The Real Fog of War

May 04 04:47 2004 Print This Article

As the US approaches its 140th year without having had a war fought on its soil, its citizens are astoundingly oblivious to the blessing they have enjoyed. Most of the rest of the world knows all too well what war is, at least within living memory.

The Bushies scoff at France for its antiwar stance -yet France has more of a right to judge than the US, having endured two devastating wars on its soil in less than a century. Suffering breeds compassion. But the US is oblivious to the impact of war on others. For too many Americans, war is a vague, abstract concept, something that happens to other people who probably deserve it anyway.

In its sheltered state, the US was not spiritually prepared to deal with the reality of 9/11. As a result, the nation’s character seemed to crumble along with the World Trade Center towers. We were willing to barter away every freedom we had won in 200 years in exchange for a momentary illusion of safety.

We were willing to devastate one of the poorest nations on Earth with an unprecedented rain of bombs for the fleeting satisfaction of ‘evening the score.’ We were willing to listen to lies and ignore the truth for the transient excitement of watching our tanks lumber across the Iraqi desert to ‘get Saddam.’

The most valuable lesson we could have gotten from the 9/11 tragedy was the one we failed to learn: compassion.

Thus being “pro-war” has become the accepted -even respected and actively promoted- thing to do, even though we have no clue what war really means and no interest in finding out even through self-education. Nearly all US politicians who have pushed hardest for the current war have never been to war, never even served in the military, never visited a war zone while the blood was still fresh. In their arrogant ignorance, they make war sound so simple, so justifiable, so ‘doable.’

And so America has allowed itself to be pulled without a serious struggle, into war. Americans just don’t want to see the blood, the tears, the orphaned children, the maimed old men, or flag-draped coffins. We don’t want to hear the screams of the wounded and dying, the soul-shattering pounding of bombs and mortars.

We just want a smartly dressed, reassuringly gray-haired general to stand up in front of the news cameras and tell us that we’re making progress. And after all, those “insurgents” have been asking for it -our patience only goes so far! And then we go back to our dinners or settle back into our armchairs in our war-free towns and cities.

There are anti-war progressives in the US, but too many have, until quite recently, been complacent, more concerned with acquiring material security -soccer moms and dads in SUVs- than upholding national ideals. As a result, the very non-complacent rightwing factions, from the late 1980s on, managed to push their way into dominance, ultimately taking over all three branches of the federal government.

How could this happen when these extremists represent, by most estimates, less than one in five Americans? The same way that the three most talented contestants on American Idol ended up receiving the fewest phone-in votes in a recent episode of the show, which is watched by 24-27 million Americans each week. All three contestants were black women.

Three out of four of those with the highest number of votes were white or light-skinned, with one black male. It wasn’t that millions of non-bigoted people weren’t watching -it is just that the strong block of bigoted viewers who make up the US viewing public (especially fans of the rightwing Fox network) are more likely to act than the progressives. That is precisely how George Bush was elected.

In reality, Bush’s constituency has never represented more than about 24 per cent of American voters. In the last presidential election, which had a higher-than-average voter turnout, only 51 per cent of Americans eligible to vote bothered to go to the polls.

Of that percentage, Bush received less than half of the votes -48 per cent.The most indifferent group of all? Single women -a group with less excuse than others not to make it to the polls. But an estimated 20 million single women failed to act on their nation’s behalf on that critical day back in November 2000.

The complacence of Americans runs through the entire US society, making the nation an easy target for determined fanatics with an agenda. For example, it was reported in 2001 that when Congress voted to pass the PATRIOT Act, only about five per cent of them had actually read the legislation! Meanwhile, a national survey conducted in 2002 revealed that just 38 per cent of Americans could name the Vice President of the US.

Other surveys have shown that far less than half of all Americans can tell you what the capitol of the next state is -let alone where Afghanistan or Iraq are found on a globe. A poll in April 2004 showed that an astounding 60 per cent of Americans still believe that al-Qaeda was connected to Saddam and that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9-11.

It is no wonder that Bush and Co. dare to routinely disseminate outright lies, both to promote policy and to undermine their political opponents: After all, it is highly unlikely the average American will know the difference -or investigate the facts. Worse, the media will stand back and allow the lies to take root before bothering to challenge them.

Fortunately, American progressives are waking up and losing their complacency. The unity of those dedicated to getting rid of the Bush administration in November 2004 is a highly encouraging sign. The million or more women who poured into the streets of Washington, DC in April hints that even single American women are awakening.

The active progressives may represent just 20 to 30 per cent of the nation, but as the rightwing minority has proven, it is action, not numbers that makes the difference when the majority remains in a fog of indifference.

Cheryl Seal

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