Sam: “I only know you got the wrong man.”Jack: [scoffs] “Information Transit got the wrong man. I got the right man. The wrong man was delivered to me as the right man. I accepted him on good faith as the right man. Was I wrong?”Sam: “You killed Buttle?”Jack: “Sam, there are very rigid parameters laid down to prevent such things happening. It wasn’t my fault that Buttle’s heart condition didn’t appear on Tuttle’s file.”
Jack – Monty Python alum Michael Palin – is a government torturer speaking with the protagonist of Brazil, a 1985 dystopian film directed by Palin’s fellow Flying Circus collaborator, Terry Gilliam. Jack is attempting to justify to Sam the government kidnapping, torturing, and consequently killing a man who was incorrectly deemed an Enemy of the State. Jack insists that he was just doing his job, defiant at Sam’s insinuation that he should be held responsible for the underlying rationale of his line of work or the moral ramifications of his actions. There are other subplots that impel the narrative and round out the film nicely, but they are all derivative of the opening scenes that show administrative incompetence directly leading to the death of an innocent person.
This is a case of mistaken identity with the most disastrous of consequences. The innocent man tortured and murdered by Jack is Archibald Buttle, who is erroneously identified as Archibald Tuttle, a freelance heating and air conditioning repairman working outside of the State apparatus. The world of Brazil has endured over a decade of war against a decentralized movement of terrorist bombings, sabotage, and dissent, and Tuttle is an accused coconspirator targeted without the due process of law. Does any of this sound familiar?
If you have not seen Brazil, I highly recommend giving it a viewing. Gilliam’s masterpiece compares to the works of Orwell and Kafka for its critique of authoritarianism and bureaucracy. Over the decades since its release, Brazil has become widely regarded in its own right as a classic work cautioning against the excesses of the State – like the regulatory and licensing bureaucracies that serve as protection rackets; the centralization of information gathering and accompanying violations of privacy and individual rights; and certainly the most heinous, the ability for the government to murder under the guise of law.
Of course Brazil’s absurdist and satirical content is recognizable to Python fans and those familiar with Gilliam’s other films, but its appeal isn’t limited to those audiences and is a great work based on the merits of storytelling and cinematography alone. Very few films so providently depict the genuine and far-reaching consequences of normalizing government policies like rendition, torture, and targeted assassination, as well as the increasingly common and cavalier manner in which such policies are implemented. Nearly thirty years after its release, Gilliam’s sardonic view of totalitarianism is absolutely prescient and instructive in assessing the contemporary American Empire.
So why is Brazil so relevant today? The New York Times published a profile of President Obama’s Secret ‘Kill List’ late last month, detailing the program of targeted assassinations that are now as much a signature of the Obama Doctrine as pre-emptive war was a hallmark of the Bush Doctrine. The feature was heavily aided by the cooperation of dozens of current and former officials of the Obama administration, which was quite evident as the substance of the piece glowingly touched on political calculations involved, justifications for such a program, and its implementation, and without ever leaving the entrenched Government-Think Tank-Media Bubble to consider contrary analysis. There are many consistent writers who have elaborated on these developments, and though their political views differ, they are all united in their opposition to the American Empire, and of course I respect their opinions, so a few suggestions. From the principled Left, Glenn Greenwald’s two pieces, “Obama the Warrior” and “How extremism is normalized”, as well as Tom Engelhardt’s “Praying at the Church of St. Drone”. Philip Giraldi offers a denunciation from the principled Right, in, “Killing by PowerPoint”. And Judge Andrew Napolitano responds to President Obama with a strictly libertarian perspective (rather than anarchist) with, “Obama’s Secret Kill List”. All worth a solid read, as well as many others.
Considering the expansive, costly, and brutal foreign policy pursued during the current Obama Administration and the former Bush Administration (just for starters), such an assassination policy is not to be unexpected, but neither should it be tolerated. Americans are all too often ignorant of, or cheerleading on, the normalization of policies that are antithetical to the supposed spirit of America. These Americans can be found mindlessly chanting slogans on State holidays for its ongoing wars, both at home and abroad, while invoking words like ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ in the pursuit of their very destruction. The American Empire is a bipartisan affair, pursued and expanded upon by both Democrats and Republicans, and the 2012 election looks no different. Romney and Obama are as similar as choosing between crunchy or smooth peanut butter; both are basically the same and will leave an unwelcoming taste in your mouth. Third parties are unfortunately a non-issue, and regardless, someone like Gary Johnson is unfortunately not even a well-read representative of libertarianism, much less anarchism.
So at a time when the State increasingly views the populace in the terms of the film Brazil, as either Archibald Tuttle – a perceived or actual opponent of the status quo, or Archibald Buttle – an innocent person caught up in the machinery of the State and deemed collateral damage, it is again important to stress that sacrificing liberty for security is not a basis to build upon. And as Archibald Tuttle advised, “We're all in it together.”
The State is the enemy of Liberty, Peace, and Prosperity, and therefore, all individuals.