The Terror Myth in American History

Susan Faludi, one of the brainest of America’s leftists, brings forward a fascinating argument about the role of terror in American history. Thanks to the New York Times’ newfound willingness to blog, this op-ed from yesterday should be totally available to readers, and it’s definitely worth the five minutes.

But here’s her central contention:

Sept. 11 cracked the plaster on that master narrative of American
prowess because it so exactly duplicated the terms of the early Indian
wars, right down to the fecklessness of our leaders and the failures of
our military strategies. Like its early American antecedents, the 9/11
attack was a homeland incursion against civilian targets by
non-European, non-Christian combatants who fought under the flag of no
recognized nation. Like the “different type of war” heralded by
President Bush, the 17th and 18th century “troubles” — as one Puritan
chronicler of Metacom’s Rebellion called them, refusing to grant them
“the name of a war” — seemed to have no battlefield conventions, no
constraints and no end.

Unfortunately, by replicating the
Colonial war on terrorism, 9/11 invited us to re-enact the
post-Colonial solution, to bury our awareness of our vulnerability
under belligerent posturing and comforting fantasy.

Like the
cultural imagineers before them, our post-9/11 press, entertainers and
political spin doctors set to work to prop up our sense of virile
indomitability — “the return of the manly man” and a reconstituted
“John Wayne masculinity” were on every media lip, as the triumphs of
torture-prone Jack Bauer heroes were on every TV. The 2004 presidential
campaign was given a Western stage set — with the candidates proving
their ability to assume the mantle of Crockett in Chief by bragging
about their gun collections, hacking at brush and tree stumps and
shooting at wild animals. (John Kerry spent so much time in hunting
camouflage that he was dubbed “John the Deerslayer.”)

restored was the defense of helpless femininity. Witness the Bush
administration’s much-trumpeted claims to be saving Afghan women from
their burqas and Iraqi women from Saddam Hussein’s “rape rooms.” Or the
military’s much-ballyhooed “rescue” of Pvt. Jessica Lynch (albeit from
a hospital whose caregivers had tried to return her to American forces,
but had been driven back by American gunfire). Or the invention of a
supposedly huge new voting bloc of “security moms,” trembling-lipped
homemakers desperate to re-elect the sheriff who would keep terrorists
from their suburban ranches.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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