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Opinion: Our Fear Leader

This week's editorial from Boyce Vardiman:

A prime way to control people is with fear. Joseph Stalin was a master of this dark art. Stalin's communism was never the socialist contract of Marx, or even of Lenin. His was a dominion of fear. If voices or movements of opposition arose, just the threat of retaliation, banishment or disappearance would evoke fear sufficient to bring silence. Simply knowing the reach of the KGB could evoke compliance.

Fortunately, we Americans have not had to suffer under that kind of oppression. The decades of the cold war were sometimes fearful; especially the early years. After that we drifted into a sort of comfort zone framed by the threat of mutual annihilation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union we almost felt at a loss for someone to fear, an enemy with which to struggle.

With 9-11-01 came the awareness that our "bubble" of comfortable consumerism was vulnerable. We awakened to the realization that even with oceans to our east and west, our enormous investment in militarism and our status as the "wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth" we could still be threatened and hurt.

At the same time the ill-equipped individual who had been named our president less than nine months before discovered a meaning for his presidency. George W. Bush realized that he could be our "war president." He would do war with terrorism. Or perhaps it was Dick Cheney and Karl Rove who brought him to this awareness.
From late September 2001 George W. Bush's every utterance, and the words spoken for him, have been salted with the terms "terrorism," "terrorist" and "war on terrorists." Without having to say the word "fear," Mr. Bush, with the support of others of his administration, became "our fear leader".

Fear is a natural and useful reality. And the reality is that the United States is vulnerable. We are vulnerable to terrorists, criminals, unscrupulous business and industry, the deranged and extremists of all sorts who may decide, or be driven, to take out their anger, frustration, depression, hatred and desires for power and vengeance on our nation, on any and all of its people and on our many and far flung interests.

Just as fear was used in Soviet Russia to control the disparate "nations of peoples" within the USSR, fear has been used to control us of the United States since 2001. At mid March 2006, most of us will admit that the constant application of "fear" (of terrorists, of Al Queda, of "weapons of mass destruction in Saddam's hands", of references to "mushroom clouds") helped us to concede, even amidst protests, the attack and occupation of Iraq. The same fear, as well as a desire to trust our leaders, caused congress to similarly acquiesce.

Made docile by continuing application of the "terrorist" concept we have been unwilling to shout "not in my lifetime" as our civil liberties have been trimmed by the Patriot Act and our communications illegally spied upon. UNTIL THE LAST THREE WEEKS when it finally got through to us that operation of six of our major seaports were being bought by Dubai! Suddenly the continued "fear treatment" got our attention and we turned it around on the Bush administration! All the uproar might even have been a bit unfair to Dubai World Ports.

But maybe we have learned something about how to be better and more active citizens, even when we are afraid. The most treasured blessings we enjoy as Americans are our freedoms and civil rights. Unfortunately we have come to take them for granted, or to let them slide when our "fear bone" or "comfort nerve" is touched. Can we each "take the pledge" to live and protect our citizenship, even through fear?

Boyce Vardiman