Shortly before the news broke today about the Virginia Tech shootings I was reading about a Brit candidate’s decision to dump the whole “War on Terror” rhetoric and after, I can’t stop thinking about this:

“In the UK, we do not use the phrase ‘war on terror’ because we can’t win by military means alone, and because this isn’t us against one organized enemy with a clear identity and coherent set of objectives,” he said.

“What these (terrorist) groups want is to force their individual and narrow values on others, without dialogue, without debate, through violence. And by letting them feel part of something bigger, we give them strength.”

In the coming days we’re going to get a lot crap from the national press. A lot of national therapy, a lot of excuses, a lot of blaming this person or that person, this law or that law. There are going to be stories about gun regulations in Virginia and elsewhere. There are going to be special segments about security on college campuses everywhere. Some of the discussion will be well-informed and practical. Most of it won’t be.

Most of it will be, as Scout wrote to me in an e-mail earlier today, an attempt to make sense of the senseless. Most of it will be, as Mike often calls it, the Oprah-ization of the evening news, the kind of coverage that makes me want to tear my hair out, the kind of stories designed to make those far away from whatever is going on feel better about putting it back in the mental drawer they use to store tragedies, senseless and otherwise. Most of it will be an attempt to Get Us All Through This, Make Us Feel United, the kind of stuff we had for a few months after Sept. 11 until people realized they didn’t actually love their families more because 3,000 strangers died, and they didn’t want to go back to church again on the backs of murdered fellow citizens. Most of it will be horseshit, in other words, and not useful to anyone.

There probably won’t be a lot of discussion about this being terrorism. Though it was. And there probably won’t be a lot of discussion about how this fits into our ideas of safety and national security. Though it should. The “War on Terror” isn’t a failure because you can’t war against a concept — of course you can. But we defined terror too narrowly, we made the idea too small. What happened in Virginia is terror, too, and what happens everywhere in this country when someone dies a violent death is terror. I had a conversation with a comedian after 9/11, maybe two weeks later, and though I can’t remember his name I’ll never forget what he said: “Every day is 9/11 for somebody.”

Our country does in fact need a War on Terror. I just don’t think that word means what for the past seven years we’ve taken it to mean.


8 thoughts on “Terror

  1. Man, today really makes me think you had it right the other day when you asked if we could dig up FDR and make him president again. Didn’t he have it exactly right? Fear is the enemy.
    I also appreciated Atrios’ call for a moratorium on demands for campus lockdowns. One of the things our college is trying desperately to do is to get more people *on* campus–to allow people who don’t think they could do college to see others like themselves doing it. What would a campus lockdown do to that effort?
    The fact is, if somebody wants to kill an awful lot of people, there are a million ways to do it, and none of them are things we can easily prevent. Look at the guy who drove his car onto a railroad track and caused the train to derail. Do we put a lockdown on railroad crossings now? No, because that would be SILLY!

  2. “because this isn’t us against one organized enemy with a clear identity and coherent set of objectives”
    yes it is.
    His name is Bush
    His goal is to make us so hated that all the brown people stop coming, while locking up or surveilling all the male ones who are already here.

  3. Our country doesn’t need a war on anything. War is killing. War is massive destruction. War is hatred. Our country needs none of that. There are perfectly good words in the English language, not to mention the other languages that add to our vocabulary, words that work much better in describing the needs of our country. Please, let’s give the word “war” a much needed rest, if not a burial.

  4. Okay lets see if the news asks a couple of questions that they would ask if this was someone who wasn’t a white male.
    1) What he a Christian? (It’s relevant if he was a Muslim why not Christian?)
    2) What he a Democrat or a Republican?
    3) Was he a right-wing blogger?
    4) Who were his idols? Who did he read, listen to watch?
    Little Green Footballs, Rush? Hannity? Fox News?

  5. A Symptom of our “Chain Letter Society”?
    Read an analysis of the influences in our “Chain Letter Society” that may be precipitating events like the tragedy at Virginia Tech and how our focus on winning and being number one may be fostering a generation of children with fully inadequate coping skills who have a misguided sense of self-worth…here:

Comments are closed.