Here is a commentary I wrote about America in light of the events of September 11, 2001 less than a month after that tragic morning:
A new and dangerous phase of current events is underway. Our unelected President and his British butlers have unleashed the Dogs of War on a suffering world.
They will fail to achieve their stated goals, but unless they are resisted at home they will achieve their unstated goals at our expense. Always, but especially from the morning of September 11, I have tried to be a voice for rationality and compassion – as opposed to joining the chorus of ‘U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A….’ In that spirit, I offer the following thoughts:
The Guilt or Innocence of bin Laden
The videotape released by bin Laden a couple of days ago has convinced millions of Americans that bin Laden is guilty of being the mastermind behind the bombings of September 11, despite the fact that he has denied responsibility and did not take credit for the attack in the tape. Certainly, our designated bad guy celebrated the attacks in NYC and DC and predicted more to come; he called on Muslims to fight America. What did you expect him to do, say he’s sorry and commit suicide on camera?
The US Secretary of State promised the world “convincing evidence” of bin Laden’s guilt three weeks ago. If they had it, we’d see it. They don’t. Prime Minister Blair’s long list of “evidence” comes with an up-front disclaimer that the contents aren’t good enough for court. I’m gravely unimpressed and deeply suspicious.
Suppose I’m a gangster. Suppose I’m sitting in a cave, and somebody, we’ll call him ‘Fred’, comes up to me and asks, “Should I kill Officer Bob?” I reply, “Sure, of course you should! Officer Bob is a pawn of the White Man and his Jewish masters. Go kill him.” Then, Fred goes and shoots Officer Bob. What crime am I guilty of? Answer: none, unless I do something to actively assist Fred, such as taking an active step to help him plan the murder or give him money to buy a gun. So if the State Department wants us to accept proof of bin Laden’s cheer leading as evidence of his guilt, I’m not satisfied.
Now please suppose for a moment that bin Laden is guilty. Let’s say he invited all the hijackers over for tea, and let’s say the get-together was video taped, so now we can see bin Laden standing at an easel pointing at a photo of the WTC with a big red X for where the airplane is supposed to hit. What then? The use of force, both in domestic law enforcement and in war, is carefully regulated. It is these regulations that draw the boundary between lawlessness and the rule of law. We ought to follow the law if we purport to “fight for justice”.
It is precisely at times such as these that we must aspire to our highest standards, as opposed to surrendering to our deepest passions!
A Million Casualties by Christmas
Our medal-encrusted “experts” and their civilian “leaders” are making much of the so-called humanitarian aid – less than 40,000 servings a night, dropped randomly into mine fields and elsewhere. What they don’t tell us is that the air strikes have mandated the evacuation of civilian aid workers who were helping feed several million people. I can already hear Tony Blair and his less-articulate American counterparts: “The million civilian hunger casualties are more blood on the hands of bin Laden and his terror networks. Our resolve will never weaken until the threat of international terror networks is ended…”
We’re hearing of “targeted” bombing. It’s nonsense. That’s why journalists are not allowed to cover the action in person, unlike WW2. Legally speaking, there is no such thing as an “unintended consequence” of dropping bombs – there’s just damage, and none of it is “collateral”.
What Are We Fighting For?
The stated objective of Bush and Blair is to “Root out and destroy networks of international terror.” This is not a coherent goal in the abstract; it becomes laughable when we notice that the American Administration is full of veterans of the Contra war, folks who waged a number of covert terrorist wars. The administration wants to have more covert actions. What does the covert arm of western intelligence do for a living? It funds and supports ‘unsavory characters’ (terrorists) who are tasked with the mission of murdering opponents – in Vietnam and in Latin America, many of our targeted victims were civilians who were sympathetic to or active in liberal politics. (See Operation Phoenix, etc.) Now, if Bush and Powell and Rumsfeld were serious about “destroying terrorists of international reach” they’d do something about the nut-case Cubans in Miami, wouldn’t they? Oh wait – those Cubans use violence to stop American Presidential Ballots being counted, so they must be lovers of freedom after all.
The true goals of the Administration are quite apparent: they want to further militarize American society and further protect the financial interests of the corporations and the richest 5% of Americans. Upon his “election”, the President called for a big tax cut for the rich because the economy was doing well. When the economy tanked, the tax cut became necessary because we weren’t doing well. Now the President is trying, cynically, to get another tax cut whilst spending emergency dollars on war. The result is as predictable as gravity: we’ll have deficits again, with higher unemployment and an accelerated transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich, all in the name of Security. That’s the True Agenda of the Bush administration. They want to enrich themselves and entrench their power, and they want to do it at our expense. If they were opposed to terrorism they wouldn’t have spent their careers practicing it!
Martin Luther King and John Lennon
You don’t hear too much about these guys during times like these. That’s why Clear Channel, the corporation that owns about a quarter of US radio stations (thanks to the Clinton Telecommunications Act) “advised” its stations not to play “Imagine” after the bombings.
Now we see why those men are so beloved: they had the courage and vision to speak, boldly, of peace and compassion at a time of war. Hindsight shows that they were visionaries, as well as flawed human beings. It is not easy to keep one’s head and face an angry and frightened society with words of compassion and reason. We oppose war and corporate power because it is necessary, not because it is easy.
“I hope one day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.” He was singing to you. Get busy.
The most potent drug is hope. It’s more powerful than any legal or illegal intoxicant; it fills one with energy and an awesome sense of the possible. Sure, I argue that American democracy has largely been thwarted by laws like the National Security Act of 1950 and the power of organized money. But during that same period we saw the Civil Rights movement come off the streets to lead the “leaders” – so even Ronald Reagan had to read scripts that spoke reverently of the memory of Dr. King and used phrases like “give peace a chance.” American society still is segregated and racist – but it’s a hell of a lot more integrated now than it was in 1950. Social activism ended Jim Crow, it ended our criminal war in Vietnam and it ended Apartheid.
Many of the causes that came to prominence in the 1960’s and 1970’s have moved from the fringe to the heart of today’s politics, and they are as vibrant and important today as they were ‘back in the day.’ Environmentalism, the liberation of women, the support of ‘liberation struggles’ of oppressed peoples such as the blacks in South Africa, the recognition of kinship in non-traditional family arrangements – these causes have done enormous good and offer a way out of our present troubles.
Since the Second World War, a lot has been done to try to codify – to put into writing – exactly what rights one ought to have as a birth right of being human. These are best expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document I have circulated in the past. These values ought to be at the heart of all international treaties, particularly those dealing with international trade and investment. Presently, these treaties are designed to protect corporate profits and investors. It’s not hard to fix the problem – all that is needed is the insight and political will.
Suppose I’m wrong about the administration not having good proof of bin Laden’s involvement with the bombings. Suppose I’m also wrong about judging them as being violent hypocrites. Let’s assume for a moment that they’re sincere human beings trying to do their best at a time of crisis, against a vague but deadly enemy. Okay, what should they do? They lead the richest and most powerful nation in history. It seems to me that the military buildup and the hugely expensive use of force is not likely to damage the terrorists nearly as much as it will damage our political and diplomatic standing in the world. I just don’t see how a million or two civilian casualties is going to advance the cause of freedom or hurt terrorism. Certainly it won’t be a very satisfying vengeance for the 6,000 dead in America. Even when viewed most sympathetically, our leaders’ actions fall far short of what is needed to protect us and to advance the cause of freedom at home and around the world. They need our help.
So, my friends, it’s up to us. This is our country, and even the least well off among us has been blessed with great wealth and freedom compared with most of the world’s population. To me, patriotism means standing up as an American and insisting that our nation live up to its highest ideals – because it is right and because it is in our best interest!
Peace, love and strawberries,