Tony Soprano and the War on Terror

Over at the New York Review of Books' blog, the novelist Francine Prose has a post about the "nominations" process--the Orwellian name for the regular meetings at which President Obama decides which suspected terrorists to target for assassination. These meetings were the subject of a recent article by Jo Beck and Scott Shane in the New York Times, and Prose puts on her literary critic hat in order to offer a close reading of Beck and Shane's devastating reporting: "Asdrama," Prose writes, the President's "Terror on Tuesday" meetings are "reminiscent of great moments in cable TV: Tony Soprano and his colleagues deciding whom to whack, The Wires Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell conferring on which of their child employees must be eliminated." Here's the conclusion to the post:

For [a moral critique of the policy], we need to examine the articles final line, which continues to resonate after we have set aside our papers. Presumably, pages of transcripts must have been sifted through in order to find (and end with) the following quote from Michael Leiter, former Director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

You can pass a lot of laws, Mr. Leiter said, These laws are not going to get Bin Laden dead.

Get Bin Laden dead? With its execrable grammar, its calculated thuggishness, and, for all that we have been reading about the assumption of personal responsibility, its euphemistic avoidance of what is really at issue (toget dead is not the same as tokill, and its never laws but people who get other people dead), the quote suggests a new dispensation in which our government, at the highest level, has given Tony Soprano license to ignore the rule of law and murder actual human beings, some of them harmless civilians. Shouldnt we feel more frightened than reassured by the knowledge that the leader of our country holds himself accountable for every one of these deaths?

Anthony Domestico is Chair of the Literature Department at Purchase College, and a frequent contributor to Commonweal. His book Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period is available from Johns Hopkins University Press.

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