Hey, we need a new bogyman

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

September 05, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

"War is Peace." --George Orwell.

For 40 years or more, the Soviets played the role of America's No. 1 bogyman and, by golly, they played it well.

There was Stalin's dreaded secret police packing thousands of Soviet citizens off to icy Siberia.

There were those ugly, toad-like tanks crushing democracy in Prague.

There was the persecution of the Jews, the banning of religion, the hounding of intellectuals and scientists.

There was Nikita Khrushchev, baldheaded and gray-faced, pounding his shoe on the table and bellowing, "We will bury you!"

Here in America, proud political careers were built on the Soviet threat. Defense industries flourished. Pontificators pontificated and sermonizers sermonized.

There were movies and novels and plays and songs based on the threat of the big bad bogyman: The bogyman was out there, we were told, brooding dreams of world domination. The bogyman will get us if we don't watch out.

Was the bogyman real or imagined?

It almost doesn't matter, does it? The bogyman was good for business.

But now it is political springtime in the Soviet Union. Democracy is bursting out all over, and America needs a new bogyman.

Yesterday, a Washington Post news poll found that Americans consider the Soviet Union much less fearsome today than they did 10 years ago.

Asked this week to name the one nation that they considered the greatest threat to world peace, 25 percent of those polled named the Soviet Union, compared with 72 percent who did so in 1981.

But the real troubling news from the poll is there apparently are no world-class bogymen today to replace the Soviets.

Twenty percent of those polled by the Post named Iraq as the second greatest threat to world peace today, but let's be for real -- Iraq has proven itself a rank amateur as a bogyman.

Why, during the Persian Gulf War, Iraqi soldiers actually surrendered to a Sun reporter for heaven's sake! How can we ever take them seriously again?

In the recent poll, 10 percent feared China and 7 percent thought the United States itself was now the greatest threat to world peace. Iran, Israel, Libya, Japan and Cuba also got a handful of votes.

But no one enemy inspires the kind of fear and loathing that the Soviet Union inspired just a decade ago -- when almost three out of four Americans considered them to be the greatest threat to peace, security and the American way.

I've been pondering this for some time now. America needs a new enemy, a bogyman worthy of the title.

To be a world-class bogyman, an enemy has to be powerful and mysterious and maybe even a little mad. There has to be enough concrete evidence of its ruthlessness and depravity to make allegations of even worst cruelties credible. And a worthy enemy has to have creepy-crawly agents capable of poisoning the minds of our young, spiking our water supply, infiltrating our highest offices.

We've got to find such an enemy quickly, too, because our leaders are getting desperate.

Some of our statesmen have been flirting with the idea of making liberals the bogymen of the 1990s, for instance. But liberals appear to be worse than the Iraqis when it comes to putting up a fight.

The statesmen also have paid some lip service to drug dealers, but to date it has been only lip service. Anyway, officials tend to get a tad careless about their targets when they take aim against the drug trade. Innocent people have been known to get caught in friendly fire. Average citizens are encouraged too quickly to surrender their own civil liberties.

Finally, there's the ever-present fear that the Republicans, at least, will continue bashing blacks, a 1920s bogyman they resurrected to great effect during the 1988 presidential campaign. But I like to think some innate decency in the American people will eventually frustrate that tactic.

All in all, the perfect bogyman for the 1990s would be as far away from these shores as possible, preferably a fictitious enemy, like aliens from space, against whom we can bash and bait and arm ourselves to our hearts' content.

As long as we find someone. Our industry, our politics and no small part of our art and culture depend upon it.

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