ALL HAIL THE FEARMONGERS! 

ALL HAIL THE FEARMONGERS!

U.S. Raises Terror Alert to "High" at Peak of Holiday Travel Season or go to http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/22/national/22ALER.html?hp) What a nice gimmick this is. We've seen it before, and we'll see it again, I suspect, before November 2004. The current administration must love having this particular arrow in their quiver. Raise the alerts whenever you want people to be "aware" of how unsafe they are -- thereby subliminally reminding them of how lucky they are to have a resolute, strong leader like George W. Bush at the helm. "Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. Be careful even as you drop your children at day care. Be afraid when you go bowling. Be afraid when you cross the Golden Gate/Brooklyn/Hernando Desoto bridge. Be afraid always. "They" are out to get "us." So never cease being afraid." ("And never forget: things could be worse if "we" weren't looking out for you...") Well, we've been afraid now for 27 months -- to no effect, by the way. No one in public office, no one with any sense of self-preservation re. his/her political scalp, has had enough lack of fear, and enough political courage, to point out the obvious: Which is this: (a) Not a single American has died in a "terrrorist" attack on American soil since 9/11/01, and... (b) In many, many parts of the world, going 27 months without a single terrorist death would be considered a remarkable victory. So why don't the Bushies claim this victory? Because to do so would threaten the very foundation of what has been, since 9/11, this administration's political raison d'etre. At the core of their security policy is this simple fact: if we the American people "win" the war on terrorism, then we the American people will probably be less likely to vote for George W. Bush in November 2004. Yes, I know, this sounds a bit cynical. Or way more than a bit, I can here the Republicans among you snickering. But, friends, before you dismiss this as left-wing rant, consider the one basic premise that underpins the entire "terrorism" universe: And this is it, simply put. Human nature, being what it is, guarantees that on some day, at some place, at some time, the Fearmongers will strike it rich. Some day, some place, some time, on American soil, the "terrorists" will strike again. Unfortunately, at some point, our complex, tortured global village will throw up another Muhammed Atta. Or (probably more likely, in the short term) another Timothy McVeigh. Face facts: modern civilization is like that. It occasionally produces wackos. Think Charles Manson. Think Jim Jones. And those are just the ones who are "Merikan" enough for us to remember and recall their names... And so one day, inevitably, the Fearmongers will be able to turn to the American people and say: "See? We told you so! We told you to be very afraid, didn't we? Maybe you weren't listening; maybe next time, you will. Maybe next time, you'll be really, really afraid!" What music to Karl Rove's ears this must be! It is a no-lose situation. As long as the powers-that-be in the Bush Administration can rachet up the "fear index" whenever they feel they need a little bump, the majority of the American people wil be reluctant to "change horses in midstream." And if something truly "bad" actually happens? Well, that would be awful, yes, but who THEN would even consider changing horses? Let me let you in on a little secret. Whether we as a nation are at Code Orange, Code Red, or Code Spumoni, we will never be completely safe. Any Irishman (like myself) who lived through the 1970s in that country will tell you this: if there are a handful of people who are hell-bent on wreaking havoc on "civilized" life, they will eventually succeed in doing so, at least once in a while. The very definition of civilization -- open, free interaction between sophisticated peoples -- insures that they will occasionally succeed. The dirty little secret the Bush Administration does not want to share with the American people is this: there is no way that a "war" on terrorism can ever end in victory. And since modern America is perhaps the world's greatest "target rich" environment for anarchic expression, total safety and perfect security can never be achieved. Another "terrorist" attack is pretty damn near inevitable, all the code colors of the rainbow notwithstanding. Case in point: I traveled on an Amtrak train to New Orleans last month. In sharp contrast to the absurdist airport scenes we all know and have grown to accept -- aiports where I have thoughtlessly lost more than a couple of corkscrews, where I now take off my shoes even before I'm asked, where we have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs for people who spend their days trying their very best to administer security systems that resemble quaint medieval rituals, days spent trying to do their jobs with grace and sincerity -- I give you the situation at the train station in Memphis that night last month: No one gave a rat's posterior about what kind of contraband I might have had in the large suitcase I dragged onto that train. And no one would have even noticed if, after leaving my large suitcase in my first-class sleeping-car storage area, I just happened to get off the train, say, in Yazoo City, MS, leaving my timed explosive device to go off, oh, an hour later, perhaps while the train was passing through downtown Jackson. If I packed enough dynamite correctly, said contraband suticase might have enough force to take out not just several score on the train, but just as many in the surrounding neighborhoods. Hell, I wouldn't even have to worry about whether I'd counted right about the number of virgins you get in heaven when you're a suicide bomber. I could have a car waiting and drive back to Memphis from Yazoo City in three hours, getting home just about in time to watch all the phoo-phah about the incident I created on CNN and Fox News... Does that scenario scare you? Then think about this: the opportunity to repeat EXACTLY what Timothy McVeigh did in Oklahoma City exists today and will exist tomorrow and next week, no matter how many zillions we give Tom Ridge. There is no amount of money that could ever be spent with the Department of Homeland Security that could ever gurantee that an incident like the one I described above would never happen. Or that next year's Timothy McVeagh might drive his truck up next to the YMCA in Pittsburgh. Or that someone could carefully put an explosive device in the lobby at next fall's opening Opera Memphis performance, and get the season off to a real bang. Friends, we call this logic. This is not a matter of my opinion versus someone else's; this is cold, hard truth. So why will no one in politics or the media come out and state the obvious? Well, I can think of one reason. And while, yes, my even writing this will probably occasion a visit or phone call from the Friends of Tom Ridge, I will tell you all now what message I'd ask these fellows to pass along to their boss, if and when they call: "This, Mr. Secretary, is grand farce. You know and I know that, short of declaring martial law and drastically interfering with everybody's holiday shopping plans this December, there is no way that a truly "secure" America can ever be achieved. Your color-coded alert system, sir, is a joke." Which leads me to my point, and a final question: who benefits most when we go Code Orange? I will let you all draw your own conclusions, only pointing out that I am ready to make book on the projection that we will be either Code Orange or Code Red in November 2004. Any takers? ( Kenneth Neill is the publisher/CEO of Contemporary Media, Inc., the parent company of The Memphis Flyer.)

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