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I Just Don't Get It

How do we have pundits rationalizing the 'need' for unprecedented presidential powers in this 'new kind of war' with no end in sight?
 
 
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This week's nominee for Orwell's dust-bin is ''they'' -- Bush-bashers, terrorist-sympathizers, anti-war traitors, etc. -- those who apparently ''just don't get it.'' Though the phrase is innocuous enough in private conversation, when employed in post 9/11 public debate it is meant to dismiss eyes-open patriotism as hopeless ignorance.

It's as if the threat of a ''terrorist'' detonating a ''dirty bomb'' is somehow more menacing, and frightening, than thousands of nuclear warheads targeting every major city in the continental United States, as was the case during the Cold War era. I just don't get it.

Discredited domino theories and ''pragmatic'' policies of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) from ''the best and the brightest'' notwithstanding, the idea that a terrorist attack, even on the horrendous scale of 9/11, is more of a threat to national security than a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union (pre-glasnost) strikes me as both hysteria and comically hysterical.

Yet, we have highly educated pundits, politicians, and Supreme Court justices rationalizing the ''need'' for unprecedented presidential powers antithetical to founding constitutional principles in this ''new kind of war'' with no end in sight? Is it realistic to wage a temporal, material war on eternal, spiritual evil? Will this war end only with the Second Coming? I just don't get it.

Political scientist Robert Pape conducted a survey of suicide attacks from 1980 to 2003 and found that almost all such attacks ''have in common a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.'' How does that square with ''they hate us because of our freedoms''? I just don't get it.

Apparently, it doesn't matter that every major religious and wisdom tradition in the world all preach the foolishness and futility of using violence to destroy evil. I guess the great sages of human history just didn't get it either. And neither does anyone who attempts to walk in those ancient footprints. Either you're with ''us'' or against ''us.'' There's no complexity or gray areas. Either you're a ''manly'' hawk or a sissified dove who doesn't know the ''cost of freedom.'' Freedom ain't free.

And there are a few other things I just don't get.

I just don't get blurring the difference between being willing to die for freedom and being willing to kill for it. How are you ''free'' if you're a slave to bombs, bullets and bayonets?

I understand that American politics is a superficial cult of personality in which people often vote based on how a candidate looks or sounds. But what I don't get is: how does the morality of famous people who are unfaithful to their spouses or who take steroids to hit home runs have a corrupting ''trickle-down'' influence on the youth but when political leaders make a moral decision to engage in a war of choice, annihilating perceived enemies and inflicting absolute certain ''collateral damage,'' it doesn't send a ''trickle-down'' message that it's OK to preemptively shoot and kill your neighborhood enemies because of the ''growing and gathering threat'' they pose to your vital interests?

I just don't get it. Is the abstract intellectual ideal of a state monopoly on deadly force supposed to mitigate the trickle-down ethical impact of life-and-death decisions made by protected politicians?

I come in peace but if you're my enemy, even if you're a third-grade bully in comparison to my superior fire power, I will leave you in pieces? I just don't get it.

Iran must immediately halt its nuclear program just to sit down at the table with Bush administration officials, while these same officials are free to pull out of nonproliferation treaties, even though it is U.S. political history that yields the only example of using nukes on civilians? I just don't get it.

Despite the cloud of unknowing that's got me all muddle-headed, I have been able to discern something that the war-on-terror drum-corps doesn't get: Not everyone is scared mindless. And, therefore, there's a widespread unwillingness to sacrifice constitutional principles on the altar of ''shock-and-awe'' security.

Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff reporter and a syndicated columnist.