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Structural Terrorism

by on September 26, 2019

Structural Terrorism

by Marco M. Pardi

The most horrible warfare is the kindest. I shall spread terror by the surprise employment of all my measures. The important thing is the sudden shock of an overwhelming fear of death. Why should I use different measures against my internal political opponents? These so-called atrocities spare me a hundred thousand individual actions against disobedience and discontent. People will think twice before opposing us when they hear what to expect in the camps.” Adolf Hitler. Table Talk. 1933.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

I have written earlier about structural violence, but to be precise I will distinguish it from structural terrorism. The two do share some features, but structural violence is exemplified in the history of the military draft refusal, in the refusal to pay taxes for some activity which violates a strongly held belief, and in other such criminally culpable issues. A young man who refused to be drafted into the Viet-Nam war, presumably to go and kill someone he knew nothing about, faced forcible arrest, imprisonment, and the ruination of his future career life. Yet there was no one in particular whom he could identify as his persecutor. In fact, many people and officials along the way may have told him they agreed with his stand but they had to follow the law. The same applies to a person who calculated the share of his taxes going to the war effort and withheld them: arrest and imprisonment often to choruses of “support” from the very people locking his cell.

Structural terrorism is more nuanced, though it can be singularly deadly. Again, let’s be clear: terrorism is not just some blunt act such as 9/11. Terrorism is a specific act which, even without explanatory manifestos, is clearly intended to bring about a specific result, usually a change in behavior, a cancellation of plans, or a subduing of protest. In this case, let’s examine the following example:

In the early 1980’s I was living in another State. There were several small private and public colleges in easy driving distance and I knew many faculty members at all but one of them. Immediately after Ronald Reagan won his first presidential election one of the public colleges suddenly decided it had to raise faculty salaries. But there was a catch. A general faculty meeting was called and the president of the college, a hard core Republican, announced plans to raise salaries across the board by 22%. But to do that would require trimming faculty who were not drawing enough students to justify their classes. After this initial cut would come a round of budgetary analysis and, likely, a second cut would be needed.

Of course, everyone went back to their duties wondering if they were on the chopping block. The full time faculty contract called for teaching 5 sections of 3 subjects; each section could take as many as 35 students, but the minimum was unclear.

A very short time later each of five faculty were summoned to the vice president’s office and, in the company of the dean of instruction and their department chairman, told they were being cut at the end of the term. Of the five, each was either very active in the Democratic Party or had expressed support for that Party. Additionally, at least one of the five was teaching 7 sections in 4 different subjects while standing in for another faculty member in a different subject area who had taken ill. This faculty member had full wait-lists for each of his classes.

Of course, the news spread rapidly around campus. I was told that these five, all of whom were tenured and had been with the college over 10 years, could not even get their morning greetings returned by long time “friends” at the college. Why not? That threatened second round of cuts. No one dared appear friendly with them.

Although I did not tell these five faculty, I had a close relationship with an insider to the Board of Trustees. This person told me the phones of at least one of the faculty were tapped and the house was being observed. I couldn’t verify the phones, but I did spot the observer cars. The insider also told me of a letter a woman in the community had written at the direction of the administration detailing an almost impossible litany of sexual perversions and satanic activities at the home of one of the five. (This woman later confessed to fabricating the entire testimony under pressure from someone close to the college administration). And, the insider told me that, while letters of commendation were given to each of the five, the administration contacted all the colleges in the area and spread career destroying falsehoods about them.

So what happened? The threatened second cut hung over the campus, stifling any support for the five. (Of course, the 22% bribe helped accomplish that). But the second round of cuts never materialized; the threat had done its job. I know the fate of only one of the five: shortly after discovering he had been secretly black-balled wherever he applied for work he shot himself to death. The rest, I assume, went on with their lives somewhere, somehow.

So how is this structural terrorism? Certainly you picked up on the “second round of cuts”. This absolutely killed even the appearance of any long standing friendships to say nothing of allies who might protest the chosen cuts on someone’s behalf. So, until the first round of cuts was made everyone lived in fear for their livelihood. As the names of the victims emerged no one dared express any sympathy or even puzzlement lest they be named in the expected second round. Yet everyone saw how the named individuals were utterly isolated and without any support.

My point here is to elucidate and clarify the nature of structural terrorism. Each individual decision maker in the process described above denied any personal agenda in the selection of cuts; like those who prosecuted draft resisters, they claimed to feel deep sympathy while bowing to the demands of the “fiscal numbers”. They attempted to preemptively deflect the question of Who is doing this and why.

While the example elaborated above may seem interesting but distant, I propose it is anything but distant. Further, it is not germane solely to the Unites States. This column is read in many countries and, if space permitted, we could devote equal verbiage to similar workplace conditions in any or all of those countries. These conditions arise from the increasing polarization most obviously displayed in political sympathies and the price some people pay for disclosure whether intended or inadvertent. But we must not lose sight of the basic truism that “politics” is simply the rubric we give to the distribution and the use of inter-personal power within societies. Any societies.

But once the targets of abuse of power have been named and isolated, how easy it is to breathe again and say, Not my problem. How easy it is to erase people in our midst, even those we’ve called “friends” for years. “Oh, they’ll survive.” “One day they’ll look back at this and say it was the best thing that ever happened to them.” If any of the fellow faculty in the example cited above actually believed those facile sayings why was there not a collective stampede for the door? Everyone knew the cuts were political surgery and in one case very personally motivated. Aaah, the 22% pay raise. Do your “friends” have a price? Do you?

The United States today has the most corrupt presidential administration in its history. Many in the president’s own party privately acknowledge this and despise the president and all who surround him. In the past few years there have been several members of that party who have resigned or refused to run for re-election. But what of the rest? What’s their price?

As we are seeing, massive tax cuts which primarily benefit the big money donors to these remaining members, environmental cuts and the muzzling of science each of which benefits the big money fossil fuel donors, and social benefits cuts which ensure the disadvantaged remain powerless are the “22%” of the day. As I personally heard a very senior legal aide say on Trump’s election: “Now we can do whatever we want!!”

We have “Whistle blower” laws which protect those who report wrong doing. Yet today our president called for the exposure of those who provided information to the current whistle blower and suggested these people be treated as we treated spies in the past.

What concerns me more is the overt appeal from this president to the rabble that supports his cabal. Where I live having any kind of decal on your car which criticizes this president or supports an opponent is an invitation to someone to pull up next to you and put a bullet in your head. Far more likely is retaliation in some form at places of employment; finding yourself passed over for promotion, or suddenly without a job.

Do you know who your friends are?

Again, these issues are not limited to the United States. Those among my international readers who find themselves in fear of self expression share in the structural terrorism which is gaining strength daily in this country. We have an empathetic connection. How we dare share it remains to be seen.

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10 Comments
  1. From Ray: Hard to believe that kind of thing happens in the land of the free, Colin Powell’s oldest democracy. The land where checks and balances and the rule of law dominate. And it happens here as well – or would a lot more if we were any good at it. Sorry to hear about that.

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  2. Thanks, Ray. I personally knew four of the five faculty, and the events were actually much more vicious than how I portrayed them. I only touched on the basics to elucidate my subject: structural terrorism.

    The woman who wrote that horrendous letter (I heard about it but never saw it) came to my home years later and confessed how she had been pressured into making the whole thing up. But, by that time the damage had been done and everyone had gone their separate ways – including the man who killed himself.

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  3. Almost every morning, my brother spends some time ranting about Trump’s incompetence as President. He is prone to sharing his opinions on many subjects. In this case, he says that he cannot talk with many people, including his girlfriend and her family, because they say “stop confusing me with the facts”; they simply don’t want to hear it. They apparently aren’t the only ones.

    My father used to say that I could shred a man with my tongue. In recent times, we have seen many examples of how threats and innuendo have ruined lives; I guess the pen, poisonously applied, truly is mightier than the sword.

    Telling truth to power has become a dangerous transaction. In the current case, exposing that power to truth has the potential to cost the truth teller his freedom, or his life. Trump demands to be told who exposes his actions (not the first of its type, by the way), promising to prosecute the truth-teller as a traitor, and a spy. It’s an intermittent reinforcement type of thing: he doesn’t actually have to go through with it for the threat to be effective. “Snitches get stitches”, and who’s going to come forward with that kind of potential punishment hanging over his head. I’m proud of whoever was brave enough to put forward this truth, but at the same time, I fear for their future.

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    • Thank you, Rose. Yes, disintegration among significant others has been going on at an accelerating pace since 2016. And you are right to have concerns for the safety of those who speak. We already have examples of violence acted out “on behalf” of Trump by people who assumed (rightly) he wanted it. Therefore, we cannot simply look at those who are obviously associated with the regime; people self identify with the regime and act according to what they think their superiors wish.

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  4. Dana permalink

    Marco, I could probably write a book about this. Moving forward takes practice.

    My friends are right here.

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  5. Thanks, Dana. Reminds me of the Mafia saying, Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.

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  6. Mike Stamm permalink

    I have never been caught up in anything like this, nor even a position to be caught up; the spear-carriers usually are in no position to offer an opinion or to take a stand for or against much of anything. I have seen it happen to others, and it is perhaps the most heart-breaking and infuriating thing I have ever seen…and it again proves that the myth of America is in yet another way, a myth. We glory in the belief that “It can’t happen here”…but it does, somewhere, every damn day. The irony is that in his putative quest to “Make America Great Again,” our walking-slimewad of a president is reducing this country to just another historic failure.

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    • Thanks, Mike. I’ve stayed with my position that “culture” is merely a gloss, and I hold that position regarding society as well. It’s not pleasant, but nobody said reality would be pleasant.

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