Discover more from Oliver Willis Explains
We Can't Give In To War Derangement Again
We Have To Learn This Lesson
From 9/11 up until some time in 2007, America was held tightly in the grip of an all-consuming war madness. Contrary to how that moment is now depicted by conservative propaganda or liberal nostalgia, it was not a time of unity and shared purpose. America’s reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were used as justification for wars of occupation that unnecessarily killed thousands of people and generated shockwaves making the world a much more dangerous place. We cannot do this again.
Oliver Willis Explains is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The derangement manifested not only in America’s outward reaction to the attacks, but internally as well. Before the bodies were even recovered from the sites of the attack it was decided that the spectrum of allowable responses would be narrow, and largely policed by extreme right-wing sensibilities. When George W. Bush said “you’re either with us, or against it,” it put people who vehemently want to see terrorism destroyed (like myself) supposedly on the same side of the divide as Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, because the dissenters were not on board with the Bush-Cheney doctrine of breaking everything in sight.
That meant nonsensical interludes like banning the Dixie Chicks (since rebranded as The Chicks) from the radio because they spoke out against invading Iraq. It meant rebranding French fries as freedom fries because France did not give its blessing to occupying Iraq. It meant labeling “the left” as pro-terrorist because one outlier college professor, Ward Churchill, made stupid and insensitive comments about the 9/11 attack.
The immediate reaction to the Hamas attack on Israel has me worried about replicating these stupid patterns once again. Americans are terrible at learning anything from our past, even the recent past that many of the adults in positions of influence lived through themselves. People just always forget.
So far I mostly find myself in line with President Biden’s response to the attack and it has been heartening to see him make clear that innocent Israeli and Palestinian lives have been lost and are in danger. His rhetoric hasn’t depicted the terrorists in Hamas as the supernatural super-criminals that Bush often portrayed Al Qaeda to be while making the argument for expansive undemocratic powers and an invasion based on lies about weapons of mass destruction.
But Biden can’t get a blank check, especially from the people most in alignment with him ideologically. Just because he is a Democratic president with far superior policy remedies than Trump and other Republicans shouldn’t mean he gets to do whatever in his response because he has our innate trust. Every action, every request, every proclamation needs scrutiny and justification. We cannot march in lemminglike lockstep because we perceive “the other side” of Biden’s position to be “objectively pro-terrorist” as the brigade of Bush supporters loved to chant.
I have been outspoken on social media that I believe that the characterization of a leftist fringe making sympathetic remarks about Hamas terrorism and supporting antisemitism has been overemphasized. I have not seen comments of this sort coming from mainstream liberal leaders, or frankly even the most leftist of leaders. But that doesn’t mean “nobody” has said these things and that sort of behavior has to be stamped out as vigorously as we want to stamp out right-wing hate and bigotry. Collectively we have to find a balance between advocating for the human rights and safety of Palestinian people while at the same time acknowledging the inhumane attack on Jewish people in Israel.
When it comes to support of other governments, America has to make the same calculation now that so many other countries often have to do with us. Benjamin Netanyahu is not a good guy, any more than George W. Bush and Donald Trump were not good guys. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t assist Israel in protecting themselves against terrorism, which is never ever justified. And it also doesn’t mean that Netanyahu just gets to do whatever while justifying a war on terror. We know just what that is like and we have the “mission accomplished” photo ops along with the flag-draped coffins to show for it.
It is hard for any nation to turn away from an interconnected world at this moment in the 21st century, but completely impossible for America — the sole superpower — to do. We can’t just stand back and let everyone else sort it out, but rather we have a moral obligation to wield our power and influence in a way to somehow make things better and safer for everyone.
That means we can’t lose our minds again. We can’t let the terrorists accomplish their mission by giving in to mindless xenophobia and warmongering, but we also can’t blindly concede to right-wing bloodlust and this wrongheaded notion that “they’re all terrorists.”
For once it would be nice to respond to one of these moments, especially one based in the Middle East, as if we had some brains and some heart. Behave as if we truly learned something from the recent past, rather than waking up every day set to make disastrous mistakes that linger for decades to come.
Please don’t do this again.
If you like this newsletter, please consider becoming a paying subscriber by clicking here to join. I won’t be putting any of my regular columns behind a paywall and they will always be free. Thanks to everyone who has subscribed so far!
Follow me, Oliver Willis, on Threads @owillis1977
Exclusive Kal-El Photo
The footrest of my recliner is clearly not made for human feet, since it is exactly the right size to hold a sleeping miniature dachshund.