Fitchburg, Wisconsin. In a few days this nation will begin to mark 9/11, an attack known by the date on which it occurred, requiring no elaboration of its human toll.
Like most Americans I will always remember where I was on 9/11 even though I personally knew no one who was murdered on that day.
9/11. As an American I acknowledge right now that this atrocity pales in comparison to the violence much of the world has suffered, though perhaps in less spectacular fashion. To take just one example, I note the 10,000s of innocent Iraqis who have perished, suffering under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the most intense bombing in world history (1991), and the harsh American-supported UN sanctions.
Hence the writing of this letter, the voice of one American to the world through the internet — quixotic perhaps, but words on the net do travel far and reach many.
As an American who will pause on 9/11 and as one person among the millions who reject the vicious imbecilities that my political leaders inflict upon much of the world, I write to you that American violence is done Not In My Name.
The American-dominated mass media will soon deluge the world population with pious words on the National Days of Prayer and Remembrance (September 6-8, 2002). We have been urged to “(pray) for God’s continued protection and for the strength to overcome great evil with even greater good.” This National Days of Prayer and Remembrance idea was officially proclaimed by President Bush on August 31, 2002. We can expect as with many things that are American that this national effort of remembrance will reach the point of overkill and generate much that is grotesque.
You see, by beginning the Remembrance Days on September 6, the media will give Bush a week’s worth of good press on the events, and he can further cash in on the good will that Americans bestow on their leaders during such times of remembrance of crises. And, my president cannot resist imposing his religiosity on the rest of the nation, proclaiming in all Americans’ names the proper manner of recognizing a national tragedy. Official American symbolism on marking 9/11 — in our secular, pluralistic society — must reflect the palliatives to the political force of an authoritarian Christian fundamentalism and Bush’s personal convictions on the meaning of life, or so Bush believes. And while sopping to the American right-wing and espousing his own half-baked ruminations, Bush and his political advisors just love irritating the secular, tolerant Americans who believe that such considerations are best left to the individual conscience and intellect. This is Bush as a “uniter, not a divider” in Bushian Newspeak.
Our president, you may have noticed, is not the brightest light on the planet, and he believes that his speechwriters can persuasively articulate his views on our living his version of the moral life. But more to the point he also believes that the product of his not-very-curious mind should determine how we live, per the force of law (for example, this is a president who dictates to women the world-over whether they should bear children, among other such nonsense). So his trying to impose his dogma is expected here. Most Americans expect Bush to act like the butt of the oft-repeated joke: “he was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.” But Bush takes his sense of entitlement into the philosophical realm, even as his spinners have long since given up on the silly effort of portraying the man as a brilliant philosopher-president.
Although I, like most Americans, regard Bush personally with low expectations, this religious-political pomposity does get to me. I care about political matters in my country — liberty, rationality, pluralism, respect for the individual. And I would like to see something decent, respectful, and enduring come out of our collective national remembrance of 9/11.
Yet, consider this last year since 9/11. Domestically, Bush is the biggest presidential threat to civil liberties we have had in 80-some years, arguably in American history. If he deems you (including Americans citizens) an enemy combatant, he can lock you up and throw away the key, with no judicial recourse and no rights for the accused. Personally, I regard the man and his minions as true enemies of the state and the Bill of Rights that he has sworn to uphold and defend.
“History abundantly documents the tendency of Government–however benevolent and benign its motives–to view with suspicion those who most fervently dispute its policies…” — (United States v. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan et al, 407 U.S. 297, 1972) <http://laws.findlaw.com/us/407/297.html>. Those words were written by the Republican Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell for a unanimous Supreme Court 30 years ago in a stinging rebuke to the Nixon White House and its power grab for the executive branch at the expense of our constitutional rights. How about today’s Supreme Court that selected Bush as president? Can we anticipate the same institutional brakes to be put on his power grab? We will have to wait to see. If we stop Bush domestically, it will be easier to stop him internationally. One hopes our law schools are studying these issues closely.
As for leadership, presidential rhetoric (can be quite important) that reaches out and calls forth the best from people, we are treated to Bush’s religious bromides that “(w)e trust God always to be our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in time of trouble.” I mean, if Bush wants to consider the nature of the universe, the human condition, human morality and political inspiration and wrap it up in a non-threatening God concept, that’s fine for Attorney General Ashcroft and him. But Bush does not reflect my views. As for his foreign policy, you know him only too well.
What do I want as an American? I would like to hear a presidential speech during the National Days of Prayer and Remembrance acclaiming that most Americans do not like to see innocent people — including Afghanis, Palestinians and Iraqis — get killed, a true culture of life. I would like to see recognition that this killing of innocents is happening, and a call for Americans to reach out to the world and, most importantly, halt the consequences of American foreign policy — the killing and starving that continues as an injury to the global civilization.
Our violent world image aside, the truth is that most Americans never have been in favor of war, terrorism, murder, and violence. These are things to be avoided, it is widely believed here. You, the citizens of the world, likely do not know that.
You don’t get that from CNN reporting on the latest network polling data generated from questions asking — Do you approve of the job President Bush in doing on the War on Terrorism? You will not read or view reporting of polling data from such questions asking: “Should we kill and maim 1,000s of innocent civilians in the pursuit of the al Qaeda network?” “Should U.S. foreign policy advance social justice in the countries it affects?” That is not the product that the corporate news organs generate in this society.
It bears repeating: a fundamental truism is that Americans do not like murdering or harming innocents.
Please understand that this truism is the reason that the United States government will not allow the innocent victims of war to be shown on television (even as the mass media would filter them). If the consequences of war were shown, American political leaders would be forced to follow the will of a mostly non-violent people in a society where the formal democratic structures remain. Some folks call this dynamic the “Vietnam Syndrome.” But this has been a feature of the population throughout American history, a decent, democratic impulse.
Of course contradictions abound here among the populace. Consider this e-mail circulated widely at a Fortune 500 company reflecting a not-uncommon strain of popular sentiment. Sent right after we starting bombing Afghanistan last October, it is intended to be humorous; the e-mail (parenthetic translations added) reads:
“It seems that some Afghan leaders have decided to rename various cities in the wake of the US bombing raids. See if you can locate these new towns:
Wherz-myroof (Where’s my roof?) Mykamel-izded (My camel is dead.) Oshit-Disisabad (Oh shit, this is bad.) Waddi-El-Izgowinon (What the hell is going on?) Kizz-Yerass-Goodbi (Kiss your ass good-bye.) Ikantstan-Disnomore (I can’t stand this no more.) Wha-Tafuk-Wazosamma-Tinkin (What the fuck was I thinking?) Myturbin-Izburnin (My turban is burning.) Imma-Dedshmuck (I’m a dead smuck.)”
Funny stuff, right? Xenophobic banter mixed in with laughter at a family’s house being destroyed and people being terrorized by American bombs. Hilarious. I can just imagine Osama Bin Laden and his crew smirking and yucking it up on September 12, 2001 as well.
A “smirking chimp,” as one wit has dubbed him. That’s Bush. This is the mindset President Bush offers the world, and this chimp is on the loose — hoping that the political fallout from invading Iraq will not hurt him. Hurt him, forget about the Iraqi civilians. The problem is: this chimp can do one hell of a lot of damage to our republic and of course to the world.
So, what do we do? For you non-Americans, I beg you to contact his office. Contact the American President George W. Bush, and let the smirking chimp know what you think. Seem ridiculous? A few thousand phone calls will absolutely result in notice. I guarantee it.
White House contact information:
Phone: 00  (202) 456-1414 Fax: 00  (202) 456-2462 Or check dialing instruction to the United States at: http://www.intelemart.com/intelemart/intlcode.htm
Mailing address: The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500
America has the guns (as no nation ever has before) and the baleful policies, but you — the world along with many Americans — have the overwhelming numbers.
On 9/11 I will pause and remember the victims and the heroes. But close to my thoughts will be the victims of the violence that continues today. Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghanis and other members of the world community — you do matter here.
Peace to you, and to those of you who have suffered at the hands of American foreign policy — don’t let the chimp get you down. When you see the reports of Bush marking 9/11 with his hypocritical, pious words of remembrance, remember that real Americans do care, and they will object.
Mike Leon is a writer living in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Alexander Cockburn The Tenth Crusade
Susan Davis Mr. Ashcroft’s Neighborhood
Bruce Jackson When War Came Home
David Krieger Looking Back on September 11
Peter Linebaugh Levellers and 9/11
Jeffrey St. Clair The Trouble with Normal
Tom Stephens Rise Up…Dump Bush