II. The Anatomy of the American Social Wars

Over the last half century, this country has been in a perpetual state of war. From Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, to the Wars on Crime and Drugs, to our current War on Terror, to smaller incursions against cancer and immigration, we, as a nation, have spent the last fifty years in an ever-present posture of social anxiety and metaphorical combat. Each of this century's most prominent social wars has followed a similar pattern: an intense period of political posturing about the dangers of the chosen target, accompanied by episodic media coverage of a few sensationalized incidents, followed by a period of public outcry and polls that reflect the public's mounting fear of the target, followed finally by a flurry of punitive laws at both the federal and state level that lawmakers have justified as efforts to reassure an anxious public. More often than not, these laws have a disproportionately negative impact on a racial or ethnic out-group. America's Wars on Crime and Drugs are illustrative. The super-predator war followed a similar pattern. One difference, however, is that unlike the racial minorities and poor whites the Wars on Crime and Drugs swept up, our adolescent population had never before experienced the groundswell of social antipathy that the super-predator war generated.