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August 01, 2004

One of the Problems with War

America is fond of calling a challenging, unfortunate situation a "war"—particularly the government is fond of doing this. I think this is so because it appears to demonstrate that the one making the pronouncement is serious about getting results and won't through lack of vigilance allow dangers or opportunities to slip by. Declaring war on something pleases both the hu-ah-he-men and the inflexibly certain in a way that "doing everything we can" or any deliberative approach will not.

It also changes the rules under which we're willing to live. That which we would not accept under (our belief about) normal circumstances is cooperatively or willfully given to assist in the war effort. The thresholds of acceptable levels of liberty and consumption (mostly the former, since the latter has such an effect on the corporate purse) drop, and we agree to it because of the war effort.

At least, that's what I think of when I think of the war on drugs or the war on terrorism. It's funny, though, to think about the attitudes in play in those two realities and how out of place they seem if one thinks about a war on illiteracy or a war on homelessness. There's just not enough aggression involved to get anyone worked up.

In Iraq, the U.S. is apparently focused on rehabilitating the country—into our model of rightness—and winning the hearts and minds of the residents into the same. What if we had the same level of dollars and attention flowing into our own distressed cities and peoples? At first, I thought this sounded great, but I'm not sure that it wouldn't feel like forcible indoctrination (though there shouldn't be much convincing required when it comes to food, clothing, and shelter).

I'm rambling now. But I started this post with the idea of linking to this story in the Seattle Times (from the Los Angeles Times) about a Chinese woman who was beaten up by an officer of Homeland Security. When I started reading the story, I was expecting that there would have been some suspicious activity, like she was seen moving quickly away from a wastebin after dropping into it a bulky package or she fit the description of the suspect in a recent mugging. None of that, no—the agent had thought she was associated with someone from whom they had just confiscated some marijuana.

"Pounds", the story notes later, but still—even a hundred pounds of that material is exceptionally unlikely to be involved in causing any deaths (especially if legalized), hampering public safety, or disrupting the institutions of government. We could wish that every terrorist sleeper cell gets turned on to some good weed and never quite gets around to doing that other thing. (You can bet that if their drug use ever attracted enough police attention for them to be raided, that the bomb-making equipment and photos of public spaces discovered in a closet would be reported as additional proof that drugs are bad and not as leftovers of some plan now lost in their quest for a better buzz.)

One last tangential thought: while I was cycling in the gym this morning, I saw Mayor Bloomberg talking about the alleged threats to various New York-based financial institutions. Listed among those was the IMF, which seems like a more specific target for opponents of U.S. hegemony than I've heard named before.

Posted by Gary at August 1, 2004 05:54 PM | TrackBack
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You may have inadvertently hit on the secret weapon for the War on Terror. If we gave all the confiscated pot (pot only please, other drugs make people too aggressive and tweeky - okay, maybe X, also) to suspected terror cells, well, the only target on terrorist radar would be 7-11s and pizza delivery services. Equipped with a warrant, the pizza guy could go in, get the plans, and nicely ask the terrorists if they'd like to go for a ride. "Dude," the pizza guy could say, "the moon is so pretty on the water tonight!" "Naw, we totally had this brilliant plan. Wait! Wait!It was AWESOME! If only I could remember what it was! Oh, hey, look at the moon! it's HUGE!"

Posted by: pam on August 2, 2004 06:30 AM

Clearly, airlifting a few tabs of E into Tora Bora is the ticket. All these guys are seriously pent-up, waiting for their 72 virgins in heaven... so a big homo orgy would erupt. And we know how much that would upset the Mullahs the next morning--it would be suicide by stoning before sundown. I really ought to be in the CIA.

Posted by: jay on August 2, 2004 02:51 PM

When I'm feeling very cynical, I'm almost shocked that the government doesn't distribute the marijuana to us. That, along with The Great Neutralizer (television), and you have such a passive populace, there's hardly anything you couldn't get them/us to accept. I guess they/we might start having trouble showing up to work on a regular basis, though.

Yeah, Jay, why wait for some virgins somewhere when your brothers are right here now? :)

Posted by: Gary on August 3, 2004 12:09 AM
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