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Behind the News with Doug Henwood - April 25, 2013 at 12:00pm

Behind the News with Doug Henwood, for April 25, 2013 - 12:00pm

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I know hardly anyone reads

I know hardly anyone reads these things, but the important initial item, the militarisation of police equipment & practices, made me laugh in a disconcerting way as it reminded me of an old 'Hill Street Blues' episode, showing how the 'new normal' once upon a time was deemed hilarious.

The scene was the dorky & gung ho senior officer who saw the opportunity to use some armoured car, to the consternation of his colleagues.

Using the net to check my memory, the cop was Lieutenant Howard Hunter, head of the SWAT team, a figure of fun for the scriptwriters:
"Hunter gets his chance to test out an 'urban tank' in sniper alley." (series 1, episode 12)

How we laughed. This was 1981. A third of a century ago. We had read in 1977 an excellent study by socialist Brits, 'The Technology of Political Control', brought out by a mainstream publisher in the UK, Penguin, but few of us saw police urban tanks as the new normal.

A 1998 report for the European Parliament said these 3 paragraphs about the argument of the 1977 book:

"A brief look at the historical development of this concept [the technology of political control] is instructive. Twenty years ago, the British Society for Social Responsibility of Scientists (BSSRS) warned about the dangers of a new technology of political control. BSSRS defined this technology as 'a new type of weaponry'...'It is the product of the application of science and technology to the problem of neutralising the state's internal enemies. It is mainly directed at civilian populations, and is not intended to kill (and only rarely does). It is aimed as much at hearts and minds as at bodies.' For these scientists, 'This new weaponry ranges from means of monitoring internal dissent to devices for controlling demonstrations; from new techniques of interrogation to methods of prisoner control. The intended and actual effects of these new technological aids are both broader and more complex than the more lethal weaponry they complement.'

"BSSRS recognised that the weapons and systems developed and tested by the USA in Vietnam, and by the UK in its former colonies, were about to be used on the home front and that the military industrial complex would in the future, rapidly modify its military systems for police and internal security use. In other words, a new technology of repression was being spawned which would find a political niche in Western Liberal democracies. The role of this technology was to provide a technical fix which might effectively crush dissent whilst being designed to mask the level of coercion being deployed. With the advent of the Northern Irish conflict, the genie was out of the bottle and a new laboratory for field testing these technologies had emerged.

"There have been quite awesome changes in the technologies available to states for internal control since the first BSSRS publication. Some of these technologies are highly sensitive politically and without proper regulation can threaten or undermine many of the human rights enshrined in international law, such as the rights of assembly, privacy, due process, freedom of political and cultural expression and protection from torture, arbitrary arrest, cruel and inhumane punishments and extra-judicial execution."

What's new? Class society seems to be the new old.

(Presumably it's a coincidence that 'Howard Hunter' is '88', which in British culture is code for 'Heil Hitler'.)

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