I shot Osama bin Laden. Now, I know what you're thinking: SEAL Team Six shot bin Laden, and this guy's full of it. But I'm not - not completely. The full story is that I shot a paper target that had Osama bin Laden's likeness printed on it. I rented an M16 at the Gun Store in Las Vegas and I shot bin Laden.
He wasn't dead at the time, and now I think it's a little eerie that I shot a man in effigy some months before he was shot -- and killed -- in reality. But the fact of the matter is that wanting the head of Osama bin Laden has been a cultural norm for me my entire adolescent and adult life.
I was a boy of twelve when George Bush famously called for Osama bin Laden dead or alive, and I remember the iconic wanted poster well. I suppose the rhetoric stuck with me.
When I think about our cultural and historical trajectory, I couldn't possibly envision a 2012 without a War on Terror. Who would be doing what, where, when, and how? Would the villains in our movies still be Russians instead of Arabs? One of the only things I'm sure of is that airport security would be less frustrating. C'est la vie. Nobody said this was the best of all possible words.
The War on Terror hasn't meant the same thing for everyone -- not by a long shot. I'm in no place to speak for everyone and I don't plan on trying. What I want to do is tell you what the societal and cultural changes I've observed in the wake of this war have meant to me.
One of the most unnerving effects of this indefinite game of international whack-a-mole is the climate of fear that has blanketed the western world. Our enemies aren't coming after us with armored divisions and infantry battalions; they're using our own commercial jets and homemade bombs in places we never would have expected to see them.
We live under a cloud of ever-present danger and anxiety, even if the danger feels distant and improbable. I remember the foiled Toronto subway attack, although I've met many who do not. I suppose it isn't too far removed from the era of nuclear safety drills and the Red Scare, but I wasn't around for those.
A fearful populace is always willing to concede more of their liberties than a tranquil one, and in times of war questioning the conduct of those in power can be drowned out by the loud, belligerent, and faux-patriotic. They can appeal to fear, and the desire for security far outweighs the ideal of individual liberty. The latter is simply higher up on the hierarchy of needs.
The sad truth is that liberty has never stood up to a perceived security imperative, even in the United States of America where freedom from tyranny was a cornerstone of its national origin. The government interned Japanese Americans and suspected communists were hounded out of their livelihoods and homes only a few short generations ago.
Really, ours is just the next chapter in an increasingly tragic story.
The War on Terror lends itself perfectly to looming authoritarian anxieties because of the insidious nature of terrorism and the heavy-handed ways our governments have chosen to respond. The Bush and Obama administrations got away with the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act because of uncertainty and fear. When we're told our enemy lives among us, our suspicion can turn to persecution with nauseating speed.
The War on Terror has been aimed specifically at the Islamic fundamentalists of Al-Qaeda and those of a like mind, as it makes sense, but this has opened the door to widespread racial and religious profiling. I believe it was inevitable given the nature of the war on terror, its combatants, and the paramount desire for security at the expense of civil liberties; still, that doesn't make it any less disappointing and culturally detrimental.
I've grown up in the War on Terror and I can't think of much of anything to put in the win column. I don't feel safer at all, and both fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan have proven themselves to be quicksand for the world's mightiest military. They were drains of money, manpower and lives.
Back home, western governments seem to have become more authoritarian and less respectful of their citizens rights. I can't help but believe this attitude has spilled over into the way they handle legitimate lawful protests and large-scale activist movements.
If the point of this War on Terror is to continue assassinating high-ranking terrorists wherever they are, I have to question its usefulness and sustainability. Al-Qaeda's number two was taken out by a drone in early June; I didn't even know he existed until he didn't.
Al-Qaeda seems to have more of these "leaders" in reserve than we can shake a hellfire missile at, so how much terror are we really disrupting by lighting one up every now and then?
This war seems to be our generation's war. I don't like the way we've been fighting it or the impact it has had on us, the freeborn citizens of western democratic states who still claim to believe in liberty and justice for all.