Some living in this “American Matrix” are like the everyday people in the movies, simply oblivious to what’s going on beneath the surface, either too busy or too bored to find out. Others appear to know better but behave like Cipher, the character in the original movie who chooses the fake pleasures of the Matrix over what Morpheus calls “the desert of the real.”
Many Americans so enjoyed the TV-driven nationalism of the Iraq War, for instance, that they didn’t want it spoiled by reality. During the conflict, they objected to news outlets showing mangled bodies or wounded children or U.S. POWs. Presenting the ugly face of war was seen as unpatriotic or somehow disloyal to “the troops.” Only positive images were welcome and dissent was deemed almost treasonous.
Now, even as U.S. forces in Iraq slide closer to the guerrilla-war quagmire that some skeptics predicted, Americans continue to say they trust George W. Bush to handle the situation. Some military analysts close to the Bush administration are beginning to feel differently, however. “We’re hanging on by our fingernails,” one told me recently.
But Americans still prefer to feel good about the war. They want to believe that the U.S. invasion was just, and that Saddam Hussein really was poised to use weapons of mass destruction. By large majorities, Americans either believe that these weapons have already been found or they don’t care that the Bush administration may have misled the world.