Wars are fueled by fear.
We have all known the ghost of war and felt its effect. It collapses into the pillow with us and invades our dreams at night. It wakes with us in the morning, and follows us to work. It creeps into our music, our thoughts, our conversations. It marches silently into our future.
We are living a lifetime filled with violent and unforgettable images and a country suffering from a collective post traumatic stress disorder. We are being spoken to and guided by an administration which has successfully capitalized on those fears in the past and continues to capitalize on them in the present.
The new escalating and costly war on terrorism is becoming a war in the mind, a tool eroding civil liberties. The ultimate war is control of the mind.
We have all seen the ghosts of war. World War I, World War II and Korea. We’ve witnessed Vietnam, and bloody body bags carried across television screens nightly. Seen the broken hearts and broken minds. Vietnam requires no adjectives - or it needs a thousand. It doesn’t need a date to define it. Vietnam was the sixties. Iraq was the nineties. And is now the next century. Everything else fell in between.
Today people watch war on television and the Internet - watch actual bombs fall in actual time. We see guided smart bombs hitting their marks, or missing, as the case may be.
Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense, said in a statement before the Senate Armed Forces Committee in 1991, “We are the only nation on this earth that could assemble the forces of peace”.
Dick Cheney is manipulating our very vocabulary. Force and peace may as well be opposites. Peace can’t be forced. It can’t be owned by one side. Peace steps outside the parameters of language as we know it. It is borderless, un-claimable; the same everywhere; only the flags are different.
In 2002 President Bush signed a bill called The Enhanced Border Security and Reform Act designed to shut the borders to terrorists worldwide. A move dictated by law and order. But international writers, musicians and filmmakers have been shut out as well or unfairly harassed. Havana-based film director Humberto Solas was prevented from attending a tribute to his own work. Kayhan Kalhor, the Canadian-Iranian instrumentalist, was fingerprinted, photographed and searched. The writer, Margaret Atwood, was denied entrance, had to leave the airport and obtain additional documentation, then missed her flight to the United States. The director of a small Michigan music festival said he would no longer consider non-American acts because the financial risk caused by cancellations was too great. We have all become prisoners, those forbidden to speak and those forbidden to listen.
Fear of terrorism invades the air. It invades the air in Lower Manhattan where a permanent wrought iron fence surrounds The New York Stock Exchange. Built as a barricade to terrorism it extends about four feet into the air and down the center of the street. Pedestrians walk on one side, an armed presence stands on the other. Pick-up trucks block intersections. On one bitter cold, unforgiving January morning this year, uniformed guards and police tried to keep warm by moving from one foot to the other. Weather was the enemy that day. Along the small winding streets the armed presence resembled something from old black and white movies, stories of dictatorships in countries far away. This is how cities are captured. Street by street, block by block, everything fueled by terror and fear. With every radio announcement, every television special report, every multi colored terrorist alert, fear is heightened and the airwaves become filled with jargon, “weapons of mass destruction related program activities”. The plague of fear erodes hope and we rush each day past the obvious.
During The Vietnam War there was a shift in family definition. War does something to families; it does something to its heart, to its foundation. Two distinct families came into being, the blood family and a chosen one, and the dynamics of the chosen family often changed as people aged or moved. Those who moved away were often ostracized by their blood family and a claim to structure or foundation was removed.
Children born in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and into this set of dynamics, entered a community-less world at a time when the world was desperate for structure and coming apart at the seams. Born in the sixties and seventies and now struggling in the face of a collapsing economy, AIDS, and laser wars, they are often distanced both geographically and emotionally from any form of extended family.
We have all entered a surreal state of orphan- hood and are now being asked to live in a state of government induced fear because it’s for our own good. The government will be our new family. We are asked to surrender our civil rights without question, and to be loyal to an administration which is questionable at best.
The wrought iron fence at Wall Street is a deterrent, yes, but not only to a person on a suicide mission. It is also a deterrent to hope, hope for the future, a fortress to fear of the other. If “fear of the other” continues to fester we will be waging war with each other, citizen against citizen, state against state.
It may be time for vigilance, yes, - but not only for enemies from outside the border. It may be time to be aware of ourselves - of a military like presence creeping into our cities. To watch what we are told to think and allowed to believe. To be aware of how often the word terror is used on the airwaves. And if that word is changing how we think and how we speak. To be aware of which countries have excess and which are impoverished – to question the very wealthy for not helping the destitute. If we truthfully are all part of the same world what does this mean now in the face of famine and war?
There are hundreds of computers inside The New York Stock Exchange and these computers are hooked up to hundreds of other computers worldwide. A biological or chemical weapon isn’t needed to paralyze the system, if this should ever become someone’s intention. It could possibly be paralyzed with the flick of a switch. Despite the costly military like presence on the streets of lower Manhattan, the computers and money are not secure. Only the military presence is.
In the words of Dick Cheney, "DOD (Department of Defense) is eliminating unnecessary management levels, limiting unneeded reporting requirements, reducing burdensome regulations”. He went on to say, “Our military presence will remain a key factor in our national defense strategy. Presence can take many forms”. “We are at the dawn of a new era”. We are at the dawn of a new era indeed.
We are in an era where our national interests, as they apply to Iraq, are more accurately defined as a permanent and total control over another country’s natural resources.
The outcome of war is unpredictable. It cannot be planned in advance. The outcome for either side can’t be foreseen. Anarchy, riots, civil wars, and chaos are some of its probable conclusions. This being the case it seems a logical motive for not waging a war in the first place.
The outcome of war is an uncertain and gross expenditure of a countries financial resources, robbing money from its hospitals, schools and the poor. The statistics on homelessness vary from report to report but one fact remains true. The number of homeless in New York City has reached its highest point in the city’s history. This reality, in such a rich country, is something to be afraid of. Wars are fueled by fear, hatred, rhetoric and indoctrination. Once fears are ignited, they are difficult to extinguish -this is something to fear.
Magie Dominic is author of 'The Queen of Peace Room', nominated Book of the Year, Foreword Magazine; The Judy Grahn Award for best non-fiction; and for the CWSA Award. (Wilfrid Laurier University Press).