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Monday, November 25, 2013

 
A Frightened Country

by digby

For such a powerful "exceptional" nation, we sure are scared of other countries.  Well, I shouldn't indict the whole nation.  It's mostly coming from the right, but there are plenty of apolitical and lefty types who are frightened too.  It's an interesting phenomenon that we see played out all the time, right now in the nearly hysterical reaction to a possible deal with Iran. One would think that coming closer to a peaceful solution to a vexing security problem would make people feel safer, but it seems to have made an awful lot of people more frightened than ever.

Noam Chomsky had some fascinating observations about this in a recent conversation about his seminal work Manufacturing Consent:
Catherine Komp: It’s been twenty-five years since the publication of your and Edward Herman’s acclaimed book “Manufacturing Consent.” How much do you think has changed with the propaganda model, and where do you see it playing out most prominently today?

Noam Chomsky: Well, ten years ago we had a re-edition and we talked about some of the changes. One change is that we were too narrow. There are a number of filters that determine the framework of reporting, and one of the filters was too narrow. Instead of “anti-communism,” which was too narrow, it should have been “fear of the concocted enemy.” So yes, it could be anti-communism—most of that is concocted. So take Cuba again. It’s hard to believe, but for the Pentagon, Cuba was listed as one of the military threats to the United States until a couple of years ago. This is so ludicrous; you don’t even know whether to laugh or cry. It’s as if the Soviet Union had listed Luxembourg as a threat to its security. But here it kind of passes.

The United States is a very frightened country. And there are all kinds of things concocted for you to be frightened about. So that should have been the filter, and [there were] a few other things, but I think it’s basically the same.

There is change. Free Speech Radio didn’t exist when we wrote the book, and there are somethings on the Internet which break the bonds, as do independent work and things like the book I was just talking about when we came in, Jeremy Scahill’s “Dirty Wars,” which is a fantastic piece of investigative reporting on the ground of what actually happens in the countries where we’re carrying out these terror campaigns. And there’s a lot of talk about drones, but not much about the fact that they are terror weapons.

If we were sitting here wondering if, all of a sudden, there’s going to be a bomb in this room, because they maybe want to kill him or kill us or whatever, it’s terrorizing. In fact, we just saw a dramatic example of this which got a couple lines in the paper. A few days after the Boston Marathon bombing, there was a drone attack on a village in Yemen, kind of an isolated village. Obama and his friends decided to murder some guy. So the villagers are sitting there, and suddenly this guy gets blown away and whoever else is around him. I don’t think it was reported except for the fact that there was Senate testimony a week later by a person from the village who’s quite respected by Jeremy and others who know him. The man, Farea al-Muslimi, who studied at a high school in the U.S., testified to the Senate and he described what happened to his village. He said that everybody knew the man that they murdered, and that they could have easily apprehended him, but it was easier to kill him and terrify the village. He also said something else which is important. He said that his friends and neighbors used to know of the United States primarily through his stories of “the wonderful experiences” he had here.* He said the U.S. bombing has turned them into people who hate America and want revenge—that’s all it takes. And, in fact, this whole terror system is creating enemies and threats faster than it’s killing suspects, apart from how awful that is. These things are going on, and going back to Jeremy, his book exposes a lot of it and also the exploits of the secret executive army, JSOC, Joint Special Operations Command. It’s dangerous, but it’s the kind of thing an investigative reporter could do, and he’s done it. There’s more of it now, fortunately, in some respects, than there was then.
He goes on to point out that the propaganda machine is much stronger than it used to be as well, particularly with the owners of American having so much money now that they can afford to spend it on political propaganda in overwhelming amounts. His comments are well worth rading in full.

I think this insight that the framework is "fear" rather than any specific enemy is key. And I also think it's important to recognize that it's the proportionality of fear to threat that really matters. It's almost as if we are more scared if the threat they're hyping is absurd. (I'm thinking of the recent nonsense in which a federal court declared Al Qaeda an "existential threat.")

Anyway, I think this is something that lies at the heart of our dysfunction. It would seem that, contrary to popular myth, Americans really don't have much confidence after all. Why is that?

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