About a 6 minute read.
The September 11th, 2001 attacks on Flight 93, the World Trade Center, and the Pentagon in the United States brought horror and despair to millions across the world. Approximately three thousand American and foreign nationals met an untimely death. After the smoke had cleared and rescue attempts drew to a close, many people felt confused as to why these attacks happened and showed anger for those responsible. The American government blamed the terrorists and radicals from the Arab world. Days after the attack, President George Bush prompted Congress to declare war on terrorists harbored by the countries of Iraq and Afghanistan. Terrorists were suspected to be in collusion with the Taliban controlled government of Afghanistan and the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The U.S. made a public statement calling upon others to join the fight against oppressive regimes that kill civilians and participate in state-sponsored terrorism.
The United States has long considered itself to be morally and ideologically superior to the rest of the world. America’s consideration as the epitome of western civilization is best characterized by the once national anthem ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ which asserts the United States as the authors of liberty who are protected by God. The noted scholar Edward Said has termed this attitude as Orientalism, which is a fundamental philosophy that the Middle East is inferior to the United States. Said contends that Western countries, particularly the United States, have preconceived ideas that the Middle East’s philosophy is diametric to the western ideals of democracy and capitalism (Said, 1979). The only way to alter the Middle Eastern philosophy, as demonstrated by American actions, is to eliminate those who have beliefs contradictory to the United States and instill the preferred morals of Western society. Ideological revision is systematically accomplished by discrediting Middle Eastern ideas with mass media, reorganization of Middle Eastern culture and recruitment of others who share U.S. principles.
In his book Colonial Present, Derek Gregory discusses ‘imaginative geographies.’ Imaginative geographies is a concept which discusses how Western societies, such as the United States, construct false perceptions of the Middle East through the use of specific images, literature and cultural attitudes (Gregory, 2004). The United States uses its mass media to create this perception of what is acceptable and what is not. The United States justifies the conquest of other nations, violence against civilians, neglect for public welfare, destruction of infrastructure and mislabeling people as terrorists by convincing the world that the people of the Middle East are barbaric and need to be “saved.” In order to fulfill an imagined geography, the United States also gives weapons to persons that will wage war against common enemies. The United States of America condones the use of violence abroad to secure self-interests but condemns violence by others upon American citizens.
Imaginative geographies have caused the American mass media to propagandize what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable violence. The language chosen by the mass media is specifically designed to manipulate audiences in regards to America’s involvement during a war. Words such as terrorist, combatant, and insurgent who commit terrorism, murder and anarchy are used to describe enemies of the U.S. whereas words such as soldier, liberator, and brother who practice security, liberation, and self-defense are used to describe U.S. personnel. The mass media graphically depicts violence against American people. The United States media humanizes the loss of American lives with elaborate backstories as well as interviews with friends and loved ones to draw sympathy from viewers around the world. However, violence against foreigners by U.S. forces is not presented with the same detail to avoid any potential empathy. Furthermore, words are chosen to reduce people to “enemies,” “targets,” “unlawful combatants” and “acceptable losses of life” (Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land, 2004). Anyone opposed to the U.S. falls under the status of homo sacer, or those considered persona non grata that may be killed (Gregory, 2004).
The United States supplies weapons to foreigners to commit violence against personae non-gratae. Between the 1950s and 1989, an era known as the Cold War, the United States viewed the communist nation of the Soviet Union as the biggest threat to Western civilization. During the 1980s the Soviet Union mobilized their military and invaded the young country of Afghanistan. The U.S. gave weapons to Afghanistan’s Taliban to prevent an expansion of the Soviet sphere of influence. The Central Intelligence Agency sent personnel to Afghanistan to train the Taliban how to properly use American made machine guns, rocket launchers and tanks (Power of Nightmares-Episode Two, 2004). The Taliban took this training and successfully fought off the Soviet threat, expelling the communists from Afghanistan (Gregory, 2004). After the collapse of the Berlin wall, the United States’ new enemy became Islamic nations who practiced policies of anarchy and terrorism. According to the United States, this new enemy lies in the nations of the Middle East. Ironically the United States considered the former Taliban government as a threat. In 2002 the U.S supported and trained the armies of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, echoing actions taken during the Afghan-Soviet war (Power of Nightmares-Episode Three, 2004).
The U.S. has a history of violently colonizing foreign lands. The westward expansion after American independence began with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and was followed by the annexation of Texas in 1845. The U.S. army was then employed to wage war against Mexico to acquire lands that are now part of Arizona and New Mexico. The latter half of the 19th century gave way to battles against the natives of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains as well as the Spanish-American War, effectively giving the United States control of central North America, the Philippine islands, Cuba and Puerto.
During the 20th and 21st centuries, the U.S. built military bases in foreign countries around the world. Most of these countries were American allies, but U.S and Allied militaries invaded the lands of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. The invasions began as violent bombing campaigns called “Shock and Awe” maneuvers that aimed to scare the enemy into submission. The bombings targeted buildings and infrastructure that were considered crucial to enemy livelihood. The U.S. then moved in ground troops that moved from town to town, city to city fighting anyone that pointed a gun at Western forces. Ground troops also conducted searches of civilian homes, harassing the people as terrorist suspects. Anyone suspected of terrorism was detained without inquiry, hauled off to prison facilities and subjected to torture or even death (Gregory, 2004). The conditions suffered by suspected terrorists at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq as well as the capture and subsequent death of the Afghani taxi driver Dilawar serve as examples (Psychology of Evil, 2011; Taxi to the Darkside, 2007). Practices of such violence have permitted the United States to occupy and colonize foreign countries repeatedly.
Though the United States of America takes a dichotomous policy concerning violence, many Americans would agree that all nations have been forged and maintained by some selfish disregard for other nations. However, it is imperative that Americans citizens change their attitudes towards violence. Humans can consciously disengage from the imagined geographies that run rampant in the Western world. The United States of America may become an epitome of civilization once these false perceptions are removed from American society.
© 2016 Sean Short