A 9/11 Reflection: Remember “Their” Crimes, Forget “Ours”

Photograph Source: Brian Snelson – CC BY 2.0

So much we are supposed to forget or not know and/or care about, so little we are supposed to remember.

“We must never forget” 9/11, when “America was attacked” (when, as cannot be said without sounding “controversial,” the United States Middle East policy blew back on the nation’s financial and political capitals).

You must always remember that atrocity, good Americans: sear it in your minds forever. Never forget. Never stop caring. Never stop honoring the 9/11 victims and the “brave soldiers” who fought, died, and killed halfway across the world – causing massively more casualties than they suffered – in its wake. Never stop mourning (and avenging) that holy day of inherently “good” and “exceptional” America’s unjust martyrdom: 9/11/2001.

But we are supposed to always forget or better yet not know and/or care about:

+ Two and a half centuries of North American Black chattel slavery, the foundation for the United States’ rise to capitalist economic power in the world system.

+ The murderous Middle Passage, wherein millions of chained Black humans died en route to the Americas from Africa.

+ The white owner and overseer rape of untold masses of Black slave females and the constant breaking of Black families.

+ A century of Jim Crow terror, replete with the violent imposition of Black slavery by a new name, the disenfranchisement of Black Americans, the night rides of the neo-Confederate Ku Klux Klan, dozens of race pogroms (including the savage white leveling of much of Black Tulsa in May of 1921), the late 19th and 20th Century explosion of Sundown Towns (where “no negro better show his face after dark”) all over the US (northern states included), and thousands of barbarian white power lynchings of Black men (often attended by cheering white crowds) across the former slave states.

+ Mass northern Black ghettoization, enforced by restrictive covenants, bombings, police terrorism, white gang violence (look up the 1919 Chicago race riot), redlining, and more.

+ The slaughter of dozens of Black inmates at New York’s Attica state prison, ordered by New York’s racist governor (to the great delight of America’s racist president Richard Nixon) on September 13, 1971.

+ The ongoing racist campaigns of mass arrest, mass incarceration, felony branding, criminal supervision, and police murder, justified in the name of the racist “War on Drugs.”

+ The genocidal removal and murder of Native Americans, re-enacted over and over again with such horrific, blood-curdling incidents as the Mystic River Massacre the Sullivan Expedition (ordered by the nation’s first president, who the Iroquois named “Town Destroyer”), the Trail of Tears (blood-drenched Indian killer and slaver Andrew Jackson’s savage long march ethnic cleansing of the Cherokee Nation), the so-called “Battle of Bad Axe” (when US troops thanked God for helping them dispatch “devils” as they butchered Sauk women and children in western Wisconsin), the Sand Creek Massacre, and the Wounded Knee Massacre (to mention just a handful of the relevant white American slaughters of the country’s original inhabitants).

+ The murder of the Molly Maguires, the so-called Battle of the Viaduct (when American soldiers brought in from the Indian-killing Dakota frontier slaughtered white proletarian “savages” in Chicago during the Great Labor Upheaval of 1877), the rigged trial and sadistic, short-rope hanging of the Haymarket Martyrs, the Ludlow Massacre, the Bisbee deportation, and the Memorial Day Massacre, to mention some of the bloodier worker suppression episodes from America’s incredibly gory labor history.

+ The police state executions of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Fred Hampton, the Jackson State killings, the Attica prison slaughter, the murder of MOVE, and the murderous federal police state war on the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers, and the New Left.

+ The bloody racist and openly imperialist theft of the current Southwestern United States from Mexico in the so-called Mexican American War.

+ The mass-murderous and racist US occupation and pacification of the Philippines, where US troops, many of them veteran “Indian-fighters,” slaughtered Filipino “niggers” and “Apaches” en masse.

+ The bloody US the seizure and neo-colonization of Cuba and Puerto Rico.

+ The recurrent bloody US invasions and occupations of Central America.

+ The unspeakable and unnecessary crimes of Hiroshima and (even worse) Nagasaki

+ The genocidal US bombing of Korean cities in the early 1950s.

+ The No Gun Ri Massacre: the murder of at least 400 Korean civilians by the US military in July of 1950.

+ The monumental US Superpower crucifixion of mostly peasant-based Southeast Asia, leading to the death of 2 to 5 million people between 1962 and 1975 and including dozens of My Lai massacres, Operation Tiger Force (a rolling US campaign of rape, torture, and murder in Vietnam’s Central Highlands between November 1965 and November 1967); and the savage carpet bombing of Laos and Cambodia.

+ The US funding and equipping of Third Word fascist death squad regimes (including fascist governments in Brazil, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina) and right-wing terrorist forces in post-WWII Latin and Central America.

+ The US greenlighting of Indonesia’s genocidal invasion of East Timor in 1975.

+ US support of South African apartheid and other Third World fascist regimes (e.g., Indonesia’s mass-murderous Suharto government) across the world during the Cold War.

+ The US-backed Latin American 9/11 (the Washington-supported coup in Chile on that day in 1973).

+ The ferocious “Highway of Death,” when US warplanes risked mid-air collisions in their rush to mercilessly slaughter thousands of surrendered Iraq troops retreating from Kuwait in 1991.

+ US economic sanctions that killed at least half a million Iraqi children (“a price worth paying,” according to Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeline Albright) by the mid-1990s.

+ US funding and equipping of extremist Islamic-fundamentalist forces (for Cold War, anti-Soviet purposes) in Afghanistan starting in the late 1970s and 1980s, creating the very forces that would “attack America” in 2001.

+ US support and cover for apartheid Israel’s ongoing Zionist-fascist murder and torture of the Palestinian people.

+ US support for the savage absolutist be-header regime in Saudi Arabia (possibly the most reactionary government on Earth), the vicious monarchy that has murdered Yemen with American weapons.

+ The criminal and racist US regime change invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the cause of certainly more than 100,000 deaths there. The invasion was a lawless and unjust response to 9/11, a terrorist attack conducted mainly by Saudis and planned in Germany. It followed Washington’s absurd refusal of the Afghan Taliban government’s offer to hand Osama bin Laden over to the US.

+ The astonishingly evil and Orwellian use of 9/11 and the myths of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and the equally big lies of democratic intentions and a supposed alliance between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda to “justify” the racist, monumentally mass-murderous, and petro-imperialist US regime change invasion, occupation, and breaking of Iraq – the cause of well more than a million deaths there. Highlights of that noble invasion and occupation include the sadistic US siege of Fallujah, an operation that included the use of radioactive ordnance that generated a local epidemic of childhood leukemia.

+ The central US airpower contribution to the regime change destruction of Libya, a bloody disaster both within that country and across North Africa in 2011 (another of so many “thanks, Obama” moments).

+ The drone murder (involving direct presidential target selection in Obama’s sick case) of thousands and the drone terrorization of the Muslim world in the ironic name of “the global war on terror.”

+ The ramping up and legitimization of imperial torture (Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and numerous “black sites” set up by the US in collaboration with “foreign partners”) also in the ironic name of anti-terrorism.

Forget, forget, forget, forget, forget, remember, forget, forget, forget. Better yet never know or care enough about our crimes to forget in the first place.

Watching the US media’s coverage of America’s recent final military retreat from Afghanistan, one would – if they didn’t know any better – think that the Taliban was the only bad actor in Afghanistan, that the US had never helped create the Taliban, and that the US had never murdered masses of ordinary Afghans during an unjustified two-decade imperial occupation. Like in the Afghan village of Bola Boluk in May of 2009, when Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton absurdly blamed “Taliban grenades” for a US bombing attack that killed more than 130 civilians, including small children whose body parts weeping villagers collected in wheelbarrows.

I could go on and on with lists and names of American crimes and atrocities within and beyond North America. They are largely unknown or forgotten in the heart of the imperial beast because their very disproportionately non-white victims are considered without sufficient merit and significance here. That is a great accomplishment of the nation’s dominant ideological institutions, whose role is to “manufacture consent” to American Empire and Inequality at home and abroad. Those on the wrong side of US forts, guns, bombsites, drone screens, and policies are “unworthy victims,” unlike the mostly white Americans who died on 9/11 and unlike the US troops who perish in the nation’s supposed noble military actions abroad. As John Pilger has written, the logic of this forgetting, ignorance, indifference, and selective memory is simple “a crime is only a crime if the perpetrators are ‘them’ and not ‘us.’” It is for this reason, as Harold Pinter noted in 2005, that Soviet crimes were well known in West while Washington’s epic imperial transgressions were just “superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged. America had killed and was killing millions but in much of the world,” Pinter observed, “you wouldn’t know it. It never happened…Even while it was happening it never happened. It didn’t matter, it was of no interest.”

As Noam Chomsky likes to point out, it’s not really a “double standard,” it’s an imperial and nationalist “single standard”: “we” are inherently “good”, and “they” are bad. By definition.

Hence it is, for example, that Chomsky, perhaps the world’s leading public intellectual in the late 20th and early 21st Century, has lived in the United States but has long been essentially banned from its leading media outlets. He has always committed an unpardonable imperial sin: recording, documenting, acknowledging, and criticizing America’s crimes at home along with its intimately related wrongdoings at home – and the domestic institutional and social structural oppression system that has created those overlapping transgressions against democracy and the common good.

Readers interested in more documentation and details on the officially forgotten and disappeared crimes I listed above are welcome to read these two previously published essays of mine:

Paul Street, “The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of US Hegemony,” Common Dreams, February 22, 2018.

Paul Street, “Uncle Sam Was Born Lethal,” Counterpunch, August 16, 2019.

For what it’s worth, since I had already long studied US foreign policy both through primary sources and in the magisterial writings of such incisive and brilliant scholars as William Appleman Williams, Walter LaFeber, Thomas McCormick, Chomsky, Chalmers Johnson, and Gabriel Kolko, I felt little basic surprise on 9/11/2001. While I knew nothing about the despicable tactic of hijacking passenger jets and flying them into buildings (I was expecting something along the lines of a “suitcase” nuclear assault), I had long been thinking that a major Islamo-fundamentalist “blowback” attack on the United States’ financial and/or political capital(s) was overdue and imminent. When the grisly, visually spectacular attack came, I said to myself and others “here’s the big imperial blowback Uncle Sam will use as its ‘New Pearl Harbor’ excuse to murder untold masses of Arab and Muslim people and try to boost fading US hegemony by putting its boot down harder on the Middle Eastern oil spigot.” That’s exactly what happened, easy to predict for those “in the know” – that is, for those, willing to step outside doctrinal parameters and nationalist norms to examine actual history.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).