War, Terror, and the Death of Freedom
by Paul Roasberry
As I stand at that saddle on the ridge where my years of life-already-lived far exceed the years of life yet-to-be-lived, rage fades to sorrow and hatred ebbs into melancholia. I am weary of the fight; humanity is an embarrassment. I thirst simply for peace on a blasted-out, war-parched desert.
Once I had friends, lots of friends who shared my fury against the American crimes in Viet Nam. Where have they gone? What have they become? Apart from a handful, they are grown fat with success, complacent in their responsibilities, soaped and barbered and turned out as caricatures of everything they once despised. Sealed hermetically against any possible infection of moral outrage, against any stink of unwanted realities, their bottoms padded in soft leather, they swish through ghettos of despair in tight, expensive, spotless and gleaming new automobiles. Mumbling inane platitudes, they thrive in a world where Dylan and Lennon have decayed almost unrecognizably into supermarket Musak
But here I stand, receding hairline, bad teeth, arthritic knees and all, still astonished at the intrinsic worthlessness, at the utter tragic waste that warfare represents. In my sad life I have made my own way through impetuous decisions, some good, some bad; I have become a father, a homeowner, a small businessman. I have suffered losses – the loss of my marriage, the loss of my youth, the loss of sight in one eye, the loss of passion. I have suffered terrors – the terrors of being arrested for crimes I never committed, the terrors of watching my daughter navigate a life-warping emotional minefield in the aftermath of the now notorious massacre at her high school, the black-velvety dark terror of blindness caused by a detached retina. And several times a week now, I am pursued by nameless terrors in my sleep, and I awaken, screaming, trying to make sense of the anxious crying of my cat Penelope as she huddles just outside my bedroom door. I have pains in my chest and I feel exhausted most of the time. In my life, I have been medicated and locked up against psychosis and bi-polar disorder. I have slashed my wrist, swallowed too many pills, puked into the half-frozen dirty slush of too many January gutters.
Thirty-four winters ago, I was still young. My comrades and I used to draw clever parallels between our own government and that of the German Nazis. But somewhere deep in my heart, I only half believed then that my country was skidding inevitably into totalitarianism. We were only playing a kind of game; I perceived hope in the natural tendency of the few of us to rebel, to revolt. I felt that conditions could never reach the point that they actually have reached today, and I now wonder where we could have stopped it. The slow, incremental erosion of liberty that we once had to squint at in order to diagnose has become an avalanche. And like an avalanche, it is unstoppable; one can only hope to skirt it in time or, if hit by it, to swim on its surface until it runs itself out.
In 1964 I first read Orwell’s 1984. It was a work of fiction, then. It was a nightmare vision. Television screens that could monitor the audience, helicopters snooping into high rise windows, the daily Five Minutes’ Hate, the scapegoat Goldstein who was responsible for all evil everywhere, the Memory Hole – thrilling fantasies for a fifteen-year-old boy, but all of them have come to pass, and worse. Advances in technology have rendered privacy all but a relic of the past. And notwithstanding the easy access to information made possible by computers and the Worldwide Web, citizens remain as ignorant, as addicted to sanitized news, as eager to believe any martinet with a title, as they ever were. The fog of “patriotism,” which Samuel Johnson once characterized as “the last refuge of scoundrels,” has again smothered us in groupthink. Those who oppose war are silenced and threatened in the name of a “democracy” that vanished long ago. War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and now, Democracy is Dictatorship. In the name of “liberty,” latter-day Nazis launch their blitzkriegs, following Hitler’s words of “justification” almost to the letter.
I shut my eyes. I focus my mind on what I’ve just re-read. The year was 1939. After seizing Czechoslovakia and Austria without having to fire a shot, on the first day of September Der Fuhrer addressed the troops he had massed along the Polish border. He said,
“The Polish government, unwilling to establish good neighborly relations as aimed at by me, wants to force the issue by way of arms. Several acts of frontier violation, which cannot be tolerated by a great power, show that Poland is no longer prepared to respect the Reich’s frontiers.”
I think: with only minor substitutions, changing “Polish” to “Iraqi”, “frontier violations” to “manufacturing weapons of mass destruction” and “Reich’s frontiers” to “our national security,” for instance, gives us a speech that could have been delivered by George W. Bush.
Go back a page or two. On the previous evening, Hitler released Directive No. 1 for the Conduct of War:
“Now that all the political possibilities of disposing by peaceful means of a situation on the Eastern Frontier which is intolerable for Germany are exhausted, I have determined on a solution by force.”
Not the Reichstag, not he and his advisors, not the Nazi Party. He, Adolf Hitler, launched World War Two that night of August 31 - September 1, 1939.
I think: despite widespread protests at home, and despite even more massive opposition from so-called “allies” of the United States abroad, George W. Bush, and he alone, has decided, unilaterally, personally, to invade another country that never attacked the United States, never invaded the United States, never even threatened to do so.
And just as there were never really any “frontier violations” by the Poles – only the staged-for-the-newspapers incursions of German troops clad in Polish uniforms – so there are no “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. The U.N. inspectors found none. And any that are suddenly “discovered” by American troops must forever remain as suspect as the myriad handguns that are routinely planted by police who mistakenly gun down unarmed suspects. In fact, there’s even a term for such planted weapons: throwdowns Every savvy cop carries one in the trunk of his squad car, wiped clean of prints, serial numbers filed off.
What, after all, is a “weapon of mass destruction?” Iraq is a desert; it is beset with sandstorms and wind. Poison gas has a very limited effectiveness here; you could kill as many people with a hand grenade as you could with a gas cannister. Or is a “weapon of mass destruction” more accurately a 3500 pound laser-guided American blockbuster bomb exploding in a crowded marketplace? You decide. I see potential weapons of mass destruction every day – passenger airliners, gasoline tanker trucks, railroad cars loaded with ammonium nitrate fertilizer. And notwithstanding all this, the only mass destruction being committed in Iraq is being committed by American and British troops. It is not a fair fight; Iraqi casualties outnumber allied casualties by several hundred -to-one. The last time the United States achieved this kind of body count ratio was at the “Battle” of Wounded Knee. This “war” more closely resembles the Sand Creek Massacre, or perhaps the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. This is not war; it is extermination.
So let’s ask an Iraqi widow about mass destruction.
I want to address some words to those ninnies who still preach that I have a “voice,” that it really matters what ordinary citizens think. People all over the world are pleading for a halt to this madness, and average Americans scarcely comprehend the magnitude of opposition. As to these other beings, these other citizens of the world – do their voices not count? At the outbreak of this war in Iraq, here is a small sampling of the news I’ve culled from international Internet news services:
Syrian people in the city of Aleppo and the city of Daraa demonstrated today expressing anger and condemnation against the American and British war on Iraq. . . . In Egypt and Syria, thousands of protesters vented their fury at the start of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, with some demanding the expulsion of U.S. ambassadors. In Cairo, the Arab world's biggest city, riot police used water cannons and batons against hundreds of rock-throwing protesters who tried to storm towards the U.S. embassy. . . . In Yemen, three Yemeni demonstrators and one security member were killed yesterday and 18 demonstrators and other 7 Yemeni police members were wounded in violent confrontations in the surrounding of the US embassy in Sanaa, according to Yemeni security sources and the Yemeni Red Crescent Society at the site of the clashes . . . . Some 100,000 Moroccans took to the streets Sunday in downtown Rabat, Morocco's capital city, to protest war threats against Iraq. Marchers waved banners reading "World Peoples for Peace," "Aggression against Iraq is Aggression against all Arab nations," "Save the children of Iraq," and other anti-war slogans. Parallel marches were organized on Sunday in the cities of Mohammedia (near Casablanca), Tangier and Tetuan in the north . . . . Several world capitals witnessed yesterday demonstrations of protest against the war the USA started against Iraq, under expectations of observers of increased demonstrations to cover most parts of the world . . . . In Cairo, al-Jazira TV station reported that some 150 persons were wounded in the clashes between the police and thousands of Egyptian demonstrators, while demonstrations continued in al-Tahrir ( liberation) square in Cairo where students of the American university of Cairo gathered with other demonstrators who tried later on to reach the American embassy . . . . The demonstrators also called on the Arab governments to announce "Jihad " and send Arab armies to Baghdad to defend Iraq and its people. The demonstrators burnt American flags and raised Iraqi and Palestinian flags . . . . A similar demonstration took place in London where the British prime minister Tony Blair is witnessing a difficult position under the escalated war against Iraq . . . Meantime, thousands of Syrians demonstrated in Damascus. They chanted slogans denouncing the US President George Bush whom they described as a war criminal and they chanted against the leaders of the Arab states allied with the US and described them as "traitors" and "worshippers of the US dollars." The demonstrators tried, uselessly, to arrive in the American embassy but were prevented by the police . . . . Just three hours after the American missiles fell on Baghdad, more than 40,000 Australians headed for the streets expressing their protest against the war led by Washington against Iraq in which their country is taking part . . . . . In Athens, some 80 to 100 thousands citizens demonstrated demanding the halt of war against Iraq. Similar demonstrations were held in Indonesia, Jakarta since the first minutes of the American attack against Iraq. Thousands of Indonesians gathered in front of the American embassy in Indonesia and the Islamic groups threatened Washington of large scale campaigns of protest in all parts of the Islamic world . . . . Hundreds of anti- war partisans gathered in front of the White House as an expression of their rejection of the war against Iraq. They called on the American president to return back to peace and to stop the war which they described as "inhuman." . . . Meanwhile, Tens of thousands of citizens and students in Arab and foreign countries participated in large mass demonstrations condemning the aggressive war on Iraq. The demonstrators in Egypt, Sudan, Bahrain, Spain and in other countries raised flags and slogans denouncing the US-British war on Iraq and calling for peace and stopping the war. . . . Thousands of students demonstrated in Cairo University yesterday protesting against the American- British war on Iraq.. . . In the London Suburb of Million Keynes, the Greens party have called on consumers to boycott 330 American products ranging from Mars bars to Gap jeans and American films on DVD and Video. . . . In Zurich, travel agents said some clients who usually take holidays in the United States are changing their destinations. . . . Some of the most loyal customers who have been traveling to the United States for years have changed their plans because they don't like what Bush is doing. . . . In Pakistan, thousands demonstrated today against the American- British invasion of Iraq. Demonstrators burnt the American flag and pictures of George Bush and Tony Blair carrying placards written on them "human blood is much more precious than the oil.". . .Thousands of Thai people also demonstrated protesting against the aggressive war against Iraq. Demonstrators stressed that they want to reveal to the whole world the reality of the war calling for boycotting the American goods.
This is an ominous warning of what is to come. Bush’s tanks and smart bombs and almost ludicrously superior technological war-making capabilities notwithstanding, there will be a continuing history after this war is “won,” and as the saying goes, “the opera isn’t over until . . . .”
* * * * * *
The Great Debate in the United States now centers around whether one can oppose the war against Iraq and still “support the troops.” So fearful are average Americans of not appearing to be “behind our guys in uniform” that they quail at any inference that they might not be patriotic. Absurdity has reached new extremes. We might as well envision Germans in 1939 worrying about whether they could “oppose” the annexation of Poland and still “support” the valiant thugs who bombed, strafed and beat the living snot out of the Polish defenders. Supporting Our Troops is about as pathetic an apology for opposing our presence in Iraq as you can conceive. You might as well be proud of your son when he beats up a paraplegic at school. If war is a fistfight, the military action in Iraq is gang rape.
The whoring press, more complicit in the Bush Blitzkrieg than it ever was in any other war, supports the tragic farce, avoids the obvious questions, and willingly assists in the publication of lies and falsehoods. Saddam Hussein is a monster because he has gassed his own people, and yet friends of mine were blinded and choked by tear gas in Colorado Springs in February for protesting against what was then only a proposal to go to war. They were gassed by their government. And if it is immoral and against international “law” for Iraq to possess “weapons of mass destruction,” including biological weapons, explain to me why the Anthrax that appeared in the U.S. mails shortly after “9/11" happened to have been manufactured in a U.S. military research facility. If such weapons have been “outlawed,” what the hell was the U.S. doing with stockpiles of what were then described as “weapons grade anthrax?”
During the initial days of the Iraq war, American reporters announced in breathless excitement that a cache of protective suits and masks “proved” that Iraq was planning chemical warfare.
This made about as much sense as claiming that a man with a burglar alarm in his home was contemplating a break-in at his neighbor’s house. Hans Blix, the United Nations' chief arms inspector, said that “the presence of 300 chemical suits and masks could not prove that Iraq (was) holding chemical weapons . . . . Iraq could have arranged suits to meet any chemical attack threat.”
The world pretends to worry about an Iraqi atomic bomb, but ignores the simple historical fact that only one country – yours and mine – ever used such a weapon against civilian populations. We used it twice, in fact. The Nagasaki bomb landed a couple of blocks away from the Yamazato Elementary School and the Hiroshima bomb practically landed on the roof of a Christian church. I leave it to you to conclude what the American government, and its fawning press corps, would have to say about any foreigners who bombed an elementary school in Nashville, let’s say, or a church in Chicago.
The whole fiction of “just wars” is laughable. People die in wars. Children die in wars. Arms and legs get blown off people whose only crime was to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Calling such casualties “collateral damage” is about as insulting to me as calling the deliberate murders of Jews a “final solution to the Jewish problem.” You cannot sanitize wickedness and wrongdoing by renaming it.
And yet that is exactly what has happened. All manner of atrocities have been glossed over, renamed, rendered harmless by soothing words, by glib lies. It is easier for Americans to overlook the naziism innate in their government’s behavior when they are assured by talking heads that they are only looking at “collateral damage,” “regrettable miscalculations” or “removing the dead-enders.”
I think that the final crushing blow to my morale came the day my daughter’s high school became a killing field. This event generated literally millions of pages of analyses, commentary, and reportage. And yet, only once, buried in the pages of a local newspaper, did I come across the one item of news that placed the entire, outrageous day into perspective. For me, it explained everything. Eric Harris had told an acquaintance, barely a week before the shooting rampage, that he “wanted to go to Kosovo so he could kill a lot of people.”
Where do children learn violence? Sorry, not from Marilyn Manson. Not from video games. Not from movies. They learn it from their own government, the best role model for sadism, cruelty and gratuitous killing that you can find, anywhere. They learn it from acts of war – or, more appropriately for the current military engagement, from acts of extermination.
After September 11, 2001, Congress outdid itself in passing knee-jerk “anti-terrorist” legislation – legislation which has since come to be known as “the Patriot Act.” Consider the following proposed war-time legislation:
And be it farther enacted, that if any person shall write, print, utter or publish, or shall cause or procure to be written, printed, uttered or published, or shall knowingly and willingly assist or aid in writing, printing, uttering or publishing any false, scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States, or either house of the Congress of the United States, or the President of the United States, with intent to defame the said government, or either house of the said Congress, or the said President, or to bring them, or either of them, into contempt or disrepute; or to excite against them, or either or any of them, the hatred of the good people of the United States . . ., then such person, being thereof convicted before any court of the United States having jurisdiction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not exceeding two thousand dollars, and by imprisonment not exceeding two years.
Your initial reaction might be that the wording of such a bill subverts the intent of the First Amendment, and you’d be right. What are the odds of such a bill being passed? Slim, you might say, and you’d be wrong. It was passed, in 1798 and it was not repealed until 1801.
In fact, the history of the United States has been one of repeated transgressions against the so-called “law of the land.” If you expect the Constitution to protect you from being stripped of your civil liberties, think again. The Constitution has been ignored as a worthless nuisance by presidents in the past, and precedents have been set, repeatedly, for its “guarantees” to be withdrawn.
Consider, for instance, Abraham Lincoln’s decree rescinding habeus corpus. Habeus corpus is the “law” that supposedly “guarantees” you the right to an attorney, and to due process of law. Take note: that “guarantee” was withdrawn by Lincoln in the following language:
Soon after the first call for militia it was considered a duty to authorize the commanding general in proper cases according to his discretion, to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, or in other words to arrest and detain, without resort to the ordinary processes and forms of law, such individuals as he might deem dangerous to the public safety. This authority has purposely been exercised but very sparingly.
Note the usual apologetics: Lincoln’s action was taken in the interests of “the public safety,” and no one need worry himself over it, because it would be used “but very sparingly.” Some comfort to those against whom this arbitrary decree was directed.
Yet another example of how “lawmakers” disregard as utterly unimportant the over-touted “safeguards” of liberty enumerated in the Bill of Rights, is the Sedition Act of 1918. This law made it unlawful to
willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States, or the Constitution of the United States, or the military or naval forces of the United States . . . or. . . willfully display the flag of any foreign enemy, or . . .willfully . . . urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of production . . . or advocate, teach, defend, or suggest the doing of any of the acts or things in this section enumerated and whoever shall by word or act support or favor the cause of any country with which the United States is at war or by word or act oppose the cause of the United States therein. . . .
Bear in mid that the legislation and decrees we’ve just cited were not mere proposals – they were enacted into law and they were enforced. Virtually everything you were taught as a youngster about “freedom” in the United States is a shameless lie. Perhaps the most frightening law to be enacted in the U.S. is the following one. What distinguishes it from the others is the utter vagueness of the language, a vagueness that totally conceals the horror it was intended to disguise. Let’s take a look at it
Whereas, The successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national defense material, national defense premises and national defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533 as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220. and the Act of August 21, 1941. 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104):
Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, l hereby authorized and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deem such action necessary or desirable to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restriction the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom. such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designation of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamation of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamation in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.
This is the infamous EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 9066, issued by Franklin Roosevelt in February, 1942, “authorizing” the detainment of Japanese-Americans in so-called “internment camps.” A cursory glance at the wording indicates nothing of its true purpose; in fact, the whole order is phrased to appear to warrant the creation of special military districts in time of war, from which persons may be “excluded” -- on the face of it, a reasonable enough idea. We only begin to glean the true purpose of this “Executive Order” when we come to the words, “The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom. such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary.” Pay close attention here. What you are reading is the legal justification for stripping citizens of virtually all of their civil liberties. What you are reading is the government’s way of consigning hundreds of thousands of innocent beings to life in a concentration camp. Nazism does not arrive with a fanfare of trumpets – it arrives when you are unaware, and by the time you realize what has happened, it is far, far too late. One brave citizen refused to obey this “executive order,” and here is what happened to him. In KIYOSHI HIRABAYASHI v. UNITED STATES, 320 U.S. 81 (1943), it is reported that
On the trial to a jury it appeared that appellant was born in Seattle in 1918, of Japanese parents who had come from Japan to the United States, and who had never afterward returned to Japan; that he was educated in the Washington public schools and at the time of his arrest was a senior in the University of Washington; that he had never been in Japan or had any association with Japanese residing there.
The evidence showed that appellant had failed to report to the Civil Control Station on May 11 or May 12, 1942, as directed, to register for evacuation from the military area. He admitted failure to do so, and stated it had at all times been his belief that he would be waiving his rights as an American citizen by so doing. The evidence also showed that for like reason he was away from his place of residence after 8:00 p.m. on May 9, 1942. The jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts and appellant was sentenced to imprisonment for a term of three months on each, the sentences to run concurrently.
In other words, Mr. Hirabayashi, forget the “Constitution.” The court might as well have said, “We don’ need no steenking Constitution.” The whole affair smells like Hitler’s “relocation” of the Jews to “the eastern provinces” during World War II.
Terrorism, like communism fifty years ago, has been identified as America’s “enemy.” Like any pejorative term, the word “terrorism” has been distilled in our conscious minds to a set of mental flash cards – collapsing skyscrapers, crashing airplanes, exploding cars, and so forth. We seldom give thought to what terrorism really is, what conditions lead to its appearance, what attracts people to practice it, what it perceives its mission to be, or what logic it uses to justify itself. Sadly, uncritical minds too easily seize upon the idea that terrorism is any violent act that “they” commit against “us,” and their analysis begins and ends there.
It seems true that one man’s terrorist act is another man’s show of patriotism. Let’s start with some definitions. Terror is a variety of propaganda. Propaganda seeks either to persuade or to demoralize. Persuasive propaganda can rely on truth, fiction, or a mixture of both; but in its most effective manifestations, it focuses on delivering very simple and seductive messages through the repetition of slogans.
Negative propaganda seeks to shock, cripple or incapacitate its audience psychologically. Examples of such propaganda are deliberately planted rumors (or “disinformation“), veiled or overtly extortionist threats, and terrorism. Terrorism was once called “propaganda of the deed,” to distinguish it from merely verbal, argumentative propaganda. In many respects, it resembles theater in its efforts to induce particular emotions. The terrorist act is a statement, a slogan if you will. It seeks to create in its audience a mind-paralyzing fear. The act itself becomes a kind of psychological shockwave which plays itself over and over again in the minds of those who witness it.
Terror can be a weapon of governments against those who oppose them, or it can be an act of groups or individuals who believe that they are being oppressed. Its objective is twofold: to discourage opposition (through the infliction of psychological damage) and to exact retaliation for real or imagined past insults. Similarly, governments use terror both to punish any who actively oppose it and to discourage others from taking their place. Individuals and minorities use terror either because they’ve exhausted all the ordinary avenues for persuasion or positive propaganda, or because they feel powerless to fight in any other way. Governments employ terror when their doctrines are fundamentally untenable, or when their powers are seriously being eroded by organized opposition.
Terror is almost always committed in the name of an ideology or principle, although its specific acts are relatively empty of ideological content. The nearest that terrorism comes to being “ideological” is when its targets are symbolic of an ideological enemy. Hence, the attack on the Wold Trade Center and on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, were strikes against symbols of American economic and military might. However, other acts of terror seem utterly random or pointless. The notorious terrorist Carlos (Ilyich Ramirez) once tossed a hand grenade into a Parisian café. His reasons for doing so were never quite clear, other than to enhance his own legend.
However, there are thousands of ideological sects in the world that oppose American economic power and military might, so a strike against either of these does not automatically represent a particular point of opposition. The consequence is that frequently, when a terrorist act occurs, groups that had nothing to do with its execution hasten to take “credit” for it.
Waging “war” on terrorism through conventional military means is costly and almost always utterly ineffective. By definition, terrorists are unconventional fighters – that is, they do not subscribe to the conventions of warfare. Their armies are largely invisible. They do not wear uniforms. They do not adhere to treaties regarding the taking of prisoners or so-called “war crimes.” Their soldiers are indistinguishable from ordinary civilians. Their fighting methods are often highly innovative and their attacks are almost always unexpected. Terrorists may have succeeded in erasing in themselves any instincts toward self-preservation, making them immune to threats of retaliation.
The danger in attempting to take on terrorism militarily is that unless you can identify, locate and kill every active terrorist as well as all of those who are involved in their support, the survivors will live to recruit, reorganize, and strike again. Moreover, they will learn how to evade retaliatory strikes and become even more effective in avoiding detection. They will almost certainly escalate the psychological intensity of their acts, targeting children, the infirm, schools, churches, hospitals, those who are the most innocent and defenseless. Their methods will become more brutal, shocking, and cruel. In short, resistance to terror is the very thing which seems to fuel it. Wherever terror is organized, it seems to follow a logical progression from focused guerilla attacks on military assets to the calculated slaughter of innocents. Terrorist acts against the United States in recent years have progressed from the take-over of embassies, the kidnaping and murder of diplomats, and the bombing of U.S. Marine bases to attacks on civilian office buildings and commercial airline flights. An al-Qaida training video released in March shows terrorists rehearsing an attack on a school.
Even if one is successful in hunting down and killing nests of terrorists, that very accomplishment may serve as inspiration for others to become terrorists. Modern medical practitioners have used antibiotics to wage “war” on certain pathogenic microbes for decades. Despite initial successes, those microbes have come back with a vengeance, having learned how to mutate to acquire resistance to all common antibiotics. Others have mutated into “benign” strains, waiting for an opportunity to mutate again, at some distant point in the future, into virulent organisms. It is becoming increasingly apparent that the war on microbes has only worsened the potential for them to destroy and kill at unprecedented levels.
The Israelis have had considerable success in hunting down and capturing or killing individual terrorist leaders, but very little success in stemming terrorism in general. In fact, the practice they have adopted recently of bulldozing the homes of suspected terrorists into rubble has seemed only to send more and more Palestinian youth into terrorist training camps. Educated, middle class Palestinians are now becoming human suicide bombers in defense of the Palestinian cause. The problem is no longer isolated in refugee camps.
While Americans tend to see the events of September 11, 2001 in a greatly telescoped temporal context, they cannot deny that their own government killed a hundred times as many innocent people on August 6, 1945. It was the United States of America that used the atomic bomb as an instrument of terror to force the Japanese into surrendering. Suggestions to use the bomb in a demonstration setting, such as at some South Pacific island, were immediately rejected. First, there was the possibility that the bomb might be a “dud,” but the overwhelming rationale for using the bomb on Japan was to show Joseph Stalin that the United States was not afraid to use it. The dropping of not one, but two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was one of the most cynically calculated acts of terrorism ever perpetrated. It had far less to do with “ending the war” than it did with scaring the pants off the Russians, whom high level decision makers in Washington regarded as the looming post-war threat.
During the French and Indian wars, the British invented the practice of scalping as an act of terror to discourage the Indians from fighting alongside the French. How ironic that the practice took root and that today, it is mistakenly regarded as something the Indians did to white people. Wake up, white man. They learned it from you.
Nor can it escape the world’s attention that the United States has committed scores of other terrorist atrocities, from Sand Creek to My Lai, and that it actively turns a blind eye to the terrorist activities of its darling ally in the Middle East, Israel. How can we forget that Israel owes its very existence to the terrorist acts of the Irgun and the Stern Gang in the 1940's? What kind of psychological effect can it possibly have had on Palestinians to know that Menachem Begin, the architect of the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1948, was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? This news must have been as appalling to the Palestinians as it would be to ordinary Americans if they were to open their newspapers and discover that bin Laden had become this year’s recipient of the same prize.
Given a broader historical perspective, it is easier to see how someone committing terrorist acts against the United States could perceive himself as a warrior fighting for justice. Understanding terrorism requires one to step back and see the world as objectively as possible. You cannot begin to understand terrorism or the terrorist mentality if you adhere to political prejudices or deep-seated moral outrage at particular isolated acts of terror. Examine historical records closely; you will see that terror is a weapon that is used almost universally, by governments against their people and by people against their oppressors. It is only through adopting some relative viewpoint that a particular act becomes either “terroristic” or “heroic.”
It is very important to understand that things happen in the world because of a long chain of causes and conditions extending back over the historical horizon into the distant, forgotten past. All events are caused. All human acts are motivated. Forget, momentarily, about right and wrong. Simply allow your mind to acknowledge that a terrorist’s view of reality is as strong and as powerful as your own. Maybe even stronger and more powerful. Examine the evidence. Those whom your community or your nation widely regards as “terrorists” are disconcertingly regarded by millions of others as “heroes” and “freedom fighters.” What evidence is there that these others are “deluded,” while your neighbors aren’t? With the instantaneous worldwide transmission of news, the same information is accessible to nearly all. And yet the same facts will support opposing conclusions. The world is filled with religions, and each one claims that God favors it over all others. Given this circumstance, who is right and who is wrong? Objectively, it is easier to conclude that all are wrong than that any one particular religion is right.
Allowing emotion to affect your notions about terrorism dilutes your power to perceive and to accept reality for what it is. Observe the world dispassionately, and you will see that no one is without sin. The dead are dead and the suffering still suffer. Is the grieving brother of someone hideously burned by radiation at Nagasaki any less deserving of compassion that the distraught sister of someone killed at the World Trade Center? How can you quantify evil? Is killing a thousand people any more horrific than killing a dozen, or even a single individual? Right is right and wrong is wrong and killing is killing and terror is terror.
Terrorism is everywhere. It is not hard to locate. It is committed, shockingly enough, by one’s friends and allies as well as by one’s enemies. What can be gained by acknowledging only the terrorism of selected groups and ignoring the rest?
As terrorism is innovative, so must the solution to terrorism be. Characterizing terrorists as inhuman and cowardly only hardens their resolve. The terrorist does not seek to persuade his victims to his point of view. He is beyond that. He fully expects to provoke massive reprisals, but he does not care. He knows that the reprisals will only serve to steer more and more into his own ranks. His objective is to polarize the world into two warring camps – his and the enemy’s. In his acts, he is drawing a line in the sand. His world is purely confrontational and he does not know how to survive without confrontation.
The terrorist never perceives of himself as a criminal or evildoer. Unlike ordinary criminals who are genuinely unconcerned with higher values, the terrorist sees himself as an agent of ultimate justice. The path that leads one to become a terrorist is beset with moral dilemmas, and it is only after a long period of reflection and contemplation, vacillation and indecision, that one resolves to be a terrorist. In so doing, he renounces everything that ordinary people hold dear: family, peace, longevity, health, and life. He deliberately fashions himself into an automaton and uses the terrorist organization as a tool for reinforcing and magnifying his rage. The terrorist deliberately makes himself over to such an extent that he places himself beyond the powers of anyone to persuade or intimidate him. He becomes oblivious to pain – both his own and that of others. He roots out all vestiges of compassion and numbs himself to the anguish he seeks to unleash. At his most successful pinnacle, he achieves a kind of pathetic ecstacy through his deeds.
The aftershocks of the war on Iraq are bound to continue for many years. I dare to predict the following:
1. Arab unity will soar. Even such pro-U.S. countries as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt are now faced with massive demonstrations against the U.S., and against their governments which they perceive as “selling out” to U.S. interests and money. Revolution, overthrow of the existing governments, and the establishment of fundamentalist Islamic regimes threaten all of these countries. A hint of this was made apparent on March 27, 2003, ten days into the war, when Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud-ul-Faisal said that prolongation of the war in Iraq could “affect Saudi Arab and USA bilateral relations.” This is putting it mildly. In Jedda, Osama bin Laden’s home town, American workers live permanently behind a “protective” enclosure of barbed wire, so fierce is anti-American feeling. Worst case scenario: the monarchies of Jordan and Saudi Arabia are replaced with Iran-like Islamic fundamentalist regimes and Islamic fundamentalists seize power in Egypt, turning the entire Middle East and North Africa into war zones as the U.S. fights to protect Israel and control the Suez Canal
2. Terrorist attacks on the United States will continue and escalate. Millions of Arabic youth will have been galvanized and radicalized by this war, and their extreme hatred for the U.S. will almost certainly manifest itself in suicide attacks and even in stupendous acts of terror. There are hundreds of thousands of pro-Palestinian students who have gotten degrees in technical fields like engineering, chemistry, physics, and biology from western universities, and these are precisely the kinds of people who can design, build, and deploy weapons that can cripple the American economy.
Forget nuclear weapons – look for sophisticated attacks on computer networking, disruption of banking and commercial activities, and attacks on power grids. Look for agri-terror, and especially for the possible release of engineered diseases that will attack crops like wheat, potatos, rice, and soy beans, as well as livestock. Drought-stricken areas of the American Southwest could become targets for firestorm-generating acts of arson. You might wish to heed the words of bin Laden, who said on Feb 11, 2003, “We have recorded through our fight with the enemy that they concentrate on psychological warfare. They rely on intensive air bombardment, but their soldiers are cowards . . . . Their smart bombs failed to help them (at Tora Bora, Afghanistan). They will be wasting their weapons and their money. . . . We also advise you to drag the forces into fighting you in street fights. Take them into farms, into cities, and fight them in there ... they will be losing a lot of lives. We also encourage the suicide attacks against the enemy. Just look at what happened to the U.S. and Israel."
3. A strengthened alliance between the U.S. and the fascistic, racist Likud regime in Israel which has made known its objective of destroying the Palestinian people and forever denying them statehood. Acts of barbarity and war crimes committed by Israel will reach horrific heights, as the religious fanatics of the Knesset are goaded on by the Brooklyn-Miami axis, which exerts a stranglehold on American foreign policy through its control of banking, the media, and entertainment.
4. Increasing isolation of the United States from the affairs of the world. There will be massive boycotts of American goods, attacks on American corporations abroad, suspension of travel and tourism to the U.S., and less opportunity for U.S. citizens to travel abroad as they become soft targets for terrorists. Russia and even perhaps China will win greater and greater support from Third World countries and will replace the U.S. as the dominant moral influences in those regions. America will become seen as increasingly bankrupt morally, and many American intellectuals will leave the country to resettle in Europe, Asia, or Central America. The U.S. will begin to face a “brain drain.” The first inkling of what is to come was reported on March 27th, when we learned that police in Washington had already arrested two Nobel laureates along with others in an anti war rally. Reed Corrigen and Judy Williams were arrested along with two clergymen while they tried crossing a police hurdle during the rally against the Iraq war.
Just as many intellectuals, including Einstein, Freud, and scores of nuclear physicists fled from Germany in the 1930's, enlightened people will begin to abandon the United States for friendlier shores.
5. Draconian assaults on civil liberties within the U.S. will create division within the country and very possibly lead to domestic terrorist incidents as pro-gun and pro-free speech advocates find fewer and fewer forums for free expression of their views open to them. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was partially motivated by his experiences in the 1991 Gulf War, where he witnessed American bullying first hand. Veterans of the current war will come home equally disillusioned with the barbarity of their own government, and some of them, possessing the requisite training and contacts, will attack governmental facilities at home.
6. An ever tighter grip on the news media will leave Americans with only sanitized versions of events. Foreign news services like Al-Jazira will be removed from public access on the Internet in the U.S. This is already becoming a reality as the government begins leaning on domestic news services not to report such things as U.S. casualties or Iraqi civilian casualties. Never before has a U.S. administration used its power to strip reporters of their credentials, or to blackball certain news outlets, but they are doing so now. The message is: play along with our propaganda or never cover a news conference, a war, or any other major event controlled by us again.
The questions asked by reporters on the morning news do not even begin to disguise their editorial sympathies. All pretense at objectivity in news reporting has vanished. Interviews are structured to promote a certain pro-government, pro-American view. During the 1960's, the CIA began actively to recruit reporters as freelance agents, and the practice has expanded. Newscasters whose names are household words receive millions of dollars annually “under the table” from the C.I.A. and even from the White House directly.
7. Arrests without cause, detentions without habeas corpus, wiretaps without justification, seizures without precedent, and further assaults on American liberties will continue unabated as the so-called “Patriot Act” is honed and strengthened to enable the government to create virtual concentration camps for political undesirables. No one is seriously or effectively protesting the present arrests and secret trials of “suspected terrorists,” and no one will protest your arrest, either. The concentration camp at Guantanamo will be augmented by more camps situated in Alaska, Nevada, and other remote, sparsely populated areas. It will become a crime to criticize the government openly.
8. Fundamentalist Christianity will become, de facto, the “official” religion of the United States. Persons at public events, and particularly children, will be pressured to acknowledge “god” and “Jesus” as their deities, at the risk of strident public ostracism. Gigantic religious revivals and mass meetings will send a clear message to unbelievers and members of fringe religions to keep quiet. The bombers of abortion clinics will not be prosecuted, and no court will seriously entertain any case alleging religious persecution. Judges will be appointed on the basis of their religious affiliation, much as they used to be on the basis of their race or sex, although this will not be codified in law.
9. You will see American flags virtually everywhere. It will become as omnipresent as was the swastika in 1930's Germany.
10. Articles like this one will cease to exist on the open market. Some may be printed clandestinely, until their editors and contributors are silenced.