The war that the United States has been waging against the nonwhite peoples of the world for over half a century came home yesterday.
Nothing does, nothing can, justify the brutal terror attack that may have killed thousands of innocent civilians. It is a crime against humanity of the highest order, and the sympathies of all right-thinking people must be with the families of the victims.
But we must understand what led to it, and draw the right lessons from it, or as Santayana suggested, we may be condemned to relive it.
Let us not pretend that this was the only harvest in history that was never sown.
The main practitioner of attacks that either deliberately target civilians or are so indiscriminate that it makes no difference, is no shadowy Middle Eastern terrorist, but our own government.
Where was the justified rage of commentators, analysts, and talking heads when the United States attacked civilians on a massive scale during the Gulf War, even referring to Basra, a city of 800,000, as a "military target." Where was it when they deliberately destroyed the water treatment systems of the country, and then spent ten years carefully rationing the chlorine needed to treat the water and the medicines that could be used to fight an explosion of water-borne disease, while over 1 million Iraqi civilians died?
Where was it when the U.S. invaded Panama, in blatant violation of international law, shelled a lower-class civilian neighborhood of Panama City for hours, broadcasting commands for the people to surrender in English, not Spanish, and then bulldozed most of the estimated four thousand (mostly civilian) dead into unmarked mass graves?
Or during Guatemala's genocidal dirty war against the indigenous Mayan population, inaugurated after a CIA-sponsored military coup in 1954, and supported by the United States through the 1980's, which killed a quarter of a million people? When the United States financed an army of thugs to rape, torture, and murder innocent peasants in Nicaragua whose only crime was that they wanted to control their own lives?
When NATO destroyed the civilian infrastructure of Serbia? When, on hundreds of different occasions since December 1998, U.S. planes dropped bombs on Iraq?
None of these victimizations of innocent people in other countries by our government justifies the victimization of innocent Americans by any foreign agency (and we must remember that as yet there is no conclusive evidence about who committed these atrocities). But they do help to explain the anger many people feel against the United States, and the symbols of its power.
Everybody (so it seems) is beating the drums of war, in a way we have not seen in this country since the much-referred-to attack on Pearl Harbor. George W. Bush, in his speech to the nation yesterday, said "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these attacks and those who harbor them," suggesting that retaliation will not only be swift and severe but indiscriminate, that it will involve targeting the innocent citizens of the country from which the perpetrators happened to plan this attack.
Unfortunately, it seems that most Americans are choosing to learn the wrong lessons from this. Instead of learning that the imperial fantasies of being able to destroy entire countries without incurring a single American casualty, of being able to antagonize half the world and somehow assure complete safety by intelligence operations have crumbled when brought into contact with reality, they have decided that what we really need is more of a failed and completely untenable policy.
In this Orwellian world we have lived in for almost six decades, we have internalized the debasement of language so thoroughly that we rarely question it. We have spent all that time being told, and thinking, that "national security" is imperiled by Cubans' desire to live free of external domination, by anything that threatens U.S. corporate profits, that it is something that has to do with the ability of our government and our corporations to control
the rest of the world.
Now, confronted with the first significant real threat to national security in a long time, we should finally be able to see that our genuine security is not enhanced by military aggression against other countries, by buildup of expensive military equipment that could not possibly have helped against an attack like this, or by attempts at total economic domination of the Third World.
Massive retaliation will just keep us locked in a cycle of violence. We have come to the sharp limits of the security that can come from the boot on the neck, and must, if we are to be secure, try what can come from the open hand.
Mutual disarmament and peace based on global justice are the only way. Let us be first in peace as we have been first in war for so long.
Rahul Mahajan is an antiwar activist, and serves on the Coordinating Committee of the National Network to End the War Against Iraq and the Board of Directors of Peace Action. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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