The Projection of Force and the Projection of Fear
We have a choice now. We can play into our fears and lose our identity as Americans or we can stand up to and end the lunacy and asshattery that is becoming more and more common in American discourse and politics.
I’d apologize for what is going to be an uncharacteristically blunt, direct and less than politically correct post but to hell with it. I’m tired and cranky because sometimes that how it works in my line of work as a pastor. I know a couple of different families that today are dealing with hospitals, hospice and real life and death shit to really care about being all pastoral and calm and say let’s all hold hands and sing kum by yah. Be forewarned.
The ideology and mindset that Donald Trump, Rev Falwell and their ilk are espousing is idiotic, shameful and embarrassing. And the fact that every damn time these lunatics say something outrageous Trump’s ratings go up and Falwell gets a lot of press. This fact serves to scare me a lot more that ISIS and terrorists. It scares me because we are coming dangerously close to a line that has us willing to give up our identity, not to mention our rights, as free Americans. This country was founded on principles of freedom and because we cave into irrational fears we are get our panties in a bunch and willingly give into paranoia.
This has happened before. I’m not willing to jump into Hitler references just yet, mostly because of Godwin’s law and also because that was a nation with a different history – though the parallels are frightening, but I will point out a couple of failures of national courage right here at home that stripped the rights of American citizens. And make no mistake, once we deny fundamental and constitutional rights to a group we don’t like we put ourselves in danger of becoming a group that is not liked. We won’t enjoy how that turns out (think Patriot Act).
In more or less chronological order, the first thing that comes to mind is the internment of American citizens of Japanese descent into prison camps. I can’t imagine the fear that the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor struck in people’s hearts but putting citizens into camps because of their ethnicity is wrong. I use the word ethnicity because their nationality was American! And we rounded them up, took their homes and businesses and put them in prison camps. Fear led to a horrific result and a national embarrassment. Let’s not do that again.
A decade later we succumbed to fear again and in many ways we became exactly what we were afraid of. I’m referring to the McCarthy era witch hunts which did a fine job of pissing all over the constitution because of an irrational fear of the commies, the reds, the Soviet Union. It was correct to pay active attention to the Soviet Union because they really did want to crush the United States. It became irrational when we crushed our identity as Americans out of fear.
There is one major and glaring difference to the situations in the 1940’s, 1950’s and today. The Japanese and Soviet military machines at least had the ability to project force, something ISIS and jihadi terrorists lack. Japan and the Soviet Union could bring aircraft carries, bombs and missiles up close and personal. That’s projecting force and was serious business. Jihadi Islamic terrorists and the like show up with small arms and scare the shit out of people. What the latter do have, and use very well, is the ability to project fear and make us lose our damn minds. Even more fun? They’re doing a fine job of it, witness the popularity of Trump, Falwell, and the like and their rhetoric of incredibly anti-American values.
Here’s how it is playing out. In 2001, Al Qaeda spent a couple of million dollars to kill around 3,000 people, jam up air travel, screw up financial systems and generally create havoc in the United States. ISIS has figured out it can accomplish the same thing for a few thousand dollars and killing a handful of people.
ISIS is not a threat to us. Yes, I said that. ISIS is not a threat to us. They don’t need to be, they’ve got us to do their work for them. Are you helping them by falling into the trap of fear?
How can I say that? Easily. In a country of 300-some million people, it is very unlikely you’ll come into contact with anyone of a jihadi mindset that is willing to do you harm. Will it happen somewhere? Yes it will but statistically the threat is fairly small. When it comes down to it you’re more at risk of harm from a white guy with relationship problems.
I’m not suggesting that from a disconnected, academic mindset. I was 800 yards away from the Von Maur shooting in Omaha 8 years ago where a young man killed 8 people then himself. I was also the pastor at a church where a white guy ended his life with a shotgun in our parking lot during the Sunday school hour. And as a young man I had a pistol stuck in my face one night when I went to a house looking for a friend of mine. In none of these situations was I in actual harm’s way but I’ve certainly thought a great deal about situations where people’s lives were threatened.
Another way of looking at it is to consider our biased memory. Ft Hood has a history of violent shootings but most think of a Muslim Army Major who lost his shit in 2009, killing 14. Certainly horrific but I’m not convinced it was terroristic in nature. He might have been doing it because of his faith but I tend to think he was just nuts and not overly committed to Islam.
In any case it is a reasonable, if horrible, memory and we mourn the lost. The thing is, the worst shooting violence connected to Ft Hood? A white guy with relationship problems killed 24 in 1991. But no one ever seems to know that much less mention it. Or more recently, in 2014 three were killed by a guy with emotional problems.
My point is not to make light of any of these incidents, only to point out that our memory tends to be selective. That selective memory becomes very dangerous when we use anecdotal evidence to start messing with civil liberties.
Let me close by reiterating once again, terrorists cannot currently project force but they can, and are, projecting fear. We’re playing directly into their hands when we buy into it and surrender our liberties. Please have the courage to stand against terrorism instead of caving into it. Is that dangerous? Perhaps that is likely but less dangerous than surrendering to fear and losing our freedoms as American.
(Sidenote: Yes, ISIS needs to be dealt with but that’s a topic for another post)