Reports today are that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, "Suspect No. 2" in the Boston Marathon bombing, may never be able to tell us why he did it, and who else was involved. He is in a Boston hospital in "serious condition" from wounds suffered when the Law opened fire on the pleasure boat in which he was hiding. He might die before being able to answer questions. Just like Lee Harvey Oswald.
Which brings me to the topic of the Reichstag Fire. For those who don't remember, the Reichstag was the name for the German parliament and the building which housed it. By early 1933, Adolf Hitler had risen to the position of Chancellor -- equivalent to prime minister -- of the German republic. But the ageing Paul von Hindenburg, the President, stood between Hitler and supreme power.
On 27 February 1933 the Reichstag suddenly and mysteriously caught fire. The police noticed a young man named Marinus van der Lubbe warming his hands at the scene. Herr van der Lubbe was, in today's PC phrase, "intellectually challenged". After a little "enhanced interrogation" by the Gestapo, he confessed to starting the fire. However he denied that he was part of any conspiracy.
Van der Lubbe's denial notwithstanding, Hitler claimed the event was part and proof of a Communist conspiracy, and ordered that all leaders of Germany's Communist party "be hanged that very night." President Hindenburg countermanded that order, but did agree that Hitler should take "dictatorial powers" immediately.
Less than a month later, the Reichstag (meeting in temporary quarters, presumably) passed the Enabling Bill, which banned the Communist and Social Democractic parties from contesting part in future election campaigns.
In April, Nazis were put in charge of all local government in the provinces. In May, trade unions were abolished, their funds taken and their leaders put in prison. In July, a law was passed making the Nazi Party the only legal political party in Germany.
Thus "Reichstag Fire" became a metaphor for an event staged to provoke or legitimize a seizure of power. Or more power.
Two-thirds of a century after the Reichstag Fire came the atrocity of 9/11. America abounds in conspiracy theories, one of the most enduring of which is the claim that 9/11 was staged (and then covered up) by Dubya's government to strengthen its grip on power and take away the freedoms of the American people.
Walt thinks that theory is bullshit. But... there can be no doubt that, in the aftermath of 9/11, the freedom of Americans (and Brits and Canadians and Aussies and so on) has been drastically curtailed. The USA now has the "protection" of the Department of Homeland Security, for instance.
And let's not forget the Transport Security Administration -- TSA -- the folks who like to look at your junk at the airport. How many people have been denied boarding an American aircraft because they "look like the kind of person who would do something like that"?
Speaking of which... Whatever happened to the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution?
That's the one which supposedly guarantees Americans freedom from "unreasonable searches and seizures". Walt wonders how many residents of Watertown MA asked the cops who knocked on their doors to produce a warrant.
But that's the way it is, nowadays, in the Land of the Free and Home of the Fearful. Sure, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you. But is it really necessary for our governments to make us prisoners in our own countries, just because of the cowardly acts of a couple of misfits who (for all we know) may indeed have been acting on their own?
Fourth Amendment Footnote: To see what happens to someone who stands on his rights, read the true story of Aaron Tobey, who wrote an abbreviated version of the Fourth Amendment on his body and stripped to his shorts at a Richmond VA airport security screening area.