Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

There’s No Place Like CounterPunch

There's no place like CounterPunch, it's just that simple. And as the radical space within the "alternative media"(whatever that means) landscape continues to shrink, sanctuaries such as CounterPunch become all the more crucial for our political, intellectual, and moral survival. Add to that the fact that CounterPunch won't inundate you with ads and corporate propaganda. So it should be clear why CounterPunch needs your support: so it can keep doing what it's been doing for nearly 25 years. As CP Editor, Jeffrey St. Clair, succinctly explained, "We lure you in, and then punch you in the kidneys." Pleasant and true though that may be, the hard-working CP staff is more than just a few grunts greasing the gears of the status quo.

So come on, be a pal, make a tax deductible donation to CounterPunch today to support our annual fund drive, if you have already donated we thank you! If you haven't, do it because you want to. Do it because you know what CounterPunch is worth. Do it because CounterPunch needs you. Every dollar is tax-deductible. (PayPal accepted)

Thank you,
Eric Draitser

When Language Fails

by John Troyer

In the 17 days since two planes flew into the World Trade Center, a third plane flew into the Pentagon and a fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania, I have read the same story, in different news sources, attempting to create a language that adequately describes the events. While every term imaginable to describe violence, death, grief and anxiety is still in use by most Americans, the words are not helping to make sense of the situation.

The rhetoric has been thick and the critical analysis rather thin. In response to this persistent repetition of language, a letter to the editor in last Friday’s Daily (“Make no mistake,” Sept. 21) requested everybody stop using the same rhetorical terms about the Sept. 11 events. I found the letter’s point quite compelling in expressing a frustration about the inability to accurately define a 17-day-long stream of transient information.

The language of everyday life seems entirely irrelevant given the inability to even categorize Sept. 11, 2001, as anything other than Sept. 11, 2001. Days of infamy have come and gone; let those dates remain defined by specific events outside the scope of 17 days ago. Sept. 11, 2001, is a singular day that resides in the present without a proper name, embedding no specific meanings other than that words do not adequately articulate the shock of two planes flying into the World Trade Center, a third plane flying into the Pentagon and a fourth plane crashing in Pennsylvania.

The accustomed uses of language to make impossible events seem real for the American public via television, newspaper and radio sources are breaking down. I use the term “breaking down” while fully recognizing the almost unanimous support given to President Geroge W. Bush’s address to Congress and the language used to define a new war on terrorism.

While the president’s speech might have satisfied most consumers, it exposed more than ever the fact America is intellectually ill-equipped to critically handle information regarding the material results of foreign policy failures in American history. Not only was a discussion of history absent in the President’s address, but also the events causing the speech to occur seemed outside of any historical context. The United States of America, a vocal majority of viewers seem to naively believe, is a country beyond the anger of other nations and populations.

Part of the critical and intellectual deficit causing so many problems is a pervasive American cultural mediocrity that does not examine the specifics of how one day in American history could be anything other than a list of previous historical events. My use of the term “mediocrity” is deliberate and I think long overdue in discussing the education expectations for most American citizens.

America is a country without any national direction towards a critical awareness of world events in the past and present. How many Americans even today understand how the last U.S. presidential election managed to appear before the Supreme Court? In the modern American push to standardize any and all forms of education (something I do not entirely disagree with in theory), policy makers standardized critical thinking, effectively homogenizing a concept of critique.

My use of the term “critique” simply implies picking a situation apart to examine the component parts. That production of critical sameness made settling into an almost elitist mediocrity quite comfortable and simple to achieve. As a result, the only methods many Americans have used to explain what happened Sept. 11 are overstated emotional appeals, comparisons to the past, and a menacing nationalism that uses the term “patriotism” to not-so-effectively obscure xenophobia.

The emotional appeals are to be expected, and I think will subside, given time. I am well aware of the shock and bereavement unexpected death causes for any person. To repeatedly witness the shock of death on television, hour after hour, only compounds the situation.

When appeals to past events begin to linger, however, the specificity of the present becomes hampered by nostalgia for a more noble time. The more noble times, now apparently the late 1980s and early 1990s, are systematically coupled with an emotional fervor that effectively suppresses the larger question of how specific historical situations produce current events. To begin articulating the last seventeen days means listing the foreign policy failures in American history since at least the Carter administration, if not before.

Ten years ago, when the United States committed troops to Desert Shield and then Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf, I said the same things: Military action would produce nothing but long-term problems with many Middle Eastern countries. The American public did not even attempt to think through the failure of U.S. foreign policy then, and I do not expect they will see the problems now.

When critics ask if people have learned anything from the past, I firmly believe the answer is no. The incentive to make emotional appeals to the past resonates far better on television before Congress than to list how American foreign policy has failed to not disrupt relations in the Middle East. The reason these lessons are systemically ignored is a broader cultural inability to admit any kind of failure for American history.

An act of failure is a fundamentally un-American activity, so it should come as no surprise failure never enters discussions of current history. The national discomfort in admitting and discussing that American history is full of widely ignored policy failures could cause an unprecedented social upheaval. Who in America wants a re-examination of history when everybody is supposed to return to an everyday way of life almost entirely focused on a modern manifest destiny of success? National unity is always easier to rally when violent events affecting millions of people are defined as being without precedent or provocation.

To be clear, I am entirely distraught over what happened on Sept. 11. My anxiety related to these events, however, is quickly turning to anger as I witness what could have been an important opportunity now receding _ which is, the chance for many Americans to ask critical questions on a national scale about foreign policy decisions past and present. I am hopeful, in time, the violence of 17 days ago will compel more American citizens to seek out information sources that critically examine how from Sept. 10 to Sept. 11 the words used to describe everyday life entirely changed in meaning.

Finally, for the critics who will state I am betraying the loyalty I owe my country by voicing dissent, I am hoping to assist others already working in New York City. I have volunteered to travel with a group of funeral directors and licensed embalmers to New York City to begin retrieving and preserving human remains for the Mortuary Disaster Organized Response Unit of the U.S. Public Health Department.

Dead bodies and body parts are, for me, what remains of a historical moment on Sept. 11, 2001. The American public needs to spend time critically thinking about the remains of Sept. 11 before blindly accepting other avoidable and more dangerous failures in history. CP

John Troyer is a columnist for the Minnesota Daily, where this column originally appeared.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians