Reading the Signs
|September 18, 2003||Posted by Lindy Davies under The Progress Report|
Reading the Signs
by Lindy Davies
What happened on September 11th, 2001 was horrible and tragic, and so, I regret to say, have been many of the moves our nation has made in the “War on Terror”. But just for today, I wish to leave aside the political analyses, the litany of administration lies, the casualty figures, and examine something that gets far too little scrutiny, I think. I’d like to take a look at a few of the frightening terms have entered our national lexicon in the last two years.
We can start with the name that The President always uses for this Great National Resolve: The war on… What? Not Terror”ism” which is scary enough, if you take it to mean a military tactic, employed by desperate, stateless combatants, targeting innocent civilians for violent death no, the War on Terror itself! The emotion! That is something much more fundamentally disturbing. George W. Bush is our Commander in Chief in the War on Everything Scary. And what’s really unnerving is that George W. Bush declares (though, given his track record, we have absolutely no call to believe him) that we are winning.
I think there is much more to be terrified about than there was two years ago. First, let’s be blunt, there are the towelheads. I use that term, not to be demeaning, but to reflect what most Americans, including, sad to say, our President himself, really know or care about the Muslim world. We don’t know where they’re coming from and we don’t know what they want. We can’t figure out who they’re allied with, and we still don’t know who is hiding Osama. Ashcroft’s Terror Thermometer goes up from yellow to orange to red, every so often, they’re coming! Meanwhile, though, our Defense Department seriously contemplates deploying a new generation of “bunker-busters”, tactical Nukes, little teeny ones though, no bigger than Hiroshima. The United States is a half-trillion dollars in the Red, spends over $300 billion per year on the military-industrial complex and is far and away the world’s leading exporter of WMD, and we’re supposed to be winning the war on Terror?
We once fought a decades-long war of Great National Resolve was against just such a vague, all-consuming enemy — do you remember Communism? It was always packaged in the biggest possible way. We weren’t fighting the Soviets, or Imperialism, or corrupt Stalinism, or anything that could be identified, placed in a particular time and place. No, we were aligned against Dark Side, the Evil Empire, the sinister threat to the Free World As We Know It Today: the nefarious idea that people can share, and pull together for the common good: Shudder! Communism!
“Freedom itself” was, in W’s words, what was attacked on September 11th, 2001. Hence the malign, maniacal, menacing (yet mendacious, and ultimately melodramatic) sense of grim moral purpose, the President striding purposefully toward the O.K. Corral. Freedom itself. Yep, that’s why we started seeing so many American flag decals on Expeditions, Jimmies and Hummers. Freedom itself. Three thousand Americans died on September 11th. Three thousand Afghan civilians died, soon after. Meanwhile, how many children die every single day from infections, virtually unknown in the First World, utterly preventable, caused by unsafe drinking water?
I think the single creepiest symbol of the last two years is the now-ubiquitous Eagle superimposed on the American flag. It is often laid out to fit neatly in the rear window of a pickup truck, but it appears in many venues that claim greater sophistication. Now, I learned in grade school that Blue stands for Truthfulness, White for Purity, and Red for Courage. Our bravery is already represented in the flag, so the eagle has to be saying something more. It seems to me that the eagle is there for Vengeance. It is a new terrifying corruption of a profound national symbol. The old colonial flags featured a venomous snake with the motto, “Don’t Tread On Me” — a very potent symbol, but clearly one of self-defense. Not so with our new flag. The eagle’s eyes are wide and its talons are raised: it is on the attack. It is our icon of the Preemptive Strike.
It is probably too late to take his advice but nevertheless, this might be a good time to recall Benjamin Franklin’s words on the appropriateness on the Bald Eagle as our national symbol:
For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him…. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District…. the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.
There you have it. I must admit that I take some comfort in realizing that to call our President a “turkey” would be to afford him, in my estimation, undue praise.
Lindy Davies is the Program Director of the Henry George Institute.
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