what scares me

In my post on what I unlearned from 9/ll there was a further point I wanted to address, but I didn’t get to it. It concerned the issue of terrorism.

Since 9/11 the words terrorism and terrorist have shown up more and more in the discourse first of politicians, then of journalists. I think especially of George W. Bush’s “Global War on Terror” (which has been rebranded as something else by the Obama administration). And now that some countries are under military occupation by the U.S. and its helpers (like Canada), another prominent word is insurgent. In both cases they are the Enemy, and are thought to deserve whatever they get. They are the bogeymen, and we’re afraid of them.

It all gives me a feeling of deja vu. For when I was growing up in the 1960s we also had bogeymen, but in those days they were called communists. I remember watching, at about age eight, Art Linkletter on TV, who had a segment on his show called “Kids Say the Darnedest Things”, in which he would briefly interview three children who sat on high stools. He was interviewing a girl of maybe about seven, American-born but of Chinese descent, and had asked her what things worried her. “I’m very worried about communism,” she said solemnly. A couple of years later I remember reading a comic book about the Vietnam War, in which a Viet Cong officer finally has a breakdown in which he says to himself, with a frenzied expression, “I finally see what communism has done to my mind—how it has twisted me and made me do evil!” (or words to that effect). I remember that my aunt Jackie read the comic too and expressed disgust at the propaganda. I didn’t understand what she was talking about.

I do now. And I have no doubt that comic books and video games and action movies today have their heroes taking aim at “terrorists” and “insurgents”—blowing their heads off or, like Jack Bauer on 24, torturing them in order to save whole cities of innocent civilians from imminent death. They’re the bad guys—let’s get them before they get us!

The communist threat was needed in order to justify the enormous expenditures of the Cold War and to justify the conscription of young American men to fight and die in Vietnam. When the trauma of the Vietnam War finally ended with the American evacuation of Saigon in 1975, the communist scare came to an end. It no longer served any purpose. The disaster on which so much treasure and blood had been spent to prevent, the conversion of Vietnam to a communist dictatorship, had occurred, but somehow life went on.

Fast-forward to today. Nobody worries about communists now. Now we worry about “terrorists” (and their good buddies the “insurgents”). Treasure and blood are again being poured away in an ostensible effort to stop them, to extirpate them. Whoever they are.

9/11 was a spectacular act—or several acts—of mass murder. But that’s all it was; it was not an act of war. Treating it as such serves only to ennoble the perpetrators by turning them into warriors instead of criminals. It is an insult to real soldiers and does not serve the interests of the society that was victimized by the attack.

But somebody’s interests are being served, otherwise it would not be happening. Consider these words:

But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Do you know who said them? Hermann Goering while awaiting trial at Nuremberg.

So I have a request for my government and all governments: Do not protect me from terrorists. Immediately desist from all military invasions and occupations; all assassinations, kidnappings, and torture; all operation of concentration camps, secret trials, and kangaroo courts; all intrusions into and suspensions of the freedoms and rights of your citizens, done in my name and for my “protection”. If you want to invade developing countries and kill brown people in order to seize natural resources or to gain other geopolitical advantages, just tell me straight. But whatever you do, don’t do it for my “protection”.

I’m willing to take my chances with “terrorists” the same way I do with lightning strikes and drunk drivers. They don’t scare me. My own government, though, and its allies, do scare me. And the more concern for my “security” that they profess, the more scared I get.

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