The following is a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” “The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Friday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central time on ShockNetRadio.com
At What Cost?
A Reflection by Ronald Bruce Meyer
Back in 1717 and 1718, a Bristol-born pirate terrorized the east coast of the American colonies. Blackbeard scared the bejeezus out of the New World on reputation alone. But he was hunted by a special British military task force and finally killed in battle on 22 November 1718, almost 300 years ago. The 18th century had its Osama bin Laden, too.
I remember there was a joke making the rounds when both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama were contending for the Democratic presidential nomination. A conservative was telling Clinton’s daughter there are only three things he fears: “Osama, Obama, and yo Mama.” Now that we’ve got Osama – and Obama is President and “yo Mama” is Secretary of State, by the way – do we still have to live in fear? Is the War on Terror over?
I know that Pentagon spending kept right on rolling even after the US drove the USSR into bankruptcy. So now we have our Osama bin Laden trophy. Was it worth it? What did it cost us as Americans to kill one man?
Oh, I know. To paraphrase that line from the 1998 Zorro film, it isn’t just one man, damn it. It’s Osama bin Laden. And where did he get these magic powers? From Allah? You’d think so, to hear the national security fetishists tell the tale. And just like God needs the devil – who is more powerful than God because he dictates God’s behavior – so we needed Osama bin Laden. We needed Osama bin Laden like we needed a bogeyman to scare little children. He was our Keyser Söze.
And like Keyser Söze, Osama bin Laden wasn’t really the greatest trick the devil ever pulled, convincing us he doesn’t exist. Osama bin Laden wasn’t even our enemy. Our fear was our enemy – and this shows how powerful, how successful, how magical he was. You see? Terror works.
Osama bin Laden was just a man. But his tactic, terrorism, was his magic. And it didn’t cost us much as a nation to avenge the terror attack of 9/11/01. Just any claim we might have had to being any different from any other people in history. For this trophy, we gave up our self image as somehow special, as somehow exceptional in history.
In Iraq it cost us $788 trillion plus the lives of 4,452 US military personnel and 1,456,000 Iraqis, when we invaded a sovereign country that had nothing to do with September 11. In Afghanistan is cost us $401 trillion, plus the lives of 1,566 US military personnel and an uncounted number of Afghanis.
At home, when we created the PATRIOT Act, we really believed we were safer and better off with opting out of international human rights agreements, and opting in on ethnic and religious profiling, illegal surveillance, indefinite detention of both citizens and non-citizens without trial, infiltration and intimidation of activist groups, intrusive oversight of our financial transactions and support for brutal pro-US dictators overseas, secret prisons and torture. If we fight terrorists because they hate our freedom, why are we giving up our freedom to maintain the fight?
And when our leaders preach this message of fear, doing the work of Osama bin Laden for him, we Americans easily become more paranoid about immigrants, hostile to foreign languages, more accepting of right-wing jingoism, and happy to concede our liberty and democracy.
So, Osama bin Laden: Blackbeard? Zorro? Keyser Söze? Islamic bogeyman? None of the above?
You know what I wish? That one day Americans will wake up and look our political and religious leaders in the eye and say “Enough.” Enough manipulating me through fear of bogeymen, Mr. Politician. Enough manipulating me through fear of god, Mr. Priest. You could control me that way when I was as child, but I’ve outgrown you. Treat me like an adult, or don’t come looking for my vote, Mr. Politician. Treat me like an adult, or don’t come looking for anything in the collection plate, Mr. Priest.
I’m not afraid of your bogeymen. I’m not afraid of your hell. You’ve created and sold me these illusions, but I’m not scared of them anymore. I’m done with fear. It costs too much. That’s enough.
Until the next time we’re afraid and give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety. That’s the only change we’ll believe in.
Horace Walpole (1717) It was on this date, September 24, 1717, that English man of letters Horace Walpole was born in London. The youngest son of England's longest-ruling Prime Minister, Robert Walpole (who was most likely an Atheist), Horace's original first name was Horatio. Educated according to his social station, at Eton and King's College, […]