Fear of Flying, 2013

September 14, 2013

by Matthew B. Johnson, Ph.D. John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY mjohnson@jjay.cuny.edu

In July I received a distress text from my brother.  He and his wife were returning from the NAACP Convention in Orlando.  In the rush, his wife lost her ID and was not allowed to board the plane.  My brother flew home to Greensboro, North Carolina with their granddaughter and then drove back to Orlando to get his wife (who had also lost her cell phone).  By the time I reached my brother the crisis had been resolved and he was relieved.  I was relieved also but I had lingering anxieties about my upcoming summer travels.  What if I were to lose my wallet – I could be stranded?  Maybe I should get a second driver’s license but where would I keep it for that moment of need.  Maybe my wife, mother, and sons need second ID instruments also.  I got over it shortly but a few days later while explaining my brother’s crisis to my wife (who was out of town) it occurred to me this must be how people come to tolerate living in totalitarian conditions.  Well, yes the US is not totalitarian now.  If totalitarian is too strong a term, how about a ‘security/surveillance state’.  Stated differently, how will we know how totalitarian US society has become if brave whistle blowers do not speak up and tell us the truths about government surveillance and military atrocities.  The president and politicians have a pledge with the government and private security apparatus to keep us in the dark.

The ‘terrorist’ fear that has gripped the US since 9-11 has resulted in the surrender of so many liberties I remember enjoying.  I am concerned that my children, and other young people, have grown up to accept TSA lines just as they have become accustomed to paying for drinking water and television.

I am reminded of the Boston Marathon bombing in April.  It was instructive in this way.  I initiated an impromptu discussion with my students at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  Thanks to the 24-hour media coverage, images of the carnage were fresh in their minds.  They were eager to ask questions and offer analyses.  Most of the questions and comments concerned the psychological state of the offenders and the penalties they might face.  I asked my students how many innocent civilians have been killed in US drone attacks this year.  No one seemed to know and no one seemed curious.  One or two students acknowledged it was more than the 5 people who were killed in Boston.  We do not know how many have been killed because it is not reported or covered with any regularity.  The problem was not only that no one knew, but no one was really interested in discussing it.  In our humanity we have empathy and sympathy for the victims of violence in Boston.  The question is – do we not have equal empathy for the victims of US militaristic violence abroad?

A report by the Columbia Law School, Human Rights Clinic noted that the US government is not forthcoming about the number of civilian deaths caused by US drone strikes. The report indicates the best available estimates for 2011 ranged from 3-155.  Why do we tolerate the lack of coverage of US remote control, extra-judicial killing but devour the media coverage of victims of attacks on US ground?  Is there a calculated effort to create sympathy for US lives and disconnect us from the death and damage  committed by the US government?  The so-called drone “signature assaults” targeting “groups of military age males” sounds like international profiling where the US military is hunting herds of animals.  I have no confidence that the US government has sufficient “intelligence” to conduct these strikes.   I do not believe military “intelligence” can reliably guide drone strikes.  My lack of confidence stems from informed and reputable sources that have estimated the “vast majority” of detainees held in Guantanamo never were enemy combatants.  Erroneous military “intelligence” was used to justify the US invasion of Iraq.  Estimates of the number of resultant deaths range from 100,000 to 200,000 (though the well respected Lancet British Medical Journal estimates 600,000).  I also question why we tolerate the ban on coverage of coffins of returning US soldiers.  About 4500 US soldiers were killed in Iraq (but maybe these are merely statistics).

Without embracing the so-called Al Qaeda fundamentalist rhetoric nor their methods, it seems to me they are basically expressing legitimate grievance against global Western economic, military, and cultural penetration – just as they fought against Soviet domination.  I don’t believe hatred of the US government is based on hatred of the US way of life – it is more about the efforts of the US government to export and impose its way of life around the globe.  This current era of economic globalization is merely a continuation of the Western colonization and domination that has ravaged other continents for the past 500 years.

Arab and Middle-Eastern peoples know that Africans were enslaved in the “land of the free and the home of the brave”.  Likewise they know the Native American peoples were decimated in the name of the white settlers’ “manifest destiny”.  And they know these are not remote historical circumstances.  Today as we speak, Native Hawaiian and First Nations peoples of North America are on the brink of genocidal ruin.    Many of these people are fighting to preserve their land, lives, and culture, and their populations have been dramatically reduced.

US economic and military expansion, dominance, and aggression, as well as the security/surveillance state, is not in the service of protecting the US people and their way of life.  It is in the service of expanding corporate interests without allegiance to any people, locale, or land.  Despite the emerging narrative of “Zero Dark 30”, “Argo” and the new “How the West Was Won” movies, more and more the so-called ‘war on terrorism’ looks like the earlier war on the native American peoples.  Maybe it’s the same war.


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