9/11 in Context
[Editors Note: The following is an excerpt of a speech White delivered on September 11, 2003 at Bethel College, a Mennonite institution of higher learning in rural Kansas. --AC/JSC]
Two years ago today, everyone in this room felt a sense of dread and fear perhaps unlike anything they could have imagined. My heart still aches whenever I think about the horrors that must have been felt by the victims of that day. Something virtually unknown in this country is that Chileans were also mourning on that day, but for a different reason. It was twenty-eight years before to the day the U.S. government assisted the military coup led by Augusto Pinochet that overthrew the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, and led to the systematic murder of 3,000 Chileans and the torture of many thousands more, as well as a seventeen year dictatorship that we whole-heartedly supported. We observe 9/11 as a date to reflect on the wrongful deaths of 3,000 Americans, but why do we not mourn those who died at the hands of Americans?
Places such as Iran, where the CIA engineered a coup in 1953 that overthrew the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, and installed the Shah and supported his secret police force, SAVAK, who tortured and murdered thousands of Iranians, do not warrant American tears. Nor do the countless number of Filipinos, who suffered at the hands of the U.S.-backed dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. The tens of thousands of Guatemalans who were tortured, disappeared, and died at the hands of many U.S.-supported dictators and puppet presidents in the four decades that followed the 1954 CIA coup that overthrew the democratically-elected presidency of Jacobo Arbenz, do not receive official American sorrow. Nor do the 500,000 Indonesians or the 200,000 East Timorese who were slaughtered by the U.S.-backed dictator, General Suharto, after yet another CIA coup in 1965. The 2 million Vietnamese, the 300,000 Laotians, and the 600,000 Cambodians whom the U.S. military murdered in the 1960s and 1970s hold little place in our collective consciousness outside of Hollywood, and there exists no national day of remembrance for them like we have for our 3,000 victims of 9/11. The silenced voices of tens of thousands of Haitians killed by Marines in the early 1900s and at the hands of the U.S.-backed Papa and Baby Doc Duvalier during the Cold War, deserve no day of mourning in the country that applauded their sorrow and held contempt for their pursuits of happiness.
When the people of Zaire tried their hand at democracy in 1961, the CIA called for its death when it supported Patrice Lumumba’s assassination and then supported the dictator Mobutu’s reign of terror for the next three and half decades. Yet, Mobutu’s tens of thousands of victims are virtually unknown in the U.S., nor are the many Zairians who died at the hands of U.S.-hired South African mercenaries during the 1960s, some of whom lynched their victims, because they were opposing a dictatorship. The thousands of Peruvians who were murdered by their U.S.-backed military in the 1980s receive no official moments of silence on a sacred date, as does our 9/11. The Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo, killed and tortured tens of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans during his three-decades of U.S. support, and yet we still have no day of mourning for his victims because we encouraged their suffering. The tens of thousands of Argentines, Brazilians, Uruguayans, Bolivians, Mexicans, and Paraguayans who were murdered under U.S.-backed dictators and de facto dictators during the Cold War only add to the list of millions of direct victims of U.S. intervention who go unnoticed, and in effect drop out of history. The hundreds of thousands more who were murdered in Iran, Angola, Grenada, Cuba, Libya, Nicaragua, Panama, El Salvador, Honduras, and Iraq receive no official memorials or official moments of silence in the U.S., because we caused those deaths, and by definition of U.S. foreign policy, our victims ALWAYS deserve what comes to them.
As an American citizen whose tax dollars have contributed toward some of the above atrocities carried out in my name, I can not help but feel remorse. I am saddened by the victims of 9/11/2001, but I am more saddened by the fact that our nation as a whole has learned very little as a result of the attacks. Instead of looking at the reasons why we were attacked, we have declared war on everyone who hates us, hoping to stamp out this hate with even more hate. It is a war of indeterminate length that will cause an indeterminate amount of deaths, all in the name of creating the illusion that we will somehow be safer as a result. Funny how the atrocities we have carried out in the past have never correlated with an enhanced amount of actual safety for Americans, even though the flag of national security has always been waved to promote such policies.
This summer, I actually got to visit several of the above mentioned places where U.S. intervention was supposed to lead to a safer America through supporting dictators. In Chiapas and Central America, the hundreds of thousands of deaths we helped cause were somehow supposed to have made us safer, but I didn’t see it. In Chiapas, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua (the places I visited), School of the Americas-trained officers, versed in the techniques of "low intensity warfare" were given carte blanche in their efforts to enforce obedience to dictatorships supported by our "democratic" governments.
Although all of Central America intrigues me greatly, El Salvador keeps calling me back for some reason. You can feel a greater sense of sorrow in the air once you cross the border into that country. One of San Salvador’s streets became darker as we walked past one of the infamous police stations, once used to torture and disappear victims of our beloved dictators. But the main reason I went to El Salvador was to visit the massacre site at El Mozote, for it was there that in December of 1981, U.S.-trained officers from the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran military murdered between 800 and 1000 mostly women, children, and aged people, as part of a scorched-earth policy carried out in Morazan province. I visited this place to see first hand the greatness of US foreign policy. The iron silhouette of a family in front of hundreds of the victims names on boards hanging from a brick wall would have given George W. Bush a sense of pride of the sacrifice we were then willing to make for US national security. The blown up homes, the bomb craters, the monument over the remains of 132 of the victims, 121 of which were children, the remaining bone chips and blood-caked clothing in the fields, and the well in which 75 children were thrown to their deaths by the American-trained Salvadoran officers, would have made Don Rumsfeld realize more than ever that whatever price others need to pay for our freedom, is worth it.
As I walked away from the well I noticed a small film crew setting up in front of the silhouette and realized that Rufina Amaya, the sole adult survivor of those days of horror in El Mozote, was there. I got up the courage to introduce myself, but what the hell could I say? My government trained the men that ordered the deaths of her children and the rest of her village, and she witnessed it all. On top of that, I am a former Marine. On top of that, our government effectively rewarded the Salvadoran military for the massacre of her village by increasing military aid after the incident. I told her how sorry I was that my government caused so much harm to her village and to her country.
So now we are in Iraq and Afghanistan, and American soldiers are baffled by the fact that a lot of people there don’t like them and they can’t figure out why the rest of the world opposed this last war (save a few dozen weak-spined leaders who needed the dough). They, just like I used to be, think that we would never do wrong on purpose, that our government may have been wrong with the evidence and such to go to war, but that in the end, we always had the best of intentions. I don’t believe the Bush administration has the intention of fighting terror, for we are the ones killing thousands of innocent people, just as we have been doing for many decades all over the world. But let me make one thing clear: although I have been accused of it many times, I do not hate America. I fear for it. And although I feel sorrow for the victims of 9/11/2001, I feel that the lives of each of the victims of U.S. aggression deserves as much attention, but their deaths are not mourned by America, and until they are mourned by us and until we start caring about the people we kill, we have reason to fear for the future. Thank you."
At the end of the speech, there was the requisite hateful response. This time it was a bit different, for one of the women who confronted me had lost her brother in Iraq, fighting for my freedom. She said something like this: "I would like to say that I am totally offended by everything you have said here today. My brother died fighting for your freedom in Iraq, and to think that people like you hate him and hate America makes me so angry and so sad." Again, what could I say? As with Rufina, I told her how sorry I was that my government caused so much harm to her.
CHRIS WHITE is a former Marine Sergeant who is currently working on his PhD in history at the University of Kansas. He served in the infantry from 1994-98, in Diego Garcia, Camp Pendleton, CA, Okinawa, Japan, and Doha, Qatar. He is also a member of Veterans for Peace. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org