“Our Nation is unalterably committed to protecting our citizens, routing terror wherever it exists, and building a safer, better world of greater opportunity and freedom for all peoples. We will not rest until we succeed.”
Issued on February 14th 2003, the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism outlined the US government’s intended response to the 9/11 attacks. Still reeling from the visual impact of planes crashing into the World Trade Centre and their subsequent collapse, America was fearful and willing to accept what amounted to significant intrusions of privacy to ensure their own safety.
Of course, it’s all obfuscation. The intervening years have implied (or confirmed, depending on your political stance) that the Bush administration’s reaction to 9/11 was less about “protecting [US] citizens” and more about providing the US government with a mandate to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.
The pervasiveness of this deceit and the tacit acceptance of it by a significant proportion of the American population was revealed last night during President Obama’s address in the wake of yet another mass shooting on American soil. Presumably in an attempt to jolt his country out of the ‘fear-protection-more fear-more protection’ holding pattern they’ve settled into over the last fourteen years, a visibly frustrated Obama issued the following challenge to the gathered media;
“Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports.”
Vox.com did just that, and the results, if dramatised for TV, would be at least as shocking as the sight of American Airlines Flight 11 gliding soundlessly into the North Tower.
Did he imagine that a graphic articulating that 130,347 US citizens were killed in gun violence, while only 3000 (including the 2689 killed as a result of 9/11) might prompt some overdue soul searching in the gun lobby? That presentation of stark, factual information would somehow dent the power of 9/11 and the consequent flare of desire to protect loved ones at all costs?
This would work if fear was a palpable and not an abstract fed by personal experience and informed by what we see and hear. We’re not afraid of what threatens us, we’re afraid of what we perceive threatens us, and right now, we’re being told, through every available medium, that we are in danger, whether from dark unseen forces or the weird kid from up the road.
The sad truth is that a graphic isn’t going to motivate people to face their fear when images of kids, stilled by gunshot wounds and lying in their own blood don’t.
When CCTV footage of boys dressed in combat gear they bought at yard sales stalking the corridors of schools and shooting at their peers with impunity doesn’t.
When traumatised five year olds being led to safety from classrooms that became slaughterhouses won’t.
Visual stimulation only works as an incentive for change when that change serves the purpose of the pro-gun lobby in the United States. According to the Washington Post, the US arms industry was worth “$11.7 billion in sales and $993 million in profits” in 2012, and the sad fact is that far from rethinking their attitude gun ownership, debates on gun control sparked by mass shootings are often followed by a spike in sales.
It’s not who wields the gun, it’s who wields the fear who is the more powerful. And right now, they’re winning.
It was a nice try, Barack. But the time for appealing to people’s better nature and humanity has passed.