"Axis of Evil" (Terrorism: Essential Primary Sources) Insights

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Jefferson Meets the Modern World: Eternal Vigilance Is the Price of Democracy

In the end, one of the lasting legacies of the "Axis of Evil" speech is how government is empowered during times of crisis. The September 11 Attacks and thus the War on Terrorism had gripped American consciousness. In his speech, President Bush articulated a vision of the world where the enemy is everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. He constructed a vision of terrorism as representing the absolute embodiment of evil that a perceived democratic government such as the United States must unilaterally commit itself to fighting at all times. In this construction, the fight against terrorism featured two supposed realities, both of which justified centralized governmental action. If the terrorists were defeated, the War on Terror was working; if the terrorists were not defeated, it only speaks to the furthering commitment needed in the War on Terror. Either way, the vision that President Bush articulated in his "Axis of Evil" speech bolsters the centralized notion of governmental authority.

The lasting legacy of this vision is that citizens have to be vigilant in terms of their government. While acting on what seemed to be credible intelligence at the time, it later emerged that there were no stockpiles of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. The public believed what was told as truth. The President's speech casts geopolitical reality as a moralistic tale of "good vs. evil." The reality was far more complex. The Iraq campaign was a muddle, at best. While Saddam Hussein was removed from power, there is a very compelling debate that emerges in terms of whether Iraq is better off today. The "Axis of Evil" was a loaded phrase that convinced the American public of the need to adopt the Bush Doctrine. Eternal vigilance lacking, the United States committed itself to a worldview where there is real question as to whether the world is safer today. The embrace of eternal vigilance is one of the most poignant lessons to emerge from the Bush Doctrine as outlined in the "Axis of Evil" speech.