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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Fear By Another Name

Fear By Another Name

By Michael Brenner
Counterpunch
February 19, 2013

Assassination of American citizens by presidential dictate, blanket
suspension of habeas corpus indefinitely, massive wiretapping and
surveillance with and without warrant, torture as the official policy
of the United States government these are trademarks of the “war
on terror” pursued since 9/11.

This despite the absence of a single serious attack over the past
twelve years and the scattering of a defanged al-Qaida – the only
group that once had the potential capability to do us major harm.

The extraordinary trashing of our cherished civil liberties and ethical
standards is matched by the stunning acceptance of these actions by
our political class, by our professional elites, by the populace.

Approval, not just passive acceptance, is the most common attitude.

No prominent politician denounces these insults to American
principles except the few who very late in the day ponder the
desirability of introducing a tame court review of demands to
execute the “kill list” as a fig leaf (when citizens are the targets).

The American Bar Association assumes a low-key, guarded pose.

The American Medical Association avoids addressing the role of
doctors in advising on torture techniques.

The long catatonic universities do not bestir themselves.

The American Psychological Association collaborated with private
consultants in organizing workshops on behavioral change under
induced extreme stress.

Some anthropologist slap on side arms to provide an escort service
for Special Forces in Pashtun villages.

The scholarly societies are silent. The think tank and foundation
worlds closely follow the score in playing accompaniment to official
policies.

A couple of established churches make feeble declarations while
restricting themselves to a few anodyne homilies.

As for the media, they consistently have been accomplices, giving
either active (in most cases) or passive backing to doing “what is
necessary” to “safeguard” the American people.

Even The New York Times, self-proclaimed pillar of journalistic
integrity and defender of our freedoms from government abuse,
repeatedly bent its standards to accommodate successive
administrations ever ready to break the rules.

Transmission belt for the falsehoods that paved the way for the
invasion of Iraq, withholder of information about illegal electronic
surveillance on the eve of the 2004 election, discrete on Guantanamo
abuses, and Johnny-come-lately to the assassination on Oval Office
command scandal, the Times and kindred members of the “quality”
press have been enablers of the distressing practices of our
government at home as well as abroad.

Explanation of this failure by persons and institutions throughout
our democracy is imperative. It has not been forthcoming.

The “why’ question is an important as the question of the
implications from this dereliction. For it forces us to come
to terms with the hyper sensitive issues of who we are and
what we have become as a society.

Fear and dread, deep and pervasive, are the abiding feature of
these times.

Existential threats from mysterious forces with no fixed address
are most scary because they are not resoluble by focused action
taken against a clear target.

They gnaw at you as well as frighten you. That produces dread.

Dread is free floating fear – it fixes on what might be, thereby
magnifying fears of experiencing one more horrific events of
the past.

American actions in the ‘war on terror’ have been driven by
dread at home and abroad.

Dread that it may happen again, dread of the unknown, dread of
the alien. It explains not only the radical thrust of Washington’s
conduct in the Greater Middle East but also the dulling of critical
faculties.

That pertains to torture, kill lists and illegal surveillance as well
as the ready resort to military power.

This is all basic psychology. But it leaves unexplained why the
effect has endured so long. Why hasn’t it worn off? The reasons
are identifiable.

For one thing, dread has been assiduously cultivated by leaders
who have exploited fear for their own ends political or ideological.

They have been assisted in this dubious enterprise by claques
of dogmatists and professional fear-mongers and by a legion
of careerists riding the wave.

Moreover, our leaders skillfully have drawn the country into the
vortex of shameful misdeeds.

By casting every exceptional act as essential to a crusade to
protect America, by scorning criticism as un-patriotic, by
relentless propaganda, they have tainted and compromised
nearly everyone.

In effect, a classic “line of blood” has been drawn between
Americans on one side of it, and truth/integrity/principle on
the other side. That has been the “war on terror’s” historic
accomplishment.

Collective betrayal of our ideals, tarnishing our self-identity,
has left Americans bereft of the self-respect nurtures virtue
and generates the courage to confront lapses.

Torture as a demonstrable matter of fact, torture as the official
policy of the White House, torture without reasonable cause has
no precedent in America.

Nor does assassination.

Their routine occurrence in the ‘war on terror’ testifies to the
amorality of those managing the country’s affairs.

Its tolerance by the public, by Congress, and the accessory role
played by the enabling courts before, during and after the fact
add up to a national pathology.

For decades, Americans looked back on the internment of fellow
citizens of Japanese ancestry as an aberration which never could
happen again. Now, no such assumption can be made.

Imagine this picture:

Iranian armies have conquered the Middle East and have reached
Morocco; an Iranian armada has sunk most of the country’s Atlantic
fleet at anchor in Norfolk; and a few hundreds of thousands of
American citizens of Iranian descent live clustered on the
Northeastern seaboard. Is there reason to doubt that their treatment
would be such as to make them envy the condition of the Nisei during
WW II?

The United States nowadays is a country of false bravery. Its
self-image of daring individualism persists even as timid conformity
relegates it to the realm of legend.

Persons whose inquisitive dedication to the truth challenges
convention about public matters are shunned.

Worse, they are punished. For they threaten to expose sins of
omission or commission – we cannot allow ourselves to admit.

We cannot because to do so means undermining the national myths
and legends that sustain us – as a people and as individuals.

Of course, all societies live by myths and legends. They abbreviate
the universe for us. That is a crucial contribution to maintaining
the emotional and mental stability that allows us to function.

Humans have only so much tolerance for the truth. Considerations
of convenience and comfort are the main reason.

Both dictate sublimation and avoidance in the shameful aftermath
of the terror decade.

In America, cognitive dissonance among those with some awareness
of the national predicament is handled not by resolution, but rather
through coping mechanisms. They keep inconsistencies below a
certain pain cum embarrassment threshold.

That artless strategy has proven viable in part because Americans,
beguiled by their leaders and the country’s entire political class,
have learned to live in a virtual reality.

The actual and the imagined have become fused so that the
former has no clear precedence in its hold on the individual and
collective mind. The mythic and the real are interchangeable.

Thus, Zero Dark Thirty and Argo.

Thus, the fabricated yet fabled hero David Petraeus; countries
manufacture the heroes they need – and that they are prepared
to pay the price for.

Thus, the ‘success’ of the surge in Iraq.

Thus the solemn pronouncements that judgment on our tragic
adventures there and in Afghanistan must “await the verdict
of history” just as the historians’ jury is still out on Krakatoa.

Moreover, a collectivity of the self-worshipful militates toward
the same outcome.

In America today, a vague patriotism, itself an abstracted form
of national self-worship, is the only sealant that bonds otherwise
separate egoists.

It's effect is made all the more powerful by the common experience Vof being accessories to the shameful acts of their government. This
phenomenon is at once cause and reinforced effect of our flight from
information and knowledge.

A queer feature of contemporary American life is the equation of
ignorance and freedom. New information is instinctively seen as a
threat instead of something carrying possible value to be embraced.

For it asks engagement, some mental effort, and it promises the
pain of owning up to behaviors we cannot stand contemplating.

Most people, therefore, find it intolerable to admit either that their
earlier judgments about the necessity to go to war (and of all those
other things) or that they had been so easily and completely duped.

Why are the facts of how a substantial majority of Americas are
being bamboozled unwelcome?

One reason is that seeing them for what they are entails revelation
of distressing realities. Those realities include participation in one’s
own deception. After all, it is well known that the stubborn resistance
of a buyer of counterfeit art to admitting that he has been duped is
in proportion to how much he has paid.

Things that happen to unexceptional nations are not supposed to
happen to America – an America born under a lucky star. For many,
the Star of Bethlehem.

When mishaps do happen, they sow disquiet, incomprehension and
a search for scapegoats. The planets are out of alignment. That is
something frightening and quite dreadful.

The “war on terror” bears several unpalatable truths: our attempt
at putting the Iraqis on the path to peace and prosperity has failed
America is thwarted; the Iraqis and Afghans are not grateful and
most of the world dislikes/hates us – Americans expect and need
to be loved for our natural virtue; the terrorist threat is still there
to bedevil us – America is unnaturally unsafe;

Americans have been deceived by two consecutive Presidents
the bond of trust central to our civic religion has been broken;
we torture and we abuse others.

America’s moral leadership is gone; we have subverted our own
liberties we have panicked in an unmanly manner. Taken together,
these failures and transgressions are a heavy load on the collective
national psyche.

An America that is not able, that is not moral, that is not smart,
that lies, that lies to itself, that America is incompatible with the
myths that sustain us.

Therefore, better that the truth not be told.

We have been living in a morbid fear for whose release we will
sacrifice our freedoms,a people whose timidity in acknowledging
their failings is fear by another name.



Michael Brenner is a Professor of International Affairs at the
University of Pittsburgh.

http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/02/18/fear-by-another-name

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