The Fear Years: That miserable epoch from the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, about September 1, 2005. In those four years a not-really-elected President started a disastrous war of choice, enacted tax cuts and economic policy that would destroy the economy, and oversaw any number of medium bore policy scandals that fester on as flesh wounds to this day. To oppose any of these ideas, to oppose the Man himself, was said to oppose the Country itself, or to be “with the terrorists” as the “President” Himself put it.
Fear was a condition, a means and an end. The condition of Fear — stoked by the immaculate timing of the the M&M-hued terror “alerts” — created a need to believe in and never critisize the Leader as he found a means to “fight” terror by invading Iraq, the result of which was a seemingly endless conflict that required countless treasure to assure success, or else the terrorists would win in the end.
While this mania waned it did not truly end until Katrina proved that the Bush Regime was too incompetent to even respond to a predicted natural disaster. An electorate that consisted of largely the same people that “elected” Bush twice installed a Democratic Congress in 2006 (over Bush’s declaration that to do so would mean that the terrorists would win) and elected Obama — who seemed, on the surface, to be the antithesis of Bush — in 2008.
It was as if the 2006 repudiation and the 2008 arrival of a “redeemer” would reverse the Fear Years. But that isn’t so. The disasters of the Fear Years still linger over the country. The recent Rachel Maddow documentary on the venal build up to the war in Iraq, and the sinister conflation of Saddam with al Qaeda, is jarring because in its simple factual way it forces the viewer to confront the the mendacity of the time.
Far more effective than the Maddow piece is the last two episodes of the Showtime series “Oliver Stone’s: Untold History of the United States.” “Untold” is the greatest voice-over history documentary ever made. That is not to say that I agree with all of its points. The hero of “Untold” is Henry Wallace, FDRs penultimate vice-president who was removed from the ticket in favor of Harry Truman by Democratic Party bosses at the 1944 Democratic Convention. Stone is convinced that Wallace’s humanism as President after FDR’s death would have crafted a different and better Post-WWII world than Truman’s militarism. Such “what if” speculation is fun, but meaningless. The same militant forces that prevailed upon Truman would have been there with Wallace too. Had he opposed them, perhaps they would have aligned themselves completely with the Republicans and we may have been treated to Reactionary Movement conservatives in power in the 50s and 60s instead of the 80s, 90s and 00s. Or maybe not, who knows and who can know? “Untold” also focuses most of its attention on Foreign Policy. It praises JFK for usurping his generals after the Cuban Missile Crisis and lambasts LBJ for escalating the Vietnam War, but doesn’t mention that it took LBJs legislative genius to pass JFKs program, and then some.
That said, what makes “Untold” so effective is Stone’s artistic genius for images. “Untold” consists of mostly 2 to 7 second visual clips, overspersed with Stone’s narration and emotive, cinematic music. Where there are not visuals, Stone isn’t afraid to offer representation in the form of movies, or even have actors mimic real figures while reading quotes that were unrecorded. The result is a psycahdelic stream-of-visual-consciousness that moves history out of the frontal cortex (where the Maddow documentary presided) into the older, visceral regions of the brain.
It is the willingness to mix emotions and argument that make “Untold” the most effective readily available analysis of Bush II and the Fear Years. In one brilliant sequence, “Untold” flashes through images of the great Coup D’etat of the 2000 election. The GOP putsch in Florida, Jeb Bush, Kathryn Harris, the Supreme Court, Bush’s rainy inaugural. The music is a stringy, blues version of the national anthem played at a pace so slow that it becomes an elegy. “It started with the 2000 election itself,” Stone intones. “The most scandalous in U.S. history. Wounding, perhaps fatally, the notion of democracy in this country…. Behooving the shenanigans of a banana republic the US Supreme Court intervened to stop a recount of the votes…”
It’s there, in all its stupidity and agony. Condoleeza Rice’s “nobody could’ve predicted…”. Bush’s “either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists” (“Imagine any citizen in any country of the world being told by a man like this, ‘you’re either with us or against us.'”). The Patriot Act. Wire Tapping. Gitmo. Torture. “WMDs”. “The smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud”. Conflating Iraq with al qaeda. (“The descent into unreality was dizzying.”) The parade of ex-generals selling the war on TV while being employed by defense contractors.
“Untold” hits the mark, but it doesn’t linger quite long enough before moving on to harsh Obama for maintaining a similar military complex to Bush, even as he wound down the Bush Wars. Whether the recognition is intellectual or emotional, as an American you own the Fear Years. Even if you opposed the war. Unlike distant genocides like the settlement of the West or abstract ignoble actions abroad, Iraq War II was sanctioned by the populace. IT happened here. “Untold” and Maddow’s documentary make the case, but ten years on the ephemeral zietgiest of the polity is still largely in denial.