A Phrase in Infamy

During the week that followed President Bush's State of the Union speech, I wasn't sure if I had heard the President correctly. Did he call the nations who support terrorism an "axis of evil?" I wondered: does he know something about the sorry state of education in America that he actually thinks he can get away with this historic allusion without public outcry?

Apparently he did and he is. For what seemed to me like such a transparent and ill-fitting attempt on the president's part to conflate his mission with that which America was faced during The Second World War is largely being ignored by the majority of Americans, their elected representatives, and the mainstream media. And when the media does comment on the phrase, it's only to remind us to what it alludes. Because we have little regard, and even less stomach, for a critical examination of our past, the American people have been hoodwinked by patriotic calls to the past time and time again.

Think for a minute. "Axis of Evil" is politically brilliant. Not only does it call to mind, subliminabilly or not, the Axis Powers of Fascist Germany and Italy during the Second World War, but it has a ring of "the evil empire,"--- Reagan's hyperbolic moniker for the Soviet Union. But if the present conflict is in no way similar to that which America faced in 1941, it only resembles the real threat to America's security during the Reagan 80's in the way the administration is attempting to divert budget priorities away from domestic social programs into a massive military build up. Why?

For the same reason Reagan did. To shift the defense industry's financial and political ties to the administration, and to shift the national focus from the regressive tax scheme and the redistribution of wealth from the lower and middle classes to the upper one-fifth of Americans. Add to this the Bush administration's need to keep america's "vital intrests" in line with those of the oil corporations.

Reagan was supremely successful in convincing the American people that we needed to throw huge amounts of resources to counter the impending Soviet nuclear threat. History has shown that this threat was overstated. The Soviet Union was deteriorating economically and politically--battling internal collapse and prosecuting a war in Afghanistan that was draining their resources and their political will.

Reagan garnered political power by waving the flag, and resurecting McCarthy-era fears of the Soviet's "evil empire" among the American people at every chance he got. Now this strategy is being echoed by Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, as he warns the public of terrorist threats, "vastly more deadly" than the September 11th's attacks, as well as by President bush new budget with its emphasis on homeland security and increased military spending.

The more likely reality is that the administration's warnings of new attacks are not based on intelligence that points to existing terrorist threats. They are, instead, a warning of attacks that are highly possible as the U.S. provokes politically unstable areas such as Iran and Iraq as it peruses its war on terrorism. In this way, Bush's foreign policy is more akin to Ariel Sharon's Palestinian strategy with the United States becoming increasingly dug-in behind its high-tech ramparts as it agitates already hostile foreign elements abroad. The result: a self-fulfilling prophesy of impending threats and the corresponding need for more military spending.

Despite attempts by the Bush administration and conservative pundits to try and stretch the scope of the present situation over the monumental symbolism of the Pearl Harbor attack, there are distinct differences, both in the character of the threats, and the response by our political leaders. In 1941, FDR's administration was responding to an attack on united states territory by the Japanese empire. An empire that stretched throughout north and southeast Asia and into the Pacific island chains. similarly ill-fitting is President Bush's attempt to equate the loosely connected terrorist organizations and the nations who support them with the highly structured military totalitarian regimes of the Rome-Berlin Axis.

But perhaps the most important incongruity with the parallel to the challenge that the U.S. faces now and that which faced the nation during The Second World War is how the administration is responding on domestic issues. Under FDR, the government increased domestic spending through public work projects to enhance the country's military, transportation and communication infrastructures. And as the war machine put people to work in both the private and public sectors, opportunities opened up for women and minorities to participate in the economy as never before. And to achieve all this, FDR instituted the most progressive income tax in the history of the nation.

In sharp contrast to FDR's progressive government of the 1940's, President Bush has proposed more tax cuts, and he seems reluctant to really challenge the American people to broaden the sense of themselves as citizens, and the role of the United States on the global stage it dominates. If we, as a nation, shrink from these imperatives, the only legacy we will inherit will be one of missed opportunity-- a legacy that will most likely be forgotten by history.

Bruce Langfeld is a freelance writer and musician in the Philadelphia area.

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