Now for a Note of Good Cheer

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

We’ve been surprised, listening to some friends and acquaintances in Humboldt county, northern California, and up in Portland, Oregon, who say they’re afraid. Afraid of what, we ask. In this case, after that crime against humanity known as the September 11 attacks, some fearful people were concerned about further terrorist attacks, war, dire onslaughts on the Bill of Rights, or a blend of all three.

We may yet see just such a dread combo, but to be honest about it, we’ve been somewhat heartened, far beyond what we would have dared hope in the immediate aftermath of the awful onslaughts. Take the pleas for tolerance and the visit of President W. Bush to a mosque. Better than FDR, who didn’t take long to herd the Japanese-Americans into internment camps.

Of course President WB was been dishing out some ferocious verbiage about dire retribution and an endless war against terror, but what do you expect? You can’t kill 7,000 or so, destroy the Twin Towers, knock a hole in the Pentagon and expect soft talk. And of course there’s been plenty of waving of the Big Stick, with B-52s taking off and aircraft carriers churning across the oceans of the world, but again, what do you expect?

In times of national emergency there are always those who see opportunity. The Department of Justice has been trying to expand wire-tapping and e-surveillance for years. The Pentagon and State Department have long chafed at the few existing, puny restraints on their ability to arm tyrants, train their torturers, give them money. So far as the Office of Homeland Security is concerned, we needn’t expect Gov. Tom Ridge, who presided over the savaging of constitutional protections during the demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in July 2000, to be sensitive to constitutional issues. But even here let us offer a couple of grains of encouragement.

For one thing the FBI, CIA, FEMA, Pentagon and Coast Guard will see the Office of Homeland Security as a bureaucratic threat to their turf and move swiftly to neutralize it. We have no doubt that these seasoned bureaucratic fighters will soon be leaking information discreditable to Ridge and the OHS.

For another, the reaction in Congress to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s wish list has been encouragingly skeptical, considerably better than a few days earlier, when Rep. Barbara Lee stood as a single voice of courage against the stampede of all her colleagues to give the President full war-making powers. At this juncture we would never have expected to cheer Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, as he thundered his indignation at Ashcroft for presuming to use this emergency as the pretext for resuscitating every DoJ attempt of the past ten years to savage further the Bill of Rights.

War fever? Maybe, but we can’t say we feel that crackle in the air. Plenty of flags of course, but they seemed to symbolize national togetherness rather than dire national purpose. In town, the store keepers and customers were mostly making cheery jokes about the presidential command to keep the economy afloat by shopping. Dan Schorr laments the lost language of national sacrifice, but between Churchillian “blood, sweat, toil and tears” and “Shop till You Drop,” we’ll take the latter any day.

In times such as these the role of the press is to beef up national morale, instill confidence in the leader, pound the drum. Here too things aren’t nearly so bad as they might have been. Two weeks after the attacks CounterPunch got an e-mail from Bill Blum, who’s written masterful records such as Killing Hope of the crimes wrought in America’s name by the CIA and other agencies down the years.

Blum attached an article by Sandy Tolan from the September 20 edition of USA Today, titled “Despair Feeds Hatred, Extremism”. “Yes,” Tolan wrote, “The men in the four doomed airliners were filled with hatred and a twisted interpretation of Islam. But this explanation alone is not sufficient. It does not account for the flammable mix of rage and despair that has been building up in the Middle East since the Gulf War’s end.”

Tolan vividly described the “humiliation and anger of a population living under decades of occupation: Israeli bulldozers knocking over families’ ancient stone homes and uprooting their olive groves; military checkpoints, sometimes eight or 10 within 15 miles, turning 20-minute commutes into 3-hour odysseys; the sealing off of Jerusalem and the third-holiest shrine in Islam to Muslims across the West Bank; the confiscation of Jerusalem identification cards, and hence citizenship, from Palestinian students who’d been abroad for too long; the thirst of villagers facing severe water shortages while Israeli settlers across the fence grew green lawns and lounged by swimming pools; U.S. M-16s used to shoot at stone-throwing boys.”

Easy, concluded Tolan, to dwell only on the madness of Wahabbite Islam, but “much harder is to understand that our own failure to witness and address the suffering of others — the children of Iraq, for example — has helped create fertile recruiting ground for groups seeking vengeance with the blood of innocents.” This, mind you, in one of the largest circulation newspapers in the country.

“I think,” Blum wrote in his email, “that if this article can appear in USA Today, then some good may come out of the tragedy yet. And it’s one of many I’ve read, in the Washington Post and elsewhere, the past two weeks that mentions truths about the US role in the world that are normally filed by the media under leftist propaganda garbage’. The Post quoted Castro at length about American imperialism, without putting him down. To we leftist propagandists, it’s all old stuff, but to the American mass mind, it’s ‘huh?’.”

How truly terrible it would be if Americans utterly declined to think about their history, even if only to reject the notion its relevance. That would imply a sense of absolute moral and historical self-assurance equivalent to that of bin Laden. In no way do we sense this to be the case today and that’s the most heartening omen of all. CP CounterPunch: Complete Coverage of 9/11 and Its Aftermath

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