Now is the time in the game of war when we dehumanize our enemies.
They are utterly incomprehensible, their acts unimaginable, their motivations senseless. They are "madmen" and their states are "rogue."
Now is not the time for more understanding—just better intelligence. These are the rules of the war game. Feeling people will no doubt object to this characterization: War is not a game. It is real lives ripped in half; it is lost sons, daughters,mothers, and fathers, each with a dignified story. Tuesday's act of terror was reality of the harshest kind, an act that makes all other acts seem suddenly frivolous, game-like.
It's true: war is most emphatically not a game. And perhaps after Tuesday, it will never again be treated as one. Perhaps September 11, 2001 will mark the end of the shameful era of the video game war.
Watching the coverage on Tuesday was a stark contrast to the last time I sat glued to a television set watching a real-time war on CNN. The Space Invader battlefield of the Gulf War had almost nothing in common with what we have seen this week. Back then, instead of real buildings exploding over and over again, we saw only sterile bomb's-eye-views of concrete targets—there and then gone. Who was in these abstract polygons? We never found out.
Since the Gulf War, American foreign policy has been based on a single brutal fiction: that the US military can intervene in conflicts around the world—in Iraq, Kosovo, Israel—without suffering any US casualties. This is a country that has come to believe in the ultimate oxymoron: a safe war.
The safe war logic is, of course, based on the technological ability to wage a war exclusively from the air. But it also relies on the deep conviction that no one would dare mess with the United States—the one remaining superpower—on its own soil.
This conviction has, until Tuesday, allowed Americans to remain blithely unaffected by—even uninterested in—international conflicts in which they are key protagonists. Americans don't get daily coverage on CNN of the ongoing bombings in Iraq, nor are they treated to human-interest stories on the devastating effects of economic sanctions on that country's children. After the 1998 bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan (mistaken for a chemical weapons facility), there weren't too many follow up reports about what the loss of vaccine manufacturing did to disease prevention in the region.
And when NATO bombed civilian targets in Kosovo—including markets, hospitals, refugee convoys, passenger trains, and a TV station—NBC didn't do "streeter" interviews with survivors about how shocked they were by the indiscriminate destruction.