Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A nation of cowards

Yesterday Rebecca carried on an animated conversation about Mainstreaming Torturewith students and faculty at Loyola Law School in New Orleans. In every talk, she elaborates on the point that by embracing torture of enemies -- whether those enemies are resisting occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan and other distant lands or among the "tortureable" class of persons in our domestic prisons -- the United States is transforming its more privileged citizens into "a nation of cowards." We, the spectators of state terror, are encouraged to be attached to a false "security" that our authorities promise is guaranteed by their outrages on human persons. And we become easy marks for those who would terrify us.

According to Joshua Marshall, current US political developments confirm her thesis:

The Return of Terror Politics
... Something very big happened in June when ISIL burst out of Syria and overran a huge chunk of Sunni Iraq. But in the field of US domestic opinion something much bigger and graver happened in September when ISIL beheaded US reporter James Foley and again when they behead fellow journalist and captive Steven Sotloff. (The filmed executions of other foreign nationals followed.) Public opinion data seems to show that these two incidents had a massive and galvanizing effect on US public opinion - driving a public extremely unsupportive of further foreign military operations toward overwhelming support for attacking ISIL.

To make the point clear, what happened in June was a very big deal in terms of the already fractured and fragmented state system in the Arab Middle East. But the executions changed the equation for the US public. It goes without saying that the executions were grisly and brutal, deeply disturbing and revealing about the character of this group. So June and September have an obvious connection. But hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis have been killed in recent years. Thousand of US military personnel have been killed. And even many US civilians and captives have been killed.

But these executions were packaged - there's no other way to put - as brilliantly evil propaganda. That made all the difference in the world in terms of the shifting sands of US public opinion which soon bore fruit in shifting US policy.

Republican Senate candidates and the right wing media generally are all too happy to stoke the fear. They seek to gain advantage over President Obama and Democrats who, once again, can be tarred as bumblers when faced with mortal perils. They would love to return to their glory days in the traumatic aftermath of 9/11 when war hawks ruled the roost.

For the media, stoking fear makes for better story lines. For good or ill, media need elections to be close contests. Turmoil and ferment, emotion and strife sell. Our trained, habitual cowardice is good for the wingers and good for business.

2 comments:

Rain Trueax said...

We are bombarded by fear talk and when it's not terrorists, it's the environment. The solution is turn off the media and live our lives responsibly and aware.

We did not all condone or want torture. Some of us knew it didn't work even if we were governed by fear; so it's not a nation. It's a percentage of it. Unfortunately we vote in someone who says they won't and then we find they just ship prisoners off for someone else to do it, and they never dealt with punishing those who ordered the torture. You can only vote. It's not like we can change it any other way at least not for those of us who do not believe in violence as an answer on either end.

Hattie said...

Fascinating. You must be learning a lot. I am struck by how timid and/or oblivious Americans can be.

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