national officials-for protection; more weapons will fuel whatever hatreds are being nursed against others in the region and most certainly against the United States. Isn't it ironic that we came to Iraq to "free" its people from a Sunni minority dictatorship, and we're now arming these same Sunnis against a Shiite majority? Isn't it ironic that the hated Taliban did a much better job of controlling the cultivation of opium poppies than the government we put in place in Kabul?

The disasters we've visited on the people of the Middle East are something for which we're ultimately responsible.

The disasters we've visited on the people of the Middle East are something for which we're ultimately responsible, much as blame for the Holocaust belongs to the Nazi regime and the Rape of Nanking to the wartime Japanese government. But I fear much worse is to come domestically. The lies of the Bush government that got us into these two wars, and the propaganda and public misinformation that continue to keep us there have had a corrosive effect on public trust. Many people no longer believe anything the government or the media tells them. So far this cynicism has not penetrated deeply into the ranks of the armed services. But I suspect that before long it will. As the wars drag on and the deployments stretch out, as the casualties continue with no end in sight, and as it becomes clear how poorly these casualties are cared for once they come home, our military-including the National Guard-will become demoralized and very angry. They should be angry for being used as they are; we should be angry for them.

In addition to our moral bankruptcy, there is fiscal bankruptcy. The Bush government talks about the burst housing bubble but says nothing about the obscene military budgets that are driving our entire economy deeper into debt. It will probably take a major financial crisis on par with the Great Depression to reorient our economy in a more productive direction. Unfortunately, I don't hear any viable candidate talking like FDR.

In short, I think our ship of state is heading for a mammoth iceberg. Just as many people in 1930s Germany were, I'm too old to leave and will probably go down with the ship. But if I were younger, I would be thinking of bailing out. Vote, if you must, in November, but don't expect that things will change much, let alone get better.

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