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As we approach the crowning of our Emperor for another four years, a short two months to the day when he launched the United States into its imperialist policy of pre-emptive invasions of foreign states, we might pause to reflect on how deeply this administration analyzed the causes that gave rise to the atrocity of 9/11, the ostensible basis for our attacking a nation that had done nothing to the US to warrant its destruction and occupation. Consideration might be given, for example, to the two antagonists who entered the lists recently, appearing almost simultaneously before the American public, Osama bin Laden via a recent tape aired by al Jazeera and Mr. Anonymous, Michael Scheuer, author of the recent CIA approved Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror. Interestingly, while they carry lances from opposing Lords, bin Laden’s lifted on behalf of Allah and Scheuer’s questioning our Lord of Misrule, George W, both proffered the same perspective, the causes that gave rise to the atrocity of 9/11 have never been addressed.
Osama stated it this way in his address to the American people: “thinking people, when disaster strikes, make it their priority to look for causes, in order to prevent it happening again. But I am Amazed at you. Even though we are in the fourth year after the events of September 11th, Bush is still engaged in distortion, deception and hiding from you the real causes. And thus, the reasons are still there for a repeat of what occurred.” Scheuer made this observation: “(Osama’s) genius lies in his ability to isolate a few American policies that are widely hated across the Muslim world. And that growing hatred is going to yield growing violence.” Scheuer goes on to say that Osama ” is remarkably eager for Americans to know why he doesn’t like us, what he intends to do about it, and then following up and doing something about it in terms of military actions.” Yet our President continues to claim that the al Quaeda terrorists hate us because of our freedoms while the real causes for their actions go unaddressed.
As I contemplate the horrendous consequences of this election and the solidifying of Bush’s neo-con crew and right-wing evangelical Zionist supporters into positions of power, I am forced to reflect on 9/11 once again, the catalyst that propelled America into Bush’s unending war against the forces of evil. America awoke that morning to an atrocity incomprehensible to contemplate, an act that defied common sense, a wanton act of inane dimensions that inflicted catastrophic destruction on innocent people, an act we could not grasp because we had never experienced its like before, an act that galvanized our people in brotherhood, in anger, and in fear.
I was driving my stepdaughter to her high school that morning and stopped at a convenience store. As we entered, we saw two proprietors, mid-eastern by descent, transfixed before the TV screen, horror struck at the burning towers, transfixed by images that seemed at the time to come from some Hollywood action film. There before us, she in her teens, I having lived sixty years in the last century, lay the ruins of America’s might symbolically destroyed in the World Trade Towers, the first instance of such destruction on American soil by a foreign force.
How incomprehensible those images to a teenager, the unfathomable realization that humans could inflict such suffering on another human; indeed, how incomprehensible to a man who lived while the firestorms of Dresden raged, while the US firebombed 64 Japanese cities before the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, while Nixon lit up the skies with the Christmas bombing of Cambodia and Hanoi, and while I witnessed in a hotel room in Prague the shock and awe destruction of Baghdad less than two years ago.
Though I had lived five decades longer than she, I had not, as is true of all Americans who have lived between our far flung shores, ever heard the drone of Super fortresses far overhead, the screech of bombs hurtling toward earth, the wrenching split of buildings bursting beneath the explosive power of tons of TNT, the intense heat generated by thousands of phosphorus bombs that roll in waves of fire over cars, down streets, into buildings turning everything into an inferno of searing heat that melts human flesh, sucks the breath of life from the lungs, and leaves the landscape a barren waste, miles and miles of debris, the shattered remnants of human toil.
These reflections struck home with a vengeance, when I received an email in response to an article I wrote for Counterpunch, October 22, titled “Killing for Christ.” That article described pictures of death in Iraq, death wrought in part by Christians goaded to war by fanatical ministers. “Not until the US lies in ruin – the same carnage I witnessed as a child in post-war Europe – will Americans be forced to face the kind of evil they have unleashed upon the world,” Sandy wrote; “….These wars are not about religion, or even oil they’re about ignorance. Ignorant people who have never watched their cities burned, have never dug through the rubble of their bombed out home for the dismembered remains of their children, have never shuddered to hear the tanks and planes coming to destroy their homeland.”
The thought contained in that letter, ignorance and hence indifference resulting from America’s isolation from aerial devastation, surfaced again in Osama bin Laden’s “talk to the American people” printed in al Jazeera, October 24. As Osama describes the events that brought him to imagine the destruction of the Twin Towers, events resulting from “the oppression and tyranny of the American/Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon,” he recounts unforgettable scenes of carnage, “blood and severed limbs, women and children sprawled everywhere. Houses destroyed along with their occupants and high rises demolished over their residents, rockets raining on our home without mercy And as I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.”
How terrible the thought, ignorance of what we Americans have wrought on others believing in our hearts that what our leaders did in our name was done to ensure peace, to ensure our freedom, to bring Democracy to the rest of the world. But that is not the thought present in Osama’s head. He reacted to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon as it hurled American bombs from American supplied planes in a totally different and personal way. “And that day, it was confirmed to me that oppression and the intentional killing of innocent women and children is a deliberate American policy. Destruction is freedom and democracy, while resistance is terrorism and intolerance.”
Michael Scheuer confirms what bin Laden says according to the CBS “60 Minutes” interview: “Right or wrong, he (Scheuer) says Muslims are beginning to view the United States as a colonial power with Israel its surrogate, and with a military presence in three of the holiest places in Islam: the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, and Jerusalem. And he says it is time to review and debate American policy in the region, even our relationship with Israel.”
But there is no discussion of this as a cause in the United States; indeed, as Scheuer notes, “But the idea that anything in the United States is too sensitive to discuss or too dangerous to discuss is really, I think, absurd,” a comment directed specifically at the Congress, the administration, and the main stream media to open discussion about the impact of our Israeli policies as it can be a cause of the terror that confronts America. “No one wants to abandon the Israelis,” Scheuer comments, “but I think the perception is, and I think it’s probably an accurate perception, that the tail is leading the dog that we are giving the Israelis carte blanche ability to exercise whatever they want to do in their area.” In short, Bush policy, essentially that designed by his neo-con controllers, has put the United States in danger, made it an accomplice in Sharon’s oppression and occupation of the Palestinian land and his savagery against its people, not the least of which is the stridently visible manifestation of it in the illegal and inhumane Wall of Fear he’s erected around their homes and villages, and, for the past year and a half, the occupation and devastation of Iraq by America, seen as a joint venture by the United States with Israel.
From Osama’s perspective, the United States has moved to take control of Arab land and resources using Israel as its accomplice in the area. That perception of US policy nourishes the hate, a hate that flows from two sources: the hard right Israeli Zionists and the mentality that guides Osama’s fanatical brethren who drink from the same well, the mythological stories that prophecy an inevitable war of destruction between Jews and Arabs, the religious war of Armageddon. America’s support for Zionist goals is, therefore, a direct attack on Allah and can only be repelled by counteractions that will result in destruction of America. That is the kernel of Osama’s talk to America. Address the cause or suffer the consequences. That means, as Scheuer notes, open debate on America’s policies in support of Israel or we continue our steady march to the ditch of doom.
Open debate, however, means more than an investigation into the neo-cons’ paper trail from 1991 to March of 2003 calling for and carrying through the invasion of Iraq; it means as well an opening of America’s soul to a catharsis caused by an acute and painful examination of the chaos and havoc it has wrought throughout the world. Osama’s glib yet understandable comment that Sweden was not attacked points the finger at America as an instigator of actions that have raised the hatred of people in nations throughout the world. Witness our emperor’s recent reception in Chile.
But Americans, for the most part, know little or nothing of the actions taken in their name that have given birth to the visceral hatred, evident throughout the world, that plagues their every step. What graphic pictures have we seen of our devastation of the holy city of Falujah? What pictures show the bodies buried beneath the rubble of bombed homes? What images of humans mangled and eaten by roaming dogs have we seen in our press or on TV? What pictures show the terrorism of Israeli forces and their indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians? What graphics depict the horror of the wall that incarcerates women and children, steals farms and orchids depriving families of their livelihood? What graphs show the American taxpayer how his or her money is being used, not just to surround and decimate a people but to implicate America in the carnage caused by Sharon and his government? How terrible the thought: the ignorance and indifference of the perpetrators of the devastation, that allows for its continuation, becomes the source of hatred for those who see themselves the victims of the government Americans elect to lead them.
The Twin Tower atrocity allowed for a moment of reflection, a chance for Americans to look inward, to see the world as those beyond our borders see us, victims of a horror too incredible to contemplate, the intentional detonation of civilian structures with the explicit and calculated knowledge that innocent lives would be cremated beyond recognition. And, indeed, the reaction was visceral in the heart of every American! How instantaneous the response to the crumbling towers, not only by my teenager 3000 miles away from the carnage, but on the part of all Americans. How galvanized the response across America, with an outpouring of money for the fallen firefighters and police, the mourning for the relatives of the victims, and the flooding of the blood banks. All felt the impact, shared the loss, and suffered the anguish of those who fled in terror the flaming debris, the falling stone, the blowing ash. Americans knew first hand the horror of war at home.
That awareness drove them to follow without question their leader’s plea to go to war against the evil forces that wanted to destroy America’s “freedoms.” That war, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, sent wave upon wave of bombers to unleash untold tons of explosives on untold numbers of civilians who suffered the revenge of America’s determination to destroy its unknown enemy. But as I reflect on this galvanizing of America’s desire to eradicate its enemy, I begin to understand that we have not merged our feelings with the feelings of those who have suffered at our hands in Europe, in Asia, and in the mid-East. What we experienced on 9/11, a deplorable atrocity that took the lives of 3000 people, that brought havoc and chaos to our people for weeks on end, that destroyed a collection of buildings on approximately four acres of land in the middle of a city, could not compare to the totality of devastation wrought by American bombing on Falujah, or Baghdad, or Lebanon, or Hanoi, or Tokyo, or Hiroshima, or Dresden. That these acts were seen as acts of war by most Americans does not erase the impact of the slaughter they brought to thousands of innocent people caught in the accepted euphemism that allows the innocent to be sacrificed on the altar of collateral damage.
To bring the American mind to a point of recognition that allows for comparison of the suffering we have inflicted against others as a possible rationale for the hatred that has been leveled at America is a task beyond our powers. But something has driven millions around the world to look at America as a fearsome power willing and able to devastate smaller states to achieve its goals and to protect its purported interests. Why? Why this attitude about America?
As I reflect on times in my own life when America unleashed its mighty power on those incapable of defending themselves, I need only consider the firebombing of Dresden. “On the evening of February 13, 1945, an orgy of genocide and barbarism began against a defenseless German city, one of the great cultural centers of northern Europe. Within less than 14 hours, not only was it reduced to flaming ruins, but an estimated one third of its inhabitants, possibly as many as half a million, had perished in what was the worst single event massacre of all time.” (“The WWII Dresden Holocaust”). Dresden had no military installations, no aircraft to defend it, no munitions factories, only factories that produced cigarettes and china, and a hospital filled to overflowing.
Winston Churchill and Roosevelt needed a “trump card” over Stalin for the upcoming Yalta meeting, “a devastating ‘thunderclap’ of Anglo-American annihilation’ with which to impress him,” in effect, an act of unimaginable terror. That thunderclap took the lives of half a million people. It took the form of a firestorm where huge masses of “air are sucked in to feed the inferno, causing an artificial tornado. Those persons unlucky enough to be caught in the rush of wind are hurled down entire streets into the flames. Those who seek refuge underground often suffocate as oxygen is pulled from the air to feed the blaze, or they perish in a blast of white heat, heat intense enough to melt human flesh.” 700,000 phosphorus bombs dropped on 1.2 million people, 1 for every 2 people, where the heat reached 1600 degrees centigrade, in a bombing raid that lasted over 14 hours. Those who lived through this Hell on earth had to pile the bodies on huge pyres for cremation, 260,000 bodies counted; the remaining dead, indistinguishable, melted into the cement or charred beyond recognition. “In just over an hour, four square miles of the city equivalent to all of lower Manhattan from Madison Square Garden to Battery Park was a roaring inferno.” (Murray Sayle, “Did the Bomb End the War?”) We Americans gasped at the horror of four acres of destruction and 3000 dead; we could now, should we but reflect on time past, understand how others felt when they endured a slaughter of far greater proportions.
This horrendous description of our might has been repeated over and over again since WWII and during it. Tokyo and 63 other Japanese cities felt the brunt of America’s air power. “334 Super fortresses flew at altitudes ranging from 4,900 feet to 9,200 feet above their target (Tokyo) … For three hours waves of B-29s unleashed their cargo upon the dense city below… the water in the rivers reached the boiling point. …83,793 killed and 40,918 injured, a total of 265,171 buildings were destroyed and 15.8 square miles of the city burned to ashes.”(Christian Lew, “The Strategic Bombing of Japan”). Then came Hiroshima. “… the bomb instantly vaporized, at a temperature of several million degrees centigrade, creating a fireball and radiating immense amounts of heat….Heat radiated by the bomb exposed skin more than two miles from the hypocenter…between seventy thousand and eighty thousand people are estimated to have died on August 6th, with more deaths from radiation sickness spread over the ensuing days, months, and years.” (Murray Sayle, “Did the Bomb End the War”?). Why did we drop the bomb? Without going into detail, suffice it to say, “Some scholars … have found it hard to believe that the act that launched the world into nuclear war could have come about so thoughtlessly, by default.”
Consider these statistics: the Germans “dropped 80,000 tons of bombs on Britain in more than five years”; America dropped over 100,000 tons in a month on Indochina, and between Lyndon Johnson and Nixon, America delivered “7 million tons of bombs on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos,” far more than we, and the British, unleashed on Germany and Japan in all of WWII. Nixon found reason for this devastation in his anger that North Vietnam had broken off peace talks in Paris.
That brings us to our illegal invasion of Iraq, an invasion we now know was engineered years in advance of 9/11 and for reasons that had nothing to do with the purported “war on terror.” We also know that we did it to aid Israel in its desire to destroy one of their enemies, a nemesis that supported “freedom fighters” against Israeli occupation of the land of Palestine. And today we have a second letter from Osama bin Laden, delivered via video, that proclaimed for a second time that Israel’s subjugation of the indigenous population in Palestine and its continued “cleansing” to rid the land of them, is a reason for the destruction caused by 9/11. Now, 100,000 civilian deaths later, more than 1300 American soldiers dead, cities in ruins, and the people in revolution against the American oppressor, we, as a nation, have chosen to continue our unilateral aggression making America more of a pariah nation and even less likely to share the grief of millions who have suffered at our hands.
And that returns me to that horrific morning of 9/11 when I attempted to share with a teenager the inhumane nature of humans. How to demonstrate the enormity of that act, yet put it in relationship to time past that we might share the torment of those who have felt the oppressor’s boot and the wanton slaughter of innocents? In reflection days after 9/11, I had a vision of Hiroshima’s ashen landscape stretching for miles as far as the eye could see, an image indelibly marked on my mind as a young child, but in that barren waste rose the Twin Towers, silhouetted against the distant hills and sky, a reference point for reflection just before the planes struck, turning them into candles to light the darkness that shrouds the fields of death that once stood as the city of Hiroshima. Perhaps in the light of those candles we might see, what we have not wanted to see in our ignorance, that we have spread pestilence and death throughout the world and now we are reaping the whirlwind.
William Cook is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His new book, Psalms for the 21st Century, was published by Mellen Press. He can be reached at: cookb@ULV.EDU