A short time ago, a story broke on SLATE about something I’ve been unable to put out of my mind. The United States government poisoned the alcohol supply of the bootleggers during prohibition with the intent to kill those drinking the product. As a direct result, 10,000 US citizens died at the hands of the government by 1933.
There is no ambiguity about this. Government employees were given express sanction by those higher in the bureaucratic hierarchy to murder those who were violating the law. It was enough justification that these individuals did not agree with the governments’ interpretation of right and wrong for them to perish. And the most horrific component of this farce is that the government murders were directly endorsed by those same citizens that supported prohibition. Members of society who encouraged the government murders said that “bootleggers and their law-breaking alcoholic customers deserved no sympathy” and even went so far as to say that the “lawmakers opposed to the poisoning plan of being in cahoots with criminals”.
I don’t think I’ve read anything quite as horrifying as this.
This happened during the supposed innocent time of America. This during the supposed “golden years” of flappers, big band music and wide eyed dreams of the future that occasionally made the jump into reality. There were no imminent external threats, no nuclear clouds on the horizon, and the cataclysm that came to be known as the great depression was still deeply enshrouded a few years away.
10,000 people died because they “deserved” to die.
I’ve occasionally wondered how many activities are illegal in this day and age that were enjoyed by our grandfathers and great grandfathers. Perhaps in innocence, or perhaps with malice, the rationale for the ownership of mercury thermometers, sanitized dietary tapeworms, heroin, asbestos, theominal, absinthe, cocaine and even certain tobaccos have faded into obscurity. But how many activities do we partake in now that may one day be illegal at the whim of the body politic? Activities we take for granted at this time because the majority of people are enjoying the same things we are?
Does someone deserve to die for drinking a sweetened caffeinated beverage? Does someone deserve to die for inhaling a dead plant? Does someone deserve to die or eating a candy laced with high fructose corn syrup? Does someone deserve to die for drinking water from a plastic bottle? Any of these questions are patently ridiculous to ask in this day and age. As equally ridiculous as asking if someone deserves to die for drinking a beer or a shot of whiskey. But who can say for certain this will always be so evident?
First, there are constitutional laws and due processes in place that are designed to prevent this kind of government sanctioned massacre from happening, but even to this day, both political parties still attempt to pass “adjustments” to these constitutional processes on a weekly basis. I firmly believe even in the slightest modification to due processes and/or the constitution must be met with extreme skepticism and impassioned debate. Because even though the system in place now is exasperatingly slow in correcting injustices, eventually the truth does find its’ way back to the surface and into the mainstream consciousness. And often, and just as slowly, a metered justice tends to follow afterwards.
To allow the government to change or amend any of the due processes afforded to us, the citizens of the United States, is just another invitation for the government to give us what they think we deserve.
But solely blaming the government as a whole for these injustices is not right. Just like there are hundreds of honest, hardworking police officers who go through herculean tribulations every single day without complaint or protest, only do be undone by a handful of dishonest peers, so too is every branch of the government. For every unsung good deed or golden treasure buried in the governments’ history, there are loud and vulgar perversions that pull our attention away from those who labored for the just and right.
Which brings me to my second concern. Government must be diligently monitored and constantly called to task for decisions made on every level by every member of the government. The ownership and responsibility of this task belongs equally to both the politicians who are in office and the population as a whole. Because I believe, now more so than ever before, the moral failure of individuals in the government who are entrusted with enacting out the will of the state it is not simply a possibility. It is inevitability.
To prevent another poisoning, to prevent another sanctioned “open season” on those who are currently breaking the current fancies and whims of the politicians of the day, we must, as a community, get involved. Not just watch the news and type angry emails to people we already know. Write the Senators. Write the House of Representatives. Skip the TV once in awhile and attend a city council meeting. When a member of big government comes to town, attend their little soirees and ask some questions.
And the third, final, and most difficult of these concerns – the need to confront those individuals who are encouraging irresponsible behavior in government. Those who would sanction government atrocities simply because it would further their own personal worldviews. It’s been my personal experience the hardest enemy to fight is the one who incites others to mindlessly do their bidding. When an opponent and their legion of brainwashed supporters shout “if you don’t agree with us, then you agree with the enemy”, then the fight is not only with each mantra-chanting individual enchanted by the cause, but also with an entire ideology itself.
In my opinion, the only way to fight this monster is with logic. Logic on a personal, individual, grassroots scale. To gently convert individuals back to a reasoned conclusion. To point out the errors in their ideology’s foundations and convert these individuals back away from the extreme fringe they have landed on, all the while doing so without malice or avarice. From there, one convert will become two, then four, and then exponentially eat away at the hive mind mentality until it is no more. Unfortunately, this often requires the greatest investment of time and personal sacrifice, and the results are slow in coming.
Government will ignore a handful of those on the fringe calling for a presently unheard-of idea to be enacted. But if their voices reach enough critical mass, then the government will follow without question or guilty conscience. Because it is, after all, what the people want.
Maybe I’m wrong about all this and my rocker just needs a little adjusting. Maybe all this is because I’m finally old enough to realize things really don’t take care of themselves. Maybe I’ve realized if something like this can happen in the best of times, there’s not much to keep it happening in the worst of times.
I’m pouring myself a jack and coke to think it over some more.