When the Zombie Apocalypse is Not a Dream

Obama Administration Asks Americans to Bless the Dissolution of the Rule of Law

I woke up this morning emotionally exhausted. I had been dreaming of living in a post-apocalyptic world, surrounded by zombies. Unlike those in TV shows, these looked and spoke like real humans. They were smart and blended in with the rest of us, but they could kill/turn us. It’s fussy now as to how. There were blastings from afar, but I think those were against people thought to be zombies.  It was confusing. 

A few people from real life popped into the dream.  A close friend was not a zombie.  Her 10-yo daughter had been taken, impregnated and had given birth to something inhuman; the girl was gone now, her mother, distraught.  For the first time in my dream I noticed I was alone, my husband and daughters gone.  I decided I couldn’t dwell on that. I was not one of those heroic mothers that does everything to go and try to save her children My only thoughts were to try to escape. In my dream I could deny my daughters’ existence.

A colleague from the Alameda County Democratic Party appeared in a part of the dream when I was in a building with a lot of people.  It wasn’t clear who was a zombie,  if I was pretending to be one. Should I seek my colleague’s help or would he turn me in? Somehow we got rounded into a room and made to watch videos from Nazi Germany – but they were in German (or gibberish).

Later, after eating a raw hamburger (and wondering why we couldn’t have fire in this apocalyptic world), there was a shower scene with a much younger and thinner me. It as a deja vu from an earlier part of the dream, zombies had discovered me then by watching me through the window from another building. I’d be safer now, it was during the day.  Zombies, now, were only awake at night.

I woke up tired, emotionally exhausted, aching for my kids and in fear of my life. I turned on my tablet for distraction. And I read this headline: “Administration weighs drone strike against American citizen.” The zombies aren’t zombies after all, are they?

Indeed, this is the moment when we make the decision to turn into  zombies. Or rather, to use the precise term, collaborators.  I won’t make a Nazi analogy – even if it crept into my dream -, I don’t have to. I grew up in Argentina during the Dirty War, I don’t need to go any further than that to find analogies. Indeed, the “doctrine of national security” which set out the ideological base for the repression in my home country, is not different from the one used in America today.

I will tell you, because it’s my own story, that when I became an adult and found out what had happened in my country while I was growing up – the forced disappearances, the torture, the executions, the taking of babies from their families -, the first thing I did was to turn to my parents and ask “why didn’t you stop it?”. They couldn’t answer.

Twenty-plus years later, as I read that headline, I understand much better. The fear they felt from the “terrorist” actions they’d experienced, the shootings, the bombings, including the one on the building across the street which shattered our windows and traumatized my 5-yo-self.  We know now that the bomb was likely put by the Triple-A, a para-military group who was fighting the left with terror techniques themselves, while waging a propaganda campaign of having their violent actions attributed to the left. But back then, it was from the “terrorists”, all the violence came from them.

As with zombies, you couldn’t always tell who is a terrorist. That girl at my mom’s work, there were rumors that she was a Montonera. My mom and her work colleagues searched her purse and found a file with instructions on how to make toys – bombs. My mom was afraid their boss/her mentor would be targeted next. I had friends in school who wouldn’t share their phone numbers, their parents had received threats. My mother had her ID stolen, – what if one of these terrorists was caught with it and she was arrested? In the end, I don’t think they turned her in.

Now, in my forties, I understand my parents’ fear – the fear of millions of other middle-class families and their hesitancy to get involved in a situation they didn’t fully understand. The military government made it easier for them than Obama is making it for us, their killings and disappearances were done quietly. There were no headlines – as far as I can remember – screaming “government considers whether it’s lawful to kill its citizens without a trial”. It would have been ridiculous. In a country with as established a legal tradition as Argentina, the question of the legality of extra-judicial executions was not one anyone would take seriously. And Argentina was a Catholic country. Sure, there were plenty of priests and bishops willing to condone the torture and murder of people – “we must separate the wheat from the chaff” – but the Vatican wouldn’t accept that publicly. The Bible is pretty clear: you don’t murder.

My parents could and do plead ignorance. Dozens of workers were rounded up at the factory where my father worked as an engineer. There was a detention camp on site for them. He didn’t know. My aunt couldn’t hear the screams coming from the torture sessions at the police station a couple of blocks from her house. Those young people who kept disappearing or getting killed, well, por algo será. There must be a reason for that. Por algo será became the ever present excuse for all the abuses of the military government. They know best, we are safe to look away.

Unlike my parents, we don’t have the choice to plead ignorance. The Obama Administration has leaked these news to make us complicit with their decision to kill Americans. To tell them “no, you must not” is hard. We are afraid. We don’t know. Killing those people may make us safer. Giving up the rule of law and our human rights may be worth feeling slightly better.

But also unlike my parents, when our children become of age and ask us “why didn’t you stop it?”, we won’t be able to say “I didn’t know”. The blood of the people killed by the Obama administration – an unnamed terrorist suspect now, perhaps their college sweetheart one day – will be on our hands. We are being made part of the decision. Without our public outrage, the administration will feel free to proceed.

In Argentina, it turned out that por algo será wasn’t a particularly good justification. The people kidnapped from their homes, their jobs, the street, then taken to secret detention camps, tortured and killed, might occasionally have been guilty of committing a terror act – but that was the exception. Among those that did belong to political organizations that had decided to become armed, the majority had done nothing more criminal than pasted fliers to walls or attended political meetings .  Many of them, however, had worked in the slums around the major cities, teaching and helping the people who lived there, but also making them politically conscious.

The vast majority of the disappeared were actually union activists, kidnapped and disposed of so that the military government could impose its industrial policies without interference. Other victims included human rights lawyers, journalists and leftist members of the clergy. One group that achieved a sad notoriety consisted of High School students who were working to have a discounted “student ticket” for buses. The night in which they were all taken from their homes, in my own city of La Plata, is known as the “Night of the Pencils”. Another night, when lawyers in the beach town of Mar del Plata were kidnapped is known as the “Night of the Neckties”.

You think – rightly, fairly – that there is a long way from killing an American citizen suspected of planning yet-to-be-committed terrorist acts in a foreign land, to rounding up students and lawyers. Alas, there isn’t. Once the government decides that in their struggle for the greater good, they need not feel constrained by the law (and let me be clear: extrajudicial executions are unlawful under international human rights law), we lose all the protections that the rule of law give us. There is no longer an “innocent until proven guilty”, no longer a “no deprivation of life, liberty of property without due process of law” – due process of law, itself, becomes moot. And there is no longer “no cruel and unusual punishments”, right to free speech, assembly or petition. Without the law to protect us from our government, we rely on the good will of our officials. We have five thousand years of human history to show us how well that works.

I can’t tell you what to do. Sign petitions, call your Congressmember, call the White House, stand in a corner with a sign that says “No to Extrajudicial Executions”. Whatever it is, do it. Do it because you know it’s the right thing and do it because your children and their children will not only hold you responsible for your actions or inactions, but will have to live with the consequences.

Nabila Rehman holds up a picture she drew depicting the U.S. drone strike on her Pakistan village which killed her grandmother Mammana Bibi, at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington
Nabila Rehman holds up a picture she drew depicting the U.S. drone strike on her Pakistan village which killed her grandmother Mammana Bibi, at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington

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