In George Orwell’s classic 1984, the government of Oceania — Big Brother — tells the people that they have a common enemy — Goldstein. At their daily "hate" sessions, the picture of Goldstein comes up on the screen, while the people scream in anger and horror at the image. Goldstein, they are told, is everywhere and must be destroyed.
In one way, it is difficult to draw the parallels between Goldstein and America’s latest enemy, Osama bin Laden, who has been accused of masterminding the suicide assaults on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. After all, Goldstein is a fictional character, and probably was a fictional character in Oceania as well. Osama bin Laden, on the other hand, is real — all too real — and has been the financier and "spiritual leader" of numerous terrorist cells around the world.
Thus, to draw comparisons between the two men seems absurd. Goldstein posed no real danger to anyone, while today what is left of the bodies of more than 5,000 innocent people lie beneath the rubble of the once proud WTC, the Pentagon salvage operation continues, and investigators are combing the rubble of the remains of Flight 93 in the Pennsylvania countryside, just 40 miles from my home.
Yet, the similarities are more real than apparent and speak to what has been happening in the United States since World War II. Each decade has seen evil characters who have been hell-bent on destroying "our way of life" paraded before the American public. In the 1940s, it was Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini of Italy, and Tojo and Emperor Hirohito of Japan, Josef Stalin and Nikita Kruschev of the USSR during the 1950s, Mao Tse-Tung of China and Lenoid Brehznev of the USSR in the 1960s, the Ayatollah Khomeni of Iran in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Khadafy of Libya during the 1980s, Saddam Hussein of Iraq during the 1990s, and now bin Laden.
What we must remember is that we believed — and certainly the U.S. Government encouraged such thinking — that we could just be rid of those folks, we would be safe. Like Goldstein in Oceania, each man menaced our society, striking fear and hatred into our hearts, yet when they died (through Khomeni), we were not a whit safer.
Granted, this is not a list of candidates for canonization. Each man did many evil things and was responsible for the deaths of millions — even hundreds of millions — of people. Their deaths, indeed, were good things and all have left a legacy of evil. However, what we must remember is that Americans have believed for more than half a century that if these guys were gone, our troubles would be, too.
Instead, what we have seen is that each decade has a new enemy. The passing of one does not make us safer. In fact, in response to the latest terrorism, the U.S. Government has invoked a number of World War I and World War II measures that will restrict the freedoms of ordinary, law-abiding Americans while not making us any safer than we were before the attack occurred.
For example, one of the reasons that this vicious attack occurred on our soil is that the U.S. Armed Forces, while spending literally more than one third of worldwide military expenditures, is nearly helpless in defending our own shores. This proud, high-technology military machine that has laid waste to Iraq, Vietnam, and Serbia has not the capacity to stop even determined terrorists armed with nothing more than box cutters and homemade knives.
While the taxpayers of the USA have hundreds of billions of dollars confiscated from them each year to fund a U.S. military presence in other countries — including many nations that really wish we were not there at all — the armed forces fail at performing even the cursory duties of what they are supposed to be doing: protecting the people of the United States from enemy attack. Instead, we have the spectacle of the U.S. Government begging other governments to help us attack countries that may or may not have had anything to do with what happened.
Furthermore, the prospect of justifying the attacks on nations because they harbor terrorists borders on the absurd when one thinks of the U.S. experience. First, all credible news reports have demonstrated that most of the terrorists had been living in the USA for many years, using our own facilities to train themselves for the attack of last week. Second, it turns out that at least two of the hijackers were placed in temporary federal custody earlier this year after they were discovered taking photographs of government installations in New York City. The feds had them, but then let them go even though it was obvious that they were involved in terrorist planning.
In other words, if the U.S. Government wishes to condemn other nations for harboring terrorists, then it must begin with the USA, for we gave the perpetrators of this latest outrage everything they needed, all the way to taxpayer-funded assistance. Congress has passed laws — dutifully enforced by federal agencies — that have all but guaranteed that terrorists can operate at will in this nation and receive even more protection than the average U.S. citizen, who now must face a loss of freedoms, despite the fact that ordinary citizens are no threat to this nation in any way.
Another way to examine this episode is to ask what would be our response if another nation had (1) allowed these terrorists to live five years or more virtually unchecked by governing authorities, despite the fact that they had records of associating with terrorist groups, and (2) trained these terrorists to fly passenger jets. Most likely that nation would have been blasted into a pile of rubble by now.
Yes, by all means kill bin Laden if he has been behind these awful crimes. By all means, those who had a hand in this must be held accountable for their deeds. However, let us also remember that if we are to demand accountability, it begins at home with those who govern us.
Moreover, even if the U.S. Armed Forces manage to capture or kill bin Laden, another man will take his place. At the close of the Gulf War, a giddy President George Bush declared that we were going to establish a "New World Order." We were to be safe; our troubles were over. Yet, it was the Gulf War that bin Laden says stirred him to wage a personal war against the United States.
As long as the government of this nation continues to press abroad to keep its empire intact, people of other nations will rise to fight it. They have already learned that they cannot defeat the U.S. Armed Forces on the battlefield, as the 1991 slaughter of Iraq’s army so vividly proved, but they also know there are other ways to strike at us.
Orwell, a socialist himself, understood the nature of totalitarianism, and he understood how governments constantly work to deceive those they govern. Like those hapless citizens of Oceania, Americans have seen one Goldstein after another flash across our television screens. Unless we re-examine how our government acts abroad — and fails to protect us at home — we shall see even more Goldsteins in the future, and they shall continue to kill us and strike fear into our hearts.