The Superbowl and the Super Brawl

The NFL playoffs have reached their zenith, and soon will come the Superbowl – the mother of all American Spectacles. Baseball may still be the national pastime, but football is America’s favorite sport now. Though, strangely, no other country on earth is seriously interested in it. No one will ever like it as much as we do.

It doesn’t require F-15 flyovers or visits from the troops to drive home the analogy between football and war. No sport takes so many of its terms, rules, and strategies directly from the “playbooks” of war planners, and none is more violent. Perhaps this explains its peculiar attachment to America.

America was born in war, is the product of war. She grew through war, securing for herself first her freedom, then the domination of a continent, then supremacy throughout the world. The two great wars of the twentieth century made America a global player, the Cold War made her the single superpower, and along the way she built – at great expense – the world’s largest military force, and its first omnipresent one. Americans take pride in their soldiers, and relish the opportunity to remind foreigners that our strength has often underwritten their freedom. It’s no wonder we love football.

As the game has evolved, though, Americans have started noticing that the elder years of NFL players can be quite debilitating, with higher than normal rates of mental and physical deterioration. Head injuries, in particular, have become the hot topic around the NFL this season, with analysis of deceased players’ brains showing damage similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

Meanwhile, in addition to the 5,347 American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan so far, there have been some 57,000 personnel requiring medical evacuation from both countries for both hostile and non-hostile injuries and illness. It has been estimated that roughly a quarter of these men and women have suffered head and neck injuries, including severe brain trauma.

Football players are playing for fun, and for good pay. What are our soldiers fighting for? If you agree, as I do, that terrorists are trying to kill us, then you should be searching for an explanation of that motive. And you shouldn’t be satisfied with the standard response, which amounts to, “The global jihad is comprised only of mad religious whack-jobs who hate America because of Girls Gone Wild.” That wasn’t the motive of the Jordanian doctor who recently played the CIA, nor did any of the Afghan students at a protest earlier this month cite the lewdness of MTV’s The Jersey Shore among their grievances.

The purpose of terrorism in its purest form is to create a sense of insecurity among a public. It succeeds when fear moves a system to the point where it can no longer function. This magnifies the strength of the terrorist by causing the public to see the failure of the system as the result of the power of the terrorist.
George Friedman, STRATFOR

Look how powerful the terrorist is! He’ll put explosive chemicals in his shorts and set fire to his own crotch just to hurt us! How can we possibly stop this person without laying bare the skin of every traveler through our ports?

The salesmen enter with their complex and expensive machines that will Keep Us Safe™. The former “Homeland Security” director, Michael Chertoff, has been leveraging his “expertise” to advocate for full-body scanners in US airports.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: So, now you have to ask yourself this question. Once we have the privacy protections in place, are you prepared to accept a certain amount of discomfort in someone looking at what may you have concealed on your body, in return for knowing that you’re not going to have a plane detonate in midair?

Although he then admitted – as he had to, since it is as certain as gravity – that even with these machines in place, you won’t actually know that your plane won’t blow up. You can’t ever know that, no matter how many strip-searching machines we deploy.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Are they perfect? No. But do they take us very much further down the road to security against this kind of device? The answer to that is yes.

Since leaving office, Chertoff has founded a consultancy, which counts among its clients – wouldn’t you know it – companies who manufacture full-body scanners. Once these are installed at all US airports, of course, the terrorists will simply shove explosives up their asses, and then we’ll all be required to have MRIs and enemas before getting on board.

What are we to do?

The right-wing wizards and armchair warriors would prefer we think of the whole world as a battlefield, even in our own homes; they desire that our country should be in a constant state of alert or terror for the duration of the conflict, or, in plain English, for all time. In this way, the population is made more pliable, more malleable, more unquestioning of ever-expanding Pentagon budgets. Even as the President offers the delusion of a “spending freeze”, he reassures the public that both real and imaginary dollars will flow, uninterrupted, to the war department.

Don’t tell me my home is a battlefield. London during the Blitz – that was a battlefield. My life and millions of American lives are going on as normal, despite the threats we face. There are no shortages of food on the shelves, no government rationing of oil or cotton, no ads impelling us to buy war bonds. Yesterday I was delayed at the train station fifteen minutes as police checked out a “suspicious package.” Fifty citizens were asked to leave the platform, and we milled about for a while, talking on cell phones, trading airport security stories with strangers, until all was cleared. No one, I believe, considered for one moment that there might actually be a bomb nearby – that is the state of the American psyche. If we were Afghans standing at the bus stop in Kabul, the reality would be quite different. And the American frame of mind would change immediately if there were another attack on our soil. But what is more likely to cause such an attack? Our continued support for women’s rights, or our continued bombardment of impoverished Muslim populations?

The longer we continue these foolish wars, the more people we radicalize. The more Muslims we torture, the more suicide bombers we will create. And the more we discard our own dignity in the futile search for a risk-free existence, the more we will have done the terrorists’ job for them. When you’re watching the Superbowl this year, and the commentator segues from a particularly brutal hit to talk about the ways the league is starting to address player injuries, remember where the real violence is happening, and where the real damage is being done. The war is taking up our valuable resources: our young people, our money, and our credibility as the so-called defenders of freedom on earth. Let’s put an end to that game.