Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear (1943)
The Graham Greene novel's setting was London's wartime Blitz, but its title helps us reflect on the institutionalization of fear that came in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Today will be the last commemoration presided over by a President George W. Bush, who used Americans' fears after September 11 to launch a war against a country that had nothing to do with it.
Who will preside over the 2009 ceremony? Will it be an unbroken continuation of the Bush line, preached by a fear-mongering McCain-Palin Administration? Will "fear up" - that term used by official abusers - continue to be the White House stance, succeeding more to strike fear into the hearts of Americans than in any potential terrorist?
"They had to tread carefully for a lifetime." How long will Americans have to tread carefully, while their leaders' official policy is to tread with massive military footprints across the globe? When will the electorate come to the realization that true national security comes from an array of societal and individual decisions: how strong is the underlying economic infrastructure, and do we let our bridges crumble for want of a bond issue; is our financial system dependent on other nations' continued goodwill, and will we refrain from using home equity loans to buy additional cars; is the American way of life ultimately sustainable?
Boston University professor (and West Point grad) Andrew Bacevich shows us where we are "9/11 Plus Seven:"
What Americans decide on November 4 2008 will determine how the next President addresses the nation on September 11 2009. Senator Barack Obama has sketched out a much more inclusive notion of what national security is made of. It starts with reminding Americans that "we are better than these last eight years." Better than unilateral invasions. Better than torture. Better than oil-fueled and funded climate denial. Better than elections decided in court.
Seven years ago, after the September 11 attacks, a young radio journalist interviewed me in Luxembourg. He reflected the fear of his fellow students of what appeared to be a nihilistic campaign aimed at civilization. My first reaction was to say that there was safety in numbers, that the United States had like-minded friends in Europe and the rest of the world. "We're With You!!!" read the message on top of the pile of flowers in front of the American Embassy.
That was true then, and it could be true again. Fear can be overcome. I want to give a chance to the side that appeals to our better nature - we are better than these last eight years.