A Wal-Mart advertisement caught my eye during the Washington Redskins game against the Jacksonville Jaguars two weekends ago. It was the Sunday before Veterans Day and the company thought it best to honor former military personnel who now work at its stores by buying ad time during NFL games. Faces of the soldiers appeared on the television screen, with a label of where the Pentagon had sent them. Vietnam. Persian Gulf. At the end of the spot, a young man appeared on the screen, affixed with the label, “War on Terrorism.”
The Wal-Mart employee’s designation as a veteran of the “War on Terrorism” made me laugh and cringe at the same time. Wal-Mart’s advertising department had concluded–without too much expensive market research, I hope–that the typical viewer of a U.S. football game had bought into the government and establishment media’s propaganda: America’s greatest heroes are those who have stepped on either a battlefield or a playing field, or ideally both.
The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks had spawned an environment where the United States could produce heroes from such an amorphous thing called a War on Terrorism and then parade them in advertisements for Wal-Mart, the biggest retailer in the world. The atypical aspect about the War on Terrorism, though, is that its most important battlefield is not overseas. The frontline is here at home where the federal government and its lieutenants at the state and local levels are using their taxpayer confiscations to whack us with new forms of restrictions on freedom.
In the War on Terrorism, the new hero is the well-read librarian who betrays the noble tradition of the profession by snitching to the government his suspicions about a patron who has been checking out books by Mikhail Bakunin and Emma Goldman. Or it’s the vigilant Transportation Security Administration screener who stops an airline passenger from getting to his gate on time because he’s carrying a copy of Edward Herman’s The Real Terror Network.
For Veteran’s Day 2003, Wal-Mart may choose to honor one of the Sam’s Club elite membership customers who also happens to work for John Poindexter’s Information Awareness Office at the Pentagon and who succeeded in uncovering the purchasing habits of a citizen who earlier in the year had used his AmEx card to order a thousand copies of the Quran through and had them FedExed to a mosque in Brixton.
Today’s War on Terrorism is really a battle to desensitize us against the true meaning of freedom. Because in a war, a nation-state demands that its subjects subjugate certain superficial rights, such as many of those legalized in the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, for the greater cause of fighting the “evil-doers.”
If we could have the good fortune of asking Noam Chomsky’s astute observer friend on Mars for his opinion on today’s War on Terrorism, we would probably get a better grasp on who deserves the greatest accolades. Chomsky’s Martian friend would probably argue that in the real war on terrorism the true heroes are those who are able to find peaceful but effective techniques to rein in the greatest producers of terror–the militaries and police agencies of the United States and the other dominant nation-states. Given that the Soviet Union fell more than a decade ago, the Martian also may wonder why U.S. confederates in cities such as London, Rome, Tokyo, Canberra and, yes, Moscow not only tolerate the American Empire but also provide materiel support for it.
Chomsky’s Martian friend probably would find even more heroic those who are seeking freedom against the murderous despots in all of the Middle East, much of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The Martian, I’m sure, already has noticed the unusual trend of Earth’s artificial nation-states placing the sanctity of their governing systems above the freedom of the people who live within their borders–borders that, in more cases than not, were drawn in the blood of the governed.
The Martian may even pull out his pocketbook of the writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon that he bought at a Wal-Mart during one of his visits with Chomsky in the Hub of the Universe and recite that not-famous-enough quotation that proves more timely to him today than at any other time he has been observing human life on Earth:
“To be governed is to be at every move, at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, choked, imprisoned, shot, machine-gunned, judged, condemned, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.”