by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - January 14, 2008) Is "fear" the spirit of this age, the characteristic of the current generation? Certainly, that emotion has been the theme of political discourse since 9/11 and that word has been used to legitimize two invasions and one continuing occupation -- and is currently being used to support sanctions against Iran for developing a nuclear power program.
Yet, what do Americans really have to fear? Is that the right word to describe our zeitgeist? Perhaps a synonym would better describe the type of emotion Americans should have rather than fear. "Consternation" does work, since we are not paralyzed. Perhaps the day after the 9/11 attacks there was confusion and dismay. Certainly that state of consternation has passed.
Neither do the emotional states of panic, horror, or terror apply to the current situation. Yet, both the federal government and the news media that take its cues from the government seem to want to foster an atmosphere of "terror." Indeed, the other catchword of this age is "terror." The "War on Terror" is to be never ending, and the word "terrorism" has been used to describe environmental protesters and teachers who strike for better working conditions. My god, we should flee in panic when teachers demand better salaries, so they are no longer the least paid of all the professionals.
Should Americans even be "apprehensive"? First, we must ask: apprehensive about what, or whom? If we are to believe the federal government and its justification of illegal wiretapping of American citizens, its renewal of the Patriot Act, its passage of the Military Commission Act, and the continued suspension of habeas corpus, Americans should be apprehensive, for the message conveyed is that a terrorist could live next door.
Yet, Americans should be more apprehensive about the lengths their government has taken to supposedly "protect" them from the dangers of evil. Each American should ask if giving up the rights of privacy really provides more security and "freedom from terror." Is that state of mind, that adrenaline rush to flee, to hide, or to scream really justified?
Perhaps our zeitgeist is really "phobia," thus terms like xenophobia more accurately describe the true emotional or irrational state of many Americans. Indeed, phobias are often an intense hatred of something, some situation or, unfortunately, some group. The current American government has instilled an intense hatred of "terrorists" in many Americans, an intense hatred for "insurgents," for "Islam" and for the Arab people in general. One should not forget that George Washington led a group of insurgents who threw off an oppressive government; was the Boston Tea Party an act of terrorism? Was the burning of New York by the retreating Continental Army an act of terrorism?
Are the generalizations being made about Arabs, Islam, and insurgents really justified?
George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the framers of the New American Century were waiting for an opportunity to attack and occupy Iraq in order to secure the oil fields. There should be no doubt about that fact. The consternation, panic, and dismay that Americans felt after that dreadful day were turned into fear to keep the population in the correct emotional state so that they would support the government's agenda. The government, along with the mainstream media, have done their best to maintain that emotional state with the continued use of the word "terror," so that now many Americans are apprehensive, and some are developing or are having their pre-existing phobias justified.
In general, does the United States have a phobia? Is that the correct word to describe the zeitgeist at the beginning of the 21st century? Will future historians look back upon American society and deem it phobic and thus prone to irrational behavior? If the current administration is replaced by another hawkish administration, then the use of "terror and fear" to justify the invasion and occupation of other oil rich nations may very well continue.
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