Saturday, November 20, 2004

"in a time of war"

The phrase that is the title of this post comes from an article by liberal Democrat Marc Cooper in this week's LA Weekly. The article is about Alberto Gonzalez, torture-advocate turned Attorney General nominee, and the phrase is not at all a focus of the piece, just a quick characterization of the historical context in which Gonzales' confirmation hearings will occur. It is a description of our current moment in history that is used all over the mainstream media in the United States, even (as this example demonstrates) at its liberal periphery, with little or no interrogation.

Someone I worked with back in Canada told me about visiting in-laws in the U.S. At one point he asked innocently what was with the enormous flag on the living room wall of their gated-community home. The answer? "Well, we're at war." That was, apparently, answer enough for his brother-in-law.

Way back in the early '90s after the first crusade against former U.S. ally Hussein I read a letter in my local paper at the time, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, from a high school student that included the sentiment "So now we know what it's like to be at war..."

In the sense of having soldiers engaged in combat operations, all of these statements are true, I suppose. But there is something about describing the current context in that way that makes me want to say, "Oh, give me a break."

There is something about saying a country is at war that carries overtones of the potential for devastation and being forced into unconditional surrender. I hear echoes of the humiliation imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, of the twenty million Soviet dead in World War II, of the capture of Paris by the Prussians, the endless massacres of the U.S. invasion of Southeast Asia, the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese armed forces. I hear danger and tragedy so vast that an entire nation may be brought to its knees, a state's essential core interests or even existence might be disrupted.

What is most disturbing is that many, perhaps most, of the people who characterize the current U.S. context as "a time of war" would not see any contradiction between now and the examples in the preceding paragraph. In saying this, I do not intend to disrespect the 9/11 dead, nor trivialize the worry of those with loved ones at risk in the services of the despicable recolonization of Iraq and other U.S. military adventures. Neither do I wish to imply that I think another terrorist attack on the U.S. fatherland -- sorry, make that "homeland" -- is unlikely; in fact, I think it is quite likely, sooner or later.

But let's be realistic: There is absolutely nothing the fanatics lumped together by the mainstream media under the term "al-Qaeda" could do to bring the U.S. to its knees. They could not occupy Florida. They could not set up concentration camps in Wisconsin. They will not impose Sharia law on Schenectady. They won't even be able to drive the U.S. out of Iraq -- it will be nationalists, both religious and secular, that do that. In fact, if you pay attention to the stated goals of the bin-Ladenites, they are entirely regional and focused on the Middle East. They want U.S. troops out, an end to the occupation of Palestine, and other things in that vein, as well as some vicious anti-Shiite nonsense.

Uncritically repeating that we in the U.S. are living "in a time of war" reinforces the (very successful) efforts by the imperialists to mobilize fear to divide, confuse, and cower the people in this country.

So what kind of time do we live in? It is certainly not a time of peace -- just ask the residents of Iraq. Let us make an effort, then, to not make the realities of where power lies disappear: We live in a time of conquest, a time when the masters of war send young people off to die and thereby increase the likelihood that more will die at home.

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