Read The United States of Fear Online

Authors: Tom Engelhardt

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The United States of Fear (33 page)

BOOK: The United States of Fear

So, no, I have never been to Iraq, but yes, I’ve been here for years, watching, and I can see, among other things, that the American mirror on the wall, which shows us ourselves in such beautiful, Disneyesque detail, has a few cracks in it. It looks fragile. I’d think twice about sending it abroad too often.

A Note on the Text

Thirty-two of the thirty-three pieces that make up this book were written between April 2010 and mid-2011, thirty-one for my website Barely more than a year on the calendar, but given our exploding world, it seemed like years, not months. Has there ever been a time—not in my life anyway—when so much seemed to happen all at once? So consider this my small record of a period when, for all the fear-suffused attempts to lock America down, the world came pouring in anyway. It’s important, however, to note that the essays included here are not the originals I wrote. They were edited, trimmed or cut down, modestly updated, and woven into book form. The tell-tale signs of the immediate moment—all the
s and
next week
s, along with examples that were gripping then but are forgotten today—have been removed; as have most of the thematic repetitions that are bound to pop up in any set of weekly responses to ongoing events. Nothing basic or significant about them has, however, been changed; for better or worse, nothing had to be, which tells you something about our present world.

Though this book generally moves chronologically within its chapters, for the sake of whatever flow it may have, I decided not to include in the text the original date on which each piece was posted. For the record, and in case readers should wish to check out any of the essays in their original form at, below is a list of them with the dates they were posted (and their original titles, if changed). Note that the second piece in the book was written for, and published in a slightly different form by,
Harper’s Magazine
. “The Nuclear Story That Refuses to Go Away” is the sole other intruder. I wrote it in 2004 on a subject that’s haunted me from childhood and feels hardly less relevant now.

American Warscapes—
October 17, 2010

How the Movies Saved My Life
Harper’s Magazine
—October 2011)

The United States of Fear—
November 30, 2010

Welcome to Post-Legal America—
May 30, 2010

The 100 Percent Doctrine in Washington—
June 9, 2011

Obama’s Bush-League World—
July 12, 2011

Washington Drunk on War—
June 15, 2010

The Urge to Surge—
January 4, 2011

Osama bin Laden’s American Legacy
—May 5, 2011

Goodbye to All That—
February 7, 2011

The View from Mount Olympus—
April 13, 2010

The Perfect American Weapon—
June 24, 2010

Whose Hands, Whose Blood?—
August 5, 2010

One November’s Dead—
December 7, 2010

Obama’s Af-Pak Flip-Flop—
May 16, 2010

Clueless in Afghanistan—and Washington—
July 26, 2010 (also included in this section is part of
The Petraeus Syndrome
—July 11, 2010)

Forever War—
September 30, 2010

The Stimulus Package in Kabul—
November 14, 2010

How to Schedule a War—
November 23, 2010

Numbers to Die For—
April 6, 2010

A Reluctance to Leave
(original title:
The Urge to Stay

April 24, 2010

Will Our Generals Ever Shut Up?—
September 7, 2010

Cutting $100 Billion—Easy, If Only Washington Had a Brain—
February 17, 2011

Ballot Box Blues—
November 2, 2010

The Nuclear Story That Refuses to Go Away
(original title:
Three Characters, No Dialogue
)—August 5, 2004

Nine War Words That Define Our World—
June 23, 2011

Living in the Fifty-First State (of Denial)
—June 1, 2010

One and a Half Cheers for American Decline—
September 21, 2010

Life in the Echo Chamber
(original title:
Washington’s Echo Chamber
)—February 24, 2011

Signs of the Great American Unraveling
—June 30, 2011

Sleepingwalking into the Imperial Dark—
April 19, 2011

All the World’s a Stage (for Us)—
March 25, 2010


No man is an island. If that sentence applies to anything these days, it has to be to book writing in particular and to this book specifically. The lone (and lonely) author? Not me, at least. In fact, this book wouldn’t exist without the ministrations of Anthony Arnove, my friend and editor at Haymarket Books. Among his many other talents he’s a wizard on the page, and it was he who wove my TomDispatch essays of the past year into the book I now truly believe this is. I owe him thanks galore. He, in turn, is no island, being surrounded by the hardworking crowd from Haymarket Books, including eagle-eyed copy editor/proofreader J. Gabriel Boylan, and especially that key trio of Rachel Cohen, Julie Fain, and Dao X. Tran. They have my thanks as well.

When it comes to, it’s land all the way to the horizon. I hardly know where to begin. How could I do it without my many friends who keep TomDispatch alive and kicking with their remarkable pieces, or the Nation Institute, which supports the site (special thanks to Taya Kitman), or Patrick Lannan and Lannan Foundation, who have made all the difference, or Joe Duax, Andy Kroll, Christopher Holmes, and Timothy MacBain, who ensure that the site remains always above the rising waters, or my pal Nick Turse, who hears from me far too often and keeps me sane in life and honest on the page. And speaking about a world of islands so close that they’re just a raft’s ride across any channel, I would never want to forget all the wonderful people at other websites—too many to name—who repost TomDispatch pieces and whom I e-meet or even, on occasion, see face to face.

And then, of course, there are those who matter most of all: my wife, Nancy Garrity, and my children, Maggie and Will. They make life worth living.

And oh, yes, there’s the world itself that has to be acknowledged somehow. But can I really thank it for offering up enough folly and misery to keep TomDispatch rolling along or for being, in TomDispatch terms, the gift that just keeps on giving? Perhaps not. So let me just stick to the people who matter most to me. A deep bow of thanks to all of you.

© Don J. Usner

About TomDispatch

Tom Engelhardt launched in October 2001 as an email publication offering commentary and collected articles from the world press. In December 2002, it gained its name, became a project of the Nation Institute, and went online as “a regular antidote to the mainstream media.” The site now features three articles a week, all original. These include Engelhardt’s regular commentaries as well as the work of authors ranging from Rebecca Solnit, Bill McKibben, Andrew Bacevich, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Mike Davis to Michael Klare, Adam Hochschild, Noam Chomsky, and Karen J. Greenberg. Nick Turse, who also writes for the site, is its associate editor and research director. Andy Kroll is an associate editor and its economic correspondent. Timothy MacBain produces regular TomCast audio interviews with the authors who write the site’s weekly pieces. TomDispatch is intended to introduce readers to voices and perspectives from elsewhere (even when the elsewhere is here). Its mission is to connect some of the global dots regularly left unconnected by the mainstream media and to offer a clearer sense of how this imperial globe of ours actually works.

About Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt created and runs the website, a project of the Nation Institute, where he is a fellow. He is the author of
The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s
The End of Victory Culture
, a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, and
The Last Days of Publishing
, a novel. Many of his TomDispatch interviews were collected in
Mission Unaccomplished: TomDispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters
. He also edited
The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire
, a collection of pieces from his site that functioned as an alternative history of the mad Bush years. TomDispatch is the sideline that ate his life. Before creating it he worked as an editor at Pacific News Service in the early 1970s, and, these last four decades, as an editor in book publishing. For fifteen years he was senior editor at Pantheon Books, where he edited and published award-winning works ranging from Art Spiegelman’s
and John Dower’s
War Without Mercy
to Eduardo Galeano’s
Memory of Fire
trilogy. He is now consulting editor at Metropolitan Books, as well as the cofounder and coeditor of the American Empire Project (Metropolitan Books), where he has published best-selling works by Chalmers Johnson, Andrew Bacevich, and Noam Chomsky, ­among others. Many of the authors whose books he has edited and published over the years now write for For a number of years, he was also a teaching fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He is married to Nancy J. Garrity, a therapist, and has two children, Maggie and Will.

About Haymarket Books

Haymarket Books is a nonprofit, progressive book distributor and publisher, a project of the Center for Economic Research and Social Change. We believe that activists need to take ideas, history, and politics into the many struggles for social justice today. Learning the lessons of past victories, as well as defeats, can arm a new generation of fighters for a better world. As Karl Marx said, “The philosophers have merely interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it.”

We take inspiration and courage from our namesakes, the Haymarket Martyrs, who gave their lives fighting for a better world. Their 1886 struggle for the eight-hour day reminds workers around the world that ordinary people can organize and struggle for their own liberation.

For more information and to shop our complete catalog of titles, visit us online at


Also from Haymarket Books

The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s
Tom Engelhardt

Breaking the Sound Barrier
Amy Goodman

Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel’s War on the Palestinians
Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappé

War Without End: The Iraq War in Context
Michael Schwartz

Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights
Omar Barghouti

Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan: Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations
Iraq Veterans Against the War and Aaron Glantz

This book has no footnotes. The original posts at were, however, heavily footnoted in the style of the Internet—through links that led readers to my sources and also sometimes offered directions for further exploration. Linking is, in fact, the first democratic form of footnoting, making sources instantly accessible to normal readers who, unlike scholars, may not have ready access to a good library. URLs in a book, however, are both cumbersome and useless. So if you want to check my sources, you’ll need to go to the originals online at Fair warning, however: One of the debits of linking is that links regularly die, so the older the piece, the greater the chance that some of the links won’t work.

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