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Tuesday, March 09, 2004
Support this war or shut the fuck up
Sunday's post, like many posts here, was written off the top of my head. Generally I think that can be a good way of doing things as it forces me to write down some ideas that I might otherwise just think and endlessly edit in my head. Still it has the downside of putting forth ideas that might not be fully formed and/or presented in a manner that doesn't maximize their clarity. "Their war, their way" was an example of this.
After rereading and thinking about the post, I've decided to go over what I believe are the four main points that were either expressed in the entry or come about via the ideas express yesterday. I fully realize that not all of this can be empirically demonstrated, let alone proven, but still feel there is value to it.
1) The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 did not change the worldview of most people in the United States who became ardent supporters of the "war on terror." These people kept the worldview they possessed previously but now just had to acknowledge that there was antagonism towards to the United States from outside the United States, something they had previously not considered because they had not have to consider it. It was new data, but not so "new" as to cause a paradigm shift. Because "September 11" did not complicate their understanding of the world in totality but did add new information, these people did not experience a crisis of ideology, such as questioning the role of the United States in the world, but rather, as a result of prompting by the Bush Administration, saw a very clear, singular and subjectively indisputable response - fix the Outside via the "war on terror."
According to this perspective, anyone who does support the "war on terror" has somehow "forgotten September 11" because, according to this outlook, it is impossible to not support the one logical response.
While September 11, 2001 did not force these people to change their worldview, it nonetheless created a rupture in their view of the world. "Innocence" was lost or, if life were Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997), September 11, 2001 was the beginning of the 1980s. The characters in that film in fact at the end achieve what the people being discussed here seek - a return to their illusions.
2) What would constitute "a return to their illusions"? The answer would have to be the ability to once again ignore the rest of the world, both on its own terms and in relation to the United States, which ironically bears a great deal of similarity to their current position.
This position is marked for its ability to accept distortions and lies, such as "the terrorists" and WMDs in Iraq posed a threat, because doing so provides the basis for the desired narrative, the "war on terror." Why? Because it is the "war on terror" that ostensibly offers the possibility of a return to the pre-September 11, 2001 world where terrorism could be ignored. As comical as this suggestion is, it is not a straw argument. On the February 24 edition of The Daily Show, for instance, New York Post columnist John Podhoretz said that Bush will "finish" the "war on terror.
(This desire for a return to the old is not a new phenomenon on the conceptual level. People often pine for the "good old days" but what they really want are the good parts of the "good old days." I think of Merle Haggard's "Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)," a classic song that ignores the progress made in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.)
Evidence of popularly accepted idiocy comes not just from what is accepted but also from what is put forward, such as Team Twin Tower's pronouncement that:
Building anything shorter, or smaller than the Twin Towers is tantamount to kneeling to terrorism. No terrorist organization has the right to dictate building heights or what a skyline should look like and how ideals, hopes, and dreams should be compromised.Funny, they seem willing to let them do just that.
And here is another hawkish assertion of a similar type:
The Afghans are a proud people who are damn good at war, and have been since the time of Alexander the Great. They have fought off invasions by Hindus, Russians, Indians, and the British, and there is no reason to expect that they would not fight against an occupying force of Americans just as strongly. But we aren't occupying them; by keeping our forces at a minimal level, and explicitly targeting Al Quieda and Talib forces, we have gotten a kind of pass from the general population. Afghanistan, one of the most primitive and tribal nations on earth, isn't going to become Belgium any time soon, and it would be a waste of effort for us to try. Our goal should be incremental improvements in the conditions and politics of the country, and denial of the territory and population to organized use by Al Quieda and their supporters.We aren't occupying Afghanistan. Just trying to control Afghanistan.
This sort of weak thinking is very much like the ability to ignore the rest of the world. Facts? People? What's the difference?
3) The Bush Administration has effectively implied that there was in fact only one reasonable response to "September 11."
"We must never forget the lessons of September the 11th" implies that everyone knows how to interact with the world but those "lessons" are not explicitly stated because to do so would be to open up debate on a matter that they do not want debated.
Combined with the public's intellectual poverty, the White House is effectively saying:
We will give you reason to support our war. Your job is to support the war. Please ignore anything that goes against our line. We are fighting for freedom and liberty.4) The fact that the three previous points could happen stems from how the people in question see those who don't support the "war on terror" as "less" than them.
In his 2002 book Welcome to the Desert of the Real (Verso) Slavoj Zizek articulates the idea of how "the other" can be reduced to "Homo sacer, the object of disciplinary measures and/or even humanitarian help, but not full citizens." They, according to Zizek, are always to be victims who are pure because they never constitute themselves on a political basis. To do so would deny them purity and their status as Homo sacer.
A recent piece from yours truly, "Winning the Love of Warbloggers in 11 Easy Steps," attempted to illustrate this in a comical fashion, although I see that the joke was lost on at least one reader, but perhaps Rush Limbaugh has done a better job of illustrating this point in his comments on people who lost loved ones in the September 11, 2001 attacks and have criticized Bush's use in campaign ads of footage showing the aftermath of these attacks:
Now, ladies and gentlemen, this is unbelievable. No, it's not. It's believable. I just those people do not sound like victims; they sound like they've been coached. They sound like they have been faxed talking points, do they not? In fact, these people sound like journalists. These people sound like reporters who would be offering their opinions of what Bush did -- and they're not. These are 9/11 family members, and as I say, they sound like political operatives. They really do.They've gone off script by refusing to endorse the One True Way -the "war on terror"- so they are illegitimate, Limbaugh is saying. It should be noted that Limbaugh is not opposed to people who lost a loved one in the events that everyone talks about as "9/11" as such, he merely doesn't think they should disagree with Bush's position.
Unable or unwilling to argue for the "war on terror" in an honest manner that responds to structural critiques, this group resorts to illegitimating anyone who has the right background but the wrong opinion.
I don't believe it can be said with certainty how far this ideology will be taken into action. Political disenfranchisement is the logical outcome of this thinking, but, perhaps naively, seems a bit extreme and as if it could disrupt the stability of the political system of the United States by removing the cloak of liberalism. Is this yet another example of a situation created by the "war on terror" where literal rhetoric does not convey the real meaning of that rhetoric?