Not Who but Why

Tragic attack isn’t much of a surprise in view of US history of military aggression

Why were we attacked? The question has mostly been ignored, but President Bush seems to believe it has to do with our commitment to freedom and democracy; an ideal, he implies, that is so hated that it is now being attacked by “evil.” But that answer doesn’t suffice, and the evasiveness of his answer merits scrutiny. Let’s look at some of the more comprehensive reasons why someone would want to attack the United States.

Contrary to our own internal propaganda, outside of the US the rest of the world largely sees the US military and big business as an international bully. To the third world we’re seen as a dictator, a rogue state imposing our will on everybody else, often directly responsible for devastating military power and corporate dominance, with tragic effects for the poor, but immense benefits for the global masters of the economy. To the rest of the world, it is we who are the terrorists, we who are enemy of peace, we who are evil. Such views are not unfounded, and examples supporting them are ample.

Take, for instance, the US-backed genocide in East Timor by Indonesia. Plenty to be angry about here. The entire population was murdered with US arms and support. Or what about the US sanctions imposed on Iraq, responsible for over 50,000 child deaths annually, something which Madeline Albright says is “worth it.” Or what about the US bombing of Libya, or the destruction of a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan, responsible for a death toll probably higher than the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center? Or consider Israel, the main client state of the US, backed with full support and over $6 billion annual military aid, used in an ongoing war against Palestinians, Syria, and their neighbors. Or what about the massacre and displacement of the Kurds, made possible and endorsed by massive US military aid to Turkey. What about Colombia, Latin America’s leading human rights violator receiving enormous support from the US? Or Vietnam, in which more civilian targets were hit than any other attack in history, and which now suffers child deaths due to explosives left scattered all over the country which the United States refuses to help clean up. And what about China? Or Cuba? The list of international atrocities committed by, or with full support from, the United States goes on.

In light of all of this, it should come as no surprise that the Pentagon and World Trade Center were attacked. We see it as a terrorist attack, but more likely it was a retaliatory strike, hitting back at a country who’s been bombing to hell the rest of the world for over 50 years, causing turmoil and poverty so extreme, that people are willing to die to send a message. Truly, for others to hate the United States this much, it must be much more than disdain for freedom; rather, people’s backs are against the wall and they’re striking back at their oppressors, us, in whatever way they can. With this in mind, the more frightening question might not be why this happened, but why this didn’t happen sooner?

However, the prominent question that the mainstream media is asking is Who’s to blame? That’s an understandable question. But I think the nature of the answers to this question require some analysis. The blatant anti-Arab racism that is being displayed throughout all of this, for instance, is dangerous. We don’t know who’s to blame – considering US global aggression, it could be anyone. But showing pictures of Palestinians dancing in the streets, or Osama bin Laden talking, or other images of Arabs while speculating about the attackers is causing nothing short of unnecessary hatred and racism. There has been almost no input allowed by the Arabs being shown on TV, since their voices are not present and since the press doesn’t ask them.

The result of all of this has caused anti-Arab hostility to reach even greater heights. Islamic groups all across the country are receiving death threats, and cab drivers are being pulled out of their cars and beaten. No other form of racism in the country is so openly tolerated today, and flashing photos of Arabs on the screen while white politicians talk about revenge only increases these sentiments. The US media is creating an enemy, hyping up the nation into a hysteria of revenge, and creating a war environment which encourages us to ignore dissenting opinion and do and think whatever the government commands.

If the attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center were, in fact, the retaliatory result of our own brutal actions against our neighbors, then the responsibility for the attacks ultimately falls on our own shoulders. The US can only beat up everyone else for so long before someone hits back. If we weren’t constantly bombing the rest of the world, enforcing severe corporate dominance and imposing US aggression on everybody else then there would be much less of a chance of others attacking us out of revenge. The question of Who did it should only be explored with the backdrop of Why it happened, in which case the responsibility for the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks, and the thousands of deaths, becomes primarily our own.

The reaction to all of this by the United States will be severe. The immediate emphasis by the State and press is revenge. The world will feel our “wrath,” as Hillary Clinton put it, and our enemies will suffer terrible consequences. A full scale military attack against whomever the US sees fit will result, and, as has already begun, hysteria is being whipped up into patriotic jingoism, readying the country for extreme military action and destruction. There is no time for further discussion, we will act, and act swiftly to exert our dominance, regardless of the suffering imposed on the rest of the world.

The long term effects will be worse; as social spending will be slashed even further, cutting domestic health care, unemployment and welfare, social services and education, in place of vastly increased military spending. The fear of terrorism can be called upon forever, and the justification for further strengthening the military will reach new heights. The violence that caused these retaliatory acts against the US will only grow, and the slaughter everywhere will escalate.

These things considered, we should be addressing the question of What to do in an entirely different light. Instead of blaming Arabs and gearing up for a full-scale war, we should be acting more responsibly. We should be asking President Bush not who did it, but instead, What has our government and the business elite who control it, done that is so egregious that people have gone to such extremes to get us back. We should be demanding answers, asking Why did this happen? What have we done that is so bad to have caused this?

So long as we continue to abuse the rest of the world, using our rogue super power, then violence at home and abroad will continue. The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were horrendous; by no means justified, and ultimately a boon to power. But it is the painful result of our worldwide capitalist military regime. The responsible thing to do at this point is refuse to side with the military in their retaliation, and demand the corporate state address their own involvement in recalcitrant global terrorism.

Anti-War Effort Needs You

In the aftermath of the recent attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, I think we all agree that there should be some sort of response to the situation. Exactly how we should respond, however, is the pivotal decision in need of further debate. The mainstream media and US military are narrowly focussing on a war reaction to the attacks, meanwhile leaving diplomatic options largely outside of the perimeter of discussion on the issue. It is therefore imperative that we take it upon ourselves to react thoughtfully and explore the alternatives. Doing so may not only encourage the wisest decision in responding to these attacks, but may also make us better for it in the long run.

Before we can address how best to respond to the attacks, we must first discuss how best not to respond and why. The role of the US media has been to provide one option: war. But that is not our only option, and, in fact, it’s a very bad one. This is not going to be an ordinary war; the consequences here are enormous. President Bush has declared our response not to be a series of quick air strikes, but a long, ongoing sustained attack; allowing himself an open-ended justification for universal massive military violence and funding (with slashed domestic social spending and increased domestic repression) for years to come. In a recent interview with Noam Chomksy, he fears ” we are considering the possibility of a war that may destroy much of human society,” causing mass destruction of inner civilian cities, and killing “unknown numbers of people who have not the remotest connection to terrorism,” resulting in the death of “possibly millions” (Radio B92, Belgrade). If history serves as a lesson, it should be clear that a US military retaliation will do harm mainly to innocent people. Seldom do the despots themselves face the consequences of US military attacks. Iraq illustrates a good example; Saddam Hussein remains healthy and in power, yet the women, men and children of the country suffer and die horribly due to US bombings and relentless sanctions. This time around we’re talking about a much more severe attack. The press has discussed employing the draft and, worse, using nuclear weapons.

There is nothing lending support to the credence that a US military retaliation will result in greater national safety or put an end to terrorism. On the contrary, we’ll be fueling the fire of hatred and war, worldwide, increasing popular opposition to the United States. Terrorism may rise larger than ever before, with a backlash of widespread support for militant fundamentalism, endangering not just the rest of the world, but our own country as well. Our current mode of military retaliation will only make things far worse. If we actually want to put an end to this sort of violence and terrorism we need to respond in a way that will not provoke further terrorism, by our own government or any others.

Ideally, we should respond to the attack on America by following the law and utilizing our pre-existing international judicial system. We have the World Court, the United Nations, the Security Council and international laws designed to solve these sorts of problems, diplomatically. Terrorists can be brought to justice, and violators of international law abated, without killing millions of other innocent people in the process. But the US ignores these laws, they always do. Diplomacy could be a possibility, it always can be, but it is never explored. And since the US will not abide by international laws or even acknowledge the possibility of an alternative to a worldwide military response, the ideal, diplomatic and legal method of responding to the attacks is unfortunately not presently an option.

Considering the horrible long term consequences of a US military retaliation, both at home & abroad, and the fact that the US is ignoring the appropriate legal and diplomatic options available, our response to the attack on America needs to be a fundamentally different one. I believe our primary concern at this point should be to stop the war. Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland was the only congressperson to oppose the war before the House of Representatives. “Women, children and other non-combatants, ” she said, “will be caught in the crossfire” of our war (09.14.01). She is a brave example of the kind of stance the rest of us should be taking in response to our current situation. In fact the only sane approach to the US military response is to do everything we can to stop the war. No other options make sense at this point. If we ever want to explore diplomatic options, or encourage a future of relative peace instead of transnational violence, our first response needs to be to stop the war.

Fortunately, in what may be a record-breaking response, anti-war activists have already begun mobilizing against the war. Several protests have sprung up across the country and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Sunday, September 16, a rally with over 1,000 people opposing the war and racial hostility in San Francisco emerged. Other protests have followed, resulting in a nation-wide series of anti-war/anti-racism protests and rallies on University campuses across the country. On September 20, about 3,000 people marched through the streets of Berkeley alone. Other demonstrations have happened and are being planned. The Berkeley fire department has ordered all of their vehicles to remove any American flags because it’s encouraging pro-war hysteria, and the Dalai Lama has stepped forward against the war as well. The scheduled September 29 protests against the IMF/World Bank meeting in Washington DC have been transformed into an anti-war/anti-racism protest instead.

Our anti-war activity needs to increase. Everything possible should be done to halt the war, starting with the basics: articles, phone calls and petitions, as well as more overt protests and dissident anti-war resistance and non-violent action. The immense organization and momentum fueling the growing anti-globalization protests should continue being harnessed to rally against the new US war, and further build a movement based on solidarity, peace and democracy. Community, student, and labor organizing should increase. The anti-war protests we’ve already seen should serve as examples and inspiration for the immediate response we should be taking to the attack on America and the current US military retaliation.

Both the pro-war campaign of the US corporate press and military, and the quick anti-war response by concerned people and organizations, may effect the growing popular support for social justice and activist movements. The pro-war media have been working overtime, and everything is being done to craft public consent to support war retaliation. But their efforts may backfire; their propaganda is becoming absurd; President Bush is looking for unilateral unlimited military power. This whole affair has forced people to pay attention to the activities of the US corporate military and US foreign policy. In spite of the immense pro-war state propaganda campaign, people are questioning the role of the US military, their motives and actions. The result of all of this may well be a stronger, larger & more diverse movement of people working for social justice and change. The anti-war response is a first step toward ending international terrorism, both on our own soil as well as abroad, and the rest of the world depends on us.