For the entirety of my adult life, my country has been engaged in a Global War on Terror.
(My 21st birthday and the first time I legally drank a beer was September 3, 2001. President Bush proclaimed that the Global War on Terror started after the USA was attacked on September 11, 2001, a week later. I am now 35 and a father of two. Since entering adulthood, over 14 years ago, I’ve experienced exactly one week of peacetime.)
The shame of all this is that it is an actual war, not an metaphorical one. There are plenty of metaphorical wars with grandiose names, like Linden Johnson’s “War on Poverty” or the biomedical community’s “War on Cancer”. Why isn’t this Global War on Terror one of them?
I am not a fan of military analogies for benevolent human endeavors, but just imagine for a minute how different the world would be if instead of a real Global War on Terror, we were engaged in an allegorical one. I want to imagine a “Global War on Terror” in which there is a focused, concentrated worldwide campaign to help our fellow human beings cope with this troubling emotion, terror, and the ill affects it can have on our relationships and wellbeing.
Imagine that our country’s response to 9/11 was not an actual war, but instead a massive effort to help heal the deeply engrained fear and horror among every person, young and old, rich or poor, living anywhere in the world, who ever experienced any form of emotional trauma.
The allegorical “Global War on Terror” would not be fought with multiple deployments of ground troops and reserve forces, drone bombings, torture of people imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay and CIA-black sites, extra-judical assassinations of other country’s heads of state and American citizens, mass surveillance of the entire global population, nor the 35-year imprisonment or exile of military whistle-blowers. That method has proven to be a very ineffective means of decreasing the global human experience of terror.
Instead, the allegorical war would be fought with an army of social workers, psychotherapists, physicians, nurses, and other healers spread throughout the world to identify, contain, and treat clinically diagnosable PTSD, addiction, and mental illness in each and every person who has ever experienced trauma or a horrific life event. It would involve the mass deployment of clowns, storytellers, musicians, and performers to schools, daycare centers, hospitals, and retirement communities to spread joy meant to counteract the everyday fears and nightmares that too often are experienced by children and adults alike. It would necessitate a massive campaign where all the citizens of the world were asked to do their part and build playgrounds, make art, share tea with friends, visit each other when they are sick, have picnics, potlucks and sing-a-longs, look under children’s beds for monsters, and look into lover’s hearts for fears.
In an allegorical “Global War on Terror” the main weapon would be joy. Novelists, poets, philosophers, singers, librarians, artisans, lovers, teachers, fathers, mothers, grandparents, good neighbors, and simple smiling human beings would be the decorated foot soldiers in this great and noble campaign. Badges, medallions, stripes, stars and “battle pay” would be offered to everyone who lent a helping hand to someone in need, or help ease for even a moment someone else’s loneliness. A congressional Medal of Honor would be awarded to a person who attended the funeral of someone they barely knew, but went to offer comfort and participate in one of many co-centric circles of healing around the recently bereaved.
The most value asset in a society focused on ending human terror would be children, and the entire civilization would shift to focus on their needs, ensuring that no childhood left irreparable emotional scars in its adult. Maternity and parental leave would be indefinite, and each parent would have a village worth of support to help keep their children safe and curious and joyful. Jobs that were stressful would be eliminated. Debts that were unpayable would simply be canceled. Relationships that were toxic would be worked on until it everyone agreed it made more sense to end them. Things like hunger, preventable illness, poor sanitation, lack of housing, healthcare, or education, and violence (especially violence) would be understood to be entirely unacceptable, for they all inevitably lead to someone experiencing terror. In such a campaign, we would of course put all our blood and treasure toward eliminating these root causes of terror.
In an allegorical Global War on Terror, it is only logical that all effort would be made to eliminate any cause and tool of mass violence. Guns, bombs, weaponized drones, tanks, warships, and of course nuclear weapons would be all dismantled and their production strictly prohibited. Entire industries would flourish that found new creative ways to put the raw materials of these past instruments of terror to good use. Perhaps blacksmiths and artisans would craft violins and sculptures and shovels and plowshares from these rusting tools of terror.
In a few generations, children would laugh at the unbelievable fairy tales and ghost stories old people like you and me would tell about the things human beings used to do to each other. This sort of thing would as forgotten as the language spoken in the Garden of Eden.
Boy, what a world that would be.