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.

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