The War on Fear

Life was drastically changed in the United States after September 11, 2001. With the fall of the Twin Towers and waging the “War on Terror” that came with it, the citizens of the United States had to have a bit more of an outward view rather than focus on the domestic issues within the country. At least, that is what Americans liked to believe and think at the time. Based on several pieces of text, the last decade can be analyzed in a light that is more truthful than the citizen’s previously allowed. Americans supported the war without regard to end result, allowed biases to influence political and social behavior, and these biases would have a major effect on the cultural aspects that the country would have to deal with for many years to come.

The single event of 9/11 set the tone for the decade following, specifically the years 2003-2011. This was the first event since Pearl Harbor where an attack had been successful on American soil from an outside people group. This event brought emotions of fear and anger to the American people as many called for justice to be done for the lives lost in the tragic attack. In fact, the amount of American Citizens who were in favor of going to war was at 72% in the year 2001. The people wanted Al Qaida to pay for the fear and the deaths caused by the 9/11 events. With the people’s support and the will to fight, Former President Bush began the “War on Terror”.  This war continued farther and deeper past just those involved in Al Qaida, as terror is everywhere and hard to define by borders or cultures. Terror was not contained in that one action to fight a war against it, instead terror seeped into American culture, ridding people of open-minded social freedoms and replacing that dear quality with fear.

            In fear, the United States sent men and women to war in Iraq to fight a shadow that can never be caught. In the movie The Hurt Locker, viewers see the toll this took on American soldiers. Men who worked to rid this part of the world of fear and death were required to repeat the actions needed. The story is told of fictitious men, but this story is some man’s story. Day after day having to disarm bombs and see the horrors and forms that this “terror” can take. The American government understood this war would be long and arduous. In Former President Bush’s “War on Terror” speech he says, “This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo 2 years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat. Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” This aspect is very well seen in The Hurt Locker, made after the rage and revenge emotions had passed and new feelings of exhaustion had set into Americans. In fact just two years before The Hurt Locker was released, the percentage of Americans in favor of the war had decreased to 36%, less than half of the original percentage.

Not only was American politics affected, but the social dynamic among the people changed. Terror grew within the boundaries of the United States itself with citizens turning on citizens in fear. Mosques were burned down in protest to Islam; American citizens of Middle-Eastern decent were killed and harassed. The terrorists of Al Qaida hated the freedom of America and wanted to take that quality away from its citizens; and they succeeded. American citizens no longer had the same freedoms and peace that he or she once enjoyed. Now, people related to Islam or the Middle East were living in fear because of the biases created by 9/11. Hatred, fear, and ultimately bias reshaped the culture and social aspects of the United States into the one that currently stands today. Before the events of 9/11, there was not a stigma as deeply engrained into American’s minds about people who spoke Arabic, practiced Islam, or wore a head covering. These prejudices came after the fact deepening the fear started by the “terrorists”.

In Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,[1] readers view a different side of the story. The story doesn’t take place overseas in the middle of a warzone; the despair for Billy comes from being on American soil. He is overwhelmed by the amount of “support” and positive attention him and his platoon receive on account of their heroic act. One that he sees no need of recognition for. He sees the bumper stickers, yellow ribbons, and people praise him in public; none of which Billy enjoys. Billy knows the darker side of the “War on Terror”; he understands how actual terror feels.  While the American people want to support the war, they seem to not fully understand what they are supporting. This support comes off as shallow and superficial in the eyes of the soldiers and to Billy Lynn. As in The Hurt Locker, the soldiers long to be home, but can no longer find a place where they can be themselves without the praise, or sometimes the mockery; similar to the times before with the Vietnam War.

These texts paint a picture as to how Americans like to remember the past, at least in one sense. Not remembering the fear on American soil, citizen turned against citizen, but instead focused on the soldiers and the burdens he or she bears. Instead, Americans allowed the terror of September 11, 2001 to start the flames of hatred and create fractures in what freedoms citizens had, fueling the fear across societal, cultural, and political aspects of American life. While Americans tried to sympathize and understand the turmoil, this understanding falls short in that it was superficial and continued to fall to bias time and time again. The “War on Terror” continues, because war is a drug for which there is no fix, but more war.

{links in pictures}

Inevitably Forgotten

        In Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street, the 1980s as a decade is portrayed as a negative and destructive time. These texts are completely different in style, audience, and execution; and yet they still give the same message and ask the same questions. There is always a darkness; and no man is safe from its temptation, especially in the pursuit of happiness. The question, “Is man inherently evil, or is man inherently good and his situations make him choose evil?” is asked and is a constant struggle throughout both texts and through the 1980s as a decade.

            During the 1980s the people of the United States were dealing with the aftermath of scandals, new ideals becoming more politically known, and the beginning of an era with a better, soon to be booming, economy. With these events being portrayed in the media and seeping into everyday life, the questions must be asked about the character a man or woman has and what that means for society.

            In Miller’s Batman, the tone overall is the dark and repressed anger coming from Bruce Wayne. He has hung up the cape and has been retired for ten years yet yearns for his younger days when he was fighting crime in Gotham. The reader witnesses various types of crimes being committed, but also follows with how the media portrays these crimes, if Batman is a hero or menace, and the “perfected psychopaths” created by their removal of society. While the theft, murder, and torture are crucial to the story, the media takes the stage when asking about the character of humanity. The news channel tries to tell the facts but ends up making a humorous spectacle of themselves and a menace out of Batman.[1] Talk shows pit people against each other trying to use science and psychology to provide evidence to their opinions but end up sounding ignorant, naïve, and ill trained.[2] A prime example is that of Harvey Dent, whose super villain alter ego is Two-Face. Dent is finally released from the psychiatric hospital once his face has been corrected with plastic surgery. His plastic surgeon and his psychiatrist both claim that Dent is ready to enter normal civilian society and should not be feared but instead should be welcomed with open arms. Not even a week later, Dent is missing and it soon becomes apparent that he is behind a major plot of theft and murder, essentially back to his old habits.[3]

            Dent was a product of his previous circumstances before the psychiatric ward as well as a product of the hospital itself. His psychiatrist and his plastic surgeon claim that he is rehabilitated because his outward appearance has been altered to its original state. However, being in a psychiatric hospital obviously entrenched Dent to fully become his Two-Face persona. The Joker has the same story, being locked up in the hospital and hearing the jabs and jokes about his demeanor could arguably have caused him to fall far past a place of rehabilitation.

            Wall Street’s Buddy Fox is another prime example of situational “evil” versus the predestined evil. Buddy starts off as a hardworking man and a respectful son of his father and his father’s lifestyle.[4] His family does not have much money, and while he does dream of making money, he is pushed to make drastic choices when he begins to owe money to his boss because his job is lacking. As the story progresses viewers see the anger, fear, and need for importance grow in Buddy’s character; similar to Batman in the Miller version. Buddy falls in line with the “greed is good” argument that Gekko makes in the movie, thinking that once he has more money he will be able to have the life he desires. His placement and his experiences with people like that of Gordan Gekko seep into his life and personality making him desire more. The people of the 1980s are consumed with consumerism and a desire to be heard, needed, or irreplaceable. These desires are found and explicitly rejected in both Wall Street and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

            The 1980s is reflected as a loud consuming culture especially between these two texts. Batman desires to be needed and useful; he wants to help because in his eyes he will be happy like he was in his romanticized past. Buddy wants to make money to help his family’s business, have a better house, and get the girl he feels he deserves. All these desires and long search’s happen for each character’s pursuit of personal happiness.

            This pursuit of happiness brings both characters to a place of darkness. Wayne becomes the Batman once again and Buddy partakes in insider-trading. Both become self-destructive behaviors that are helpful at first, but then bring a realization of sadness. Buddy and Bruce realize that not only was the pursuit in vain, but they are tragically replaceable. Needed and even desired for but a moment and then tragically forgotten and dismissed.

            The loud art, media, and politics of the 1980s brought about the desire for more and more. Whether that be in consumable goods, recognition, or moral obligation, the message is clear in Batman and Wall Street. More is better, and “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” The question should then be changed from “is man evil or good?” to that of “Is the pursuit of happiness worth it and does it really matter in the long run?” According to these texts that answer is “no”, the pursuit of what people believe to be happiness is not worth the darkness. All winning streaks end, the hero grows older, and people forget the rich in a matter of minutes. This makes the loudest and supposedly most memorable era in the twentieth century the culprit of a generation of individuals who had no choice but to be forgotten.

Click on the picture for “Greed is Good” :

Who Has the Power?

In the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, life changed radically many areas including ideas, fashion, and sexuality.  The American people were losing faith in the federal government, popular clothing became more loose and free, and women’s societal roles were challenged. When women started taking new roles outside of the home and had more freedom to make choices without men, a deeper level of competition between the sexes was created. While women seemed to welcome this change, some even claiming it was overdue, men had trouble letting go of control and keeping up the newfound freedom of American women.

As women began questioning their roles in their homes and in American society, the demand for equality from their male counterparts became overwhelming. This demand saturated every area of life including homes, relationships, and the media. This second wave of feminism achieved a great deal in creating a new standard for women against the defacto ideas previously thought by society.  Women took their talents into society by working outside of the home, from both necessity and desire. In fact, not only did women start working, but they began to excel in their careers. According to the national Census Bureau, the percentage of women managers doubled in number from 14% in 1960 to 28% in 1979. This dramatic increase is a perfect example of women taking over jobs that were traditionally for men and feeding the competition between the sexes. I believe that while this was an advancing step for women, it was also a discouraging and humbling step for men.

In the novel Rabbit is Rich the character of Rabbit feels trapped by his bossy mother-in-law and his free-spirited wife. While he has all the material possessions he desires, he cannot seem to escape the troublesome demanding women in his household. For Rabbit, and other men during these decades the idea of the man being the head of the household or the boss in the home is long forgotten. With Rabbit all of his money that makes him rich comes from his wife and her side of the family; Rabbit and his wife even have to live in his in-law’s home.With his job, money, and home coming from the women in the family, he is seen as somewhat unneeded and replaceable.  Since Rabbit is Rich being written right after the major women’s rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, readers are given an insight into the aftermath of the feminist revolution from the male point of view.

Husbands and family men were not the only people who were affected by the power shift; young adults and teens were aware of the effects of these dramatic changes as well. The classic movie The Graduate gives an understanding of the way young men were treated by their families and women during the Sixties. Similar to Rabbit from Rabbit is Rich, the main character of Benjamin feels trapped by other people in his life. Ben has the world open to him since he is a recent graduate of a university at the young age of 21, and yet has no idea what to do with his degree. Benjamin knows he is expected to work with his father to take over the family business in order to continue his father’s legacy; but this expectation causes him to feel like he has no room to breathe or make his own choices. He does not want to do something based on what his more traditional father, and society, deemed to be a right choice. Ben’s generation was not one of following the family expectations, but instead to blaze new trails; even when they become too much to handle. After all, Updike wrote it best when Rabbit says, “They’ve [the younger generation] seen the world go crazy since they were age two, from JFK’s assassination right through Vietnam to the oil mess now.”While some of these events have yet to happen in Ben’s life, Updike is right. Many crazy unfathomable events happen to this generation causing the traditional ideals to drift away.

New view of sexuality itself also plays a major role in the changes in the 1960s for Americans. Updike shows his readers this in that Rabbit’s wife has become freer with herself and her sexuality during this time period. She is not a traditional 1950s housewife wearing aprons and pearls. Instead she wears sheer clothing around the house and even had an affair with Rabbit’s coworker and friend a few years before the book begins. His wife’s freedom with herself was unsettling to him, but he was still married to his unfaithful wife. The wife had all the control within the relationship; also seen in the relationship with Ben and Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate. She is the dominant figure because of this new idea of freedom and desire with women’s sexuality. Men began to now be dominated in personal relationships.

Rabbit calls his son’s generation “spineless” with “no grit, nothing solid to tell a fact from a spook with,” he is speaking the unspoken truth about men’s actions of the changes and men’s experience in the 1970s. These adjectives of “spineless” and “no grit” perfectly describe Ben in his relationship with Mrs. Robinson during his post graduate days. During his relationship with Mrs. Robinson, he wants out of the relationship and ends the relationship with her; but not with her consent. After their relationship ends she makes his life very difficult, just as she threatened she would. She takes away opportunities, makes false rape claims, and puts him to blame; all because she has the power to. Ben cannot escape these lies and is ensnared in a world of shame and regret.

Reoccurring themes in both The Graduate and Rabbit is Rich show the power struggle between the sexes in America. The overtaking of the work place, dominating personal relationships, and overt sexuality in women make for the beginnings of the modern relationships seen in the United States today. The creation of the idea of partnership relationships brought women up to a new level of power while humbling men along the way; much to the men’s dismay. The fight for power began long ago and yet continues to be a struggle in places of education, the work force, and at home with both sexes vying for the most power. This experience of the American people is no longer unique to the “Sixties” and “Seventies”, but a shared experience among Americans in today’s society. A once radical movement and the acknowledgement of the power struggle is now the status quo just waiting for a new radical movement.

Not All Fiction

The Things They Carried By: Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried
By: Tim O’Brien

Wars have been fought, men and women have served, and there have been those on both sides of those who support war and those who are against war. When reading about this great country, there seems to be the reoccurring theme of war itself that is found on many pages of American History books.  Reading about these wars tends to bring up the undeniable feelings of patriotism, nationalism, and at times even ethnocentrism being that the United States of America always seems to be on the victorious side of these wars. Even if the United States is not wholly on winning side, for example the United States Civil War, there are always morals that can be gleaned from such events. The Vietnam War, however, does not bring such warm feelings when discussed, making it one of the most difficult wars to research or try to understand.

            The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indo-China War, is relatively newer in terms of United States history and is somewhat difficult for historians to study how and what Americans understood about the war. This occurs for many reasons, one being that the war does not having enough of a time or generational gap between the events and the present time to form objective ideas or opinions about the events, experiences, and responses that transpired. While this can be seen as negative in many respects, this argument can also be used for the good of studying the infamous war as well as other events. The 1960s are just far enough away in the past to have the generation of who fought in or protested the war share its varied experiences on the war. This is seen with both the movie Full Metal Jacket and the novel The Things They Carried. While both sources are fictional, they can be used by historians to gain insight into the thoughts, emotions, and realities surrounding the men who went to fight overseas as well as the overall American viewpoint on the experience of the Vietnam War.

            Opening the first scenes in the painful and seemingly insanely difficult training camp, viewers are shown how the military pushed young men to become “cold, hard killing machines[1]”. While this seems to be expected or even needed to create Marines in the beginning of the film, the audience begins to realize that there are many issues overlooked with the men. There is an obvious lack of physical testing for medical issues before admittance into the Marines, as well as mental illness that is overlooked. One of the men who has a mental issue is pushed past the tipping point during his training and becomes obsessed with his rifle, of which he is taught that he cannot be a Marine without. On the day of his graduation from training, this man takes action by killing his Sergeant and himself. This is a horrifying demonstration to historians that while it is fictional, the realities of the lack of knowledge or care about the need for healthy men both physically and mentally was portrayed to Americans during training for battle. This already shows a seeming of foreshadowing of the later issues to follow in the Vietnam War dealing with mental illness during and after the stent overseas.

While historians and audiences both have the ability to view the nature of the inability to screen soldiers and the perceived toll it played on individuals and groups of men fighting together, books seem to have a way of giving an inside look at a particular person. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, gives a brilliantly open example of the authentic feelings of a group of men in the same platoon in Vietnam. His stories are all fiction, but being a Vietnam veteran himself, he pulls pieces of truth into each of his tales as he describes the turmoil of the men. He tells the descriptive tale of the internal struggle of deciding to go with the draft instead of running away to freedom. He tells of fear that takes different forms. O’Brien tells of the “moral freeze” how he “couldn’t decide, [he] couldn’t act, [he] couldn’t comport [himself] with even a pretense of modest human dignity”[2] when given the opportunity to run away to Canada. He gives readers a glimpse into the fear of war itself and the possibility of death awaiting him. Almost more importantly, O’Brien also shows the fear of embarrassment. He is afraid to run from the draft to Canada because of the dishonor that his action would bestow upon himself and his family. This fear tells historians about the conflict between doing what a person had thought to be right and what American society had expected of him. This shows how much the writer’s experience with society played a role in his version of viewing the war itself. The action of running from the draft and not going to fight was considered cowardice and unpatriotic in the eyes of others, especially the older generation who had fought in World War II just twenty years earlier. The novel also showed how this belief revealed the lack of knowledge the average American had about why the war was being fought. Many believed that it was just to stop communism and that it was to protect the Vietnamese people from this perception of oppression. However, as described in the novel, the reason was far more complicated and seemed less logical. This ignorance of the war and the trust bestowed on the government at the time is what brings O’Brien’s character to side with society. His character finally decides his fate. He says, “I would go to war – I would kill and maybe die – because I was too embarrassed not to.”[3]

Contemporary history is, and possibly always will be, a controversial subject to encounter and research. There will always be those against the idea that historians can view material so close to the present time to form objective opinions or give true facts on a subject. However, to completely do away with the idea of studying the past in hopes of helping the future cannot be acknowledged. While the sources are considered fiction in a technical way as well as serving entertainment purposes, Full Metal Jacket, The Things They Carried, and other sources should be viewed as educational resources for anyone interested as well as historians. These stories still have the abilities to show viewpoints about the particular times in a soldier’s career. They can also help readers and researchers understand the emotions and thoughts involved in different parts of the Vietnam War process, such as being drafted, boot camp, and returning back to an unsupportive United States society.  The hardest reality to face while viewing or reading about these men is the knowledge that both death and danger play major roles in both the personal thoughts and also the public viewing of a soldier in Vietnam making these sources informational to historians about how Americans understood the experience of the Vietnam War.

[1] Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket, Warner Bros., 1987)

[2] Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, (Boston: Mariner Books, 1990), Paperback

The End of the Racial Discussion


There has been a great deal of talk in the media about the racial tensions within American borders.

With media stories about police officers beating people in Ferguson to racist chants in fraternities, the topic of race seems to be a more popular topic than ever. People all over the country are talking about it, but these conversations will no longer be started by the baristas in Starbucks.

Just a week ago, the coffee company decided to put “Race Together” on the cups as a way to encourage discussion about the racial issues occurring recently. According to FOX News, the company is already ending this behavior after only a week due to the amount of backlash.

When I first heard about this conversation project ending, I did not know what to think. I had feelings of disbelief and sadness. How can we as a country -or human beings- hope to improve life for everyone if we are not willing to discuss the issues?

I understand that the company should not “push” issues on people to discuss… But we can decide not to talk. We can choose to ignore the sticker. Why must this become such an issue bringing up lawsuits and crazy media attention. This act of taking away STICKERS shows we are scared of the issue placed before us. We don’t want to talk about the problem because it acknowledges that we have one.  No longer is this an issue of a particular region or a cultural difference, it has become a national pandemic. And here we are, afraid of discussing problems or controversy because we may offend, or become offended. Aren’t we supposed to be the changed, more open-minded generation?

But we still are not willing to speak for something in fear that others will be against it.