The summer before my ex-boyfriend, a captain in the U.S. Army, deployed for the second time to Iraq, he became consumed with a video game. The game was in "first person shooter" format - when he played, the image on TV was as if it was seen from the perspective of his own eyes. A sandy, deserted street and crumbling, bombed-out buildings made a quiet backdrop just before the screen came alive with black, shadowy figures wielding guns and hand grenades, appearing on roofs of buildings and from behind shipping containers. The gun would pan wildly back and forth, the scope bouncing up and down, as bullets flew. Once I asked what the point of the game was. Normally wickedly smart and achingly funny, he flatly answered: "Killing terrorists."
The eerie feeling of watching someone destroy images into a million red pixels of blood is the same feeling I get now when I watch the videos of the McCain-Palin mobs and hear the reported shouts of "Kill him!" and "Treason!" at GOP rallies. It's uncomfortable. And scary. But is it really surprising?
The last eight years we have had a steady boot camp of polarization - and it has been our leader, foundered as he may be, that has been our drill sergeant. Nine days after September 11th, in his address to the nation and the world, George W. Bush stared gravely at the camera and said, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
Americans - Democrats, Republicans, voters, politicians - found themselves in a paradox of patriotism: supporting the troops who killed the innocent, voting for war resolutions to stay politically effective and following a leader who was diplomatically blind. We stormed the gates, like ants climbing into a soda can, only to find ourselves caught on the other side.
A month before my ex-boyfriend deployed, I purchased a book called On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. I was looking for an answer to why - why war, why killing, why play a game that depicted the very same hellhole one was about to descend upon. But what Grossman offers in his book is how - how we go to war, how we kill and how we continue to want to kill long after the war is over. Grossman references the diffusion of responsibility of killing in wars with the effectiveness of a firing squad, writing, "each man is really a member of a huge firing squad." While the leader gives the command, the firing squad "provides conformity and absolution processes."
Our nation has been conditioned to become a firing squad of hate, absolving ourselves of our crimes overseas by conformity here at home. John McCain - no stranger to shoot-to-kill military strategies - and his spotter Sarah Palin, have set their sights on the bullseye, Barack Obama, and are blatantly firing-at-will. Fueled not just by racism and fears but by a government-endorsed battle plan, the last remaining GOP patriots are struggling against themselves in a sinking, sticky mess of an "us versus them" mentality. It is a mentality where Geneva Conventions don't count if they are praying to Allah while you torture them. A mentality where patriotism is for those who remain silent and treason is for those who dissent. And yet John McCain continues to struggle in the polls, for McCain is not the leader the Republican firing squad is looking for. Their commander in chief, the man they went to war with, has left them on the battlefield of their disillusionment, with no white flags left to wave. Failure in Iraq it may not be, but the conservatives are losing the war within.
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