Preparing for a class recently, I happened upon an essay Lewis Mumford wrote in 1946 – “Gentlemen You Are Mad!" It's his response to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and to the distinct likelihood that the people and institutions that produced these atrocities would continue as a normal, acceptable feature of American life.
The questions he raises are every bit as relevant to the past decade’s “War on Terror” and apparatus of “Homeland Security” as they are to the version of the death machine Mumford observed and condemned.
“Soberly, day after day, the madmen continue to go through the undeviating motions of madness: motions so stereotyped, so commonplace, that they seem the normal motions of normal men, not the mass compulsions of people bent on total death. Without a public mandate of any kind, the madmen have taken it upon themselves to lead us by gradual stages to that final act of madness which will corrupt the face of the earth and blot out the nations of men, possibly put an end to all life on the planet itself. ….
“Why do we let the madmen go on with their game without raising our voices? Why do we keep our glassy calm in the face of this danger? There is a reason: we are madmen too. We view the madness of our leaders as if it expressed a traditional wisdom and common sense: we view them placidly, as a doped policeman might view with a blank tolerant leer the robbery of a bank or the barehanded killing of a child or the setting of an infernal machine in a railroad station. Our failure to act is the measure of our madness. We look at the madmen and pass by.”