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Dissecting the war on terror
By James Cooke
After five years of post 9/11 government, U.S. foreign and domestic policy continues to be dominated by the all-encompassing ‘war on terror’. Events have since exposed this so-called war for what it is: a gross propaganda campaign used to suppress civil liberties and launch global war.
It is of course impossible to declare war on a tactic of war, which is what terrorism is— a technique used by those incapable of defeating a regular army in open combat. The media propagandists cannot call the ‘insurgency’ in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Lebanon by its proper name, ‘occupation resistance’, because doing so would expose the imperialist nature of U.S. foreign policy, and undermine the fear that is produced and exploited by blaming U.S. casualties on ‘Islamic fundamentalists’, or as they are misnamed now, ‘Islamic-fascists’ (Orwell would be especially proud of the creativeness). This quick summary— however redundant— of the ‘inconsistencies’ of the war on terror, leads one to wonder how such a cultural abomination could exist in the first place. The following is an attempt to explain the history and evolution of government-sponsored propaganda campaigns, with the goal of placing the ‘war on terror’ in its proper context.
The best way to get to the heart of the ‘war on terror’ is by exploring its historical foundation— the development of such political charades has a long and squalid past. If history has taught us anything, it’s that barefaced democracy, under capitalism, is an unstable and fleeting occurrence. One needs only to reflect upon the great democratic revolutions throughout history to make the desired point. The first such revolution, the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of England, quickly evolved into an overly-democratic, popular movement, inciting the usually tepid lower classes— led by the Levelers— to action. To keep things ‘orderly’ enough to do business, the capitalists (the designers of every modern-day, democratic revolution), resorted first to a dictatorship, under Cromwell, and then required the assistance of the displaced monarchy— to give the illusion of a ‘higher authority’. Such a drastic measure became necessary, since the English masses became immune to the mighty-phrases of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ while remaining wage-slaves. The result is that we have, to this day in England, a House of Commons, for the supposed common folk, and a House of Lords, where the ancestors of royalty haughtily mix with their brothers-in-arms, the corporate-elite, in shameless undemocratic rule.
The French Revolution experienced similar problems. As the French masses got riled up by the liberating slogans the industrialists used to expel the monarchy, the new elite soon lost control of their brain-child. To bring the mass movement led by the Jacobins under wraps, an eventual dictatorship was necessary: those who once taught enlightenment ideals soon starting preaching the need of law and order, giving unswerving support to Napoleon.
The American Revolution was in some ways an exception, in other ways as typical as the rest. The colonies had an over-abundance of land and resources that enabled the elite (our pride founding fathers, almost all successful businessmen) to quell potential class-conflict through concession, not to mention an over-abundance of slaves to do the dirtiest work of profit-making. Part of government strategy to dominate the vast space was to grant free land to pioneers, who would gobble-up the life-blood of the indigenous peoples; it was the tremendous wealth of the unconquered country that allowed the elite to appease the lower classes— minus minorities of course—for a century or so, until the country was successfully ‘settled’. Soon thereafter, the inequality naturally produced under capitalism started to take hold, renewing ‘all the old crap’.
Every democratic revolution has experienced the same problem once it began: the inability for the new arrangement of society— that of owners and workers— to match the ideals of liberty, freedom, and equality that first spawned the changes. Once the new social system cemented itself, all the ancient forms of repression were resurrected out of necessity, due to the inequality that remained and in fact increased under capitalism; the myriad results from the various democratic revolutions consist of: constitutional monarchies, police-states, theocracies, two-party systems, and corporate domination of social life— real democracy under capitalism is, and has always been, an unrealizable goal. The various types of democracy-stifling governments are needed to create ideal business environments (especially low wages and corporate subsidies), while securing the extravagances of those who most benefit from societies inequity; most importantly, repressive state powers are needed so the ‘unruly elements’— the majority of the population— keep their demands limited and their mouths shut. Gigantic state forces, combined with creative indoctrination programs, are needed to legitimize the fact that, in the U.S., one man has 40+ billion dollars while 40+ million people squander their lives in poverty.
A closer look on how this historic conflict has played out in American society sheds further light on the current situation, showing how and why social antagonisms flourish at certain periods, lay dormant at other times, requiring varying levels of state repression mixed with creative propaganda. After the industrial revolution’s belated triumph (the civil war), U.S. society finally fell victim to the social struggle that was familiar to the rest of the world; this radicalization of society was felt everywhere, culminating during the great depression. Unfortunately, the U.S. government was able to channel much of the social dissatisfaction into patriotism in general, and towards the ‘fight against fascism’ in particular. All social issues were abandoned, and national attention was directed at a war that was supposedly a fight for civilization. Although fascism did actually exist (as opposed to the alleged ‘Islamic-fascism of today), the actual purpose of the war was the suppression of civil unrest domestically, as well as the imperialistic longings of the elite abroad. The propaganda that sold the war always left out the actual causes of fascism, nor why fascist governments were supported by the U.S. and England until very late in the game.
After WWII came promises from the U.S. government to relieve the plight of the common man; the New Deal, which provided a meager safety net, was later supplemented by the economic expansion that took hold on an international level, enabling the capitalists to make significant concessions— pay-raises, pensions, and health-care— to their militant workers. Due to the expanded use of assembly-line manufacturing, Capitalism embarked on its largest period of growth ever, creating the conditions that allowed for a sustained class peace (in industrialized nations only)
Since the threat of fascism was extinguished, a new pretext for pursing corporate profits through military adventurism, also know as ‘imperialism’, was invented: the fight against communism. The American people at this point, fresh from a military victory and a giant increase in living standards (for the new middle class anyway), was ripe for the hyperbole. It should be noted that the ‘fight against communism’ was a step lower on the evolutionary propaganda-chain than the ‘fight against fascism’, not only because the ‘communist threat’ was vaguer and more nonsensical than its fascist ancestor, but because the U.S. government PR people had to compensate for the fact that in Vietnam, the U.S. was acting unilaterally (with a scant ‘coalition of the willing’) and facing a guerilla campaign with years of experience against foreign occupiers (now referred to as terrorism), supported by the majority of the Vietnamese population.
The U.S. population experienced a ‘great awakening’ during and after the Vietnam War. After the military defeat, a generally mistrust of government, mixed with a healthy dose of identity crises—something that happens to all imperialist populations after military defeat— invaded all corners of U.S. society. The ‘fight against communism’ propaganda was largely exposed; general political consciousness was on the rise; another trick promulgated by the elite was extinguished.
After the fall of the USSR the U.S. was the sole super-power in the world. There was absolutely no reason for U.S. taxpayers to maintain the gargantuan military budget that guaranteed U.S. corporate interests the world over. Americans, sensing the opportunity of social progress, started to demand changes. The elite would have none of it: enter the ‘the war on terror’.
To complicate matters for the ruling class, their international economic clout had eroded— due in part to the growing stature of Europe, as well as the rising industrial might of China and India. On an international level, the amazing corporate growth-rates experienced after WWII had ended, renewing the stagnant economic conditions that created the social upheavals of past generations. The ‘war on terror’ was a necessary venture that killed two birds with one stone: it allowed for the continuance of U.S. imperialism around the world, while distracting and repressing the social issues created by the worsening economic situation.
To better understand the processes of the ‘war on terror’, an inquiry into the authors of this new ‘crusade’ is helpful. As is known, the neocons are the masterminds responsible for the implementation and strategy of the ‘war on terror’; however, this savvy group did not spring from the brain of an evil genius like many stumped radicals seem to think; they were born from the same conditions that created their fascist ancestors in Germany, Italy, and Spain. The neocons came to prominence through the bankroll of corporate America; like the Nazis before them, they attracted corporate backing by advertising their uniquely aggressive foreign policy (see the writings of the PNAC), insuring that raw materials (especially oil) and markets would fall into the pockets of those corporations footing the campaigning bills; the neocons were guaranteeing them Iraq without the hindrance of international law, and all the war-profiteering that inevitably flowed from it. It was thus no surprise that Bush’s initial presidential campaign racked in a record amount of contributions, with hardly a finger lifted on his part.
To emphasize the deepening crisis that corporations continue to find themselves in, Bush’s original election platform should be taken into consideration. Nobody, especially the Republican corporate-sponsors, was under any illusions about what Bush would do if elected. Many Corporations had, after years of struggling profit-rates, decided on a more aggressive remedy for their problems. Thus, the same desperate mood of commerce that inspired those in the 30’s to support Mussolini and Hitler has reappeared again, prompting preemptive wars and all the necessary machinations of fascism used to justify them. It is no coincidence that Hitler’s frenzied ‘war against the Jewish-Communist conspiracy’ sounds all too familiar to those living under the ‘terrorist threat’.
Since fascism is a sign of capitalism in crisis, the interests of business versus wage-worker come into even sharper conflict, creating the need for the corporate-spokesmen (government) to resort to ever greater aggression, lies, and demagoguery; the confusion and fear involved in the often cartoonish ‘war on terror’ is a necessary policy— society has not suddenly become irrational and crazy, but hysteria and fear are the last remaining tools of government to foment war and mask social reality.
If in fact the ‘war on terror’ is a ploy by the elite to hide the class divisions of society, the specific propaganda techniques used to promote the farce should work directly to achieve these aims; as it turns out, the inner workings of the ‘war on terror’ abide by all the effective techniques employed by the earlier fascist regimes, adjusted only slightly for context. The goal is a subservient, class-blind society.
At its foundation, the ‘war on terror’ intends to give all Americans a common cause; this is done most effectively by promoting nationalism, or patriotism. These ideas inexorably lead to the historically useful ‘clash of cultures’ propaganda, which dual function serves to dehumanize the enemy while consensus building at home. A recent excerpt from a Bush speech epitomizes the ‘clash of cultures’ ideology:
“We face an enemy that has an ideology, they believe things. The best way to describe their ideology is to relate to you the fact that they think the opposite of the way we think.”—no typo here, it’s verbatim.
Thus, Islamic fundamentalists, or Muslims in general, are barely recognizable as humans, since the way they think is incomprehensible, making it all the easier to invade their countries and slaughter them. The goal is to create an atmosphere where there is no longer rich versus poor, but U.S. citizens versus their irrational terrorist enemies. Fortunately for the warmongers, the Middle East is dominated by a different religion, aiding in the ease of the ‘clash of cultures’ propaganda. Religion has always served fascist regimes well, since it serves the function of community building on a national scale, excluding all who pray under a different set of beliefs.
The goal of nationalism inevitably brings with it racism and scapegoating, directed at the groups disallowed into the culturally-defined ‘community’. Since imperialistic hostilities are directed towards Middle Easterners, anybody resembling one is a target. An adjoining topic that repeatedly emerges when nationalism is pursued is the ‘problem’ of immigration; suddenly, in the name of ‘protecting our borders’ from terrorists, immigrants have become yet another hapless victim of patriotism, where they are used to distract from the real social issues, while helping those in power to consolidate their constituency.
The most successful aspect of nationalism is fear-conjuring. This emotion is evoked so that citizens will discard their freedoms, forget their social position, and abandon their reason, placing all hope in a government that acts as both protector and neutral arbiter of interests. This tactic has been overused to such an extent in the U.S. that it need not be dwelled on; needless to say it functions in the same way as the above fascist techniques— it distracts from domestic concerns while creating a ‘national’ identity exploitable by a corporate-led, imperialistic government.
The above fascist formula is only effective so long as the real issues are distorted, and the listeners are preconditioned to accept outlandish claims based on bigotry, fear, and violence. This desperateness of corporate America increases daily, with the recent speeches of Bush and his henchman as proof; fomenting war against Iran has taken on ridiculous proportions, as the White House tries to make unrealistic links to any organization he groups together as ‘terrorists’, with the fascist regimes of Europe during WWII. Such an analogy, based on historical falsifications and intended to create more war, is not only highly ironic, but insane. The fervent demagogy in government is a reflection of the capitalists pulling the strings, who, facing stagnant growth and increased competition from emerging economies, have only their militaristic trump card to use in response. In taking the above into consideration, it is thus comprehendible how the ‘irrationality’ of the Holocaust had a very logical and conscious basis.
The liberating ideals of the enlightenment that inspired the battle-cries of the past democratic revolutions have evolved into the present-day manufacturing of fear and hate; the dominating interests behind both epochs are the same, only the capitalist system itself has changed. With this in mind, it must be asked: what new source of inspiration can rally humanity towards social progress? Many radicals think that the answer lies in crawling backwards through time, to the eras of capitalism where exploitation was less blatant, and not as repressive. This perspective, inspiring nobody, is especially worthless to those who never achieved satisfaction under the rule of capital, i.e., the majority of humanity. A truly worthwhile principle is something naturally intuited, but disregarded by professional economists as ‘utopian’: the social ownership of society’s wealth. This idea is creating revolutionary conditions all over Latin America, where thanks to the under-education of the people, demands of socialism are stirring the sleeping masses awake. Thanks to the rapid impoverishment within the United States, similar conditions are being created, where equally unrealistic demands are starting to appear.