Battle Hymn of the Republic: Monday, September 17, 2001

The news gets worse all day. No one pulled alive from the wreckage in New York since Wednesday. A huge fire still smolders several stories below the wreckage; some estimate that it will take up to a year to remove the rubble. Every time I lend an ear to the radio the total of missing persons goes up: 4900 this morning, 5200 this afternoon, 5400 by the evening.

The news is almost too much to bear. Bush invokes that good old American standby in times of crisis: the frontier, drawing a comparison between the government’s desire to get Bin Laden and the old “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters. I wait for him to declare a bounty on the head of this rascally varmint. But he doesn’t have to. In another news item a White House spokesman assures us that the self-imposed government ban against assassinating foreign leaders probably doesn’t apply in this case, since it’s a case of self-defense. Suddenly, I see whole new vistas opening up before us. Given what a stalwart justification for homicide the whole idea of self-defense has proved in the courts, I imagine it can prove similarly flexible in the international arena. Indeed, given the many and varied definitions of “threats to our national interest” that have justified US intervention all over the world, the possibilities are endless. Tony Blair just better not piss us off `s all.

Another government official (Powell? May even have been Bush again) declares that we need to stop terrorism “at any cost.” Any citizen of a free democracy needs to get very worried when they hear those words. And today, we also began to get an inkling of what that cost might be, as Ashcroft announces his intention to enhance the already considerable powers of the government agencies conducting surveillance operations.

But most disturbing of all, perhaps, a wave of retaliatory attacks against Arab-Americans, Muslims, or anyone who even looks vaguely Middle Eastern, is today described by a news commentator as a series of “bias” crimes. What is this? The right wing responding to its own self-created myth of political correctness with its own sanitizing of language? I think we can very definitely at this particular time refer to these as hate crimes.

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