Since the 9/11 incident, terrorism has been perceived in a different light by the average American. Before then, it was more of an overseas issue- the kind of thing that sovereign bodies engaged in more out of their international status than necessity. But the 9/11 incident brought home the message: terrorism was a very real problem, and no one was immune. Thus, when President George Bush declared war on Iraq and Afghanistan, there was very little resistance. Everybody was plain shocked by the realization that terrorists could be a very personal problem to innocent citizens, at any time, anywhere. Any effort to rid the world of such a menace couldn’t be wrong, could it? So the war began. And, in due time, the answer became clear- the war was wrong. This answer has taken time to be fully grasped, but with every day that passes, it becomes ever more self-evident.
It is ironic that a noble initiative to rid the world of a menace actually ended up making matters worse. But that is precisely what happened. Perhaps it’s because terrorism, which is essentially an act of violence, was fought back with violence, instead of seeking diplomacy. After all, two wrongs rarely make a right. Or maybe it’s because of George Bush’s hard stance on the issue. With his famous “you are either with us or against us” he effectively divided the entire globe into two mindsets – those pro-war, and those who are anti-war. No middle ground. No sitting on the fence. Or maybe it’s because there are no global issues that can be solved overnight, and as with any good venture, things get worse before getting better. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that the war on terrorism has left the average American citizen worse off than before.
With the jittery atmosphere around the 9/11 incident in 2001, the government was finally able to sneak in one of the worst assault on civil rights ever – the USA Patriot Act. Before then, this act could never have seen the light of day, what with the Civil Rights Bodies working actively against it. However, after 9/11, all bets were off, and the Patriot Act curve-ball finally found its mark. It took most watch groups by surprise, and before they could react, the US was well on its way to a totally different kind of livelihood. This is because the Act, amongst other things, takes federal security measures to the extreme. State surveillance could be increased to any level, up to and including encroaching personal space, and hence personal freedom (Sam, 2003). The average American now lives in the full knowledge that his or her privacy is a matter of perception, rather than an absolute reality.
Because of the Patriot Act, all forms of independent mindsets are slowly strangling. Free speech amongst citizens is now a mere illusion, since virtually everybody is being monitored. The official word, of course, is that this close monitoring will help root out any terrorist lurking within the populace. But does that justify arresting any dissenting voice, any individual who voices liberal views? Does it justify the labeling of all prisoners of war as “enemy combatants?” Indeed not. But, under the cover up of federal secrecy, this is exactly what is happening. People are disappearing, never to be seen again. Whether they have simply been deported, or “eradicated”, is anybody’s guess.
On the international scale, America faces another crisis: its image has radically deteriorated over the last 7 years. Once seen as a role model of liberty and free enterprise, America is progressively gaining the status of a villainous big brother. We are losing our sense of dignity under this perception. When the rest of the world looks at us and sees a has-been shell, there is a big problem. Yet this is exactly what is happening. We are losing credit on the international scene, and former allies are becoming more and more conservative in their dealings with us. At one time in the past, every American initiative was received with global applause. America would set the pace, and the rest of the world would follow. We were the guiding light into the frontiers of human civilization. That has changed now. Now, any American action is first received with caution, even suspicion, by the rest of the world.
It’s time that America reconsidered the war on terrorism and weighed its merits against the demerits. Is there any cause worth denying everybody personal liberties? America, after all, was built up on those very same foundations. We have come this far because we have always embraced individual uniqueness, whether ideological or physiological. We have always respected personal opinions and predispositions, as long as they did not adversely affect other people’s well being. The eternal code of living in America has always been “live and let live”. Live your life, and let others live theirs, however they deem fit. And because of this, America, the most ethnically-diverse society in the world, developed into the great icon of success that it has been. Are we now to take away this personal freedom, and relegate America into the status of a backwater country? As far-fetched as this may seem, it is a very real possibility: that by denying personal liberties, we will evolve into a totalitarian existence- a common precursor for total failure.
Social and political issues aside, the war on terrorism has another urgent, and very real, negative impact on the average citizen. The overall government spending on the terrorism wars is currently running into more than a trillion dollars. It shows an inverted case of priorities, since at the same time, internal inflation in commodity prices, and the general unrest caused by the wars, has left many citizens in a hazardous economic state. The market forces during any war inevitably lead up to inflation. The resources used up on the war efforts disrupt the normal movement of commodities in the internal and international markets. And in order to fund the increasing expenditures on the war, the government has had two options: either increase taxation, or incur government debts. George Bush chose the latter, and has subsequently left a truly staggering national debt (Joshua, 2004:56). One way or another, it is the average citizen who will pay off this debt. With us simultaneously loosing our international credit, this looks like a torrid lose-lose situation.
Of course, it might be argued that the war on terrorism has had some positive breaks. For example, some major terrorists have been captured and brought to justice. The average citizen has also become more sensitized on the threat that terrorism poses. Granted, these are positive effects of the war. But are they worth all the loses that we have incurred? And even if they are worth, couldn’t those same ends have been accomplished through other diplomatic means? Any benefit from the war on terrorism fades when cast in the backdrop of the negative effects.
Overall, we have learnt something: war is not the way to go. At one time in the past, wars sometimes solved problems, but not anymore. Nowadays, wars of any kind only aggravate matters. That is the state of civilization that we have reached. The entire world is at an advanced level of enlightenment. We can no longer muscle our way to any ultimate goal. Tact and diplomacy are the routes into the future, and the sooner we embrace this reality, the sooner we will reconcile our internal and international differences, and forge a way forward.
Joshua S. Goldstein (2004) The real price of war: how you pay for the war on terror New York University Press pg 46-78.
Sam Feeney (2003) War on terror: Death to civil liberties. Web.