#3. The Era of Awesome "Good vs. Evil" Wars Is Over
I realize the actual event was more nuanced, but in popular memory World War II is basically The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars: a clearly evil bad guy dressed in black with a clearly evil army versus clearly good protagonists who take him out with a clean, neat ending where the bad guy dies and his dark empire lies in rubble, never to be resurrected. And when the war was over, it was over -- clear objective, clear outcome, good guys win, roll credits.
Yeah, I don't think we're going to get that kind of war again. The way wars go now is that some regime or group is doing something we don't like, then we either A) kind of throw cruise missiles and drone missions at them for a few months or B) land troops there and fight them for a few years until we get bored and quietly leave. Did we win Afghanistan? Or Iraq? These days there's no signing of a peace treaty, no ceremony, no liberated people cheering in the streets. When the last troops came home from Iraq, there was barely a whisper in the news. Actually, did you even know the troops came home from Iraq? Did you know we still had troops in Afghanistan?
Do you know where Afghanistan is on a map?
We killed bin Laden, but it wasn't a Hitler situation where the whole thing stopped the moment the bullet entered his brain -- al-Qaida kind of just stumbles along regardless of who is in charge, or whether anyone is in charge at all (we've killed al-Qaida's second in command like 25 times).
And now as I write this, the U.S. government is in the middle of debating a strike against Syria. Again, no big declaration of war, no big shift from peacetime to war footing. Maybe the president makes a speech about it that gets carried on cable. At some point we'll probably just shrug and send a ship full of cruise missiles, like the cops dispatching a car to check out a domestic dispute. Do you even know, off the top of your head, who the good guys and bad guys are in Syria? Are we supporting their government or the rebels? Are the rebels progressive freedom fighters or Islamists angry that the government isn't jihadist enough? Is either side tied to al-Qaida? I've lost track.
It's probably something these kids did. Look at those assholes.
The point is, there are no good enemies anymore. Don't say China -- what are we going to do, bomb the factory where they make our iPads? And what are they going to do, bomb the people who buy their iPads? OK, what about Iran? They've got one of those cartoon villain dictators in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- the press said a few years ago that he was determined to bring about the apocalypse and would launch a nuclear strike against Israel to get it. We're definitely going to have to deal with that madman soon-
What's that? He's not president anymore? Thank God! Was it the CIA who took him out with a targeted assassination, or did his own people rise up and overthrow him in a coup? Oh, he left office on his own? Because his term ran out? Because presidents in Iran are limited to two terms, just like in the U.S.? Wait, they have elections there? Well, shit. Looks like we missed the window on that one.
"No, I asked for the large ballot"
So how are we supposed to get all worked up and patriotic if we don't have a cartoon villain to oppose? But maybe that's for the best, because ...
#2. Patriotism Got Really Weird at Some Point
America is a wonderful country, and a lot of the liberal counterculture types who call it a fascist wasteland in reality live a very comfortable and fulfilling life there. That's why Eddie Vedder never moved away -- the people who bitch the loudest would miss it the most.
So in the face of attacks by extremists who objectively hate core progressive values such as women's rights and freedom of religion, why weren't a whole bunch of artists stirred to create music that really got to the heart of what we love about the USA? Even if musicians are all liberals, we're fighting an enemy that hates liberalism, right? Let's have some awesome anti-Islamist diss tracks, Eminem!
Instead we got this:
Patriotism shouldn't make you stupid, right? Or racist? Wasn't there a bunch of great patriotic music during World War II? Did our ability to be patriotic in non-ridiculous ways die with Vietnam?
These days, if an organization has "patriot" in the name, I get scared. Seriously, Google the word "patriot" -- once you get past the links involving the NFL and that Mel Gibson movie, you get shit like Patriot Depot, which sells shirts that say things like "Due to Price Increase on Ammo, Do Not Expect a Warning Shot."
Nope, not a joke.
Or you get websites like PatriotUpdate.com (sample headline: "Obama Stings Taxpayer's for More Blood $$$"). Or you get groups like the Tea Party Patriots, whose website screams that this is our last chance to stop Obamacare before it's too late.
Somebody tell me when the entire concept of patriotism got hijacked by the pickup truck and gun rack brigade. It's at the point where if anyone I knew wore a shirt with an American flag on it, I'd assume they were being ironic, unless it was the Fourth of July. If I pass a crowd of protesters waving American flags, I assume somebody in the group is also wearing a T-shirt bearing a racist caricature of Barack Obama.
"And this flag shirt is just some kind of big stupid rectangle of fabric!"
Not that I can mock them for being paranoid, because above all, what the last 12 years have taught us is ...
#1. Sometimes the Alarmist Tinfoil Hat Crowd Is Right
In the underappreciated 1982 sequel to the wacky slapstick satire Airplane! (Airplane II: The Sequel), there's a scene where security agents monitor a body scanner in a futuristic airport. The joke is that the scanner shows the agents images of the passengers' naked bodies as they pass through.
If you had told me in 2002 that in 10 years that technology would be real, specifically that A) every passenger would be made to stand in a scanner that displays their naked body to security and B) 99 percent of fliers would be perfectly fine with it, I would have laughed you out of the room and told you to take off your goddamned tinfoil hat and stop sharing your weird sci-fi sex fantasies. We're talking about Americans here, the most famously prudish, fiercely private, and violently anti-government people in the world. And you're telling me that in this supposed future, if we refuse the scan, we get frisked? I'm telling you that we would fucking burn down the airport before we let that happen.
But as I mentioned in this week's podcast, we got here little by little. One terror warning at a time, one replay of the WTC attacks at a time, one report of a failed terror attempt at a time.
If you had told me that, in the name of stopping terrorism, the U.S. government would spend $2 billion building a gargantuan 1.5-million-square-foot sprawling mass of humming supercomputers for the purpose of (apparently) monitoring absolutely everyone's email and/or phone calls, I'd have said that was even more ridiculous and dystopian than the penis scanner. If you'd told me that virtually everyone would be OK with that save for a few vocal activists on the Internet, I'd have said that was impossible, unless we had reached the point where terrorists had leveled half of our cities.
Even worse than riots after major sports events.
But now here we are, in a world where you're told that A) only an idiot would expect any online or cellphone communication to be secure, just by its nature and B) from now on all of your communications -- from banking to work projects to shopping to romance -- will be done with the Internet or cellphones. And because these two things evolved at the same time -- the wall-to-wall worry about terrorism and the 24-hour dependence on the Internet -- we just accepted it as a natural evolution of society that everything we do will be monitored. We can't imagine it any other way.
After all, if you're under 30, you were still a kid when 9/11 happened, living at home. What the rest of us are calling "a Post-9/11 World" you know only as "the world." If I try to tell you about the good old days when you could correspond with friends and absolutely know that no one was listening in, you'll tune out when you realize that I'm also talking about a time before the Internet and cellphones existed. We don't want to go back to that, right?
I saw that cord and immediately vomited.
Because they've told us that our modern world is made entirely of glass, we just accept that this is how it is, that we're all on display, all the time. And it's all by necessity because it's a Post-9/11 World, and that ends the discussion. And please note: It will still be a Post-9/11 World a hundred years from now, because that's how time works.
And over time, we'll just come to accept that typing a weird search into Google might get you a visit from the cops, that a crude joke on Facebook might get you arrested and/or fired, that certain things uttered in phone calls might land you on a no-fly list, that suspicious conversations might be recorded by a nearby pair of Google Glasses. And so, over time, you make a mental note to not say anything too weird, or make crude jokes, or think too far outside the box. You'll learn to automatically rein in that crazy, irresponsible part of the brain that incidentally also has resulted in all human creativity through history.
Needs more dicks.
Sure, it's not like some controversial comment on Twitter will get you sent to a gulag. It may merely get you a day spent in a hot interrogation room and your computer seized for a few months. Just a little reminder to watch what you say, and what you think, at all times. They don't have to throw you in prison, they just have to harass you enough that you'll remember next time. And the fire that makes us human grows just a little dimmer, and we shrug and say, What can we do? After all, it's a Post-9/11 World.
And apparently it always will be.
David Wong is the Executive Editor of Cracked.com and a NYT bestselling author; his long-awaited new novel is about cybernetic criminals and other futuristic shit like that. Pre-order it at Amazon, B&N, BAM!, Indiebound, iTunes, or Powell's. You can read the first seven chapters for free by clicking below:
Who knew that children born on and after 1995 would have so little regard for their privacy? Check out our latest Podcast where David Wong and Jack O'Brien look at the odd trends social media has created and the ramifications they'll have on the future. Go here to subscribe on iTunes or download it here. Getting your Cracked fix while driving has never been this unlikely to kill you.
Related Reading: It wouldn't be a post-9/11 world without a whole lot of cashing in on the tragedy. Once you've had your fill of commemorative coins and remembrance wine, check out these incredibly offensive pop culture references to September 11th. It doesn't get much worse than a 9/11 Pig Roast. Done with trinkets and crass commercialism? Read about 9/11's hidden impacts and gain some well-needed perspective.
Had enough talk of terrorism? Remind yourself there's still good in the world and stare at Nikola Tesla's face on a t-shirt.