I wasn't old enough to remember our long battle against communism directly, but history teaches me about a drunken sot by the name of Joe McCarthy who rode shotgun while on the Road to Hysteria once before.
We expended a lot of capital (emotional as well as financial) globally trying to defeat an economic system. The heart of that economic system, by the way, was the idea that labor -- in and of itself -- has inherent value. Not only does it have value, it imparts collective power to those who perform said labor.
Talk about your threat to the "established order."
Say all you want to about how we were targeting despotism and totalitarian rule, but honestly, we didn't have so much of a problem with that as we did with people fucking with our ability to extract profits wherever we wanted to. Go on, pick a "communist insurgency," and I'll show you a country where We The People's Proxy have actively supported ethnic cleansing, rape, genocide, bacteriological and chemical warfare, nuclear proliferation, repression, murder-as-a-one-off, coups d'etat, drug running, election rigging, starvation, black ops, propaganda, and covert wars when it suited profitable ends.
I won't say we've never done the right thing, but by and large, our history is rife with hypocrisy on this.
And here, we're at a crossroads of recent history. We're faced with a clear choice this November: whether or not to bow to those who would have us believe that the unquestioned global hegemony of American Military Might is a Good Thing, and those who find that battling the international force of terrorism requires complex thinking, adaptation, and international consensus.
Just in case you're not caught up, George W. Bush is the most brazen and craven champion of the forces that believe in extending the national security state into a world-wide paramilitary State run by the friends and family of the Bush Family. Not only that, but that the world is our plantation now.
The State of Our Union, 2004: "It's all up for grabs, boys. We just need to figure out now how to circumvent the last few checks and the niggling balances that prevent us from getting whatever we want, wherever we want it. And that means, coincidentally, that the vestiges of the liberal democracy that these pissants we call "citizens" were used to? Gone. Unions? Living wages? Not if we can help it. Available jobs? Opportunities? Take a job in a call center. Oh, wait -- that's moving offshore. Move to Bangalore. Or to the maquiladora."
That is the shingle that Bush has hung at the gate. If you got the money, honey, we got the time. And the firepower. So we'll go "shock & awe-in', and we'll have us a time." Consent was manufactured by a lazy fourth estate and a giggling troupe of totalitarians, and were abetted by a knot of appeasers known as Congress.
And honey, when there's no more money... well, you know the song. And the dance.
Let me ask an honest question: Why has the right gone so far to demonize every mark of progress of the past five generations? Why do you think they have such a problem with the word "liberal?"
Here's my working theory: All of the comforts that We The Actual People had earned over a few generations -- reasonable working hours, decent pay, decent benefits -- those are all at risk, and they are all fairly liberal notions. And, like I've heard it said, those things were earned for many of us because a lot of union guys got their heads stoved in for standing up for those things; things that really are, in a lot of ways, becoming "fringe" benefits. Fully sponsored health insurance for goddamned sure ain't mainstream anymore.
So, how does one go about pissing in the collective American face, calling it rain, and building the necessary consensus that will have a simple majority believe it?
I do my best to read my current history. I found the recommended ingredient. They said they needed a "catalyst."
Read the Project for A New American Century's white paper on transforming the military. Don't forget the part about The Need for a catalytic event in order to re-order priorities to make it possible for this vision to come about quickly. And a year prior to 9/11/2001, they predicted that it would take a Pearl Harbor type event to snap our society into the shape they needed.
Need I amplify this more?
Well, I was chilled to the bone when I read that. It showed in fairly bold print that the neoconservatives behind PNAC (including Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Jeb Bush, Doug Feith, Elliot Abrams, Zalmay Khalizad, Scooter Libby, Bill Kristol, and on and on and on) had opportunity on their minds when 9/11/2001 was dropped into their laps. (Presumably, the lap-dog Congress and the lap-dog Fourth Estate got out of the way.) And their collective sense of urgency and immediacy was unmistakable.
Wow. And terrorism was suddenly a matter of utmost importance. We were even declaring War on Terrorism.
Huh. I guess that wasn't as important when 168 people were pulverized in the explosion that toppled the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
How soon we (conveniently) forget.
Were you surprised that this building was blown up by a war hero? By a faithful, honorably discharged veteran of the Gulf War? By a white guy?
Just goes to show you -- not all terrorists are related to some guy named for the prophet Muhammad.
It also serves as a potent reminder for me. I think about the people in Oklahoma City that were slaughtered by Tim McVeigh -- and then I think, "Jeez. They were victims of terrorism too. So why not have Republicans say that we need Bush in order to protect us from wingnut whackjobs that are just sick enough to load up a Ryder truck with ANFO and blow up a building full of people who are, like the rest of us, working shitty jobs just so they can spend a few hours at home a day, and maybe provide themselves with basic insurance so they don't go broke if someone gets in a car wreck? Weren't their sacrifices just as significant as those people in NYC and in DC? Hell, why not try to link the Michigan Militia to Al-Qa'eda? It makes just about as much sense as invading Afghanistan to punish a group of Saudi extremists, doesn't it?"
Regrettably, those answers are easy.
But still, are our memories really that dysfunctional? Have our priorities already been re-ordered, and are they only as long as the next press cycle?
I bring this up because I was listening to Air America the other day, and they talked about the use of language by the opposing sides in the upcoming election. "Jobs" were mentioned 25 times or some such thing at the DNC. At the RNC, "job" or "jobs" have been mentioned twice. And once, it was used by Cheney in the context of "we have jobs to do." Terrorism dominates the language at the RNC. Just shows you their priorities.
But really, how threatened am I by terrorism?
Let's evaluate risks, here. Some things I figure that are more likely to befall me or someone that I know: joblessness, bankruptcy, medical emergency, impacted by global climate change, hassled by the cops, falsely imprisoned, infected by pollution, sickened by unsafe food, dead in a plane crash, struck by lightning ... ... ... (way way way down the line) killed by an Al-Qaeda sympathizer.
Do any of you know, personally, a terrorist?
Me, I don't know any. That's perfectly honest. I suppose that in some way, I should be frightened about that. But in a much larger sense, what kind of life would I be leading? Fear is not the guiding principle I choose for my existence. I find that there's a steep, slippery slope between prudence and paranoia under that paradigm.
And thus, we come full circle back to a Senate hearing in the 1950s which turned on the question of one man's sense of decency. Given the compression of our lives in the Information Age, the parallels should be painfully obvious by now.
You know, that's not to say that 9/11/2001 doesn't bring up huge memories of confusion, loss, anger, fear, defeat, and sorrow for me. But as far as that goes, I had no personal stake in the 9/11/2001 tragedy, other than the fact that I happen to inhabit the same soil as the Pentagon and the World Trade Center (lest we forget that the United States also contains Wounded Knee, Birmingham, "Death Row," and Ruby Ridge). And yeah -- the idea of getting caught up in a terrorist incident is frightening, but I like to think I can keep that in perspective. Should that ever happen, I would like to think that whoever survives me seeks justice for the wrong done to me, but maybe that would start with going after the actual perps. The pain that those people suffered is incomprehensible to me, and I have to say that I count myself fortunate that I was ... well, that I was who I was.
So -- where are my priorities right now?
I think about my choice. I am being asked to be complicit in a regime that asks me to repudiate terrorism, and to participate in a War on Terror that asks me to approve of killing people associated with "weapons of mass destruction program-related activities."
This brings me to "The Election." Bush supports a regime that means less civil liberty, less shared wealth, and less international discretion in favor of American interests. And, please recall, I don't know any terrorists. However, I know a lot of Republicans.
And goddamnit, if they think that what Bush is doing to our economy, to our society, and to the world is in our best interests? They're the motherfuckin' enemy. I can't do anything about terrorism, but I can do something about Republicans holding office.
I figure the risk to me from the latter is much greater than the former.
And, since Vietnam has become the metaphor for this election, I'm reminded of a man who refused to go along with a War that he didn't believe in, despite tremendous pressure for him to conform. He refused to be pressed into the service of his country when drafted; his statement of conscientious objection was simple, yet somehow, eloquent:
"I got nothing against them Vietcongs. Ain't no Vietcong ever called me 'nigger.'"
In other words, his war was to be fought at home. (Or, as Dick Cheney might have said, "I have other priorities.")
Of course, if he'd said that today apropos of the War on Terror, the devout Muslim who said this -- Muhammad Ali -- would probably end up at Camp X-Ray.
You better start swimming, or you'll sink like a stone.