While the Bush Administration prepares for war on Iraq with full-scale weapons production and troop deployments, more insidious conditioning for the public acceptance of war continues. In the face of repeated statements by Bush and the hawkish members of his ruling clique of the need for “regime change” in Iraq, international opinion has been forthright in its condemnation of such proposed aggression. However, in the absence of the mobilized outrage of the American people, the Washington power elite will be emboldened to carry out their war plans. Why the American public, so far, has been lackadaisical in its response to this saber rattling may be reflective of the increase of psychic and political numbing opportunistically manipulated by the Bush Administration since 9/11.
Psychic numbing, according to the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton, builds on well-known defense mechanisms, such as repression, denial, and projection, to create an exclusion of feeling and disconnectedness. Aided by the surfeit of stimuli from televisual culture and media-manipulated images, people may tune out those realities and possibilities that threaten their own sense of connection to the world. In the case of 9/11, the Bush Administration quickly exploited the anger of the American people without allowing a grieving process to mature. Drowning out the voices of survivors and their families who opposed retaliation, war on Afghanistan was initiated. Begun as a campaign to seek and destroy Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network, a network created by the CIA in the 1980’s, the intervention in Afghanistan quickly became an exercise in imperial politics and the lethal arrogance of power.
In manufacturing consent for the war in Afghanistan, the corporate media deliberately initially excluded scenes of civilian deaths. Now, however, with additional reporting and investigation by world-wide news agencies and the United Nations, the American public is being confronted with the extensive violence visited upon the innocent Afghans. Nonetheless, the desensitizing of the American public to the deaths of these differently constituted others (by ethnicity, class, and nationality) is a form of psychic numbing that may allow for the larger massacre of civilians in Iraq.
Of course, the American public has been bombarded with images and stories about the evil policies of Saddam Hussein. While highlighting his use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds and Iranians, one rarely finds any mention of Washington’s support for Saddam Hussein during the 1980’s when these events happened. Moreover, while the Bush Administration has been busy undermining international treaties dealing with Chemical and Biological weapons, it has hypocritically insisted on unfettered inspections of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, weapons which many experts and former inspectors, such as Scott Ritter, allege have been severely eroded. Nonetheless, the targeting of the truly despicable Saddam Hussein is a convenient propaganda device to exclude consideration of the death and destruction already suffered by innocent Iraqis. A war on Iraq will only further harm massive numbers of civilians without guaranteeing a democratic and stabile post-Saddam regime and region. Since the Bush Administration is more interested in seeking filial retribution and oil while sowing the seeds of further war-making possibilities, it refuses to recognize the catastrophic violent consequences of its intended intervention.
Part of the political numbing that the Bush Administration has visited on the American public is intimately connected to the fear and intimidation launched by the Ashcroft’s jack-booted Department of Justice (sic). With overwhelming Congressional support, the USA Patriot Act was passed, establishing a wide variety of legal mechanisms to undermine the Bill of Rights. Although still used against those swarthy others, legislation is in place to deter real opposition to the policies of an increasingly authoritarian government. Added to this is the recent FBI reorganization, a reorganization that facilitates spying on the public without any court orders or even evidence of wrong-doing. Moreover, the Bush Administration has made clear its intent to deny constitutionally-mandated judicial oversight in its refusal to turn over documents to the judge overseeing one of the cases of a so-called enemy combatant.”
Perhaps it may be time to raise the whole matter of the “F” word. It certainly seems reasonable to call this erosion of liberties and rights creeping fascism, albeit a postmodern fascism that does not need to rely on mass mobilization for realizing a proto-fascist agenda. In one of the most brilliant analyses of everyday life in Nazi Germany, Detlev Peukert devoted a whole chapter to “The Atomization of Everyday Life” (Inside Nazi Germany, pp. 236-42). Combining a form of psychic numbing with political numbing, many Germans just retreated from any public political life and took refuge in their own isolation. Since there is much evidence to support the tendency towards atomization and privatization of everyday life in the United States, it may not require utilizing any reference to fascism, whether postmodern or not. On the other hand, when an administrative authority relies on the militarization of everyday life to pursue a repressive and aggressive agenda, it may be necessary to raise the specter of fascism.
Promising a war without end and hiding behind a jingoistic veil of war against terrorism, the Bush Administration is promoting its own narrow interests in oil and order. War-making was as essential to Italian and German fascism as it is to this illegal and illegitimate ruling clique in Washington, DC. If we are to avoid being dragged into further fascistic adventures, we need to throw off this psychic and political numbing and to mobilize at every level to oppose the policies and plans of a war-mad power elite.
Fran Shor teaches at Wayne State University in Detroit. He is an anti-war activist and member of several human rights and peace and justice organizations. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org