Long before I was elected to Congress, I served as a U.S. Navy Medical Corps psychiatrist at the Long Beach Naval Station, home of the 7th Fleet. I treated the walking wounded of the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1970. Our brave troops, who endured lies from our leaders in addition to the usual horrors of war, suffered from fear, anger, sleep disorders and depression, among other things. These symptoms came to be known as post-traumatic stress disorder.
On September 11, Americans suffered a horrible trauma, and we still suffer from the psychological fallout of the terrorist attacks. The administration's calculated campaign to raise and maintain fear and anxiety in America has been an effective tool in prolonging the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder caused by 9/11. As the Bush administration builds its military presence in the Middle East, it is upping the psychological ante here at home.
The deputies of the Bush Terror Posse -- Donald Rumsfeld, Tom Ridge and John Ashcroft -- are conducting a deliberate campaign to frighten us. One facet of the campaign has, over the last 18 months, persuaded large portions of the population to rush to the stores for water, food, plastic sheeting and, of course, duct tape. The threats of impending danger are on record for the future, the administration seems to be saying. When something happens, you won't be able to say we didn't warn you.
This is just the latest and most egregious step in a fear campaign designed to prepare Americans to do whatever the administration wants us to do.
Here's how it works: Throw a hundred claims against the wall and poll every night to see what sticks. Leak stories that are later discredited. Get a graduate student's dissertation and plagiarize it. Lift paragraphs from a war-industry magazine. Every so often, raise the danger level to code "yellow" or "orange." Give the people a rest. Then start all over again. Mix it all up and put an official seal on it. Now it seems true, despite the skepticism of intelligence professionals.
We have been inundated with fables, lies and half-truths. Remember the 33 pounds of "weapons-grade uranium" being smuggled in a taxi from Turkey to Iraq? A few days later, it turned out to be about 3 ounces of nonradioactive metal. And then there is smallpox: The administration is encouraging vaccinations, but it's only in parentheses that it adds that there is "no imminent threat" of a smallpox attack. There is no clear reason for this focus on smallpox, except to ratchet up the level of anxiety.
Our leaders have worked hard to keep the anxiety level up so that the public will forget about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda (Who were they again?) Instead, in Iraq, we focused on an impaired dictator of a country with a deteriorated infrastructure and a destroyed economy.
This kind of tactic was described by Hermann Goering, who said at the Nuremberg trials, "The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."
What are the next steps? Let's look to history for a clue.
In 1941 we rounded up Japanese Americans and sent them to internment camps. Then we offered them the opportunity to volunteer for the armed services where, because of their valor, the 100th Battalion's 442nd Regimental Combat Team became the most decorated combat unit in World War II. We have since paid a price in shame for indefensible actions our government took against these citizens out of suspicion and manufactured fear.
And now? The Bush Terror Posse already has required 18-to-45-year-old noncitizen males from Arab and predominantly Muslim countries to register with the U.S. government. If another terrorist attack should occur, don't be surprised if Bush and Co. issue orders to round up these men and confine them. Details leaked about the proposed Patriot Act II do nothing to reassure us about the future of civil liberties for our citizens, much less for legal aliens who live here.
I'm not sure how much more of this our country can take. Memories of conversations with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder haunt me. I know I'm not alone: I've talked with other veterans who have had recent flare-ups. The nightmares are coming back.
Lately, I think often of FDR's admonition, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Americans may have nothing to fear but the fearmongers themselves.
Jim McDermott is a Democratic congressman from Washington State's 7th District.