Here's something that's tumbling around in my brain. God knows what it will look like if I try to let it out. But still, let's see if I can at least pry open a window or two and get a clean look at it --
One of the memes I keep coming across in reference to the 'War on Terror' is sacrifice... namely, the stunning lack of it that the American public has been asked for by our leadership. We're told this is a Clash of Civilizations, that it's World War Something (the actual number seems to change in an almost hallucinatory fashion depending on who's throwing the phrase around this particular second), that this is the epochal battle that will determine the way of life for all future generations on Earth, that we are fighting for our freedoms and our values and our very lives -- and yet, we're being asked to contribute... nothing. To do... nothing. To give up... nothing.
Nothing tangible, that is. Unlike in World War II, we're not subject to rationing, we're not being asked to buy bonds or take part in various material drives, we aren't told we need to keep our bomb shelters well stocked or put up black out curtains, we aren't being called on to volunteer for any of a hundred vital but unpaid civilian posts, or... well... we aren't being told we need to do ANYthing out of the ordinary. Hundreds of thousands of our troops are fighting overseas in what we are told is perhaps the most monumental battle of good vs. evil in human history, and we just go on watching TV, eating fried food, and buying seasons of our favorite TV shows on DVD. It's business as usual. No sacrifice required.
I've been wondering lately just why this is. With military recruitment at an all time low, our armed forces are strained to the breaking point, and the folks in charge just keep adding names to the roster of Countries We're Invading Real Soon. Yet nobody in power will even whisper the word 'conscription' out loud. With our armies deeply entrenched in a conflict we apparently cannot possibly win, and the American people fairly obviously yearning to take a larger part and do whatever they can to help out, still... nobody in a position of leadership stands up and says "this is what you can do". We support the troops with magnetic ribbons on our SUVs, and by kicking a few bucks into various charities, when someone makes us aware of one.
In other words, we do pretty much what we always do to assuage our guilt for being fat, lazy and comfortable in a world where so many suffer so much -- we make a token gesture (the modern equivalent of the ancient custom of pouring a splash of wine onto the ground as a libation to the gods) and then we get on with stuffing our faces some more.
Yet many pundits have stated that the Bush Administration completely squandered the opportunities they had, in the crazy days just after 9/11, to harness the massive American fighting spirit to some sort of mass constructive effort against the enemy. Back in those days, we all WANTED to do something. People drove hundreds or thousands of miles to help dig in the WTC wreckage for survivors. They stood in line for days to give blood. They sent clothing, food, and money to anyone they could find who might need it. They wanted to enlist, and were turned away.
Suppose the President had gone on national television on, say, September 12, 2006, and stated that the best way everyday average Americans could help fight terrorism was to conserve energy? Turn down their thermostats. Carpool. Take the bus, the subway, the train. Limit recreational driving. Unplug the extra TV sets, put the electronic luxuries in the closet for the duration. Spend less money on unnecessary extravagances, put more money in the bank. Would people have done it? I suspect they'd have done it happily, cheerfully, enthusiastically. Had the President sounded that patriotic call, most of us would have eagerly responded. We WANTED to do something.
So why wouldn't he ask? Why hasn't he ever asked? Why is it that we, the American people, caught up in this vast, near-mythical, transcendental, existential, almost Wagnerian conflict... have never been asked to do anything... except, you know, vote Republican every couple of years?
I think the answer is somewhat complicated, with a couple of factors feeding into it. First, if the American people make substantial sacrifices, it's going to impact our lifestyles. If our lifestyles change significantly, it will impact our economy. The people pulling our strings (and the people pulling theirs) have made a huge effort to build up our current (insane) economic structure, and our current economy keeps them fat and happy and powerful and above the law, by putting literally billions of dollars into their numbered, anonymous offshore accounts. Nobody in authority wants to fuck with that.
In other words, when Dick Cheney says 'the American Way of Life is not negotiable', he means it, because the American Way of Life keeps his stock portfolio afloat and his stock portfolio allows him to shoot people right in the fucking face if he feels like it, and then give interviews on 60 MINUTES about it. So... no sacrifices; they might drive corporate profits down.
That's a fairly straightforward reason. A more subtle one is that when a people or a culture or a population come together as one and make huge collective efforts and work hard and give stuff up in order to accomplish a goal, certain consequences ensue. One is that those people feel empowered. Those currently in charge do not want us to feel empowered, they want us to be scared. They want us to rely on them to take care of us. They do not want us to feel even remotely like we are capable of doing anything to make a difference or take care of ourselves. That's their job, and while they require our support to do it, the support they require is passive. They want us to sit there like big dumb sheep and let them walk all over us, tear up our Constitution, erode our civil liberties, repeal the Bill of Rights... and, every couple of years, pull the lever in the Republican column. But they do not want us to feel like we can go outside, organize ourselves into groups and communities, and Get Something Done. If we were to do that, well, then, we might at some point decide to flex our newfound muscles in ways that our masters would find inconvenient. And they sure as shit don't want that.
Another potentially unsavory side effect of people pulling together and working towards a specific goal, sacrificing their own comfort and personal desires to do so, is that they expect to see results. The American people... well, any people, humanity in general, actually... will sacrifice for a cause they think is worthy. But if that shit goes on for any length of time, they want to see that they're getting somewhere. And while it's now obvious that the War on Terror, specifically, the war in Iraq, isn't getting anywhere, in terms of even the vague goals and objectives that were announced during its run up... I honestly think that the shadowy planners of this war knew from the start that it wasn't going to achieve anything. At least, not anything they could sell to the American public.
My personal suspicion is that the people in charge of the people in charge sent our troops over to Iraq for reasons that could never be publicly justified or defended, and thus, can never be publicly admitted to. I don't understand it fully myself, but I don't believe the war in Iraq is really a failure to those who actually planned and initiated it. I think they are getting exactly what they wanted from the start -- growing chaos in certain specific regions of the Middle East. I suspect that what is going on is very much a drug war; a vast interglobal gang rumble between shadowy cartels, one of which has so much power over our government that they can basically use the United States military as unwitting thugs in their own particular street fight.
And I suspect that to these people (and to American interests, also) a civilized, secular, modernized Middle East is vastly undesirable. These people want the average Arabic person to remain short sighted, savage, haplessly divided by sectarian fanaticism, and imprisoned by pre-medieval superstition. That kind of Arab will never wise up and start to use the enormous clout their vast petroleum resources could potentially give them in any manner that really threatens the powers that be, and that is exactly the way the powers that be want the Middle East to remain.
And to people who think that way, the war in Iraq is an enormously successful operation... one that they want to keep going exactly as it is right now, forever. The last thing these people want is peace, or civility, or law & order, to break out in the Middle East. They operate much more comfortably in a chaotic vacuum, and a chaotic vacuum is exactly what we've managed to create... in what was formerly one of the very few high tech, secular, socially advanced nation-states in the entire Middle East.
The general consensus I keep hearing seems to be that Bush wants us to 'stay the course' simply because he plans to dump the unpleasant job of declaring defeat and pulling out of Iraq on whoever his successor is. I think that's a hopelessly optimistic daydream. I see absolutely no evidence that Bush & Co have any intention of voluntarily surrendering power in two years... or ever. I think Bush wants to 'stay the course' because the people who issue him his marching orders every day have no desire to see the Middle East return to anything like a peaceful, orderly status. They like things exactly the way they are, and they couldn't care less how many American soldiers need to be continually shoveled into the engine to keep it going. This is a war without end. I can't believe otherwise, because the war not only doesn't hurt the global elite in any discernible way, but it provides so many benefits to them. They are making trillions of dollars off of it, and it gives them all the justification they need to do anything they want to us, all in the name of national security. And we sit still for it... because it doesn't seem to be costing us anything.
The grim reality is, it's costing us everything... every existential value that we, as Americans, are supposed to cherish... every liberty, every freedom, every personal choice, every individual empowerment and so called inalienable right, that our forefathers fought so hard to carve out for themselves and their descendents, and that have long been seen as the hope of all humanity for a future in which all people are free to see, hear, speak, act, work, and live as they choose. Yet we've become so deliberately, obdurately foolish that we refuse to see this; we willfully turn our collective gaze away from everything they are stealing from us, because we can still go out to McDonald's and get chicken McNuggets any time we want.
For a while, anyway.
I truly believe that this is another very large reason why Bush & Co have been very very careful not to ask the American people to sacrifice much of anything, or make any real effort at all, to help prosecute the War on Terror. If we were visibly bleeding, we'd want to know when it was going to stop, and if we didn't see a tourniquet in our very short term future, we'd demand an end to the bullshit pretty fucking quick. Now, the American people are finally getting to a point where a majority of us are opposed to the War and we want it ended... but the fact that it isn't actually costing us much of anything tangible on a day to day basis certainly keeps our personal urgency level down. Yeah, we want our guys out of there. Yeah, we want to stop blowing up Iraqi civilians. Yeah... but what the hell, there's still a football game on every Sunday, and gas prices are low again, and the AC works fine. So it's not like this is important, or anything.
All of these are the reasons why I think our current political leadership has never asked us to make much of an effort, or any real sacrifices at all, to help prosecute our current global conflict. I think they understand that one of the most essential keys to taking and keeping power over the American electorate is a very simple one -- keep us comfortable. As long as we're comfortable, we'll put up with damn near anything.
Until it's too late to do anything about it.