By Nicholas Allanach
Current polls indicate the American public is becoming fed-up with the war in Iraq. Of course, while there are certainly large numbers of staunch antiwar advocates, there is still a fair amount of war supporters. Certainly, being proud of the values and ideals that, apparently, characterize the “free and just” United States is commendable, it’s also only ignorant and pig-headed when taken too far. After all, absolute American exceptionalism doesn’t make any new friends; it only deters attempts at establishing a true global democracy that is fair for all. In fact, what the war supporters fail to realize is that the longer the United States “stays the course” the more isolated and ineffectual our role as super power becomes.
After the September 11th attacks, the United States was presented with an opportunity. America could either bravely and intelligently exert its hegemonic power through peaceful diplomacy or cowardly and ignorantly through sporadic and increased militaristic aggression. The Bush administration chose the former. What is most childish about this neo-conservative, pro-war argument is that it fully espouses American exceptionalism and feels the only way to effectively communicate its values is by violently subjecting the rest of the world to them. Such a perspective doesn’t position America as a part of the world, but as instead the misunderstood, yet superior, controller of it. Such unabashed and blind arrogance only isolates the United States by discrediting its cooperative and humanitarian position in the global community. If the US chose to “humbly accept its own vulnerability as [a] part of the world, enacting the punishment of those responsible [for 9/11] as a sad duty, not as an exhilarating retaliation” then, perhaps, we would already have captured Osama Bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, instead of provoking more like them. Nevertheless, changing this bullish attitude won’t alter the apparent (untruthful and/or conjured up) need to have invaded Iraq –we’re already there. However, altering this stubbornness will most certainly be a step in the right direction of truly advancing peace and democracy.
Over the past few months, despite the escalating body count, I have questioned my own support for the antiwar movement. But why? After all, I know I cannot adhere to the ridiculous blood-soaked wet dream of war proponents; yet, I am also unable to completely dive into the alternative “peacenik” movement without some hesitation. Of course, this creates a rather uncomfortable situation; especially, during a time when nobody wants to be seen as “sitting on the fence.” But let me make myself clear, I am not undecided. In fact, my big problem with war proponents is obvious: The United States is not an “innocent” bystander who was blindly attacked by a third world “evil” and must now “take the fight to the terrorists, so we don’t have to fight them at home.” Respectfully, we cannot fully rely on the deeper sociopolitical causes of Arab extremism either, which would, instead, blame the U.S. for “getting what it deserved.”
Writer Slavoj Zizek confronts this uncomfortable dichotomy in his book Welcome to the Desert of the Real. Zizek states, “The only possible solution is to reject this very opposition and to adopt both positions simultaneously [to achieve] totality: there is no choice between these two positions; each is one sided and false.” Of course, achieving “totality” is easier said then done; after all, such binary black/white tendencies have (throughout the history of Western civilization’s limited logic) divided and compartmentalized ideas and beliefs from each other for centuries. Such polarizations set ideas against each other and make it almost impossible to achieve a more complete truth. It is, of course, tough work to try and understand both “sides” of an issue; however, it should be necessary; especially when making large scale decisions like, say, invading a country.
Obviously, “totality” isn’t an attribute of imperial ambitions. In fact, domination doesn’t need understanding it only demands coercion which entails getting the most people “on your side.” President Bush has clearly indicated his administration’s inability of achieving “totality” by demarcating the world stage as separated into a duel “good vs. evil” and (infamous) “you’re either with us or against us” war mentality. Such thinking is not only dangerous (and limiting) but only further separates the US from a larger global community. Isolationism has often dominated America’s self perception as a mythical place that remains safe and secure from the economic, environmental, and social hardships inflicting other nations.
For instance, consider American responses to Hurricane Katrina. I recall the news being filled with quotes like, “Things like this aren’t supposed to happen here” or “This is the type of thing we’d expect to see in a third world country –not in the United States.” Although such an attitude is reactionary, it does illustrate an American tendency to not only see itself as a separate and/or elevated entity that doesn’t affect the world but—in this case of environmental disaster—shouldn’t be affected by the world either. It is as if America must consistently reaffirm itself as a sanctified and exceptional nation by even going so far as rejecting the reality of nature itself. Judging by the overall response to Hurricane Katrina, it is safe to say America is still unable to understand the lesson of September 11th. Such a lesson was—most likely—not in the minds of the hijackers; however, it frames the entire event and all subsequent ones like it and loudly declares –America is a part of the environmental, political, and social world. Get used to it damn it!