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The Enemy-Industrial Complex

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Posted on Apr 16, 2013
milos milosevic (CC BY 2.0)

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

In response to Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, Tom Engelhardt wrote the following on TomDispatch’s Facebook page Tuesday:

It’s exactly when we experience a nightmare like yesterday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon that we need a serious assessment of risk and danger in this country. An event like this, horrific as it is, and the panic that goes with it will inevitably be the spark for yet greater investment, both emotionally and financially, in the national security state, greater up-armoring of the police, a further militarization of society, further moves to give latitude to intelligence agencies as they search amongst us, and so on. Perhaps counterintuitively, this is exactly the moment for a piece like the one I wrote yesterday – though obviously I had no crystal ball and couldn’t see a terror bombing coming – on the general lack of major enemies in our American world. The panic of a terrible event like this makes us even blinder to reality, to what dangers we actually face (and don’t face), globally and locally. The murder of innocents is always a terrible and tragic thing, but it’s also a moment to suck it up and not plunge deeper into the twenty-first century American Big Muddy. Terror is a horrific thing, but it does not truly endanger us as a country. It is, in many ways, strangely helpless, even when it can kill and wound small (or even, as on 9/11, large) numbers of people. Give into it and you’re not really “safe,” you’re just in another America.

This piece first appeared at TomDispatch.

The communist enemy, with the “world’s fourth largest military,” has been trundling missiles around and threatening the United States with nuclear obliteration.  Guam, Hawaii, Washington: all, it claims, are targetable.  The coverage in the media has been hair-raising.  The U.S. is rushing an untested missile defense system to Guam, deploying missile-interceptor ships off the South Korean coast, sending “nuclear capable” B-2 Stealth bombers thousands of miles on mock bombing runs, pressuring China, and conducting large-scale war games with its South Korean ally.

Only one small problem: there is as yet little evidence that the enemy with a few nuclear weapons facing off (rhetorically at least) against an American arsenal of 4,650 of them has the ability to miniaturize and mount even one on a missile, no less deliver it accurately, nor does it have a missile capable of reaching Hawaii or Washington, and I wouldn’t count on Guam either.

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It also happens to be a desperate country, one possibly without enough fuel to fly a modern air force, whose people, on average, are inches shorter than their southern neighbors thanks to decades of intermittent famine and malnutrition, and who are ruled by a bizarre three-generational family cult.  If that other communist, Karl Marx, hadn’t once famously written that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce,”  we would have had to invent the phrase for this very moment.

In the previous century, there were two devastating global wars,  which left significant parts of the planet in ruins.  There was also a “cold war” between two superpowers locked in a system of mutual assured destruction (aptly acronymed as MAD) whose nuclear arsenals were capable of destroying the planet many times over.  Had you woken up any morning in the years between December 7, 1941, and December 26, 1991,  and been told that the leading international candidate for America’s Public Enemy Number One was Kim Jong-un’s ramshackle, comic-opera regime in North Korea, you might have gotten down on your hands and knees and sent thanks to pagan gods.

The same would be true for the other candidates for that number one position since September 11, 2001: the original al-Qaeda (largely decimated), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula located in poverty-stricken areas of poverty-stricken Yemen, the Taliban in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, unnamed jihadis scattered across poverty-stricken areas of North Africa, or Iran, another rickety regional power run by not particularly adept theocrats.

All these years, we’ve been launching wars and pursuing a “global war on terror.”  We’ve poured money into national security as if there were no tomorrow.  From our police to our borders,  we’ve up-armored everywhere.  We constantly hear about “threats” to us and to the “homeland.”  And yet, when you knock on the door marked “Enemy,” there’s seldom anyone home.

Few in this country have found this striking.  Few seem to notice any disjuncture between the enemy-ridden, threatening, and deeply dangerous world we have been preparing ourselves for (and fighting in) this last decade-plus and the world as it actually is, even those who lived through significant parts of the last anxiety-producing, bloody century.

You know that feeling when you wake up and realize you’ve had the same recurrent nightmare yet again? Sometimes, there’s an equivalent in waking life, and here’s mine: every now and then, as I read about the next move in the spreading war on terror, the next drone assassination, the next ratcheting up of the surveillance game, the next expansion of the secrecy that envelops our government, the next set of expensive actions taken to guard us—all of this justified by the enormous threats and dangers that we face—I think to myself: Where’s the enemy?  And then I wonder: Just what kind of a dream is this that we’re dreaming?

A Door Marked “Enemy” and No One Home

Let’s admit it: enemies can have their uses.  And let’s admit as well that it’s in the interest of some in our country that we be seen as surrounded by constant and imminent dangers on an enemy-filled planet.  Let’s also admit that the world is and always will be a dangerous place in all sorts of ways.


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