Thursday, October 5, 2006

Get a grip, America!

Andrew Bard Schmookler on how and why the American people got to be such pussies. Today's 'must read'.

How did we ever get to be a nation of such scaredy cats? What happened to American courage so that a mathematically negligible probability of any single one of us being harmed would send the society as a whole scurrying for safety?

In World War II, when American marines stormed onto the beaches of Japanese islands, sometimes a third of those marines would become casualties. But they did their duty. The life-expectancy of a marine landing with a flamethrower mounted on his back was measured in terms of seconds! That's extreme danger.

The Flames guys used to get into big arguments over this with the Radio Operators. They both would brag about it: "Oh, yeah? Ten seconds ain't shit! My life expectancy in combat is eight seconds. Pussy!" But I digress.

How did we become a nation so ruled by fear?

Yes, the present Bushite leadership, unlike its predecessors, deliberately cultivates fear in the American people. No "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" for this gang. More like "The only thing we want from you is fear itself."

But even before the Bushites started their fear-mongering, Americans were swearing off flying in sufficient numbers to send the airline industry into a swoon. And as the earlier Tylenol episode shows, this American proclivity to fearful overreaction did not begin on 9/11.

It is not good to be the slave of fear. Fear is a solvent of rational thought, of sensible perspective.

So now we have a president recovering some in the opinion polls as he plays his only card, the fear card. As the 2006 election approaches, the strategy of Karl Rove (and his boss, and the entire Republican Party) rests on the premise that the power of fear in America can overcome all evidence and logic. Don't pay any attention, they're saying, to those little facts we're hiding behind the curtain of your fears.

They think that it does not matter if there's absolutely no evidence that we have to choose between security and the rule of law in the matter of surveillance. The American people can be made afraid enough that they'll gladly give the president a tyrant's power to snoop at will without any oversight or check.

They think it does not matter if there's no evidence that -to be safe- America has to abandon its long-standing commitments to the rules of war and to the rights of due process and to the system of checks and balances on which our whole system of government rests. If Americans can be frightened enough, they will reward those dismantle our heritage while posturing as our strong protectors, and will dismiss as wimps those who speak in the voice of reason instead of fear.

It is up to the American people to prove them wrong. But to do so, we will first have to stop this unseemly quaking in the face of every danger.

Get a grip, America!

Save fear for when you need it. Fear is a tool to help you overcome danger. It should come to you naturally in moments of peril, not when Rove thinks he needs you to be afraid for his own political purposes.

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