Ever since 2001, when President George W. Bush launched an endless “global war” not on al-Qaeda but on a phenomenon, or perhaps simply a feeling (“terror”) and those who could potentially induce it, America’s all-too-real conflicts have become, as Rebecca Gordon writes today in “When All the World’s a War,” ever more metaphorical. In a sense, they have come to seem so distant from our shores and lives (unless you happen to be a member of the country’s all-volunteer military or a family member of such a volunteer) as to be little short of fantastical ― or nonexistent. Who here even notices when, as in recent weeks, American military personnel again hit the ground in Yemen, or the Pentagon considers loosing its drones on jihadists in the Philippines, or U.S. raids occur in Somalia, or civilians in significant numbers continue to die in a Syrian city under American air strikes? The answer is essentially no one.
Washington’s conflicts in those distant lands couldn’t be more real and yet here in the United States they have largely been replaced by a single fantasy bogeyman: Islamic terrorism. It matters little that the actual danger to Americans at the hands of such terrorists is vanishingly small. Fear of them (and the need to feel “safe” from them) has filled American screens and minds for years, helping fund our national security state at levels that might once have staggered the imagination and prepared the way for the election of a truly strange, even fantastical president.
Think of it this way: as Washington has engaged in a set of disastrous spreading conflicts across the Greater Middle East, the population of this country has been gripped by the strangest of war fevers ― a demobilizing set of militarized fantasies largely focused on our own potential destruction that have distorted how we look at our world in dangerous and crippling ways. Rebecca Gordon, who has been writing about America’s “forever wars” and the fantasies that accompany them for some time now, considers what happens when war and metaphor become one, when militarized fantasies invade and occupy everyday life.