American Apocalypse Now
14 April 2006
Exaggerated portrayals of the dark side of Amerikkka are pretty common in fiction. Two themes particularly appeal to liberal creatives: the idea of a secret, crypto-fascist American state, as portrayed in works ranging from 'Three Days of the Condor' to 'The X-Files'. The other theme is Christian religious extremism, the best example of which is probably Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale'. If you haven't read 'The Handmaid's Tale', you should. Above all, it's a good read and stratospheres above most sci-fi, although Atwood can never hope to rival the depth of characterisation of 'Species 2'.
Atwood's novel portrays a near-future US ruled by biblical propaganda where dissidents, gays and abortionists are summarily killed, and women are reduced to breeding units or sex slaves. Such dystopias are fun, but ultimately they're just fiction. The US isn't a fascist state, certainly not in comparison to Nazi Germany or even our fun-loving friends the Taliban. And while religion ostensibly plays a big part in American life, the US is nowhere near Atwood's vision of social and sexual oppression. In short, the US is OK.
Or so we naively thought, until the events of the past week. Bush's America has managed to do stuff that makes any fictional account of warmongering, religious nuttiness and general paranoia look a bit tame and unimaginative.
First up was the article by Seymour Hersh that appeared in the New Yorker magazine last weekend. Our media claimed that the US was considering a nuclear strike on Iran. This was, quelle surprise, drivel. Although shocking, Hersh's article described discussions among military types about how best, hypothetically, to zap Iranian bunkers housing their fledgling nuclear technology. The discussion was about tactical nukes, not the apocalypse. American commentators immediately dismissed the article as a hysterical take on a discussion of military options, while George Bush called it 'wild speculation'.
Well, it won't be the first time the press has talked an issue up, you might think. Until, that is, you actually read the article, at which point you *will* start building a makeshift nuclear shelter in the cupboard under the stairs. Try this bit of reportage from Hersh:
'A former defense official told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government". He added, "I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, 'What are they smoking?'"'
Are you a bit worried by this bit of reported neo-con wishful thinking? Read on.
'One military planner told me, "People think Bush has been focussed on Saddam Hussein since 9/11," but, "in my view, if you had to name one nation that was his focus all the way along, it was Iran."'
Gulp. If you're still sitting comfortably, Hersh also reports: 'A senior member of the House Appropriations Committee [said of Bush]. "The most worrisome thing is that this guy has a messianic vision."'
This isn't reality, it's the ending of Stephen King's 'The Dead Zone'. Fortunately, thus far it's just speculation. Unlike this:
'Some operations, apparently aimed in part at intimidating Iran, are already under way. American Naval tactical aircraft, operating from carriers in the Arabian Sea, have been flying simulated nuclear-weapons delivery missions - rapid ascending maneuvers known as "over the shoulder" bombing.'
Fuck. This isn't sabre-rattling, it's a gentle introduction to World War III. If you're still alive by the time you're reading this, call your parents to say goodbye, give an affectionate pat to your beloved pets and have sex one last time. (But not with your pets.) And say 'Hi' to the horsemen of the apocalypse for us. (Hersh's full article contains lots more scary, scary stuff, and can be viewed at www.newyorker.com/fact/content/ Check out the 'in for a penny, in for a pound' theory of attacking Iran as suggested by a former Bush official.)
But to return to our original theme of mad America being stranger than fiction, have a quick think about South Dakota. Last month legislators decided to prohibit all abortions, even when the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, unless the mother's life is at stake. OK, it's a decision that is likely to be overturned before it become actual, enforceable law, but how mad are these bastards?
You don't have to be a rabid pro-choicer or hardline feminist to realise that banning abortion in this way is utterly wrong. You just have to be faintly normal. Sadly, that's a commodity that seems in increasingly short supply in the US. Rather than get into a discussion of abortion, we'll move swiftly on to the case of hapless Brit Gary McKinnon.
McKinnon is facing extradition to the US for causing damage to 97 US government computers, with the bill estimated at £700,000, or, more correctly, made up by the American authorities because US law only allows for extradition for criminal damage if a certain financial sum is reached. McKinnon is a computer nerd and supposedly a 'hacker' but it isn't really true. Rather than shattering servers and leaving viral chaos, he instead managed to log onto dozens of US military and government network using slack password protection.
The reason? Well, absence of a girlfriend, obviously, but mostly to try and find buried information about back-engineered alien technology.
McKinnon could be looking at 60 years if convicted. And that's 60 years in an American prison, not Ford Open Prison. If anything he deserves some sort of punitive sentence for being (a) stupid enough to fiddle with US computers at the most tense time since the Cold War, and (b) being 40-years-old and still into anti-gravity drive nonsense, Area 51 and Greys. But it still isn't fair, and extradition would be a joke.
McKinnon, a former hairdresser, was interviewed on Channel 4 news this week, and is quite clearly not a terrorist. He even recognises that his obsession with the Internet occurred at a time when he was a bit down about his life in general. Exactly how either the US or British government can discuss extradition proceedings without saying 'Nah, he's just a bit weird', or, more likely, cracking up with laughter, is beyond us.
But thanks to the Bush administration, it seems that what would previously have been considered a bit mad is now normal, and our own spineless government is going along with it.
Fuck it, let's start building our own internment camps. We'll have the top bunk, thanks. The one with the Bible on it.