Much was made in the weeks following September 11 of the “death of irony.” Trend-spotters insisted that media irreverance and irrelevance had undergone a structural failure as final as the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. Pundits listened for American pop culture’s death rattle, speculating that satire and parody themselves may have taken a direct hit.
Yet, with all this grave talk about war’s effects on the American talent for distraction, the odd thing that United States has been at war for the past fifty years.
Following the rebuilding of Europe under the Marshall plan, U.S. policy makers went to work with their avowed plan to remodel the world in America’s image. However, the story for domestic consumption — the global export of “democracy” and “freedom” — suffered some damage in shipping. Those at the receiving end soon discovered what they had in hand wasn’t American civics class by correspondence, but a third-rate spy novel featuring tinpot dictators, foreign debt and grinding poverty.
Approximately 5,500 lives were lost in the atrocities of September 11. There is no justification for the terrorists’ taking of those lives, for the same reason there never was justification for the lives lost in the global pursuit of U.S. “national security.”
The numbers dwarf comprehension.
- Two-million Indochinese, following the American invasion of Vietnam.
- 800,000 Indonesians, following the CIA-backed coup that installed President Suharto in 1965 and the subsequent slaughter in 1975 of over 250,000 innocent people in East Timor by the Indonesian regime, with the direct complicity of President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
- 120,000 Guatemalan peasants by U.S.-installed dictatorships over the course of four decades. 30,000 Chileans after the US-sponsored coup against Salvador Allende in 1973.
- Over 80,000 Salvadorans by U.S.-backed paramilitary forces and death squads in El Salvador throughout the 1980s.
- 30,000 innocents during the U.S.-sponsored terrorist contra war against Nicaragua in the same period. 8,000 Panamanians during Operation Just Cause.
- 1, 500, 000 Iraqis, a third of them children, during the decade long U.S.-led embargo against Iraq.
U.S. mainstream media, serving up bread and circuses at the heart of the empire, played its part all too well in diverting attention from past imperial adventures.
As American filmmaker Michael Moore put it, in a paragraph excised by editors from his article in The Globe and Mail: “We have orphaned so many children, tens of thousands around the world, with our taxpayer funded terrorism that I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised when those orphans grow up and are a little whacked in the head from the horror we have helped cause.”
Perhaps it’s the height of media navel-gazing to discuss whether or not American pop-culture piffle is about to be vapourized by the afterburners of F-18s. Personally, I wouldn’t miss the evaporation of Jerry Springer or Wolf Blitzer, if actual informed discussion on the historical roots of Islamic fanaticism took their place.
But that seems unlikely. As media critic Noam Chomsky once said, “concision [as in being concise] is the enemy of thought”: in a media landscape of ten-second soundbites, there’s little place for anything deeper. And, as the CBC’s Rick Mercer so ably demonstrated, our neighbours are less than enthusiastic to begin with when it comes to the finer points of history and geography.
Expect more reality television: images of pilots waving from cockpits, and grainy green vistas of Mideast targets under nightime fire. Hitting targets beyond Afghanistan will only ensure further converts to miltant Islamic fundamentalism, with the continental U.S. remaining the terrorists’ Temptation Island.