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The logic of our time

November 2001

Since September 11, our officials have offered a strange brand of logic to the apparently accepting American public. Let me analyze the meaning of the new axioms and twists in bureaucratic discourse.

Although evidence appears to lead to the conclusion that the September 11 terrorists had their headquarters and funding sources in Saudi Arabia, the government claims to be destroying their infrastructure by bombing Afghanistan -- where they had some temporary training camps and had harbored the infamous Darth Vador of early 21st Century real life drama.

Bombing Afghanistan shows our resolve and our humanitarianism. We only bomb Taliban targets -- except for the occasional errant smart bomb and a few thousand dumb bombs -- and show our concern for the poor and oppressed Afghan people by dropping them food packages, which they can retireve with their stumps if they make it through the minefields. Liberal supporters of the war chime in: "Give war a chance!" Obviously, the wars of the 20th Century were not sufficient to see if this violent instrument of policy really works to achieve peaceful ends.

The government claims to have identified the enemy, although it doesn't have enough proof to hold up in court. Well, that's why Bush declared war. In war time you don't need proof to hold up in court.

Even though the CIA has identified Al Qaeda, the shadowy fundamentalist, terrorist organization, as playing the key role in the 9/11 attacks, allegedly has hundreds of cells throughout the world, we can somehow destroy it by finding and eliminating one man, Osama bin Laden, even though national security sources admit that he may not actually lead the terrorist group.

Bin Laden has become as elusive these days as Vice President Dick Cheney who, according to one wit supposedly has been code named Waldo by the Secret Service. Parker Brothers may develop a new board game, called: Find Dick and Osama.

The extreme right wing Attorney General has sold Congress on another piece of curious logic. Cede our liberties to the incompetent FBI and CIA and this will magically transform them into efficient agencies. This leads us to believe that their dreary pre 9/11 performances will become stellar examples of police and intelligence operations -- as soon as they are freed from the fetters and constraints imposed by the Bill of Rights.

The FBI has detained more than 1,200 people in connection with the September 11 horrors. Apparently, few -- or maybe none -- of those arrested had links with the perpetrators of the grizzly events, but the FBI did deny their basic rights. Some of those detained claimed they were systematically tortured. Hey, it's wartime logic! When you fight for basic freedom you have to be flexible. The Attorney General has apparently given permission to monitor phone calls between attorneys and their suspected terrorist clients -- or those who might have a link to terrorists. To protect the Bill of Rights, you must suspend it -- well, until thinks return to normal. According to Dick Cheney, however, the current state of affairs will be normal for the foreseeable future.

Trust the FBI, pleads Attorney General Ashcroft. They know what they're doing. The FBI, in turn, appeals to the public for help in finding the source of the fiendish anthrax mailings. Ashcroft repeatedly appears on TV and warns the public of another imminent terrorist attack. He can't, of course, give details about where, when or the nature of the attack because that's classified, known only to law enforcement officials and the terrorists. These announcements are intended to induce the public to remain calm and prepared for new assaults.

Some wise counselors have repeated to Bush the advise the late Vermont Senator Aiken gave to Lyndon Johnson back in the 1960s. "Declare victory and come home!"

Bush could say: "We've destroyed their training camps. We haven't had a serious terrorist attack in two months, thanks to the bombing of Afghanistan and I'm bringing the troops home." Unfortunately, much of the advice he's hearing relates to expanding the war -- a kind of bureaucratic syndrome that occurs when military campaigns fare badly. Recall Lyndon Johnson's response in Vietnam as a prime example. His response to military failure was to send more troops. Nixon and Kissinger, in response to frustration over the tenacity of their Vietnamese enemies ordered the bombing of Cambodia.

In any case, I plan to persuade my university colleagues to begin offering courses in the new logic so that students can compare the words officials use against what they see, hear and read. If anyone doubts the veracity of our leaders, recall Richard Pryor's wife when she discovers him in bed naked with a naked woman.

"Hey, sugar, it's not what you think," says Pryor.

"What do you mean? Are you nuts? I'm seeing this scene with my own eyes," she says.

"Hey, honey," says Pryor, "who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?"

Saul Landau.

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