"Commuters headed to work today under the watchful eyes of police after
a newly disclosed terror threat against the New York subway system raised the
specter of an attack with explosives concealed in a baby stroller."
"Police with bomb-sniffing dogs interrupted a Rolling Stones show at
the University of Virginia Thursday night after officials received a bomb threat
concerning the stage." (Oct.7,
"The Washington Monument was evacuated and the streets around it blocked
off because of a bomb threat, a law enforcement official said on Friday."
Do you remember the America that was – the good
life we knew before the Bush administration? You could ride the New York subways
without fear of anything more troublesome than getting off at the wrong stop.
Going to a Rolling Stones concert carried the risk of temporary deafness, but
little else. And the only warning I ever heard about the Washington Monument
in America's pre-Bush salad days was to avoid racing up the steps to the top,
as this foolish feat had led to the occasional heart attack.
But that was long ago and far, far away from the fearful nation we've become
after five long years under the childish Bush administration. After years of
divide-and-conquer strategies within and enemy-making without, bomb threats
are steadily increasing in frequency. If this trend continues – a trend that
feeds into the Bush administration's fondness for military encroachment into
and "pacification" of civilian domains – the U.S. will soon be added
to the list of volatile, divided, fearful countries, an object of pity and scorn.
We are fast learning that leaders with a zest for military aggression eventually
exact a price that their supporters as well as their opponents must pay: As
Americans of every political party are learning, the costs to their quality
of life (freedom of movement, ease, confidence, feelings of safety and well-being)
far outweigh any benefits derived from tax cuts.
To be a citizen in Bush's America is to be a frightened child of a bully father
who creates dangerous enemies with vendettas while "defending" his
offspring. The child/citizen may at first feel protected but eventually realizes
that he or she has instead been "protected
to death" – left alone to face the enemies created by his defender's
antagonizing bravado and violence.
And so we find ourselves having to face the backlash, protected by nothing
more potent than impressive-looking security measures such as:
- Mind-numbing recordings, e.g., "If you see something, say something"
and "Report any suspicious behavior." (Would a terrorist really
be so stupid as to behave suspiciously?)
- Idiotic body searches of little old ladies. (As my antiwar "fiscal
Republican" father always said, unlike naďve young ideologues, elderly
people have obviously put a lot of effort into staying alive and thus are
not inclined to blow themselves up.)
- Equally pointless searches of one-way ticket holders. (What are the odds
that a terrorist would still purchase a red-flagging one-way flight?)
- The Bush administration's "send in the Marines" strategy, as if
the mere sight of armed troops (which is, if anything, an incitement to those
already enraged by U.S. military violence) is sufficient to deter suicidally
- Startlingly ineffective random backpack searches.
- Educating the public about the need to stay kinda tense
and vigilant every time we leave the house – but also to act
On the bus, the subway, the train, the airport, and even the mall, we're advised
to look at our fellow travelers and shoppers not with friendliness but with
suspicion: We are all, supposedly, qualified judges of what is and is not a
threat – which means that individuality
or idiosyncratic quirks are fast becoming unacceptable. (As the militaristic
murder of young Mr. de Menezes by London authorities amply illustrated, the
wrong clothing choice or skin color can be quite hazardous to your health.)
A Day Without Fear Is a Day Without a Submissive Citizenry
Nowadays, we don't even expect to have a day without
fear. In stark contrast to the elation felt during our "Power of Pride"
pro-war frenzy, Americans now think in terms of how much terror we should
When we see "Terror Level: Elevated" or "Terror Level: High"
scrolling ominously beneath every newscast, we're reminded that we are not safe.
We automatically translate the levels into color codes and feel the appropriate
anxiety: Orange! Red! Help! 911!
Of course, it doesn't stop there. News anchors talk about our non-safety every
chance they get. "You could be next" stories are a classic ratings
ploy; fear glues viewers to newscasts when they'd rather be watching Seinfeld.
Bush's popularity ratings have taken a dramatic nosedive; observers have tracked
the link between bad news for the White House (the latest targeting Bush's closest
adviser, Karl Rove) and highly publicized but bogus terrorist threats. On the
other hand, many critics believe that Bush's promotion of war and his brazen
support of torture have made a world of enemies for Americans, both domestic
and foreign, thus putting us genuinely at risk.
Only the most faithful Bushians believe these threats have nothing
to do with Bush's sagging ratings or blowback from his violent foreign
For die-hard Bush supporters, the right to kill people there so that
we'll be safer here is beyond question: If we're running for cover from
one bomb threat after another, it's because we haven't yet wiped out all the
bad guys (and anyone else in their vicinity). We just need to infiltrate more
terrorist cells, torture more suspected terrorists, and start more wars. Then
we'll be safe – at least that's what Mr. Bush always says – and the terror will
But that's not the case. Fear boosts ratings and distracts attention. Dramatic
televised "terror threats" of varying color and intensity will continue
as long as they work. Whether they're fabricated by the Bush administration
or generated by the enemies our merciless smart bombs have created, and whether
or not they have anything at all to do with al-Qaeda, the fact remains that
we're fast becoming one nation under constant threat.
Both Republicans and Democrats are learning to do things we never dreamed we'd
be doing, things like avoiding the subway, evacuating buildings, and looking
over our shoulders everywhere we go – the polar opposite of what was supposed
to happen after ridding the world of evil, as Bush promised he would.
Instead of walking tall, Americans are running for cover.