by Naomi Klein
The Globe and Mail(centrist), Toronto, Canada,
Sept. 14, 2001
World Press Review, November 2001
Now is the time in the game of war when we dehumanize our
enemies. They are incomprehensible, their acts unimaginable, their
motivations senseless. They are ''madmen,'' and their states are
"rogue." Now is not the time for understanding- just
better intelligence. These are the rules of the war game. Feeling
people will no doubt object to this characterization: War is not
a game. It is real lives ripped in half; it is lost sons, daughters,
mothers, and fathers, each with a dignified story. Tuesday's act
of terror was reality of the harshest kind, an act that makes
all other acts seem suddenly frivolous, game-like. It's true:
war is most emphatically not a game. And perhaps after Tuesday,
it will never again be treated as one. Perhaps Sept. 11, 2001,
will mark the end of the shameful era of the video-game war.
Watching the coverage on Tuesday was a stark contrast to the
last time I sat glued to a television set watching a real-time
war on CNN. The "Space Invader'' battlefield of the Gulf
War had almost nothing in common with what we have seen this week.
Back then, instead of real buildings exploding over and over again,
we saw only sterile bombs-eye-views of concrete targets - there
and then gone. Who was in these abstract polygons'? We never found
Since the Gulf War, American foreign policy has been based
on a single brutal fiction: that the U.S. military can intervene
in conflicts around the world - in Iraq, Kosovo, lsrael-without
suffering any U.S. casualties. 'This is a country that has come
to believe in the ultimate oxymoron: a safe war. The safe war
logic is, of course, based on the technological ability to wage
a war exclusively from the air. But it also relies on the deep
conviction that no one would dare mess with the United States--
the one remaining superpower-on its own soil.
This conviction has, until Tuesday, allowed Americans to remain
blithely unaffected by-even uninterested in-international conflicts
in which they are key protagonists. Americans don't get daily
coverage on CNN of the ongoing bombings in Iraq, nor are they
treated to human-interest stories on the devastating effects of
economic sanctions on that country's children. After the 1998
bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan (mistaken for a chemical
weapons facility), there weren't too many follow-up reports about
what the loss of vaccine manufacturing did to disease prevention
in the region. And when NATO bombed civilian targets in Yugoslavia-including
markets, hospitals, refugee convoys, passenger trains, and a TV
station-NBC didn't do "streeter" interviews with survivors
about how shocked they were by the indiscriminate destruction.
The United States is expert in the art of sanitizing and dehumanizing
acts of war committed elsewhere. Domestically, war is no longer
a national obsession, it's a business that is now largely out-sourced
to experts. This is one of the country's many paradoxes: Though
the engine of globalization goes around the world, the nation
has never been more inward looking, less worldly. No wonder Tuesday's
attack, in addition to being horrifying beyond description, has
the added horror of seeming, to many Americans, to have arrived
entirely out of the blue.
Wars rarely come as a complete shock to the country under
attack, but it's fair to say that this one did. On CNN, USA Today
reporter Mike Walter was asked to sum up the reaction on the street.
What he said was: "Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I just
can't believe it." The idea that one could ever be prepared
for such inhuman terror is absurd. However, viewed through the
U.S. television networks, Tuesday's attack seemed to come less
from another country than another planet.
The events were reported not so much by journalists as by
the new breed of brand-name celebrity anchors who have made countless
cameos in Time Warner movies about apocalyptic terrorist attacks
on the United States-now, incongruously reporting the real thing.
And for a bizarre split second on Tuesday night, CNN's logo "America
Under Attack" disappeared and in its place flashed a logo
that said "Fighting Fat"-an eerie ghost graphic that
yesterday passed as news.
The United States is a country that believed itself not just
at peace but war-proof, a self-perception that would come as quite
a surprise to most Iraqis, Palestinians, and Colombians. Like
an amnesiac, the United States has awakened in the middle of a
war, only to find out it has been going on for years. Did the
United States deserve to be attacked? Of course not. That argument
is ugly and dangerous. But here's a different question that must
be asked: Did U.S. foreign policy create the conditions in which
such twisted logic could flourish, a war not so much on U.S. imperialism
but on perceived U.S. imperviousness?
The era of the video-game war in which the United States is
always at the controls has produced a blinding rage in many parts
of the world, a rage at the persistent asymmetry of suffering.
This is the context in which twisted revenge-seekers make no other
demand than that American citizens share their pain. Since the
attack, U.S. politicians and commentators have repeated the mantra
that the country will go on with business as usual. The American
way of life, they insist, will not be interrupted. It seems an
odd claim to make when all evidence points to the contrary. War,
to butcher a phrase from the old Gulf War days, is the mother
of all interruptions. As well it should be. The illusion of war
without casualties has been forever shattered. A blinking message
is up on our collective video-game console: Game Over.
11th, 2001 - New York City