Saturday, April 09, 2005

Is America Really At War?

It's become a post 9-11 cliche to say that the nation is at war. It's a clarion call heard on the left as well as the right. "We're at we have to do....this or that or nothing". But for most of us, our only connection to this war is the occasional news story from Iraq that happens to catch our eye. Or the latest "Al Qaeda is regrouping and about to strike" headline.

Not for one moment is anybody saying that the nation should not do everything it can to stop an attack (unlike last time), but does vigilance and security constitute that nation being at war? No. Was the nation at war when we were in Korea and Vietnam, or did it just have an army at war half a world away from its shores? Of course, it was the latter. And if it was true then, why is not true in Iraq, now?

In the opinion of this writer, the last time the nation wasat war' was in World War Two, when the country was truly mobilized in every way to defeat the Nazis and Imperial Japan. Sixty years later, there is no draft (yet), there are no war bonds, there have been no tax increases to pay for this war, and casualties have been tragic, but limited, compared to The Second World War.

The fear mongerers will of course retort that the 'homeland' was attacked (not a word that sits too well with the concept of America) for the first time ever on 9-11. Very true, but America's a big place. And its memory is short. Real Estate prices in Downtown Manhattan, virtually in the shadow of the ghosts of the twin towers, are ridiculous. Despite the horror that took place there, it's not ground zero anymore. It's a building site. All over America, consumerism is still king and queen of the prom. We got movies, we got phones, we got the net, we got sports, we got extreme makeovers. Girls choose handbags, boys choose videogames, and mothers run errands in their SUVs, while their husbands work hard to enhoy their advertising whirligigs at the local Nascar track.

Yup. Some war this is.

What makes people believe there's a war on is the combination of two distinct phenomena. Firstly, 150,000 American troops trying to stop a civil war in Iraq. And secondly, the unrelated Islamic terror threat. But the first is a classic foreign adventure, while the second is now nothing more than a fact of life. Neither of them entail a world at war.

But perception - and dare one say it propaganda - is an amazing thing. Living with the threat of terrorism is something that has been going on for generations in other countries throughout the world. Nobody called the recent suicide bombing campaign that struck at the heart of Israel 'a war'. It was just part of life. Britain faced the threat of IRA terror for over two decades, but nobody ever suggested the nation was 'at war'. It was just part of life.

But when it happens in America it's a war. Because up until now, the homeland has never experienced 'war'.

With all due respect to the places I'm about to mention, but Laramie, Wyoming is not at war. Nor is Greeley, Colorado, or even Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (the word 'war' never crossed anyone's lips when home-grown terrorists attacked the Federal Building there in 1995).

The threat of Islamic terror in these places is utterly negligible. What makes it dangerous is the fact that we have been trained to see it as cataclysmic. And that, ironically is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we were prepared for a terror attack - and the people were reassured that was true - where would be our war? In far away Iraq?

By calling it a 'war', we're giving Al Qaeda (whatever that really is) a passport to disrupt and undermine our society.

Instead of calling them what they are - a relatively small band of desperate and deluded zealots - and going after them quietly and efficiently, by locking down our ports, and building our domestic intelligence skills in silence, we've elevated them to the status of an army going mano y mano with the most powerful country in the world (and as of this moment, they're winning handsomely). Instead of choking off their publicity, we've elevated them to the point of being equals in a battle for Western civilization. Not the way to go.

With that done, we're primed for trouble. If they break through with just one small terror attack (the most likely scenario), we have been conditioned to see that as the beginning of something bigger, not as part of a continuum that has to be controlled and stopped. For example, in 1996 the IRA bombed a mall in Manchester, England. Did that stop people from going shopping? No. It was part of life. What would happen to mall and big box shopping in America if Al Qaeda attacked the Mall of America? Wal-mart would need a private army to get their customers back.

Republican fear-mongering was the defining zeitgeist of the last election. And from the moment John Kerry saluted and told us he was ready for duty, he accepted the right-wing distortion of reality.

It's time for the Progressive Movement to project a new and more sensible way of looking at terrorism. Instead of wrapping ourselves in the rhetoric of war, we should take a leaf out of George Bush's book in the moments just after 9-11 as he blinked into the camera and said "we rout out the terrorists and bring them to justice".

Now that's a plan.

And the American People like a good plan.


Blogger C.D. Ward said...

Interesting thoughts that. Congress sure hasn't legislated a declaration of war. Last time that was, was WWII.

Seems people only think it's a war when Americans die in certain numbers, under certain conditions, over a certain lenth of time.

The other side wouldn't look at that way though =/

2:24 PM  

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