By Mark Danner, published 2016
Review by Dom Nozzi
January 30, 2017
I just finished reading a powerful, highly disturbing, infuriating and depressing book. Spiral, by Mark Danner, lays out the criminal and exceptionally self-perpetuating downward spiral of the so-called American War on Terror. Danner shows how the “war” continuously induces more and more fear amongst Americans. And how fear is the most effective means that elected officials have to convince voters that our corrupt, militarized government is justified in ramping up, without end, a global forever war. The “war” moves us further and further away from the publicly alleged objective of “making us safer” by endlessly recruiting countless new “terrorists” who have made a lifetime vow to engage in violence in retribution for American violence (even the hawkish Donald Rumsfeld asked if “we [are]…killing… more terrorists…than…the radical clerics are recruiting…”). The fear so sharply escalated by the “war” has led large numbers of Americans to passively accept things now routinely engaged in by the US that throughout history have been considered barbaric: torture, starting wars of aggression, indiscriminately killing countless civilians, spending way more than the next several world military powers combined, and engaging in invasive domestic surveillance of all Americans. There is no end in sight for American forever wars being conducted in so many places today. Neither major party in the US seems to have any interest in ending the murderous boondoggle.
The self-perpetuating nature of these forever wars reminds one of the bursting-at-the-seams US prison system, which is so harsh and retributive that it has become a crime factory ensuring that upon release, prisoners will soon re-offend and be imprisoned again.
In my view, all of us alive today will live for the rest of our lives with a much greater fear of violent extremism (such as domestic lone-wolf bombings and mass shootings) than any previous generation. The great irony is that this increased fear and increased number of terrorist incidents domestically and internationally is the direct result of America engaging in what is now a 14-year (and counting) “war on terror” to make us “safer.” Another irony in all of this: Noam Chomsky is correct when he notes that the US has become the most prolific terrorist nation the world has ever seen. Had we not engaged in this shockingly counterproductive “war,” our future would have been significantly safer. Instead of making us less safe and substantially increasing the incidence of worldwide terrorism, our nation could have had spent those trillions of war dollars to actually improve our lives rather than worsen it. Money that instead of being used to kill a huge number of mostly innocent people, could have been used to create a national passenger rail system, provide free college education, create much cheaper or free national health care, fund a lot more scientific and medical research, repair infrastructure, and so on.
Excerpts from this sobering book:
“…nearly 33,000 people worldwide died from terrorism in 2014, an increase of 35 percent over the year before – and of 4,000 percent since 2002.”
“Turns out I’m really good at killing people. Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.” – President Barrack Obama, [Nobel Peace Prize winner] September 30, 2011
“[America now routinely engages in] warrantless wiretapping…Extraordinary rendition. Unlawful combatants. Indefinite detention. Targeted assassination. Extrajudicial killing. Enhanced interrogation techniques. Torture. …once unthinkable [these tactics have become] quietly accepted weapons in an endless war.”
“…the reality of [Obama’s] years in office have turned out to be more complicated. Guantanamo remains open. The military commissions go on. Torture goes unpunished [“We must look forward, not backward”]…he sent drones to kill thousands, including many civilians. Americans, believing themselves to stand proudly for the rule of law and human rights, have become for the rest of the world a symbol of something quite opposite: a society that imprisons people indefinitely without trial, kills thousands without due process, and leaves unpunished lawbreaking approved by its highest officials…Even as ‘core’ al Qaeda has been battered and reduced, al Qaedism, the ideology, has thrived…powered by the outrage of young Muslims over Western imperialism, torture, drone attacks…this very plentitude means the odds against those charged with stopping attacks grow ever longer…successful lone-wolf attacks [in the US are] increasingly likely.”
Ordinarily, I’d advise everyone to read this essential book as soon as possible, but as the author notes in his concluding remarks, it seems today that most Americans would hardly bat an eye if they were to learn a lot more about American atrocities and self-defeating actions in the “war on terror.” Indeed, Americans became so apathetic, cynical and callous during Obama’s two terms of office that I suspect most Americans these days would, if anything, applaud upon learning that the US behavior was now similar to the North Koreans, the Chinese, the former Soviet Union, or Nazi Germany. After observing how both major parties seemed to want to aggressively step up the “war on terror” in the 2016 presidential campaign — despite the enormous number of books, essays, investigations, and news reports showing its failures — the author asks “[w]hat if you tear off the veil and no one gasps, no one cringes, no one even blinks? What if, apart from a handful, the public mostly yawns and turns the channel?”