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Perpetual Fear under Empire

Islamic State

Lots of Americans are extremely upset about ISIS. They’re not sleeping well, and they’re pacing the floors. They are convinced that ISIS is coming to get them, drag them from their homes, cart them away to some Arabian desert, and behead them.

There is something important to keep in mind about all this: This is the way of life under an empire, especially one whose foreign policy is based on hundreds of military bases in foreign countries, meddling in the political and economic affairs of other countries, support of and partnerships with foreign dictatorships, foreign aid, invasions, wars of aggression, occupations, kidnappings, torture, and other such things.

Once you realize that chaos, crises, conflicts, tensions, and wars are an inherent part of imperial life, you don’t tend to get so upset over the latest crisis. You instead say to yourself: Well, here we go again—another official enemy who is the gravest threat to “national security” in the history of the national-security state apparatus that was grafted onto our governmental system after World War II.

Think about all the official enemies that have scared the dickens out of the American people since the advent of the national-security state.

Older Americans will attest to the great fear that was inculcated into their generations — the fear that the communists, especially the Soviet Union but also Red China, were coming to get them or, even worse, that they were going to unleash a nuclear war against the United States.

Throughout the Cold War, American life was geared to fearing the communists and ferreting them out. The FBI and the CIA in particular did everything they could to discover “subversives” within American society — that is, people who were suspected of being communist moles, infiltrating America with the aim of turning the country Red. That’s what the secret FBI campaign against Martin Luther King was all about. It was also what the CIA’s secret campaign against the U.S. Communist Party, the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and opponents of the Vietnam War was all about.

It was all driven by fear, which is always the coin of the realm for an empire. If they don’t make the people afraid, then people are less likely to go along with the schemes.

When the Cold War finally ended, ironically it was the national-security establishment that became fearful. They feared that Americans might say that since the national-security apparatus, including the enormous military establishment and the CIA, had come into existence to wage the Cold War, then why not now abolish this apparatus now that the Cold War was over?

After all, most everyone understood that the national-security state apparatus was alien to America’s heritage of anti-militarism, anti-imperialism, and nonintervention. That’s certainly what President Eisenhower said in his Farewell Address in 1960.

U.S. national-security state officials didn’t have to fear long. Almost immediately, Saddam Hussein was made the new official boogeyman. He was the new Hitler. He was going to conquer the world. Even worse, he was going to unleash mushroom clouds over American cities with WMDs.

Ironically, before he was converted into a new official enemy, Saddam had been a partner of the U.S. national-security establishment. In fact, I’ll bet that lots of Americans don’t know that Saddam got those scary WMDs from the United States and other Western nations, when he was their friend and partner.

But throughout the 1990s, no one thought about the partnership between Saddam and the U.S. government. That was kaput. All that mattered now was that people now had a deep fear of a new official enemy — Saddam Hussein, a fear that gripped their minds for more than decade.

Then came the 9/11 attacks, which were motivated in part by the deaths of Iraqi children from the sanctions. Those attacks were used to garner support for an invasion of Iraq, in large part because people were so fearful of the WMD attacks that U.S. officials told them were coming next.

After Iraq was conquered, the fear of Saddam was replaced by the fear of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, who now supposedly posed a greater threat to the United States than even the communists and Saddam. The 9/11 attacks confirmed that the terrorists were definitely coming to get us and even take control of the federal government, including the IRS, DEA, Federal Reserve, and other federal agencies.

Today, people tend to forget the deep fear that they had of al-Qaeda. But it was as great as their fear of ISIS and, for that matter, of the communists and Saddam Hussein.

Today, it’s ISIS, a group that is waging a brutal civil war in Syria and Iraq to gain the reins of power in those two countries. Never mind that this group is a direct result of U.S. interventionism in both Iraq and Syria. And never mind that the group has never attacked the United States. What matters is that it is a new official enemy that everyone is supposed to fear. After all, who knows — ISIS might have Saddam’s WMDs secretly hidden in some desert or cave in Iraq or Syria.

This is what empire is all about — constant, perpetual fear.

And who is the big winner in all this perpetual chaos, crisis, conflict, war, and fear? You guessed it: the vast military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us was a grave threat to our nation. With President Obama announcing that his war against ISIS would last three years, the “defense” contractors are assured a continuous, ever-growing flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars into their coffers. And don’t think that it’s only going to last three years because you can rest assured that a new official enemy will pop up somewhere to justify a perpetual flow of money into the military industrial complex.

Oh, by the way, have you noticed that this same phenomenon of perpetual crisis, chaos, and fear also pervades the war on drugs and the war on immigrants?

You can be fearful and you can pace the floors. But if you want a society of peace, prosperity, and harmony, there is but one solution: Dismantle, don’t reform, the vast military empire and national-security state apparatus and end America’s foreign policy of intervention. Otherwise, just prepare yourself for a life of perpetual crisis, chaos, war, conflict, and fear.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.


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