semester in my Personal Essay class, students are
asked to write about what they fear most. "Spiders,"
they say, "snakes, heights, clowns, bees, failure,
growing old, not finding a soul mate, dying, losing
a loved one. Writing about fear."
the attacks on September 11, 2001, this assignment
became less of an academic exercise and more of
an existential adventure. Five graduates from our
college died in the World Trade Center attacks,
and many students know someone who barely escaped
death on that terrible day. One young woman in my
seminar on violence/nonviolence lost her father
when the towers collapsed.
spent September 11, 2001, frantically calling family
and friends in New York City. Each time I dialed,
there was dead space, and each time that happened
my fear increased. My youngest daughter was in Jamaica,
and my son had no reason to be near the towers,
even though, it turns out, he did see the first
plane explode into the side of one building. I was
terrified, confused, angry, bitter, and more than
a little crazy on that beautiful September day.
I wanted someone to pay for the murder of 3,000
innocent people, even though I had no idea who might
be responsible for this monumental crime. Slowly,
my fear turned into rage, my rage into frustration,
and the realization that I wanted revenge.
four years later, my students and I are well aware
that in the aftermath of those terrorist attacks,
the Bush administration lied to us and to the world
about who was responsible for these strikes. We
are well aware that G.W. Bush and others played
upon our fears to launch massive bombing attacks
against Afghanistan and Iraq, and then to invade
and occupy a country whose leaders had nothing to
do with 9/11.We know that at least 100,000 Iraqi
citizens have been killed during two yeas of warfare,
that our government is building permanent military
basis in Iraq, and that or military may be fighting
in that country for many more years.
students talk about their fears for some time, they
want to know what I fear most. I explain that the
United States of America is in the hands of religious
fanatics and seriously disturbed megalomaniacs who
are more than willing to destroy the world in order,
they insist, to save it. If these people have their
way, the United States will become a theocracy,
ruled by and for ideologues who believe their words
and actions represent the will of God.
Irish people who visit friends and family in the
United States, these statements might seem melodramatic
and sensational. After all, the American people
are hospitable, open, and genuinely friendly. We
do not ask visitors to sign a waiver indicating
their political or religious affiliations. Just
hang with us in our backyards, drink beer, eat barbecue,
and share a few good laughs. Not to worry. We do
not ask visitors whether they believe that G.W.
Bush was chosen by God to rule the world; if they
think that angels penned United States Constitution;
or whether they support the right of homosexuals
day, visitors arriving at U.S. airports may be required
to answer questions like these, but for now you
can fly from Dublin to New York City without fear
of being met by evangelical brigades determined
to keep heretics out of the promised land.
gangsters, drug barons, Fascists, and religious
fanatics understand that that we human beings are
fearful creatures. It doesn't take much to keep
us in line. A little or a lot of judiciously employed
violence will do the trick. Just arrest a few people,
humiliate them in front of their friends and families,
and send them off to torture chambers. Promise rewards
to those who turn in enemies of the state. Convince
people they belong to a special, chosen, group and
that everyone outside of this circle is the enemy.
History demonstrates that fear is contagious. It
crawls inside of the human heart, settles into our
bones, and turns us into conformists and cowards.
Bush and friends, like their unscrupulous counterparts
elsewhere, work hard at frightening and intimidating
ordinary people. They understand that most human
beings are kinder, less devious, and less power
mad than the Stalins, Nixons, Blairs, Hitlers, and
Bushes of this world. They know that most of us
would never resort to the kind of criminal behavior
and gratuitous cruelty that seems to guarantee public
figures a prominent place in history books.
after day, week after week, Americans are warned
that terrorists are plotting to attack our nation
with chemical, biological, and possibly atomic weapons.
The world is teeming with killers who are determined
to fly airplanes into our commercial buildings,
poison our food and water supplies, blow the tops
off our nuclear power plants, and level every structure
in Washington, D.C. We must be alert at all times
for these terrorists. We must agree to give up our
constitutional rights in order to defeat our enemies.
And we must agree that when Big Brother attacks
Iraq, Iran, Syria, or North Korea, this will be
for our own good. After all, if we really wish to
conquer our fear, then we must be willing to conquer
centuries, soldiers have marched off to slaughter
infidels and enemies they've been taught to fear
and hate. During the cold war, the Soviet Union
and the United States came close to blowing the
planet to pieces. Fear ruled and nearly destroyed
the world. Now, powerful fanatics are hoping to
coerce their fellow Americans, and people throughout
the world, into submitting to their agenda. Like
ideologues in Nazi Germany, Russia, China, and elsewhere,
these so-called "neo-conservatives" are
masters of terror.
thrive on fear and they will rule by fear. How do
I know this? Just hours after the first attacks
on September 11, 2001, these neo-cons launched their
campaign. Already, they've made enormous and very