The National Security Agency (NSA) was established at the beginning of November 1952 (on the 4th of November, to be precise) . Join me in congratulating them on the occasion of their 62nd anniversary.
Do you believe in coincidences? Many things happened on a 4th of November! In 1791, the Western Confederacy of American Indians won a major victory over the United States in the Battle of the Wabash. Let us congratulate American Indians too. The date has also inspired Adolf Hitler and the Soviets: in 1921 “Brownshirts” assaulted Hitler’s opposition after his speech in Munich and in 1956 Soviet troops entered Hungary to end the Hungarian revolution. Thank God, Hitler and the Soviet Union are both defunct, so that we won’t have to congratulate them! In 1970, the United States turned control of the Binh Thuy Air Base in the Mekong Delta over to South Vietnam, which formally marks the beginning of the “Vietnamization” (read: pull-out), to be followed later by the victory over terrorism (Afghanization and Iraqization, but this was not on November 4th)! Of course, we can’t leave out the Chinese from this list of 4th November anniversaries: In 2002, they arrested He Depu for signing a pro-democracy letter to the 16th Communist Party Congress.
In 2008, Barack Obama, the first African-American and 44th President of the United States, was elected on the 4th of November! I, and another bunch of naïve non Americans were all very happy: Obama would change the USA; he would close Guantanamo and we will be proud again to be friends of the US. President Obama was even pre-emptively awarded the Nobel Peace Price 2009. The Nobel Peace Price, contrary to other Nobel Prices, is awarded by Norway and not by Sweden. Clearly, something must be rotten in the state of Norway (after Hamlet Act 1, scene 4, 87–91), or maybe, the Norwegian Nobel Academy naively thought they would encourage Obama to deliver?
Are there conclusions to be drawn from this story?
The first, of course, is that there’s nothing special about a randomly selected day, and the 4th of November is no exception! Since all events have to take place on a day, any day will have witnessed good and bad events. It is always possible, post factum, to read significance into any event. It’s not unlike the extraordinary chain of circumstances that have permitted me to be sitting here writing this blogpost: My Treviri ancestors were not killed by Caesar’s legions when they set out to “civilize” Gaul; my ancestors did not succumb to the black death (plague) that decimated the European population around 1350; My grand-father was not killed in WWI, nor was my father in WWII. Unlike her sister, my mother did not die of meningitis in childhood, and I never took a flight that crashed! There isn’t anything extraordinary about this: all of us who are currently alive result from the same “extraordinary” luck. The extraordinary coincidences are only apparently so!
The second conclusion is that, even if the 4th of November is a random day, it is nevertheless only on the 4th of November hat the US government established NSA, which gradually developed into the prototype of state paranoia, steadily eroding individual freedoms. Paranoia has a unique talent to turn old friends into new enemies. The enemies keep changing, but the paranoia adapts. Its growth is in direct proportion to technological progress. Just like technological progress, it is unstoppable. It is there to stay, and it will continue undermining democracy. And that’s a common truth, widely accepted from Pyongyang to Beijing to Moscow to Paris to Washington. In evolutionary theory, it’s called “convergence”: The fact that dolphins look like fish is because they adapted to the same environment. Paranoia is a very powerful environment: the world is adapting and I am confident that, eventually, all political systems will converge. And the new system won’t be democracy!
Maybe, after all, there’s little to celebrate. Let’s disremember November 4th.