Political Essay: The War on Odor & The War on Terror
Updated: Feb 5
I wrote this essay in 2003. It was picked up by the now defunct Democratic Underground that under Bush 43 was struggling to put itself back together.
Those who like Kurt Vonnegut’s novels are familiar with the character Kilgore Trout. Trout, a failed science fiction writer, whose brief stories are referenced in Vonnegut’s books, are full of sardonic wit. In God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, one of Trout’s stories appears; a story of a country that is at war with odor. A country, where millions are spent fighting odors, chemicals are developed to neutralize every odor. Time, money and manpower goes into a full-frontal attack on the scourge of the earth, odor. Finally a dictator assumes power that has an answer, a perfect solution to win the war against odor. He is assailed as a genius, his solution: cut off everyone’s noses.
Terror’s purpose is to cause fear. Thus, a fundamental part of the war on terror must be to destroy fear. Yet, fear is inherent in all man thus, we must overstate the obvious: we cannot destroy fear.
But, what if we could find a nose in the war on terror, a nose on fear that we could cut off?
We live in a world where the very word terror seems as if it was just invented; everything has now become a function of terror. Terror has become the most popular, pervasive, ear-catching issue in our society today. Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are the worlds top terrorists, or sponsors of terror. Protesters in the streets of London raise placards accusing Bush and Blair of being themselves terrorists. At the same time the protesters themselves are considered a brand of terrorists. Eco-terrorists vandalize Humvees in a car lot. Lee Boyd Malvo and John Mohammed, the DC snipers, are prosecuted under anti-terrorist legislation. Email spammers, cyber hackers, also now seem to be considered terrorists. Sellers of bootleg CDs, and knock-off Kate Spade handbags, are also supporting terrorists. Terror has become the most pervasive issue in our culture, and the direction our foreign and economic policy is headed over the next generation. We are in the midst of a war, a war that will cost countless money, time and manpower: A war on terror.
There are three logical ways to search for the nose on terror; they are by confronting terror on mental, physical and cultural battleground.
The easiest way to confront terror and its cousin, fear would be by eliminating it inside of us – in some sort of Clockwork Orange science experiment; destroy the very nature of fear inside of us. Now, this won’t happen, but what I think can happen is to adapt to the notion that our world will always be invaded by terror, that we are not ever 100% safe from the madness of the world. The clearest example of this mental shift is the lives of the Israelis, living, working and thriving yet not knowing whether their bus is next. The events of September 11th initiated the American public into the global world of terror and we have been playing catch up ever since. So the nose here is understanding the world we live in now.
Physically there are two fronts where we can confront terror; they are publicly and privately.
Publicly, large masses of men and women of the armed forces can invade nations. This is, well, expensive, and does not exactly go after small groups of individuals in the war on terror. Whatever side of the political spectrum we fall, we cannot argue with the fact that full-scale wars are not a very cost effective way of battling roving terrorists. The second way, which remains eerily out of the news, is clandestine operations working across the world, silently confronting terror. The world can only hope that appropriate anti-terrorism units across the world have already begun to collaborate and embed themselves into the terrorist culture, with the goal of muting their attacks on innocent citizens. Here, the nose that we’ve been showing the world is our military might and it remains bloodied so-to-speak.
Finally, confronting terror must happen culturally in the United States. We relied on the breadth of our population to win both World Wars and the Cold war. The resiliency of the American society is woven into our ability to adapt and tap into the diversity of our population. Today, soldiers are dying in the Middle East because their language training is so insufficient that they can’t read roadside signs that say “Caution, Bomb!” in Arabic. America more than ever must begin to educate our population regarding the history, culture, region and languages of the world and specifically the Middle East. If we are to assume that the immediate future of American Foreign Policy will be centered on the Middle East, and Global politics then we have much to do. American diplomatic, military, civic corps, and the American public will be forced as a new generation of multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, politically savvy citizenry. Their mentors will be their neighbors, the grosser, the cab driver, the professor long shunned by his home country – their new country is calling on them to provide a service to their country, educate and build America’s best and brightest.
It is only by utilizing the breadth of our population that America will achieve its full interests in the War on Terror. We have the population, the ability and the vast understanding. The United States must now more than ever adapt to a global world based on an aggressive understanding of global politics, history and the multiplicity of languages and cultures. Ignorance unfortunately is no longer bliss, ignorance is in fact, the very nose of terror that we must cut off.