In 2004 I did an Open University course on the United States in the Twentieth Century. In my final essay I considered the proposition that the twentieth century was the American century and that since the United States has been in decline. Its era of economic, political and democratic hegemony was at an end. That was the argument that I tackled.
At the time I was fascinated by the effect that the 9/11 terrorist attacks had had on the United States and I went as far as to say that the result of that day was to invigorate the USA with a new 'manifest destiny.' That is to say, an ideological crusade, one as important and world-changing as America's original manifest destiny; namely to spread the virtues of its liberal democracy across the whole continent of North America.
This is some of what I said in that essay about America's new found crusade:
The end of the Cold War in 1990 brought America to the realisation of its 'manifest destiny'... Rather than losing purpose or direction, America has entered the new century with a new objective, to conquer terrorism. The opening years of the twenty first century has shown that America remains willing to flex its military muscle and continue to bring the enlightenment of its liberal democracy to the oppressed whether it is in Afghanistan or Iraq. As Francis Fukuyama comments we are now at the 'end of history' as there is only one system that will continue to dominate world politics, that of the liberal-democratic west. (Francis Fukuyama, 'The West has won, Guardian, 11 October 2001).
... the apogee of American power has not passed and indeed may still be in ascendancy. The events of September 2001 have reinvigorated America with a new manifest destiny as it wages a 'war without end' against terror. While its military strength remains unquestioned and undefeatable, there is evidence that its political and economic preponderance is under threat. However, as Francis Fukayama remarked post 9/11 we still remain at the end of history. The democratic liberalism of America is here to stay and will leave in history the twenty first century as the second American century.
And it is this democratic liberalism that poses the greatest threat to the security of the West. Is it no wonder that extremists within our own society and abroad seek to destroy the foundationcivilization Civilisation when they see what it has become. It is a decadent and immoral world we live in. One which seems to turn a blind eye to its own inherent injustices. Take for example the current situation in Lebanon where hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed while the West stands back and procrastinates, deliberately allowing Israel to perpetrate what would in other terms be seen as a form of terrorism.
It is understandable why America has not interceded. In Israel, America sees more than just an ally, its an ideological meeting of minds. Both countries are in their own sense 'promised lands.' As for Britain, well as recent events have demonstrated, her influence in the world is much depreciated. Britain's role on the international stage is negligible to what it once was, its power has been in decline since the end of World War Two. The only means by which Britain can show any strength is by following in the lead of the US.
What concerns me most though is the cynical manipulation of the current situation by the government and media. In Britain we have been used to terrorist attacks for more than 30 years - the Idevastatinga devestating campaign on the British mainland. So why do we view the new terrorist threat so differently?
I think largely that is the role of the government. I said in my 2004 remarks above that America has found in its 'war on terror' a new manifest destiny. The moral absolutism of this war - that America is 'good' and fighting the 'evil doers' is a simplistic but powerful idea to unite around. It creates a purpose for a nation that was adrift without purpose after the end of the Cold War. This war on terror is a new frontier.
Cynically it creates belief in government; that they are doing all they can to protect us from this insidious threat. We do not question then when some of our freedoms are taken away because the means justify the ends. We do not flinch when people are arrested and detained without charge. We do not question when an innocent man is shot dead because it was thought he might be a terrorist. By creating a climate of fear and mistrust, the government can present itself as our knight in shining armour, the saviour that will deliver us from this evil. On the contrary it creates an environment that breads terrorism.
I would not go so far as to say that we should fear our own government or that America is the single greatest threat to world peace, as some have said. However, I do feel we need to hold a mirror up to ourselves and our values and question whether it is by our actions that we incite those who are disengaged from our society to such desperate measures. It does not justify their actions but it may open some questions as to why.