The Language of Fear

by matttbastard

“Ahistorical – you think this shit just dropped right out of the sky
My analysis: it’s time to harvest the crust from your eyes
To surge and refine, to rage and define ourselves against your line
So sorry friend but you must resign”

-Fugazi, ‘Bulldog Front’

Glenn Reynolds enjoys (relatively) prominent mainstream notoriety that defies explanation. The erstwhile Tennessee law prof rarely writes anything of length or substance*, instead linking (complete with cryptic asides) to others who have done the heavy mental lifting (such as it may be) and are grateful for the increased traffic a nod from Instapundit affords.

Which brings me to the Perfessor’s latest offering [update: link fixed]:

“IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THANK A TEACHER: If you can read this in English, thank a soldier.” This slogan seems to have produced some unhappiness, on the ground that it’s excessively pro-military.

“Excessively pro-military”? More like ‘excessively pro-militarism’. “But mattt,” you say, “you’re one of those granola-munching terrorist-appeasers. Of course you’re going to cringe and fling ideological invective” (Hey, at least I didn’t drop the other ‘f’-bomb.)

Von of Obsidian Wings is no pacifist (whether he rocks Birkenstocks and hides a secret stash of Phish vinyl is another matter). Dude groks Pinochet and expansionist proxy wars, thinks Ethiopia = the ‘good guys’; in short, he’s an unapologetic America-first hawk. And even he thinks Reynolds is one page short of a Minutemen pamphlet:

Only two nations have posed a threat of actually seizing some portion of the United States and taking over: the English and the Confederate States of America. Both spoke English (the former rather famously). Every other war has been distant and posed no direct threat to the U.S. homeland: for instance, as much as they threatened U.S. interests, neither the Japanese nor Germans actually threatened the U.S. homeland (much less the English language) during WW2. Moreover — and for those more interested in metaphorical “wars” rather than real ones…– there was and is very little risk that Spanish will someday shove-out English as the U.S.’s mother tongue. Indeed, for those paying attention the last half-century, you might suspect that the opposite is more likely to occur.


So, while there are many things we should thank our soldiers for, only an idiot thanks them for defending our English language. We should thank our parents instead (and perhaps the odd English teacher) for that — both of whom, if you’re like me, you don’t thank enough.

…[T]he country truly started off on the wrong foot when it decided that 9/11 changed everything. No, it didn’t. The world was always bad. We just let ourselves forget that. But while the philosophy of “everything changed” (aka, the myth of being “mugged by 9-11“) was somewhat plausible — at least to those who hadn’t been paying attention — pretending via bumper sticker (that’ll show ’em) that the English language requires an F-22 for defense is some kind of grim joke. At its worst, this pretension confuses nativism for security. Contrary to base instinct, such confusion is not good for security.

As Von points out, there’s a thin line between benign love of country and malignant fear. When irrational distrust of an external threat–the ever-amorphous ‘other’–leads to a wholesale rollback of long-cherished freedoms and liberties, one should take a deep breath, look within for the cancer.


The post-9/11 shift to authoritarian militarism and nativism in the US (the latter of which, at least, is also occurring elsewhere in the West) may be a natural byproduct of the fear born from the rubble of the Twin Towers. Regardless, what makes me ‘unhappy’ about the bumper sticker isn’t reflexive dislike or distrust of the military. It’s the ridiculous idea that the ‘other’ (whether radical Islam or Mexican immigrants) is not only actively seeking to unravel the fabric of American society, but has the ability to do so.

One percent thinking dictates that even the mere notion of a threat is grounds for drastic action, no matter the long term cost. Since 9/11, the Bush admin has sought wide-ranging authority to prosecute an endless war on ‘terror’, damn the consequences. No small coincidence that the stature of the US in the eyes of other nations has simultaneously suffered.

Sacrificing the collective soul of the nation in the name of ‘security’ at the expense of international cooperation (as evidenced by the quasi-unilateral debacle in Iraq) is a huge price to pay in a world where post-Cold War US hegemony is proving to be a myth.

*Shut up – I’ve been busy dealing with meatworld monkey wrenches. Besides, embracing hypocrisy is a sign of maturity. Or something.

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