When I was a kid it was all about the commies. They were always hiding in the bushes, waiting to destroy our precious freedoms. They had missiles pointed at major American cities. At any given moment, they could “bury us,” as former Russian President Nikita Krushchev once threatened.
In Catholic school, we had to do periodic air raid drills: Sometimes we ducked under our desks; at other times, we quietly filed out of school in neat rows of twos to stand on the sidewalk with rosaries in hand. The nuns walked up and down the lines to make sure we remained orderly. Once I looked up at the sky because I thought I heard an airplane. Sister admonished me to keep my head down and my attention on my prayers. I was sure bombs were going to start dropping at any moment.
It was a scary time to be alive. In the name of fighting commies, the government spied extensively on U.S. citizens. Hundreds of Hollywood types were paraded before the House on un-American Activities Committee on suspicion of being commies. The anti-war movement was routinely accused of being a tool of the communists and infiltrated by police and other informants. Anybody could be accused of being a communist. Any dissent could be and was labeled communist. We were on constant red alert.
The same is true today. With the cold war over, terrorists are the new commies. We hear about them as often as we heard about commies in the 50s and 60s. President George Bush misses no opportunity to remind us of their presence out there somewhere lurking in the shadows. He shamelessly invokes the horror of 9/11 whenever it suits his political purposes. It’s all very Machiavellian. It’s also incredibly effective.
According to a recent story in USA Today, the president’s approval rating jumped after those “terrorists” were captured at Heathrow Airport in London. In fact, the president’s numbers soared to the highest he’s had in a long while.
We’ve learned nothing from the 60s. All the spying and attempts to squash the anti-war movement did not beat communism. All the invoking of 9/11, all of Patriot Acts, all of the Homeland Securities will not protect us against terrorists. The reality is that now, as before, it takes more than bolting down the hatches and curtailing civil liberties to safeguard our country.
We are at the mercy of terrorists because of the policies of this administration. We are hated enough for people to fly airplanes into our buildings because of Bush and company’s desire to control the oil in the Middle East, not because anyone wants to take away our freedom to mass consume and guzzle energy at a rate that’s depleting the world’s limited supply.
Until we as a country come to grips with the consequences of our foreign policy, especially in the volatile Middle East, we will never stop ducking under desk tops or discarding all our liquids and gels at airport security.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical working-class queer southern Italian performer, activist and writer.Filed under: Archive