9/11

Escape

The_Pentagon_January_2008

The Pentagon, 12 January 2008. (Credit: David B. Gleason)

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and now Donald Trump—all of whom grew up on Hollywood’s spectacle of America winning wars ad infinitum and none of whom fought in an actual war—“managed to remain quite deeply embedded in centuries of triumphalist frontier mythology.”

We’re still stuck in the fantasy of “an American world of forever war.”

Tom Engelhardt, “Rebecca Gordon, War Without End,” March 7, 2017

 

I was struck, while reading one of Peter Zhang’s exploratory essays and thinking about US war culture, by the metaphor of escape.[i] Escape is just one figure in Zhang’s extended comparison of Deleuze to Zen. The spirit of the essay’s multiple analogies is heuristic, especially for escaping debilitating conventions of political culture. (more…)

Imperial Decline

William_Merritt_Chase_Keying_up

“Keying Up” – The Court Jester, oil on canvas, by William Merritt Chase, 1875. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Tom Engelhardt is an uncommonly keen observer of the imperial globe. His blog, TomDispatch.com, points critically at what mainstream media ignore or condone. The blog functions as an “antidote” to how the news typically is reported. He’s been at it since the beginning of the global war on terror. Before that, he wrote insightfully on US war culture in The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (Basic Books, 1995). Now he sees signs of the beginning of the end of US empire.

Engelhardt sees the decline of American imperial power reflected in the words of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign theme: “Make America Great Again!” The word “again” is revealing. Rhetoric makes and reflects political culture.

In the 1950s, US wealth and power were “too self-evident for presidents to cite, hail, or praise.” Their political vocabulary was devoid of superlatives such as “greatest,” “exceptional,” and “indispensible.” After Vietnam, though, things went the way of Rambo. (more…)

Fear

Ground_Zero_Mosque_Protest_American_Bomb

Photo of the Sunday, August 22, 2010 Cordoba House protest. (Credit: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons)

Inspector Malcolm Fox—the protagonist of Ian Rankin’s Scottish crime novel, The Impossible Dead (NY: Little, Brown and Co., 2011)—reflects upon the ever-presence of fear, whether in news reports from 1985 or today:

When you’d stopped needing to fear a US-Soviet conflagration or an impending ice age, something else came along in its place. Fear of crime always seemed to outpace the actual statistics. Right now, people were fearing for their jobs and pensions, fearing global warming and dwindling resources. If these problems were ever resolved, new worries would fill the vacuum. (pp. 329-30)

Fear fills the vacuum of resolved problems. Fear engenders problems. Problems are a figment of fear, the chimera of exaggeration—or at least can be. Exaggeration, whether of crime levels or threats to national security, perpetuates the perception of crisis. The status quo remains on the verge of CRITICAL. (more…)

Iron-Ass Cheney, Arrogant Rumsfeld, Hot-Rhetoric Bush

Official portrait of George H. W. Bush, former President of the United States of America, circa 1989. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Official portrait of George H. W. Bush, former President of the United States of America, circa 1989. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

I am not sure what to make of the prepublication report of Jon Meacham’s new biography of George H. W. Bush’s presidential “odyssey,” Destiny and Power. I am intrigued by the mythic overtones of calling the 41st president’s term an odyssey, a wandering, but I’ll have to wait to read the book to decide how that actually plays out.

The hype for the book is interesting both for what it reveals and what it implies. News reports (I saw them in the Guardian and the Washington Post)—serving as book advertisements—offer a tantalizing appetizer. I usually don’t order the appetizer at a restaurant because it ruins my appetite for the main course. In this case, the appetizer may be the meal. (more…)

Addiction

Cartoon published by James Gillray in 1803 showing Napoleon in a fury over relations between France and England. (Credit: Library of Congress)

Cartoon published by James Gillray in 1803 showing Napoleon in a fury over relations between France and England. (Credit: Library of Congress)

Retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel William Astore conveys the essence of America’s war on terror under the sign of addiction. War is a drug, and the US is addicted, metaphorically speaking.

In the realm of reality-defining language, terms intermingle and entangle. Thus, we declare a war on drugs while high on the drug of war, seemingly without noticing the irony. And while we are at it, we declare war on poverty and crime, anything actually. It’s a totalizing mindset that constitutes what Astore calls “America’s omnipresent war ethos.”

Addiction is a useful metaphor because it readily conveys how being high on war shuts down deliberation on foreign and domestic policy and replaces reflection with rage. (more…)

In Memory of a Fallen Sun Devil

Memorial set up by fans of Pat Tillman outside Sun Devil Stadium where he played football for the Arizona State University Sun Devils and the Arizona Cardinals. (Credit:  James Fee / Wikimedia Commons)

Memorial set up by fans of Pat Tillman outside Sun Devil Stadium where he played football for the Arizona State University Sun Devils and the Arizona Cardinals. (Credit: James Fee / Wikimedia Commons)

The disturbing facts of Pat Tillman’s story are well-known, and yet we go over them repeatedly—in the face of the hagiography—in search of answers to unsettling questions. Pac-10 defensive player of the year as a senior at Arizona State; a record-breaking safety for the Arizona Cardinals; he left a multi-million dollar contract on the table to enlist with his brother in the U.S. Army (he became an Army Ranger): “My great-grandfather was at Pearl Harbor and a lot of my family has gone and fought in wars… and I really haven’t done a damn thing” (ESPN Classic).

In this, Tillman was one of those young Americans who enlisted in the armed forces following the attacks on 9/11. What was unusual was that he was a professional football player and a millionaire.

There was a time in the country’s history when the children of the rich and the offspring of powerful politicians felt compelled to defend the U.S. in times of peril. Theodore Roosevelt’s sons served during World War I and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sons served during World War II. George H.W. Bush and John F. Kennedy were decorated World War II veterans. Professional baseball players enlisted in droves during WW II. Ted Williams interrupted his career at its peak to serve during the Korean War.

But in our times, Pat Tillman was an oddity because he volunteered to serve. Even more, he was a notable exception who embarrassed us, who revealed, by his committed patriotism, the flimsy nature of our own.   (more…)

War is NOT the Answer

Protester holds a "War is Not the Answer" poster from the Friends Committee on National Legislation at the March 20, 2010 anti-war protest in Washington, DC. (Credit: Rrenner / Wikimedia Commons)

Protester holds a “War is Not the Answer” poster from the Friends Committee on National Legislation at the March 20, 2010 anti-war protest in Washington, DC. (Credit: Rrenner / Wikimedia Commons)

The slogan “War is Not the Answer” is occasionally spotted by alert bumper-sticker watchers. It is a nearly extinct species, especially in Red State America. Almost all sightings are in the small remainder of Blue States, or so it seems. The slogan’s shrinking habitat is a bad omen for the cause of peace. It’s a warning sign of war’s irrelevance. Few care, and fewer can imagine an alternative answer to war.

Warmongering is commonplace in contemporary America. It is a ritual that sustains the mythic vision of the war state. One does not have to look long or far to find recent examples of the ritualized call to arms. On March 13, for instance, Joshua Muravchik editorialized in the Washington Post under the headline “War with Iran is probably our best option.” (more…)

The Ebola War

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby describes the latest Defense Department developments in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and deployments to Africa to help contain the Ebola crisis during a press briefing at the Pentagon, Oct. 3, 2014. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby describes the latest Defense Department developments in the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, and deployments to Africa to help contain the Ebola crisis during a press briefing at the Pentagon, Oct. 3, 2014. (DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett)

Linguistic habits make strange thoughts seem normal. When we go to the grocery store, we shop for cuts of meat, not pieces of flesh. We’re not perverse flesh eaters.

Likewise, we are not warmongers. Yet, language gives us away from time to time, if we take notice, which is rare.   We routinely structure our thoughts about the world with fighting words.   Couples don’t argue; they fight. We declare war on poverty, on crime, on illegal drugs, on just about any problem that comes to our attention. Our police forces are militarized.

9/11 triggered the ubiquitous war on terror. Hijacking commercial airplanes and flying them into buildings wasn’t just a heinous crime. Even if it were, we fight wars on crime. After 9/11—but really well before—everything was a national security issue. President Bush spoke not only about homeland security but also border security, economic security, health security, retirement security, energy security, and more. There is no conceptual limit to the purview of the National Security Agency. NSA might monitor anyone saying anything.

So we’re not surprised when our government responds to a rogue virus as if it is an invading army. (more…)

New York, Love and Hate

Tribute in Light from Jersey City, September 11, 2004 (Tom / Wikimedia Commons).

Tribute in Light from Jersey City, September 11, 2004 (Tom / Wikimedia Commons).


GUEST BLOGGER:

Carmelo Santana Mojica

University of Puerto Rico


(The following was written as an open letter during the days following the events of September 11, 2001.)

Since the fated day, the world has showered acts of love and solidarity upon the most loved, hated and dazzling city in the world; so recent is the cloud of flesh and dust, pieces of bodies and walls, so shattering the pain, that we attend the rescue as we go to the funeral of a near relative, exclaiming: “My God, he was so good!” Even the most critical among us are careful not to place their finger on the dialectic wound of love and hate that the city of steel and gold produces, because truly we are all in pain. My own derives, I confess, from the Christian guilt of knowing that I have always hated New York, and from the human suspicion that under the present pain, my old resentment still endures. (more…)