Friday, September 02, 2005

The natural palette cleanser

It has always been puzzling to me, the huge difference between the resources a country will allocate to it's military spending, as opposed to everything else. Why is it that a foreign threat to a country is deemed deadlier than a threat from other more home-grown factors like poverty, environmental catastrophes, pollution or lack of basic health care? Take for instance 9/11, which resulted in the abrupt focus of American energies into the terrorist threat. It resulted in a war in Afghanistan, which was probably justified in that it was actually aimed at a regime directly responsible for the attacks. Then, we had the Iraq war, wholly unjustified, but feeding on that same focussed anti-terrorism energy, which had a tremendous cost monetarily as well as in terms of American and Iraqi lives.

It's not like I do not agree that terrorism should be dealt with firmly. Yes, terrorism affects many lives and deals a massive blow to the economy. But my question is, why does the government focus it's attention exclusively to problems with terrorism, turning a blind eye to every other internal problem plaguing it's own country? One answer might be because of national ego, also known colloquially as patriotism. When another nation attacks you, you deem it to be an affront to the collective national pride. So, when the terrorists of 9/11 attacked the US, more than horror at the human suffering caused by the attack, a bigger, more malignant emotion began to make it's presence felt throughout America. It was the feeling of arrogant, incredulous outrage, a feeling which can be summarized by "Who the fuck do you think you are to believe that you could attack this country and get away with it? We are now going to come after you, bomb your country, destroy everything that lies within it's boundaries and destroy everything that is in our path. And then, we will use everyone else who lives around you as a punching bag till we get used to the fact that we are not the untouchable country that God favors, but just another global citizen whose fate is intertwined with that of every other country in the world."

When you consider the number of lives erased (around 3000), was 9/11 the biggest tragedy ever to occur in this country? Not by a long shot. Take health care for example. Thousands of Americans die every year because they cannot afford health insurance. Yet, American citizens are all for investing billions of dollars in a war, claimed to be a war against terrorism (the merits of which are in doubt), yet will cut and scrimp while funding basic issues like education, transport, health care, hunger and poverty.

Consider environmental threats, now brought to the forefront by the current tragedy caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. All these years, the potential catastrophe that could possibly occur with a category 5 or category 4 hurricane in New Orleans, with it's geographical abnormality was well known. A former Mississippi congressman who headed the US Army Corp of Engineering, claims that Bush administration funding cuts forced delays in building the levee systems which failed during Katrina's assault on the region (via Daily Doubter).

"Tensions over funding for the New Orleans levees emerged more than a year ago when a local official asserted money had been diverted to pay for the Iraq war. In early 2002, Parker told the U.S. Congress that the war on terrorism required spending cuts elsewhere in government."

So, basically, the government was so focussed on issues related to terrorism and foreign policy that they were willfully neglecting issues within the country. And the American public was too. But, if anything good comes out of this tragedy, it will be that this event might serve as a palette cleanser for Americans who've had the bitter taste of the 9/11 attacks in their mouths all this while to the exclusion of everything else, to realize that all this time, when they had been focussing their energies and resources on the so-called global war on terror, they have been neglecting real issues that matter, issues that affect the everyday lives of common people. Issues which their government, all this time, has been advising them to keep on the back burner because everything else should take a backseat to the real issue right now, which is terrorism. That is bogus. And it is high time Americans realize that.

Leave aside the patriotism folks. And leave aside trying to build other nations, especially those who did not ask for it. It is time to put your own house in order first.

Update : Excellent, excellent article on the exact same topic I propounded, namely, that obsession with terrorism is basically making Americans ignore other more pressing issues. I command you to read it. Courtesy the Daily Doubter again. I should probably just leave my blog entirely in his hands.

"To conclude, we suggest that most homeland security expenditures, which in the zero-sum budget game are diverted from other vital purposes, are terribly expensive and disproportionate to competing needs for preventing other causes of death and misery in our society. While prudent, focused improvements in security are called for, the sheer costs of most security initiatives greatly distort the way we address the many threats to our individual and collective well-being. Our greatest vulnerability to terrorism is the persisting, irrational fear of terrorism that has gripped our country. We must start behaving like the informed, reasoning beings we profess to be."


Hume's Ghost said...

No one pays attention to the canaries in the coal mines anymore, it seems.

gawker said...

Great link, thanks. Although they did not talk about the patriotism factor, which I believe is much to blame for this obsession of Americans with terrorism.

raven said...

Well said, gawker. I'm going to go one step further and say that nationalism itself is to blame, where the abstract idea of nation is held above the well-being of individuals.

gawker said...

"the abstract idea of nation is held above the well-being of individuals."

Couldnt have said it better myself. That's exactly what nationalism / patriotism is : abstract, symbolic. And most contemporary problems arise because of people's devotion to symbols, rather than what those symbols stand for.