Bureaucrats and Barbarians
© by Night Hawke 2001
Four escaped convicts, each weighing over 200 pounds and ostensibly burly powerful men, commandeer a citizen's car and take off across the desert in their escape. Thousands of law enforcement officials are deployed to find the felons across multiple states tying up precious resources of manpower and equipment while managing to expend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
While making good their escape a wasp enters the stolen vehicle and the four burly men begin flailing about attempting to avoid being stung and kill the wasp. The driver, being particularly afraid of the malevolent insect, takes both hands off the wheel waving his hands about his head in protection which causes the car to veer off the road, hit the ditch, roll over, and kill all four occupants. The wasp, never having stung one of them flies away unscathed.
This is the premise for Eric Frank Russell's 1957 sci-fi work 'Wasp' in which he points out that it only takes four men to upset the apple cart of a huge population's government. And that a mere tiny wasp with a simple brain weighing less than half an ounce can destroy a sophisticated automobile weighing over a ton and kill four men with advanced brains weighing a collective half-ton.
The hero of Russell's book, James Mowry, is trained to conduct psychological warfare through acts of terrorism and is sent to the enemy home planet in disguise where he does just that. As a solitary soldier behind enemy lines he manages to convince the overpowering foe of Earth that he is in fact a large (and native) force of dissidents. While the alien government swats at Mowry -- the Earth forces are able to use this distraction to overcome the seemingly superior threat.
Although the book was regarded highly among sci-fi circles it never received the critical acclaim of Orwell's 1984. Ultimately optimistic that the human race will overcome evil even in the face of overwhelming odds Russell's barbaric 'Wasp' is a stark contrast to the pessimism of Orwell's ubiquitously invoked bureauphobic epistle. Russell may, however, have proven to be more prophetic than his countryman was. Of course, evil, is in the eye of the beholder.
Now we flail against the wasp. Ashcroft burgeons a new security act called Patriot to secure the safety of the homeland, decrying his lack of electronic eavesdropping capability as the culprit for the 9-11 attacks. He sends out more than 4000 shock troops, er, FBI agents, in search of 19 terrorists. Former CIA chief Jim Woolsey decries the Clinton administration's reform of his department shifting from 'human' intelligence to reliance on electronic eavesdropping as the culprit of the 9-11 attacks. The President says we're going to track down and bring those responsible to justice. The secretary of defense says that will be hard. The President says go about life as normal. Ashcroft says be on high alert. Congress appropriates billions to fight off the threat. We drop smart bombs on tents. The terrorists buy air-line tickets and stamps. We back another politically questionable band of rebels. We suspect we don't know whom to suspect. The flag waves. People eat chocolate and party like it's 1999.
The casualties mount at home as we flail; while our super powered nineteen-year-old soldiers fight in relative safety (but those casualties will come too). Our new war, though, is here at home. This is where the casualties mount. This is where we are vulnerable. Regardless of the endless punditisms of our inability to fight in Afghanistan against the Taleban or Al Quada -- we can win there. It's here that we have the challenge.
The bureaucratic response to the barbarians has us passing legislative gas and searching for nail-clippers in luggage. We discuss the auspices of being barbaric, such as torturing detainees, and suggest it may even be legal if the information gleaned from it is used to investigate instead of prosecute. And even though the framers of the Constitution never intended it to be a suicide pact the recent measures passed in clear violation of our fourth amendment rights really only serve to grant more Federal power over the law abiding.
We've now transformed the FBI from a criminal investigation unit into a crime prevention monolith. Can't we see the folly in that? The ironic thing is the party that has traditionally been against 'big government' has done it. Let's see how effective this technique will be. How will we measure results now? By how they capture terrorists? Or how they prevent acts of terrorism? Since prevention is the goal success will be measured in how many attempted terrorist threats are thwarted. So, then, every other week or so, the FBI director announces; 'Be on high alert.' Nothing happens. He claims success. Does this sound familiar?
To truly fight the barbarians we will have to become barbarians, without being barbaric. How do we do that? Certainly not by the present means proposed -- such as the new Bureaucracy to fight terrorism called 'Homeland Defense' to be headed by Tom Ridge. In true bureaucratic form the President himself will head the formation of this new agency to guide it through it's inception meetings.
If the framers of this new agency are smart -- they will hearken back to a model from yesteryear. A model in synergizing barbarism with civility was when we needed to tame the Wild West. We combated the outlaw rogues that roamed the prairies by recruiting outlaw rogues and called them U.S. Marshals; empowering them to go out and nab the other rogues. All the while we were able to keep control over the rogue marshals by virtue of the fact that they acted under the direction of judges (not prosecutors) and were not highly organized. They could move fast, break the law in getting the bad guy, and we could turn the other way and ignore it because they were getting results. If they got too abusive -- because the individual Marshals themselves were.. well.. Individual for the most part -- we could pull them off the street fairly easily if necessary.
We don't need more bureaucracy to fight barbarians. We need barbarians. We need wasps. And fly swatters.