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Imitations of fascism are not a form of flattery
Posted: Sunday, August 31, 2003

By Raff Ellis,

As a student of history, I've often been "shocked and awed" by the obvious parallels between governments of ancient times and those of today. If, as an example, you study the actions of oppressive and militaristic states such as ancient Sparta you cannot help but see a striking resemblance to the actions of a modern-day state such as Israel, and recently, its imitator, the United States.

Some 2,600 years or so ago, the city-state Sparta conquered the people of Messenia and made them into a class of serfs, called helots. Because they were numerically outnumbered by as much as 10 to 1, the Spartans developed a code of behavior they believed would ensure their continued dominance over the helots. Male youths were conscripted at an early age and subjected to rigorous training that toughened them mentally and physically. These youths passed through many stages of preparation and instruction including indoctrination in hatred for the helots. The most accomplished were rewarded with a position in the murderous secret police. In this organization they were taught to identify and assassinate the most talented of the subjugated helots as a means of obviating the emergence of a class that would pose a threat to the Spartan state's supremacy.

In the society that emerged, the Spartans were the only ones favored with citizenship and given shares in the allotment of captured lands. The helots had no legal or civil rights and were constantly terrorized and suppressed by the Spartan secret police. The Spartiates were mainly concerned with preserving the Spartan character of their state. It is not recorded whether the helots who resisted were called "terrorists."

During the last century the world's "democratic" countries have bemoaned the ruthless tactics of states that have used the Spartan model as their guide. The governments of the Third Reich, the USSR and East Germany, among others have been thoroughly reviled for using secret police to subjugate their people. Down through the ages many such organizations have been created by a variety of governments and endowed with authority superior to other extant state or national law-enforcing agencies. They investigated, apprehended, and sometimes even judged suspects in secrecy (military tribunals?), and were exempt from the usual checks and balances, often accountable only to a select few in the executive branch of the government. In extreme cases they had their own courts and prisons, and their activities were kept secret not only from the mass of the population but also from any legislative, judicial, and executive authorities of the state, except at the topmost level. Secret police organizations have taken, and continue to take on a life of their own outside any established judicial system.

Does any of this sound familiar? Of course it does. The Israelis for the past 50 years have been invading and conquering Palestinians and targeting them for extra-judicial incarceration and assassination. They aim their weapons at the leaders, intellectuals, journalists and virtually anyone deemed a threat to their continued domination. Attacks are not restricted to the indigenous population, but also target Palestinian émigrés and refugees in other places such as in Lebanon and Europe. Israeli secret police, the Shabak, operate outside the judicial system and are not subjected to the scrutiny of the normal democratic process, such as it is. They regularly torture many of the prisoners they hold and give no accounting as to the term, numbers or location of the detainees, leaving their families often to wonder if they will ever see them again.

Of course, the methods of killing have advanced dramatically since the time of Sparta, methods that were restricted to knives, spears and the occasional bow and arrow. Now, however, spectacular assassinations are served up almost daily using the most modern of weaponry -- planes, helicopters rockets, bombs and precision sniper rifles -- in contravention, by the way, of U.S. laws, which state that any made-in-the-USA weapons are to be used for defensive purposes only. People identified by the Shabak as targets, are routinely killed by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), along with substantial numbers of civilians in so-called collateral damage. The secret police recruit Palestinian spies through torture and threats against their families to help pinpoint potential targets. In other words, continued domination over the Palestinians and their lands, just as Sparta did with the Messenians, is the objective and no means are spared to justify this end.

Although Israel continues to take and hold Palestinian territory, they do so at great cost in blood and treasure (courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer). Palestinian resistance has inured and shows no signs of abating. The draconian tactics of oppression by Israel have given its people neither the peace nor the security they claim to crave. No matter how positive the spin put on these tactics, this policy is destined to lose in the long run because such practices insularize and poison the attitudes of its own population, much as it did in Sparta. The Spartans became quite xenophobic and were loath to cooperate with their neighbors, preferring to rely on their egocentric superiority and their own form of fascism for the survival of its state. It failed.

The U.S., for its part, has endorsed Israel's strategy with financial, political and moral support, and of late has even adopted the self-same tactics for use in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is no secret that the neocons in Washington admire Israel's "know-how" and in an imitation-as-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery tribute, rush to implement these same failing policies. The Defense Department has even gone so far as to commit personnel to be trained by Israel in the tactics of suppressing large urban populations. We have now seen Americans engaged in targeted assassinations (Yemen and Iraq), incarceration without judicial process (numerous arrests of people for immigration violations and labeling POWs as terrorists), jails being run outside the normal legal jurisdiction (Guantanamo), humiliation and torture of prisoners (stripped naked, blindfolded and subjected to psychological torture) and no accounting as to numbers, term of detention or whereabouts of detainees leaving their families to wonder if they will ever be seen again.

Violations of international law and various other conventions relating to treatment of captured combatants have become as commonplace for the U.S. as they have always been for Israel. Although the FBI has conducted illegal domestic spying in the past, the passage of laws in the name of combating terrorism has in essence laid the foundation for the legalized creation of a secret police force called Homeland Security. These forces have already been deployed to spy on, interrogate and lock up individuals without the heretofore-usual due process of law. These activities bear the unmistakable watermark of a militaristic, fascist regime just like Sparta.

Israel was certainly not the first to use the Spartan paradigm. None more notorious than Adolf Hitler himself held the notion that the Spartan code was something to be admired and emulated and did so in organizations like the Hitler Youth and the Waffen-SS. These adaptations failed and the U.S. copy will fail as well. Resistance will intensify, terrorism, in response to these tactics, will increase and the American people's tolerance and patience for living in a state of siege, never lengthy to begin with, will soon be exhausted.

Is it too late to ask our egomaniacal administration in Washington to study history? Can they learn enough to stop mimicking failed and failing policies? Will they stop their adulation and emulation of Israel and instead muster the fortitude to rein in their client state? Or are we all doomed to go the way of the ancients where the helots and their allies eventually triumphed and from which Sparta never recovered?

[Raff Ellis lives in the United States and is a retired former strategic planner and computer industry executive. He has had an abiding and active interest in the Middle East since early adulthood and has traveled to the region many times over the last 30 years.]

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