On A War on Terror

When the terrorists attacked the United States and so many people were killed, it was a given that the federal government would spare no effort or expense to seek out those who were responsible for the attacks and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Those who refused to be arrested were, with public approval and loud acclaim, killed by the federal authorities. It’s what our government does to a) get revenge for the attacks and b) show other potential terrorists that they, too, will be met with swift retribution and justice if they try similar atrocities.

Terrorism has fear at its heart, of course. It’s in the name, after all. The purpose is to cause public panic and make the attacked populace take notice of the issue the terrorists want them to see and, it is hoped, pressure the government to change their public policy. Of course, sometimes, terrorists simply wish to cause chaos. And that seems to have been a large part of these attacks.

Raids on terrorist cells netted over 3,000 suspected or known terrorists. They were rounded up and jailed without trial. Judicial processes were eschewed. The government said that they couldn’t take the risk that someone who might be a terrorist but they didn’t know for sure couldn’t be allowed to go free. It was better, the government said, to err on the side of caution and public safety. I can’t say that I disagree because of my fear of such acts. And the government deported several hundred others even loosely affiliated with the terrorists. Again, I get it.

Fears like mine led, as you know, to a strong fear and reaction against “foreigners.” Thus, anyone who was not seen as easily identifiable as, for lack of a better term, “American” was instantly suspect. The government advised Americans that if they even suspected odd behavior or even something that smelled faintly anti-American, they were to report it to the nearest law-enforcement authorities. A spate of paranoid reports followed the terrorist attacks for some years afterward. One story told of arrest made of a person who simply refused to put his hand over his heart at a public playing of The Star-Spangled Banner because such a person, it was reasoned, must be against America and therefore a terrorist. That made him an instant suspect.

And that’s what terrorism does. It makes us crazy. It seeks to drive us to lie sleepless at night and peek out our curtains at the new neighbors. It wishes to divide us and suspect each other of being that difficult to define thing: Un-American. In this case, the President said that the terrorist attacks, “poured the poison of disloyalty” into our national consciousness. The President also said that the terrorist “must be crushed out” of existence because of what they’d done to the United States.

And, so, new federal agencies were set up, as you are aware. Huge budget increases were passed that allocated money to fight this war on terror. A young man in the federal government, only aged 24, was tasked with not only ferreting out people in the United States who might have terrorist ties, but he was also tasked with setting up the department specifically designed to fight those who might make war against our ways of life and create social instability.

The terrorist attacks we’re speaking of were the bombings of the offices and homes of several government officials over 100 years ago, in 1919, by so-called anarchists. And, of course, you know the young man and the newly-formed government agency he headed up.

The agency became known as the FBI, and that young man was J. Edgar Hoover.

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