There was a fleeting moment on the morning of Sept. 11, before politicians saturated the airwaves and diplomatic language became even remotely relevant, when nothing in the world seemed real other than abject horror. I don’t think many thought of revenge that morning.
But the machinery of global responsiveness sprang quickly to action, and the entire world was efficiently categorized: civilization; savagery; Pakistan; Afghanistan; pacifist; hawk; murderer; soldier — these are just a few of the sides from which people of the world are told they must choose. President George W. Bush ’68 has been, if nothing else, clear about the sides he has chosen.
So it seems the question of who is interior and who is exterior to our imminent conquest of global savagery has been all but settled in just under two weeks. We have divided the good Muslims from the bad Muslims, Pakistan from Afghanistan, the Iraqi people from the Iraqi government. As for the smiling children eating candy amidst the rubble of shelled Palestinian streets, we’ll have to wait for a determination as to the accuracy of the videotape before we decide whether they are also subject to the same fate as the terrorists.
Unfortunately, neither warfare nor our own haphazard delineations of good and evil are terribly precise, and I refuse to speak of individuals as “collateral damage,” no matter where in the world they might have been born.
Nevertheless, with the division of good and evil throughout the globe nearly complete, the task remaining for our government is to prepare its people for war. Resorting to the linguistics and ideals of frontier masculinity and the fabled Old West — where apparently the president feels our conquest of savagery was an admirable advance of civilization — Bush has called on Americans to rally behind the militant pursuit of the enemies to freedom — wanted dead or alive.
This simplistic narrative handed down by our government and sloganized by the press in bold-faced alliteration — “Attack On America” — not only trivializes the more than 6,000 individual human beings who were murdered two weeks ago, but it prepares the machinery of a warrior nation to kill in response.
Proceeding efficiently in this mobilization to eradicate an element of humanity requires the systematic silencing of voices that speak from beyond our own concept of civilization. For the emerging ethos of patriotism, ethnocentrism and vengeance takes its strength from symbols and anthems, from the systematic propaganda we often dismiss as a relic of the past.
Terrorism is not a place on the globe, and a military juggernaut roaming the earth with sanctions, ultimatums and B-2 bombers will require a people blinded by national mythology and patriotic banner-waving to give it free rein in the pursuit of a vaguely defined, elusive enemy of America.
And it is for this reason I hope each of us will resist collaboration with a national organism that promotes killing others as a means of exacting justice. The American flags, the ritualistic chanting, the indignant claims of self-righteousness, the invocations of God — these are all formations of the borders between people.
It is by such symbols, by the rhetoric of patriotism and religion, that a global environment of mutually dependent individuals is transformed into an unfeeling system of delineated nations set to slaughter and convert one another.
And as a final note on the trajectory of our national action, many of our leaders have called on God and the canonical ideals of our mythic America for justification. We have conferred amongst ourselves and decided resolutely that we are situated on the right side of some imaginary line conjured up in our collective mind. We are willing to sacrifice our lives for the ideals in which we believe and much more willing to sacrifice those of others. We are devout and determined.
The men who steered passenger jets into the World Trade Center towers and killed thousands of our friends nearly two weeks ago felt precisely the same way.
Donald Waack is a junior in Pierson College.