In my RBA I am going to go through a series of sections in order to reach the eventual conclusion that the American Public is partially culpable for allowing Bush to mislead the public into the War in Iraq. In those sections I will explore the role of a modern President and more broadly the Executive Office, I will also look at how we define American Exceptionalism in terms of the Executive Office, lastly I will demonstrate how American Exceptionalism and the Executive Office have become linked.
I am currently researching whether or not Bush and his administration mislead the American public regarding the evidence they put forth to justify the war in Iraq. This topic is incredibly relevant because the actions of the Bush Administration directly affect the current relationship between the Executive Office and the American people, as well as America’s standing abroad.
Scholars who have evaluated this question have overwhelming concluded that the Bush Administration mislead the America public in an attempt to try and garner support for the war. Most scholars argue that the Bush Administration not only emphasized the possibility that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but also sometimes presented the evidence of WMDs as unquestionable. Additionally, the administration made sweeping claims about Iraq’s connection to al Qaeda often times presenting inconclusive evidence as fact. Most of the scholarly articles on this subject conclude that it was Bush and his allies who were at fault for leading the country into war over false pretenses. However, given the unsteady nature of the country post 9/11, the American people were thirsting for a rhetoric that solidified American strength and made the country feel secure again. Many scholars are too quick to place the whole blame on the Bush Administration, when in reality the system of checks and balances can’t work if the people aren’t doing their own duty in critically analyzing a decisions as consequential as going to war. While Bush’s administration should be held responsible for their careless actions in the lead up to the Iraq War, the American people should also question their own culpability in allowing their leader to manipulate their uncertainty and fear into a universal acceptance of his position.
One of the episodes that Sarantakes describes in his essay entitled, “Cold War Pop Culture and the Image of US Foreign Policy” tackles the issues of American intervention. In the episode, which is called “Errand of Mery” tensions between the Klingons on the Federation are rising fast. The Federation learns about a possible Klingon attack on an agrarian planet called Organia and sends the Starship Enterprise to warn the people. After the attack, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock of the Federation are trapped on the planet and become prisoners of the Klingons. However, they are both freed because the Organians use secret powers to force an end to the fight. This episode it supposed to mirror the idea of proxy wars that were fought between the Soviet Union and the United States in other seemingly passive countries. Additionally, Coon makes a point in this episode to demonstrate that larger world powers should not intervene with the development of less advanced societies. His beliefs were “anti-colonial” and, contrary to US foreign policy, he thought that, “there were limits to power, even American power.”
Science Fiction and Fantasy are often genres that are easily molded into political messages. When you create completely abnormal habitats and species, like in Star Trek, it allows the viewer to see their own world though a completely different lens. Additionally, when challenging cultural or political norms it is easy to turn to a completely new world to avoid backlash from those who don’t share your opinion because the world you’ve created in completely unique. Lastly, this genre allows you to exaggerate much more easily because their are no confines as to what is normal is this new world. In someways Science Fiction and Fantasy are similar to satire because they both allow a writer or directer to step outside the confines of what is “normal,” while still addressing mainstream problems.
I don’t watch a lot of science fiction or fantasy movies, so I can’t think of one that knowingly critiques society. However, there is a particularly relevant film called, “Dr. Strangelove,” which could be classified as a mixed of satire and Science Fictions. The film premiered in the mid-60s and is an apocalyptic movie about the atomic bomb. The entire film satirizes the Cold War by focussing on the idea of mutual destruction. The underlying message is almost a warning that one crazy person can destroy the entire world because of the incredible power of nuclear weapons.
Quotes: “Using a curious mixture of graphic and sanitized language, magazines and the experts they consulted produced nuclear fear while simultaneously rationalizing and containing it – a strategy that was central to Cold War civil defense efforts.”
In the quote above, Farish explains how the government was able to manipulate the way the public perceived nuclear threats. He argues that the way in which scientists or governmental officials presented the threat of nuclear war was not to quell the public’s anxiety, but instead to centralize their fears. Farish continually discusses how the government would use visual aids written by credible scientists that would demonstrate the destruction a nuclear bomb would cause to specific cities. Connecting the threat of nuclear warfare to something as familiar as New York City charged peoples fear of Soviet threats even more. Farish connects this heightened idea of fear to the influx of white families into suburbia because they felt as though cities were easy targets for the enemy. Farish asserts that these disaster scenarios had incredibly power in altering the way the public viewed the “American city.”
Additionally, Farish argues that scenes of Hiroshima fostered an obsession with images of disaster scenarios in American cities. After 9/11 the images of smoke billowing from the Twin Towers became commonplace, but not because of a fascination with destruction. The images of the Twin Towers were and still to this day are used to foster support for the War or Terror. Calling up this graphic image of a iconic American skyline burning has the power to evoke the same emotions that person felt when the first saw the attacks (fear, rage, sadness) and reinvigorate their desire to support government anti-terror efforts. In both cases (Hiroshima and 9/11) the images of each city are so unique and shocking that they can be used as powerful rhetorical devices and as Farish frequently discusses images can be incredibly influential in shaping public opinion.
In Lugo’s Chapter 1 entitled, “GW Bush Administration Narratives of Threat and Containment,” he sites a quote from Bush stating that, “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Not only does Bush’s statement reinvigorate the popular Cold War rhetoric of “us vs. them,” but it also emphasizes this idea that there are those around us who we can’t trust. The quote essentially encourages homogeneity within our society and invites people to solidify and contain the “American identity.” I found this quote to be incredibly important because what Bush said 15 years ago still has incredible relevance today. While American society has always been patriotic, when the rhetoric of “us vs. them” becomes popularized you see a resurgence of an extreme form of national pride. Nowadays people are very quick to categorize people unAmerican if they critique problematic parts of American society because of this idea that if you don’t whole heartedly love America you must be with “them.”
Over the summer, I became fascinated with a show on FX called The Americans (2013-). The show is loosely based of various accounts of KGB spy programs in the 1980’s. The main characters of the show are a young Russian couple that has completely shed their Russian identity in order to blend in with American society. The couple, named Phillip and Elizabeth, has mastered the appearance of an “American” identity. They have two teenage kids who love going to the mall and watching TV, they live in a medium sized house in the suburbs, and they work a decently paying job at a travel agency. Their ability to balance the appearance of a classic American lifestyle with their real jobs as spies for the Soviet government amplifies how so many aspects of American identity during the Cold War were superficial and surface level.
The show offers an interesting perspective on American culture during the Cold War because it is observed through the eyes of two characters that believe the Soviet way of life is superior. Throughout the show, Phillip and Elizabeth are able to maintain their Soviet beliefs, despite the fact that they are frequently tempted by the freedoms Americans have. Additionally, the show demonstrates how many Americans were also influenced by communist ideals of destroying classes and equality. While the rhetoric surrounding the idea of containing and preserving American culture was often teeming with propaganda and fear mongering, The Americans does a wonderful job in emphasizing how many of those fears had merit.
The Americans premiered alongside many other television shows that all focused on some aspect of Cold War society and containment ideology. Post 9/11 America has a fascination with the culture of the Cold War and continues to relive and revive the fear-driven mindset through popular media. Part of the reason I believe that modern American is so fascinated with all aspects of Cold War America is because we can see the same ideologies of “us vs. them” persisting in our society today.