America the fearful

“All we have to fear, is fear itself” enjoined President Roosevelt in the face of truly fearsome circumstances. Ever since politicians have worked hard at building a deep reservoir of fear upon which they can prey to gain even more power. But Americans are not wusses, we have shown admirable bravery in the face of extreme danger, so why is this tactic so successful in politics?

For example, when two planes were flown into the World Trade Center in 2001, people in the building, on the ground and across the nation and the world responded with bravery and fear was displaced by action and resolve. Then the politicians got hold of the disaster and immediately sought to gain additional powers by preaching fear and emphasizing divisions and squelching dissent. If this phenomenon were limited to the Bush Administration, we could look for relief in the coming elections.
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But it is not that easy. In my lifetime, American bravery helped defeat the Nazis, but that was quickly followed by the incessant drumbeat of the red scare. As we look back on those years, there is really little evidence of anything to which the deep fears of the American people of that era is appropriate. As a small kid I was taught to dive under my school desk or find shelter as air raid sirens trumpeted through the cities.

Of course all along we were instructed at times aloud but always by the undercurrent, to be afraid of what we then called negroes, at least if we were trying to be polite. Today we are just coming down from another campaign of fear, one aimed at a group of people who are the least to be feared among us, gays.

There are, of course, all sorts of fear campaigns in the past and present that dictate large swaths of public policy and personal behavior. From the color coded Terror Alerts, to avian flu, to economic collapse to the almost invisible ways we are taught to fear – looks, weight, left or right handedness, income insecurity, spousal faithfulness, etc etc.

On many issues there are reasons for any of us to pay attention and possibly even have concern. But the appropriate response for these conditions is to investigate further, check reality, and either take action or reach the realization that there is nothing to do. This then leads to peace of mind and leaves one in power.

On the contrary, we more and more respond to such issues and concerns by buying something, getting cosmetic surgery, a divorce, drugs, alcohol, or any number of other responses that are inappropriate and ineffective. But most of all, we are left with less power as a result. Then there will be some politician telling us he or she has the answer to our problems by just opposing the object of fear, which of course, they have selected.

We live in a all consuming ad campaign. All commercial ad campaigns dwell on unfilled needs and wants. Since we have fewer unfilled needs than any time in our past, for the most part, ad campaigns must look to wants. The most effective approach is to create a fear out of our wants and then shove the solution in our faces knowing many of us will buy it.

Now fear is an appropriate response on rare occasions. But to act on fear is always a mistake unless it is a tiger facing you down or some other immediate – and I really mean immediate, danger. If the danger is more than five minutes ahead, fear is an inappropriate guide to action. Far better is reasoned, thoughtful actions drawing on experience, knowledge and the opinions of others.

Our political system is now almost completely dominated by fear. Democrats play on fears of unemployment, government power, group identities and “greedy businesses.” Republicans play on terrorists fears, foreign born people, gays, etc etc. We all see the fear mongering of the other party, few see that of their own.

One of the problems is that everyone has fears. Yet everyone denies their own fears as such, but pretend to ourselves and others that it isn’t fear that motivates us by a reasoned position. So long as we deny we are motivated by fear, we are impotent and being manipulated by someone else.

One of the great revelations of my life was seeing that everyone around me was just as afraid as I was underneath, covered over by bravado and denial. Once you can face this head on with no qualifiers, no explanations, no cover stories, you finally can take on personal empowerment. It is much more difficult to do this than it may seem. For me it took lots of guidance and work. For you it may be different.

But let me assure you, to the extent you do not see the power of unrecognized fear in your life you are being manipulated by someone. It may be the fear you have covered over about your spouse leaving in which case you will do things you otherwise would never think of doing. It may be the fear of Mexicans overrunning your city which you disguise as a desire to “enforce the law.” You may want to “defend the sanctity of marriage” and oppose gay marriage when the truth is you were scared when as a child you felt an attraction to someone of your own gender.

The list is literally endless. Life is shaped by fear. But very few people are able to face that and throw off all the rationalizations, explanations and cover-ups. That is why America is so easy to manipulate by those who know this fact of life. To the extent you are afraid of anything you are a pawn, a slave to someone or something outside yourself.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Face it and grab the power of life.


  1. SEAL

    I once labeled it the “parent syndrome” whereas the people of this nation have become like children to the parent government. I still think that describes it to a tee.

  2. Helen Rainier

    If memory serves me correctly, at one point, after 9-11-01, DUHbya making a comment in either a press conference or during one of his “speaking engagements” he said he considered himself as a “father” figure of the American people.

    I was absolutely incensed and outraged by his arrogant condescending attitude with regard to We, the People. I’ll be perfectly honest, I have disliked this GI Joe Girly Man for a long, long time, predating the 2000 election. I would trust my security to a dung beetle over DUHbya any day of the week.

    When the USSC ruled in favor of DUHbya’s “right” to steal the 2000 election I was furious. The thought that crossed my mind at that time was “What about the right of We, the People to have as our President, the man who received the bulk of the popular vote?” What about OUR right to be legitimately represented by the person we chose by our votes to be President. I listened to DUHbya’s inaguration speech and thought “OK, what he’s saying sounds good so give him a chance to prove you wrong,” but remained apprehensive and skeptical about his intention to follow through.

    He eventually proved (and it didn’t take long — less than a year) that my initial apprehensions and skepticism were well-founded. And, tragically he has continued to prove me correct in doubting him and just how sadly depraved he really is.

    If anything, my once neutral apathy has steadily morphed into pure visceral hatred. I have always tried to find at least one redeeming quality in the people I have some intense feelings of dislike towards. However, with this arrogant moron I simply am unable to think of ONE THING that I can truly say I can allow him credit for.

    He is the poster child for the insanity of the logic that is perpetuated by those who believe “intelligent design” is a valid scientific theory.

  3. Sandra Price

    Excellent Commentary. From the morning of Pearl Harbor, we all felt the terrorism of Japan followed by Germany and Italy. Oh yes, we too hid under our desks and spent our summers watching the skies over Santa Monica looking for Japanese planes and submarines from the sea. Every male member of my family immediately joined up with some service or another. The older uncles headed for the Seabees.

    Pearl Harbor was my 9/11. We had to rely on the radio and then months later Movietone News at our theaters. We watched the war progress through our newspapers and we knew the stories and coverage were censored. But the powers that be took full advantage of this terrorism that we Americans all felt. The war was hardly over when COMMUNISM became the new terror.

    A couple of years ago I discovered a television show from England and the BBC that came up with the subject of “The Power of Nightmares” which showed the development of world terrorism. It was the start of the hatred for America from the Middle East and should be required viewing by many of us. The History Channel showed it in South America but not in North America where it should have been shown.

    I do not recall any bigotry for the African Americans in my beach city but that does not mean it was not there. I remember when a cousin of mine was given early discharge from the army when it was discovered that he was a homosexual. My grandmother had me look it up in the dictionary as she did not know what the word meant. She was furious and her only comment was “So what?” I come from a different world and wish I could go back.

    Every speech from the White House reminds us of the terrorism from all over the world and it was planned for years to keep us all grateful for our glorious leaders for looking after us. Bush knows that the majority of Americans do not bother to read what is written about the Middle East and will always turn on the television for the reports. The viewers would rather be terrified than check the facts. My generation did not have television and we had to spend many hours researching our books, maps and the history of our enemies.

  4. ekaton

    The Power of Nightmares is absolutely required viewing. If one has not seen it one must. It is available for free viewing on the ‘net.

    — Kent Shaw

  5. gene

    Excellent and somewhat an unusual read for CHBs.

    Over the past several decades I (and many here as well) have seen some incrediable, literally unbelievable changes happen to this nation and to this world. What would have taken years can now be done in moments. This nation and its citizens have been and continue to be exposed to and (evil if you will) that has so well programed the mines of most that the word (zombie) becomes a mass reality.

    Theirs always been evil here, people without a conscious, killing and hurting others but now we are faced with a global scam based on pure power and greed that (at least to me) will literally consume this planet as the citizens of this globe continue to loose their ability to think, fight and live by a code of ethics.

    I find myself wondering at times who or what might save us from this cancer, surely no government can nor do I expect benevolent alliens to come to our rescue.

    It will get worse, much worse. Pesonally, I’m going to hang on to what I know to be good and dam the fear as the above article suggest. “Life is not based on dreams but choices” and each individual has to choose.

    Now…where did I put that dam!!! freggin bottle of ativan?

  6. sandollar

    Read this and tell me that these tactics are not being plyed on us by Karl R and company.

    Hermann Goering

    Claim: Hermann Goering proclaimed that although “the people don’t want war,” they “can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders.”
    Status: True.

    Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2002]

    “Of course the people don’t want war. But after all, it’s the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it’s a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.”
    — Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

    Origins: Another
    timely quote in the vein of the apocryphal Julius Caesar warning about political leaders who can all too easily send the citizenry marching eagerly off to war by manufacturing crises that purportedly threaten national security and making popular appeals to patriotism. In this case the sentiment expressed is even more disturbing because it comes not from a venerated figure of antiquity, but supposedly from a reviled twentieth-century figure associated with the most chilling example of genocide in human history: Hermann Goering, Nazi Reichsmarshall and Luftwaffe-Chief. We may be made somewhat uneasy by the idea that the head of a classic civilization recognized 2,000 years ago that the populace could be manipulated into sacrificing themselves in wars at the whims of their leaders, but we’re outraged (and maybe even scared) at the thought of a fat Nazi fascist flunky’s recognizing and telling us the same thing.

    The notable difference here is that although the Caesar quote is a latter-day fabrication, the words attributed to Hermann Goering are real. Goering was one of the highest-ranking Nazis who survived to be captured and put on trial for war crimes in the city of Nuremberg by the Allies after the end of World War II. He was found guilty on charges of “war crimes,” “crimes against peace,” and “crimes against humanity” by the Nuremberg tribunal and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence could not be carried out, however, because Goering committed suicide with smuggled cyanide capsules hours before his execution, scheduled for 15 October 1946.

    The quote cited above does not appear in transcripts of the Nuremberg trials because although Goering spoke these words during the course of the proceedings, he did not offer them at his trial. His comments were made privately to Gustave Gilbert, a German-speaking intelligence officer and psychologist who was granted free access by the Allies to all the prisoners held in the Nuremberg jail. Gilbert kept a journal of his observations of the proceedings and his conversations with the prisoners, which he later published in the book Nuremberg Diary. The quote offered above was part of a conversation Gilbert held with a dejected Hermann Goering in his cell on the evening of 18 April 1946, as the trials were halted for a three-day Easter recess:

    Sweating in his cell in the evening, Goering was defensive and deflated and not very happy over the turn the trial was taking. He said that he had no control over the actions or the defense of the others, and that he had never been anti-Semitic himself, had not believed these atrocities, and that several Jews had offered to testify in his behalf. If [Hans] Frank [Governor-General of occupied Poland] had known about atrocities in 1943, he should have come to him and he would have tried to do something about it. He might not have had enough power to change things in 1943, but if somebody had come to him in 1941 or 1942 he could have forced a showdown. (I still did not have the desire at this point to tell him what [SS General Otto] Ohlendorf had said to this: that Goering had been written off as an effective “moderating” influence, because of his drug addiction and corruption.) I pointed out that with his “temperamental utterances,” such as preferring the killing of 200 Jews to the destruction of property, he had hardly set himself up as champion of minority rights. Goering protested that too much weight was being put on these temperamental utterances. Furthermore, he made it clear that he was not defending or glorifying Hitler.
    Later in the conversation, Gilbert recorded Goering’s observations that the common people can always be manipulated into supporting and fighting wars by their political leaders:

    We got around to the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war and destruction.
    “Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”

    “There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”

    “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

    Last updated: 4 October 2002

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    Gilbert, G.M. Nuremberg Diary.
    New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1947 (pp. 278-279).

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  7. history guy

    Yet we still don’t demand an end to the “Patriot Act” and the plethora of infringements on our rights or the joke of TSA airport “security”. Why do we allow the War on Drugs and its trampling of our rights? Because we are afraid!
    We have become a country asking our leaders to keep us safe from everything from terrorists to bad smells and bicyclists with out helmets.

  8. Jeffrey B.

    The weakness of my life includes healthy political debate and old movies. It’s early Saturday morning and I’m watching one of my favorite films, Sir Carol Reed’s 1949 tour de force of post Word War II Vienna, The Third Man with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton.

    One of the greatest lines in film was quoted by Welles’ character, Harry Lime in the infamous ‘Carousel’ scene, when he stated, Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat. I talk about the suckers and the mugs. It’s the same thing. They have their five-year plans, and so have I.

    He finally closes his dialog by stating, In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love. They had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock!

    What does all of this have to do with the column and commentary above? Everything – and nothing – just something else to ponder in this ongoing battle of wits – with the witless one from Crawford.

  9. Ardie

    I remember, too, diving under my old wooden desk. I can also remember asking my mom if I could use our basement for a bomb-shelter. And right there helping us to be fearful was our fear-mongering press. I remember when the Russians launched Sputnik. Even more fear. Now the Russians could send ICMBs over to any town in the U.S. Nobody thought, in those days, like President Lincoln who said: “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”

    Making Russians our friends would have ruined our most principled capitalistic enterprise: the military-industrial complex. Just think of it, having to waste all those billions on schools instead of bombers and bombs. What a tragedy! Later, I found out the Russian really had nothing. I guess that is why they had an Iron Curtain so you couldn’t see how poor they really were. In 1959, they still couldn’t engineer a simple ball-point pen.

    When 9/11 came, like everyone else I was for getting the people who did this to out country. But who the heck did it? On the FBI’s most wanted terrorist list ( Usama bin Landen isn’t wanted for 9/11 and neither are the rest of the terrorists who are listed with him. So why did we go into Afghanistan? Who were we after? I can’t recall anyone really asking that question. Oh I know everyone said we were going after bin Laden in Afghanistan, but then why was he not wanted for 9/11? Maybe al-Qeada didn’t attack us on 9/11.

    I find it interesting that our forces are in Central Asia controlling that region’s huge oil and gas reserves and that our military forces are also in the Middle-east standing guard over 526 years of proven Iraqi oil reserves–and we have started building a 48 inch pipeline to Haifa’s big refinery.

    Maybe there wasn’t any terrorist attack at all–it was just a big oil heist. When you look into the matter of the World Trade Center, none of it makes any sense. Those buildings were built like brick crap houses. And why did WTC7 fall into its footprint, hours later, from the effects of a small fire? I don’t think we have anything to fear–we better worry about be gullible idiots.