Friday, April 06, 2007

It was a Long, Cold Global War on Terror/Terrorists/Terrorism

I have become increasingly confused as to what to call the war, or the series of battles, or the skirmishes in which our military, or intelligence, or coalition forces are engaged in in Iraq, or Iran, or the Middle East, or world, against terror, terrorists, radical Islam, or haters of freedom. Now that I have made it clear what I am confused about, let me express my real confusion: how has a false threat (extreme climate change) overtaken a real threat (terrorist states with nuclear capabilities)?

I am reminded that the first stage of grief is denial. We saw a pretty clear case of denial this week when the House Armed Services Committee banned the phrases “global war on terror,” and “long war.” As the offensive “surge” seems to be working in Iraq, and Iran is starting to show its vulnerabilities by taking hostage, then quickly and oddly releasing 15 British marines and sailors, it seems House Democrats need to deny any of these signs of progress. The best way to do so is to ignore the reality in which we are engaged: a long, global war on terror. It reminds me of the victim in horror movies who repeat lies to themselves over and over for comfort: “He’s gone,” or “It’s going to be okay,” or “It was just a bad dream”, all the while the audience knows a madman with a knife is hiding behind the curtains. So while they are quite literally denying the real war, they are embracing a false one.

It seems inevitable now that Congress will eventually act on the “growing consensus” that extreme climate change is both man-made and reversible. Perhaps the next President will sign us up for the Kyoto Protocol. In the meantime skeptics of global warming, like Michael Crichton, are articulately and patiently voicing doubt. His State of Fear makes several particularly salient points with regards to the faulty science that so assuredly predicts global disaster. But perhaps more importantly, he points out that we have essentially replaced our fear of the Cold War era with our fear concerning environmental destruction. For instance, he points out the massive upswing in words like “crisis,” “catastrophe” and “disaster” in news media since the end of the Cold War, apparently to fill the vacuum of fear. Consider this excerpt:

“There was a major shift in the fall of 1989. Before that time, the media did not make excessive use of terms such as crisis, catastrophe, cat­aclysm, plague, or disaster. The word catastrophe was used five times more often in 1995 than it was in 1985. Its use doubled again by the year 2000. And the stories changed, too. There was a heightened emphasis on fear, worry, danger, uncertainty, panic.”

Crichton claims the rise in these words is directly linked to the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the vacuum of fear that was then created. With the Cold War over, what would we wring our hands over?

But according to this insightful article in the Wall Street Journal, our face-off with Iran is eerily similar to the Cold War. So what seems to have happened is this: we lived with fear during the Cold War, even learned to adjust to it. We won the Cold War, but had a vacuum to fill, so we have with a classic fear-mongering scam, global warming. But now that we face a very real threat again in Iran, we are incapable of dealing with it because other, larger threats like environmental degradation have diverted our intention.

Worse, they have relativized our fears: it’s allowed many to say, “What’s worse: One lunatic in the Middle East or the extinction of life on earth?” This false relativization has prevented us from switching gears yet again: the tide seems so firmly focused on the false war of climate change, we can’t focus on the real one, the Long, Cold, Global War on Terror.

Worthy of note as well are the similarities Iran has with Hitler's ideology, mainly in the lack of fear concerning national suicide. In a culture where martyrdom is upheld as a social virtue, we have lost have similar bargaining power that we had with the Soviet Union, who did at least seem interested in national survival. Did our victory in the Cold War convince us we cannot be beat? If we continue to discredit the fear of global warming, will we be able to focus again on Iran, or similar nation states with evil intent?

I reckon I am glad it is Holy Week: at least I have theological answer to all of these questions, if not a political one.

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