an area of the map for world news.
the November 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48,
Naomi Klein, The Globe and Mail
(centrist), Toronto, Canada, Sept. 14, 2001.
is the time in the game of war when we dehumanize our enemies. They
are incomprehensible, their acts unimaginable, their motivations
senseless. They are madmen, and their states are rogue.
Now is not the time for understandingjust better intelligence.
These are the rules of the war game. Feeling people will no doubt
object to this characterization: War is not a game. It is real lives
ripped in half; it is lost sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers,
each with a dignified story. Tuesdays act of terror was reality
of the harshest kind, an act that makes all other acts seem suddenly
frivolous, game-like. Its true: war is most emphatically not
a game. And perhaps after Tuesday, it will never again be treated
as one. Perhaps Sept. 11, 2001, will mark the end of the shameful
era of the video-game war.
Watching the coverage on Tuesday was a stark contrast to the last
time I sat glued to a television set watching a real-time war on
CNN. The Space Invader battlefield of the Gulf War had
almost nothing in common with what we have seen this week. Back
then, instead of real buildings exploding over and over again, we
saw only sterile bombs-eye-views of concrete targetsthere
and then gone. Who was in these abstract polygons? We never found
Since the Gulf War, American foreign policy has been based on a
single brutal fiction: that the U.S. military can intervene in conflicts
around the worldin Iraq, Kosovo, Israelwithout suffering
any U.S. casualties. This is a country that has come to believe
in the ultimate oxymoron: a safe war. The safe war logic is, of
course, based on the technological ability to wage a war exclusively
from the air. But it also relies on the deep conviction that no
one would dare mess with the United States the one remaining
superpoweron its own soil.
This conviction has, until Tuesday, allowed Americans to remain
blithely unaffected byeven uninterested ininternational
conflicts in which they are key protagonists. Americans dont
get daily coverage on CNN of the ongoing bombings in Iraq, nor are
they treated to human-interest stories on the devastating effects
of economic sanctions on that countrys children. After the
1998 bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan (mistaken for
a chemical weapons facility), there werent too many follow-up
reports about what the loss of vaccine manufacturing did to disease-
prevention in the region. And when NATO bombed civilian targets
in Yugoslaviaincluding markets, hospitals, refugee convoys,
passenger trains, and a TV stationNBC didnt do streeter
interviews with survivors about how shocked they were by the indiscriminate
The United States is expert in the art of sanitizing and dehumanizing
acts of war committed elsewhere. Domestically, war is no longer
a national obsession, its a business that is now largely out
sourced to experts. This is one of the countrys many paradoxes:
Though the engine of globalization goes around the world, the nation
has never been more inward looking, less worldly. No wonder Tuesdays
attack, in addition to being horrifying beyond description, has
the added horror of seeming, to many Americans, to have arrived
entirely out of the blue.
Wars rarely come as a complete shock to the country under attack,
but its fair to say that this one did. On CNN, USA Today reporter
Mike Walter was asked to sum up the reaction on the street. What
he said was: Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I just cant
believe it. The idea that one could ever be prepared for such
inhuman terror is absurd. However, viewed through the U.S. television
networks, Tuesdays attack seemed to come less from another
country than another planet.
The events were reported not so much by journalists as by the new
breed of brand-name celebrity anchors who have made countless cameos
in Time Warner movies about apocalyptic terrorist attacks on the
United Statesnow, incongruously reporting the real thing.
And for a bizarre split second on Tuesday night, CNNs logo
America Under Attack disappeared and in its place flashed
a logo that said Fighting Fatan eerie ghost graphic
that yesterday passed as news.
The United States is a country that believed itself not just at
peace but war-proof, a self-perception that would come as quite
a surprise to most Iraqis, Palestinians, and Colombians. Like an
amnesiac, the United States has awakened in the middle of a war,
only to find out it has been going on for years. Did the United
States deserve to be attacked? Of course not. That argument is ugly
and dangerous. But heres a different question that must be
asked: Did U.S. foreign policy create the conditions in which such
twisted logic could flourish, a war not so much on U.S. imperialism
but on perceived U.S. imperviousness?
The era of the video-game war in which the United States is always
at the controls has produced a blinding rage in many parts of the
world, a rage at the persistent asymmetry of suffering. This is
the context in which twisted revenge-seekers make no other demand
than that American citizens share their pain. Since the attack,
U.S. politicians and commentators have repeated the mantra that
the country will go on with business as usual. The American way
of life, they insist, will not be interrupted. It seems an odd claim
to make when all evidence points to the contrary. War, to butcher
a phrase from the old Gulf War days, is the mother of all interruptions.
As well it should be. The illusion of war without casualties has
been forever shattered. A blinking message is up on our collective
video-game console: Game Over.