A Yale history professor explains how governments use disasters and tragedies to control society

Timothy Snyder is the author of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” and the Levin professor of history at Yale University. Snyder explains how governments use tragedies to manipulate society. Following is a transcript:

TIMOTHY SNYDER: So 9/11, a massive terrorist attack mainly against this city, led us to give up a good deal of our rights. It also led us to invade a country which was completely irrelevant to the terrorist action, with enormous consequences, financial, moral, political, for us. So 9/11 in retrospect is a kind of warning of the mistake that we can make. It could be much worse than 9/11. I mean not just the terrorist attack could be worse, sadly that’s true, but the reaction of our leaders could also be worse. Whatever one might say about Bush and company, and I said as many bad things as I could at the time, whatever one might say, they didn’t use it as an excuse to say that all Muslims were to blame. They didn’t say we had to suspend all of our civil rights, due process, and so on. I’m afraid that the people we now have in power have fewer restraints than that crew. So 9/11 is a kind of gentle warning for us about what we must not do the next time around.

Aspiring tyrants use real, provoked, or fake terrorism as an excuse to declare some kind of state of emergency. State of emergency meaning we lose our basic rights and then that temporary situation becomes permanent. We get used to it, it becomes the everyday. This is basically page one of the playbook of modern tyranny. So it’s naive, it’s really foolish of us to forget about this because the tyrants, the aspiring tyrants certainly know about it.

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