FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Before the Era of Insecurity

[This essay is an excerpt from SAUL LANDAU’s new book, The Preemptive Empire, published by Pluto Press.]

After 9/11, as much of the world recoiled in shock, the US media began to televise a stupefying loop of images of the infamous day, interrupted by information-bytes provided by the US government. It offered the tritest of historical context for the events. In the newspaper editorials and TV and radio commentaries, the pundits tended to suggest courses for immediate action as if terrorism had no antecedents. The president should immediately avenge the dirty deeds!

Few commented about the causes of the attacks or the significance of the President and Vice President going into hiding at that dramatic moment. Instead, TV news directors endlessly repeated the sci-fi like pictures of the burning tower one and the plane flying into tower two. Then came images of the Pentagon aflame. Citizens stared, mesmerized by the sight of the impossible, and shook their heads in disbelief.

TV directed the public to divide the images into good and evil. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took charge as a hero at the site of the catastrophe as Bush began to emerge from his two-day trance.

For most of the country, the virtual had become the real. Yet, the mass media did nothing to channel the population toward dialogue, much less reflection on the events themselves. Instead, TV elicited sympathy for the dead, praise for the heroes and scorn for the villains. Viewers saw the avengers and the rescuers as the good guys and the swarthy males wearing kefiyas on their heads as the black hats. In this way our media (I include here White House and State Department press secretaries) would conduct the post-traumatic orchestra. Few commentators asked: what did these fiends want?

Some leftists talked conspiracy, including a role for the CIA and Israel’s Mossad. I sighed in despair. I thought of the people I knew inside the national security gates of the US and British governments, the opportunists who didn’t have the imagination to hatch such a diabolical plot but who after the events saw the inherent possibilities of expanding their own power and influence. Some of those scheming bureaucrats viewed 9/11 as the chance to adorn the most trivial of their departments’ issues with the sacred drapes of ‘national security,’ which they quickly hung over the windows of routine policies and procedures. They also took advantage of the vacuum of oversight during the traumatic post 9/11 days. Who would monitor them when the President directed all government energy to meet the crisis?

A silent and unseen panic seemed to vibrate through the public, a kind of national anxiety attack encouraged by official pronouncements of impending danger. As the media predictably embellished on all potentially bloody and explosive stories, the ambience for the heightened ‘security’ state reverberated as well through the Halls of Congress.

Without significant debate, the Members, more panicked than the public, passed the UNITING AND STRENGTHENING AMERICA BY PROVIDING APPROPRIATE TOOLS REQUIRED TO INTERCEPT AND OBSTRUCT TERRORISM ACT (25 October 2001), aka the USA PATRIOT ACT, enabling non-elected officials to assume increased bureaucratic control: tightening immigration procedures; legalizing intrusion into personal privacy, including probing of social organizations and their bank accounts; and invasion of telephone and computer messaging. Within months, bureaucracies had created their near-perfect world, one of permanent emergency in which the CIA, FBI and the newly created Homeland Security Department could escalate their anxiety-security game.

Yes, real terrorists destroyed buildings and thousands of people, but the very agencies that failed to prevent the 9/11 acts successfully covered their intelligence lapse by evoking fear. The mysterious and evil Al-Qaeda plotters, government officials repeated, would return. The citizenry now had to contain a fear of epic proportions to add to already mounting anxieties caused by economic recession, like job and healthcare security. Then came the anthrax scare, which also baffled the FBI.

In Washington, DC, as veteran observers have learned, nothing succeeds like failure. Incompetent agencies whose unwieldy size, top heavy hierarchy and inflated budgets now possessed even larger budgets and were managed by the same lethargic, but more powerful, insiders. And the money, as all Washington insiders know, must get spent before the end of the fiscal year.

Most important, since Congress and the Courts had agreed, the citizens could no longer claim certain inalienable rights. The media, which feeds anxiety to the public as its own means of reproducing itself, loved the emergency atmosphere: ‘You better watch TV or you might miss something vital in the daily hysteria about terrorism!’ Security had become incompatible with liberty.

The quotidian salvo of bloody and trivial stories makes concentration hard, the obvious obscure. Indeed, one can read daily newspapers from small towns to major metropolitan areas and watch and listen to the network and local news without ever hearing the obvious fact: a small group of fanatic Muslims successfully attacked the greatest Empire in the history of the world.

But Americans presume they live in a republic. The dictionary defines ‘republic’ as the antonym of ’empire.’ The imperial government availed itself of the confusion and offered a transcendent message to cover the fact that it no longer even wore republican clothes: revenge!

SAUL LANDAU is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. He teaches at Cal Poly Pomona University. For Landau’s writing in Spanish visit: www.rprogreso.com. His new book, PRE-EMPTIVE EMPIRE: A GUIDE TO BUSH S KINGDOM, will be published in September by Pluto Books. He can be reached at: landau@counterpunch.org

 

More articles by:

SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
July 17, 2019
Manuel García, Jr.
Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change
Charles Pierson
Sofi’s Choice
Gary Leupp
Epstein, Jane Doe, and Trump
Rebecca Gordon
I Had an Abortion and Now I’m Not Ashamed
Peter Bolton
In the US and Brazil, Two Trends Underline the Creeping Fascism of Both Governments
Michael Kidder
“Go Back Where You Came From:” an Episode From Canada
Steve Early - Rand Wilson
How Big Strike 30 Years Ago Aided Fight for Single Payer
John W. Whitehead
Sexual Predators in the Power Elite
Michael Welton
Teach the Children Well: the Unrealized Vision In Teaching and Learning in the Residential Schools
Khury Petersen-Smith
Iran’s Not the Aggressor, the US Is
Russell Mokhiber
Kip Sullivan and Dr. Matthew Hahn on How Value Based Programs Are Undermining Medicare and Single Payer
George Ochenski
A Fearless and Free Press is Essential to Our Democracy
Lawrence Wittner
Billionaires and American Politics
Dean Baker
Cheap Shots at the Trump Economy
July 16, 2019
Conn Hallinan
The World Needs a Water Treaty
Kenneth Surin
Britain Grovels: the Betrayal of the British Ambassador
Christopher Ketcham
This Land Was Your Land
Gary Leupp
What Right Has Britain to Seize an Iranian Tanker Off Spain?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Democratic Virtues in Electing a President
Thomas Knapp
Free Speech Just isn’t That Complicated
Binoy Kampmark
The Resigning Ambassador
Howard Lisnoff
Everybody Must Get Stoned
Nicky Reid
Nukes For Peace?
Matt Johnson
The United States of Overreaction
Cesar Chelala
Children’s Trafficking and Exploitation is a Persistent, Dreary Phenomenon
Martin Billheimer
Sylvan Shock Theater
July 15, 2019
David Altheide
The Fear Party
Roger Harris
UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Bachelet’s Gift to the US: Justifying Regime Change in Venezuela
John Feffer
Pyongyang on the Potomac
Vincent Kelley
Jeffrey Epstein and the Collapse of Europe
Robert Fisk
Trump’s Hissy-Fit Over Darroch Will Blow a Chill Wind Across Britain’s Embassies in the Middle East
Binoy Kampmark
Juggling with the Authoritarians: Donald Trump’s Diplomatic Fake Book
Dean Baker
The June Jobs Report and the State of the Economy
Michael Hudson – Bonnie Faulkner
De-Dollarizing the American Financial Empire
Kathy Kelly
Remnants of War
B. Nimri Aziz
The Power of Our Human Voice: From Marconi to Woods Hole
Elliot Sperber
Christianity Demands a Corpse 
Weekend Edition
July 12, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Skull of Death: Mass Media, Inauthentic Opposition, and Eco-Existential Reality in a Pre-Fascist Age of Appeasement
T.J. Coles
“Strategic Extremism”: How Republicans and Establishment Democrats Use Identity Politics to Divide and Rule
Rob Urie
Toward an Eco-Socialist Revolution
Gregory Elich
How Real is the Trump Administration’s New Flexibility with North Korea?
Jason Hirthler
The Journalists Do The Shouting
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pâté Politics in the Time of Trump and Pelosi
Andrew Levine
The Electoral Circus as the End of Its Initial Phase Looms
David Swanson
Earth Over the Brink
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail