The War On Terror

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When President Bush called Americans to enlist in his "war on terror," very few citizens could have grasped the all-encompassing consequences of the proposition. The terrifying events of 9/11 were like a blinding flash, benumbing the country with a sudden knowledge of unimagined dangers. Strong action was recommended, skeptics were silenced and a shallow sense of unity emerged from the shared vulnerabilities. Nearly three years later, the enormity of Bush's summons to open-ended "war" is more obvious. It overwhelmed the country, in fact deranged society's normal processes and purposes with a brilliantly seductive political message: Terror pre-empts everything else. What this President effectively accomplished was to restart the cold war, albeit under a new rubric. The justifying facts are different and smaller, but the ideological dynamics are remarkably similar--a total commitment of the nation's energies to confront a vast, unseen and malignant adversary. Fanatical Muslims replaced Soviet Communists and, like the reds, these enemies could be anywhere, including in our midst (they may not even be Muslims, but kindred agents who likewise "hate" us and oppose our values). Like the cold war's, the logic of this new organizing framework can be awesomely compelling to the popular imagination because it runs on fear--the public's expanding fear of potential dangers. The political commodity of fear has no practical limits. The government has the ability to manufacture more. Nor is there any obvious ceiling on what the nation must devote--in JFK's famous phrase--"to pay any price, bear any burden" in defense of liberty and homeland. Long after the Soviet Union was recognized as a failed e... ... middle of paper ... ... arose to Bush's war in Iraq is a good starting place, because citizens raised real questions that were brushed aside. I don't think most Americans are interested in imperial rule, but they were grossly misled by patriotic rhetoric. Now is the time for sober, serious teach-ins that lay out the real history of US power in the world, and that also explain the positive and progressive future that is possible. Once citizens have constructed a clear-eyed, dissenting version of our situation, perhaps politicians can also be liberated from exaggerated fear. The self-imposed destruction that has flowed from Bush's logic cannot be stopped until a new cast of leaders steps forward to guide the country. This transformation begins by changing Presidents and the change of the government to hear the people of America, and know that WE are the ones in charge.

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