by Saul Landau
How did this country survive before it found formidable enemies around which the government could mobilize hatred and fear?
I don’t remember the 1930s when poverty, capitalism, godlessness, fascism, communism, Jews and alcohol competed in the American mind for the role of number one adversary. No clear winners!
On December 7, 1941 – I was almost 6 – the Japanese boldly and in retrospect foolishly bombed Pearl Harbor. Japs and Nazis, the perfect vile duo. Hollywood took over. Every Saturday, I fought them vicariously in the movies – our good guys beating their bad guys.
Since then – with brief exceptions – a viable enemy has united us. To keep that evil from our shores we’ve maintained a “defense’ budget.
After World War II (war budget times), Stalin replaced Hitler and Tojo. My Weekly Reader introduced me to “Uncle Joe” during World War II. After 1945, however, “Stalin the Butcher,” planted red agents in our State Department, mass media, schools and veterinary hospitals. Senator Joe McCarthy found even more remote nooks and crannies where the red menace had hidden – like meat packing plants.
In 1961, I became disillusioned with the notion of the Soviet Union as our archrival. In a two-day drive from Warsaw to Moscow, I passed about 8 cars – dozens of trucks, and hundreds of drunken peasants, asleep on moving horse-drawn carts.
In Moscow, I realized that aside from a man in space, an efficient subway system and lots of weapons, the USSR could not, as C. Wright Mills commented, “publish a readable magazine, or run a modern economy.” He asked rhetorically: “What empire doesn’t have institutions to exploit their colonies? The Soviets have no banks or corporations.”
But in his 1960 election campaign, Kennedy referred to a “missile gap,” implying the Soviets had surpassed us. The October 1962 Missile Crisis revealed the Soviets had one-fifteenth the number of U.S. ICBMs. Throughout the 1960s, the Soviets played catch up, but never achieved U.S. triangulation: dividing nuclear missiles between airplanes, submarines and ground bases.
Washington’s powerful insisted the Soviets grew stronger while those with eyes saw the opposite. In 1984, discontent and demoralization characterized the USSR. President Reagan insisted they were stronger than ever and returned to a mythical missile gap. So Congress authorized more money for nuclear weapons to deter what mythmakers said loomed as Soviet invasion of Western Europe. In 1991, poof, the Soviet menace disappeared. We won! Ta Da!
Without an ominous enemy we could enjoy “the peace dividend.” Oops! A great empire needs a foreign enemy!
In 1993, a jihadist group bombed the World Trade Center. Later, they hit other U.S. targets in Africa. National security casting directors found the ideal actor for the role of 21st Century demon.
As such, Osama bin Laden got credited with producing changes in the American way of life. After 9/11, the anti-Islam business prospered. Political and religious preachers alike perorated about the death-loving, democracy-hating hordes – abroad and at home.
“Soldiers, spies and special forces fan out across the globe to fight terrorism,” wrote Uri Avnery. “Bin Laden is everywhere. The War Against Terrorism is an apocalyptic struggle with Satan.”
In its zeal to look ready for the new challenge, the government restricted citizens’ freedoms – for their own protection. Congress obsessively increased the military budget – to fight suicidal maniacs with box-cutters? – while “power-hungry Intellectuals babble about the Clash of Civilizations and sell their souls for instant celebrity.” (http://counterpunch.org/avnery05092011.html)
After 9/11, the fumbling, bumbling dazed-looking George W. Bush morphed into a militant warrior president (rhetorically) leading the forces of enlightenment against the demonic al-Qaeda. For the public, Islamist parties like Hamas and Hezbollah – whoever or whatever they represent – signify 21st Century evil. Just watch Fox News for confirmation.
OBL became Dr. Malevolence, cloaked in his baggy robe, ineptly toting an AK and babbling threats on poorly filmed video. Almost like a comic book’s bad guy, OBL would reappear to remind adolescent readers of the need for a super hero – USA.
Then, finally, the police and intelligence information got collated and our heroic Seals found him and liquated him – not in some remote cave, but inside a three story middle class compound in a city in Pakistan.
In Washington, national security stage directors had already sketched the final act. Whack him and toss the corpse. No martyr elements should remain for future shrines.
Let Arab masses – whatever that means – celebrate or pledge revenge. They’ll be occupied by their revolutions or counterrevolutions. In 2012, the dead Osama can help Obama. The order to kill OBL has already transformed his wussy image.
The celebration of OBL’s death fades in bars and baseball stadiums. Few mourn him; even fewer remember the alleged reasons for him waging his terror.
An AFP clip reported bin Laden had made a last tape, found on an Islamist website: “America will not be able to dream of security until we live in security in Palestine,” OBL said. “It is unfair that you live in peace while our brothers in Gaza live in insecurity. Accordingly, and with the will of God, our attacks will continue against you as long as your support for Israel continues.”
Who listened? Who cared? Most Americans don’t integrate into their consciousness the millions killed by U.S. forces in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather “we” help those ingrates (foreigners) and remember our own 9/11 dead. Now, on to the next demonic enemy!
Saul Landau, an Institute for Policy Studies fellow, produced WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP (Cinema Libre Studio – distributor).