Bush was Being Honest

Bush was Being Honest


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 It’s not surprising that the right and many centrists heeded Bush’s challenge. 

Most never left his side, evident in recent polls that show Bush’s overall popularity

has not been deterred by “the war.” 



Bush was Being Honest

 “You’re Either For the American Project or Against It”

By Kil Ja Kim


19 September  2004 

Despite his being deceptive and a liar, I want to point out that George W. Bush was honest, at least once, in his career. It was on September 20, 2001 at a joint session of Congress that Bush made his infamous declaration towards other nations, who were being recruited into his “war on terror”: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” 

Notwithstanding Bush’s purposefully amnesiac definition of terrorism—in reality Bush could never posit “us” and “terrorists” as opposites if he wanted to be honest about the US as a terrorist project—I think Bush’s comment needs to be appreciated for what honesty it does have.  This is probably one of the most honest comments Bush has made.  In his dichotomy, Bush clearly laid it out for the global public: there is no middle ground when it comes to relating to the American project.  You are either for it or against it. 

While Bush was suggesting that “terrorists” are a dark-skinned bunch of Muslims bent on rage against the US, the term “terrorist” is often directed at those who are considered threats to any project that seeks coherence, stability, dominance and expansion.  So the term “terrorist” is nothing new and the strategic use of it by US politicians to suppress political dissent and critique was widely documented and discussed by intellectuals and activists long before September 11. 

Although Bush’s statement wasn’t surprising—he is, after all, the appointed (public) leader of the American project—I want to reflect on the “left’s” response to Bush’s statement and how this response appears to be embedded in a great deal of political activity, including protests, filmmaking and public discussions at forums, on the web and in print. 

Many on the left appear to have a deep anxiety towards Bush’s dichotomy, finding it too restrictive or narrow of an option.  But what Bush was really doing was forcing people to make a decision, something my generation of activists seems to have great difficulty doing.  And for Bush, this meant taking a stand either for or against the American project, which of course is one of imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, white patriarchy and heterosexism, and anti-black and anti-Native racism and sexism. 

It’s not surprising that the right and many centrists heeded Bush’s challenge.  Most never left his side, evident in recent polls that show Bush’s overall popularity has not been deterred by “the war.”  But while the right and centrists made it clear where they stand, many on the left tried to have it both ways—or at least, a middle ground between the two camps that Bush laid out: those who identify with the American project and those who don’t. 

This difficulty, or unwillingness in some cases, to, dare I say it, appreciate Bush’s candidness, was apparent immediately after his September 20 speech.  Many activists could be heard lamenting how unfair Bush’s dichotomy was, and a flurry of editorials and counter-commentaries were circulated saying as much.  Today we still see this anxiety played out in debates over what it means to be patriotic.  Some walk around with flags wrapped around their bodies to prove their loyalty while protesting specific decisions about Bush.  Others hold signs that say “peace is patriotic” or ardently defend that being a dissident is the most patriotic move one can make in a (seemingly) democratic society. 

Often activists express the desire to be supportive of the nation but not of Bush.  Thus, Bush’s “us” that he referred to was not understood as a bigger entity, one that was in place before Bush took office and that will remain after he vacates.   Instead, people took the comment to mean literally, you’re either with Bush, or you’re not.  But in reality, the “us” Bush referred to isn’t split along superficial political lines, but rather can be taken as those who believe, for whatever reason, in the inherent goodness of the American project, regardless of how much blood it has on its hands or how many spirits haunt the land and the seas surrounding it. 

Some will surely point out that these claims to patriotism are more strategic than anything.  I don’t doubt that this is the case in many situations.  As intellectual and agitator W.E.B. Du Bois pointed out, many are forced to make strategic, and therefore what some will label as “reformist” decisions, while simultaneously dreaming and battling for a more humane future.  But in the course of these debates about whether one can find a middle ground between Bush and what he labels “terrorism,” the “left” may want to consider whether the flag waving and fierce debates over patriotism is indicative of perhaps a deep-seated loyalty or faith to the “us” that Bush referenced.  And if so, what does this (in)decision mean for the future of humanity?

Copyright © 2004 Kil Ja Kim

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