Both took center stage in America recently. The audiences hung on the general’s every word, and dismissed every word of the “blood thirsty” bomber. Yet it was New York Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and not General David H. Petraeus, who confronted America with reality. The four-star general’s polished uniform, chest full of war medals, and reassuring tone led his eager Senate confirmation hearing committee members, and hailing mainstream media, to remain happily oblivious to the reality of America’s war crimes. Conversely, the bomber spoke truth to America about its transgressions, which, if not ended, will lead people like him to continue “attacking the U.S.”
“One has to understand where I’m coming from,” the bomber said, in explaining why he put a bomb in the center of Times Square at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday night in May—to create a maximum number of deaths and injuries and destruction. A repeatedly interrupting Federal District Court Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum tried to discredit where he was “coming from.” “You wanted to injure a lot of people?,” she asked. He said that he saw himself as “a Muslim soldier,” and that “United States and NATO forces had attacked Muslim lands.” “But not the people who were walking in Times Square that night,” she countered. And with judicial emphasis, she added, “Did you look around to see who they were?” “Well, the people select the government; we consider them all the same,” he said. She interrupted with, “Including the children?,” intending to expose his inhumanity.
The bomber turned Judge Cedarbaum’s question around to expose the inhuman reality of US foreign policy: “Well, the drone hits Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. “They don’t see children; they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children. They kill everybody,” he continued. “It’s a war. And in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims.” (“A Guilty Plea In Plot to Bomb Times Square,” By BenjaminWeiser, The New York Times, June 22, 2010)
United States “terrorism experts” have tried to dismiss the bomber’s reality. They reportedly say that “his responses to [Judge] Cedarbaum’s questions, on topics including his family and his educational background, highlighted . . . the danger of so-called homegrown militants, who evolve from seemingly benign backgrounds to become intoxicated by international extremist groups.” (“N.Y. bomb defendant pleads guilty,” By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2010) The so-called “terrorism experts” themselves are assumed to “evolve from . . . benign” American “backgrounds,” and have themselves become “intoxicated” by internal ethnocentric propaganda that glorifies American exceptionalism and rightness, which renders them oblivious to the reality of so-called “extremist groups.” The “terrorism experts’” job is to justify U.S. imperialism by discrediting “extremists” who dare to oppose “the greatest nation in the world.”
The bomber and his reality are difficult to dismiss. Mainstream media reports themselves describe his testimony before Judge Cedarbaum as “straightforward,” “clear, matter-of-fact,” “ polite but firm,”—and quote him as saying that he himself had “a wife and two beautiful kids,” His warning needs to be heard and heeded: “Until the hour the U.S. pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and stops drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan and stops the occupation of Muslim lands, and stops killing the Muslims, and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking U.S. [italics added], and I plead guilty to that.” (The New York Times, June 22, 2010)
Where the bomber is “coming from” puts the boot of terrorism on America’s foot. “I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people,” he said, “and, on behalf of that, I’m avenging the attacks.” He put his finger on American foreign policy’s soft immoral underbelly: “Living in the United States, the Americans only care about their own people, but they don’t care about people elsewhere in the world when they die. Similarly,” he continued, “in the Gaza Strip, somebody has to go and live with the family whose house is bulldozed by the Israeli bulldozer.” (“Excerpts of statements made by Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad,” The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2010)
United States foreign policy has resulted in the deaths and injuries and displacement and hardship of millions of human beings, “including the children”—in our name! Well over a million Iraqi civilians have been killed in the Bush administration’s pre-emptive, falsely-based, illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. A deadly civil war between the Shiites and the Sunnis, triggered by the criminal war, is still raging. Some four million Iraqi citizens have been uprooted. The country’s life-sustaining infrastructure has been and still is decimated.
“Including the children?” Especially the children. Reports have revealed that the U.S.’s criminal war has produced “an estimated 740,000 widows in Iraq,” whose “presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents [italics added] has become a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraq’s self-sufficiency.” (“Study: Iraqi widows struggle in new roles as breadwinners,” Baghdad, Iraq, CNN.com/world, Mar. 7, 2009; “Iraq’s War Widows Face Dire Need with Little Aid,” By Timothy Williams, The New York Times, Feb. 22, 2009)
A similar story, one that includes the children, continues to unfold in Afghanistan and Pakistan. United States military drones and bombers’ air strikes have indiscriminately killed children and women and other civilian villagers—at their weddings, in their homes, and in their centers of thoroughfare. These war crimes are repeatedly covered up by the U. S. military, until the truth is finally uncovered—that the people killed were not “Taliban” and “insurgents”, as the U.S. military command declared, but civilians. (See Alberts, “First the Torture of Truth, Counterpunch, June 10, 2009) Their relatives may then be reimbursed “$2,000 for family members killed and $1,000 for those injured.” (The Boston Globe May 13, 2009) The amounts reveal just how little value and meaning Afghan lives have for their American “protectors,” and how much faith there is in the American dollar to cover imperialistic tracks and buy off grief and anger.
Now new United States military “rules of engagement” have been created supposedly to protect civilians—as their deaths and injuries obviously undermine U.S. attempts to “win the minds and hearts” of the Afghanistan people. Most Afghan “minds and hearts” do not want any foreign military boots on their soil for one minute never mind nine years. And most reject the corrupt U.S.-installed government of President Hamid Karzai.
In Pakistan, there is more Iraqi-like United States foreign policy handiwork. In addition to the deadly indiscriminate drone strikes, the U.S.- pressured Pakistani military’s assaults against Taliban havens have created some three million internal refugees, especially children. A Boston Globe feature, called “Children in Pakistan,” began, “According to Pakistani authorities and the UN, at least 3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have now been registered as a result of the recent fighting and on-going military operations against the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat, Buner, and Lower Dir districts.” The story continues, “Refugee families are often made up of only women and children, the older men staying behind to care for their homes and crops.” The story’s bottom line: “UN humanitarian chief John Holmes issued a desperate appeal for hundreds of millions of dollars to help those who have fled the war, warning that the U.N. can only sustain its current aid efforts for one month.” (June 10, 2009)
The United States military is now preparing a campaign to invade Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and drive the insurgents out. The reported aim is “to expand security throughout Kandahar,” and introduce “Western development aid and Afghan government services to win the loyalty of local Afghans.” (“McChrystal: Kandahar Campaign Slows as Taliban Ramps Up Intimidation,” By David Wood, Chief Military Correspondent, www.politicsdaily.com, June 10, 2010) It would appear that countless more civilians will be killed and injured and uprooted and their life-sustaining substance destroyed in this latest U.S. attempt to “win minds and hearts” by force—rather than discovering and being guided by what is on those minds and in those hearts.
The bomber also stated the importance of putting oneself in the shoes of a family in the Gaza Strip, “whose home is bulldozed by the Israeli bulldozer.” United States-armed and –backed Israel is reported to have killed some 1400 Palestinians, “including several hundred children,” and “damaged or destroyed more than 20,000 houses” in its 23-day indiscriminate bombardment of the Gaza Strip in December of 2008. The report specifically includes the children: “The long history of Israeli assaults on Gaza, and the two-and-a-half-year-long blockade of the territory after Hamas took power, has exacted a toll on almost every aspect of children’s lives: schooling, leisure time, what they eat, what they wear, how they see the future.” (“Childhood in ruins,” by Harriet Sherwood, foreign editor, guardian.co.uk, Dec. 17, 2009)
Almost 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip are imprisoned by Israel’s brutal illegal economic blockade, including 750,000 children. The Institute for Middle East Understanding reports that “10 percent of the children under five are stunted,” that “more than 10 percent of children are chronically malnourished, according to the World Health Organization,” and that “61 percent of households face food insecurity, defined as inadequate physical, social or economic access to food, and rely on assistance from aid agencies.” (“Humanitarian Crisis in the Gaza Strip, http://imeu.net/news/article0019136. shtml, June 2, 22010)
The Palestinians in the West Bank see their homes and land continually taken by predatory Israeli settlement policies. The result is the gradual shrinking of a viable two-state solution for the Palestinian people. The criminality of Israel, violating the Golden Rule by doing unto the Palestinian people what was done to their own Jewish ancestors—in the name of security, and with the blessing of our United States government.
“Including the children?” Where are the mass graves of over 500,000 Iraqi children, under the age of five, who died as a result of the United States-controlled UN- imposed complete economic sanctions against Iraq from 1991 to 1998? In an August 12, 1999 report called, “Iraq surveys show ‘humanitarian emergency,’’ UNICEF Executive Director Carol “Bellamy noted that if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998.” (www.unicef.org/ne)
Who should we listen to? The general or the bomber? The general promises to be America’s deliverer: to save America, not from its sins, but from recognizing them, which recognition is the necessary condition for repentance and reparations. Newly selected as U.S. commander in Afghanistan, the general promises victory: “We are in this to win,” he said at “the ceremony, at NATO headquarters in central Kabul . . . dressed in camouflage fatigues.” (“Petraeus Takes Command of Afghan War, Pleading Effort ‘to Win,’” By Dexter Filkins, The New York Times, July 5, 2010)
The New York Times would have us listen to the general. The Times heralded the general as being victorious in Iraq, in a story called, “Petraeus Is Now Taking Control of a ‘Tougher Fight,’” which began by asserting that his 2007 surge of 30,000 more U.S. troops “helped pull Iraq back from the brink of catastrophe.” (By Alissa J. Rubin and Dexter Filkins, June 23, 2010) The general’s numerous war medals represent U.S. imperialism not victory. And certain of his campaign war medals represent the deaths and injuries of countless Iraqi civilians, including children. The catastrophe is the Iraqi war itself!
The general told the Senate confirmation hearing committee, “I want to assure the mothers and fathers of those fighting in Afghanistan that I see a moral imperative [italics added] to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform.” (“Petraeus Says He’ll Review Curbs on U.S. Strikes and Artillery in Afghanistan,” By Elisabeth Bumiller, The New York Times, June 30, 2010) He was confirmed by the full Senate 99-0. His “moral imperative” reinforced his listeners’ willed obliviousness to the immorality of the unjust U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The general demonstrated the power to camouflage U.S. war crimes as a “moral imperative.”
The real moral imperative is for American mothers and fathers to stop losing their sons and daughters to the immoral wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The real moral imperative is about American mothers and fathers, and their sons and daughters, having jobs and security here, rather than seeing their nation’s resources and loved ones sacrificed on the corporate and political altars of those for whom war is profitable and power-maintaining. The Obama administration’s selection of the general to “win” immoral wars is as protective of us Americans as the government’s (Republicans and Democrats) demonstrated inability to protect our country from BP’s greed and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Jesus taught, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6: 31) This universally proclaimed Golden Rule, on which justice and peace depend, requires self-awareness and awareness of other people’s reality.
The general and the bomber. One reveals reality. The other camouflages it.
Rev. WILLIAM E. ALBERTS, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain and a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.