The Ghosts of 9-1-1
Reflections on History, Justice and Roosting Chickens
As ye sow, so shall ye reap
September 11, 2001, will now and forever be emblazoned in the shorthand of popular consciousness as a correlation to the emergency dialing sequence, "9-1-1." On that date, a rapid but tremendous series of assaults were carried out against the paramount symbols of America's global military/economic dominance, the Pentagon and the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center (WTC), leaving about one-fifth of the former in ruins and the latter in a state of utter obliteration. Initially, it was claimed that as many as 5,000 U.S. citizens were killed, along with 78 British nationals, come to do business in the WTC, and perhaps 300 other "aliens," the majority of them undocumented, assigned to scrub the Boors and wash the windows of empire.
Even before the first of the Trade Center's towers had collapsed, the "news" media, as yet possessed of no hint as to who may have carried out the attacks, much less why they might have done so, were already and repeatedly proclaiming the whole thing "unprovoked" and "senseless." Within a week, the assailants having meanwhile been presumably identified, Newsweek had recast the initial assertions of its colleagues in the form of a query bespeaking the aura of wide-eyed innocence in which the country was by then, as always, seeking to cloak itself. "Why, the magazine's cover whined from every newsstand, "do they hate us so much?"
The question was and remains boggling in its temerity, so much so that after a lifetime of spelling out the reasons, one is tempted to respond with a certain weary cynicism, perhaps repeating Malcolm X's penetrating observation about chickens coming home to roost and leaving it at that. Still, mindful of the hideous human costs attending the propensity of Good Americans, like Good Germans, to dodge responsibility by anchoring professions of innocence in claims of near-total ignorance concerning the crimes of their corporate state, one feels obliged to try and deny them the option of such pretense. It is thus necessary that at least a few of those whose ravaged souls settled in upon the WTC and the Pentagon be named.
At the front of the queue were the wraiths of a half-million Iraqi children, all of them under twelve, all starved to death or forced to die for lack of basic sanitation and/or medical treatment during the past ten years. These youngsters suffered and died because the U.S. first systematically bombed their country's water purification, sewage treatment and pharmaceutical plants out of existence, then imposed a decade-long--and presently ongoing--embargo to ensure that Iraq would be unable to repair or replace most of what had been destroyed.4 The point of this carefully calculated mass murder, as was explained at the outset by then-President George Herbert Walker Bush, father of the current Oval Office occupant, has been to impress upon the Iraqi government--and the rest of the world as well--that "what we say, goes."5
In other words, though no less bluntly: "Do as you're told or we'll kill your babies."
Much has been made, rightly enough, of how U.S. governmental agencies, corporate media and academic elites collude to provide only such information as is convenient to the status quo.6 It is thus true that there is much of which the public is unaware. No such excuse can be advanced with respect to the fate of Iraq's children, however. Not only was the toll publicly predicted before U.S. sanctions were imposed, but two high UN officials, including Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday, have resigned in protest of what Halliday described in widely reported statements as "the policy of deliberate genocide" they reflected.7 Asked by an interviewer on 60 Minutes in 1996 whether the UN's estimate of child fatalities in Iraq was accurate, U.S. Ambassador to the UN cum Secretary of State Madeleine Albright confirmed it before a national television audience.8
"We've decided," Albright went on in a remark prominently displayed in the New York Times and most other major newspapers, "that it's worth the cost" in lives extracted from brown-skinned toddlers to "set an example" so terrifying in its implications that it would compel planetary obedience to America's dictates in the years ahead.9 Such were the official terms defining the "New World Order" George Bush the elder had announced in 1991."
One wonders how information about what was happening in Iraq could have been made much clearer or more readily accessible to the general public. Claims that average Americans "didn't know" what was being done in their name are thus rather less than credible. In reality, Americans by-and-large greeted Albright's haughty revelation of genocide with yawns and blank stares, returning their attention almost immediately to what they considered far weightier matters: the Dow Jones and American League batting averages, for instance, or pursuit of the perfect cappuccino. Braying like donkeys into their eternal cell-phones, they went right on arranging their stock transfers and real estate deals and dinner dates, conducting business as usual, never exhibiting so much as a collective flicker of concern.
In effect, the U.S. citizenry as a whole was endowed with exactly the degree of ignorance it embraced. To put it another way, being ignorant is in this sense--that of willful and deliberate ignoration--not synonymous with being uninformed. It is instead to be informed and then ignore the information. There is a vast difference between not knowing and not caring and if Good Americans have difficulty appreciating the distinction, it must be borne in mind that there are others in the world who are quite unburdened by such intellectual impairments. They, beginning with those most directly targeted at any given moment for subjugation or eradication at the hands of American "peacekeepers," know above all else that professions of ignorance inherently preclude claims of innocence in such circumstances.
There was a time, oddly enough, when it could be said that the U.S. stood at the forefront of those endorsing the same principle. How else to explain its solemn invocation at the time of the Nuremberg Trials of a collective guilt inhering in the German populace itself?11. One would do well to recall that the crimes attributed by Americans to Good Germans were that they'd celebrated a New Order of their own, looking away while the nazi crimes were committed, never attempting to meet the legal/moral obligation of holding their government to even the most rudimentary standards of human decency.12. For these sins, it was said, they, the Germans, civilians as well as military personnel, richly deserved the death and devastation that had been rained upon them by America's "Mighty Eighth" Air Force and its British counterpart.13. In sum, they'd "brought it on themselves."
Some People Push Back
To be sure, I've "oversimplified," committed "reductionism" and "compared apples and oranges" in offering the preceding analogy. That was Germany, after all, while this is the U.S. The situation here is of course much more "complex." America today, unlike Germany a half century ago, is a "democratic," "multicultural" society. Its courts offer a prospect of "due process" in dispute resolution absent under the nazis.14. Most importantly, unlike the situation in nazi Germany, there is a discernible opposition in the U.S., an active counterforce to the status quo through which progressive social, political and economic change can ultimately be accomplished without resort to the crudities of bullets and bombs, never mind the scale of atrocity witnessed on 9-1-1.15.
These things duly remarked, it must also be said that the implications embodied in such counter-forces must be tested by their effectuality rather than their mere existence. On this score, the practical distinction between formal and functional democracy has been remarked by numerous analysts over the years.16. As to the merits of the U.S. judicial system, one might do well to begin any assessment by asking Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), Dhoruba Bin Wahad or any of the hundreds of other political activists who have been entombed on false charges or are now serving dramatically inequitable sentences in American prisons.17. One might ask as well those sent to death row on racial grounds,18. or who number among the two million predominately dark-skinned people--a proportion of the population larger than that of any country save Russia--consigned to the sprawling archipelago of forced labor camps forming the U.S. "prison-industrial" complex.19.
Turning to America's vaunted "opposition," we find record of not a single significant demonstration protesting the wholesale destruction of Iraqi children. On balance, U.S. "progressives" have devoted far more time and energy over the past decade to combating the imaginary health effects of "environmental tobacco smoke"20. and demanding installation of speed-bumps in suburban neighboyhoods21.-that is, to increasing their own comfort level--than to anything akin to a coherent response to the U.S. genocide in Iraq. The underlying mentality is symbolized quite well in the fact that, since they were released in the mid1990s, Jean Baudrillard's allegedly "radical" screed, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, has outsold Ramsey Clark's The Impact of Sanctions on Iraq, prominently subtitled The Children are Dying, by a margin of almost three-to-one.22
The theoretical trajectory entered into by much of the American left over the past quarter-century exhibits a marked tendency to try and justify such evasion and squalid self-indulgence through the expedient of rejecting "hierarchy, in all its forms." Since "hierarchy" may be taken to include "[any]thing resembling an order of priorities," we are faced thereby with the absurd contention that all issues are of equal importance (as in the mindless slogan, "There is no hierarchy to oppression.23. From there, it becomes axiomatic that the "privileging" of any issue over another--genocide, say, over fanny-pinching in the workplace--becomes not only evidence of "elitism," but of "sexism," and often "homophobia" to boot (as in the popular formulation holding that Third World anti-imperialism is inherently nationalistic, and nationalism is inherently damaging to the rights of women and gays).24.
Having thus foreclosed upon all options for concrete engagement as mere "reproductions of the relations of oppression," the left has largely neutralized itself, a matter reflected most conspicuously in the applause it bestowed upon Homi K. Bhabha's preposterous 1994 contention that writing, which he likens to "warfare," should be considered the only valid revolutionary act.25. One might easily conclude that had the "opposition" not conjured up such "postmodernist discourse" on its own initiative, it would have been necessary for the status quo to have invented it. As it is, postmodernist theorists and their post-colonialist counterparts are finding berths at elite universities at a truly astounding rate.26.
To be fair, it must be admitted that there remain appreciable segments of the left which do not subscribe to the sophistries imbedded in postmodernism's "failure of nerve."27. Those who continue to assert the value of direct action, however, have for the most part so thoroughly constrained themselves to the realm of symbolic/ritual protest as to render themselves self-nullifying. One is again hard pressed to decipher whether this has been by default or design. While such comportment is all but invariably couched in the lofty--or sanctimonious--terms of "principled pacifism," the practice of proponents often suggests something far less noble.28.
Nowhere was this more apparent than during the 1999 mass demonstrations against a meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle.29. There, notwithstanding much vociferous rhetoric denouncing the spiraling human and environmental costs attending the American-led drive to economic globalization, droves of "responsible" protesters served literally as surrogates for the police, forming themselves into cordons to protect major corporate facilities from suffering such retaliatory "violence" as broken windows.30 Although this posture was ostensibly adopted because of a commitment to nonviolence on the part of the volunteer cops, adherence to such ideals was peculiarly absent when it came to their manhandling of Black Block anarchists bent upon inflicting minor property damage or otherwise disrupting business as usual in some material sense.31 In truth, the only parties who appear to have been immunized against the physical impositions of the self-anointed "peacekeepers" were the police, WTO delegates, and other government/corporate officials.32
Tellingly, although the fact goes mostly unmentioned by the "peaceful protesters" involved, no less than President Bill Clinton went on television in the aftermath to complement that "great majority of the demonstrators" who, he said, did nothing at all to "interfere with the rights" of WTO delegates to coordinate an acceleration of the planetary rape and mass murder the demonstrations were supposedly intended to forestall.33 Over the next several months, meetings and workshops were conducted among "dissidents" nationwide, most of them dedicated in whole or in part to devising ways of better containing and controlling Black Blockers at future demonstrations.34 For its part, the government formed a special state-local-federal "counter- terrorism task force" in Oregon, targeting anarchists in the cities of Eugene and Portland--each reputedly a locus of Black Block activity--for "neutralization."35
A tidier and more convivial arrangement is hard to imagine. All that was missing was something resembling a realization by participants on either side of the equation that their waltz could be continued neither indefinitely nor with impunity. So intoxicated had they been rendered by their mutual indulgence in the narcotic of American exceptionalism,36 that they'd lost all touch with laws as basic and natural as cause and effect. "Out there," in the neocolonial hinterlands where the body count of the New World Order must mostly be tallied, no one really cares a whit that a sector of the beneficiary population has chosen to bear a sort of perpetual "moral witness" to the crimes committed against the Third World. What they do care about is whether such witnesses translate their professions of "outrage" into whatever kinds of actions may be necessary to actually put an end to the horror.37
When such action is not forthcoming from within the perpetrator society itself--when in fact those comprising that society's purported opposition can be seen to have mostly joined in enforcing at a bedrock level the very order from whence mass murder systematically emanates--a different sort of rule must inevitably come to govern.38 There is nothing mysterious in this. The proposition is so obvious, uncomplicated and fundamentally just that it has been often and straightforwardly articulated, usually to the accompaniment of cheers, before mass audiences in the U.S. Recall as but one example the line delivered by the actor Lawrence Fishburn, portraying Prohibition-era Harlem gangster Bumpy Johnson in a 1984 movie, The Cotton Club: "When you push people around, some people [will eventually] push back."39
As the makeup of the historical figure upon whom Fishburn's celluloid character was based should have made equally clear, those finally forced into doing the (counter) pushing are unlikely to be "nice guys." Indeed, whoever they might otherwise have been or become, the sheer and unrelenting brutality of the circumstances compelling their response is all but guaranteed to have twisted and deformed their outlooks in some truly hideous ways.40 Be it noted, moreover, that there is an undeniable symmetry involved when their response is in-kind.41 "What goes around comes around," it has been said.42 In the end, 'Karma is unavoidable."43 So it was on September 11, 2001.
Trails of Tears
True, my depiction of the situation remains reductionist. This is so in many respects, perhaps, but no doubt most importantly because the ghosts of Iraq's wasted children were by no means alone in their haunting. There were others present on 9-1-1, many others, beginning with the 800,000 Iraqi adults--the great majority of them either elderly or pregnant--known to have died along with their youngsters as a direct result of U.S. sanctions. This makes a total of 1.3 million dead among a population of fewer than twenty' million in the decade since the Gulf War supposedly ended.44 To these must be added another 150,000-or-so Iraqi civilians written off as "collateral damage" during the massive U.S. aerial bombardment defining the war itself.45
Then there were the soldiers, conscripts mostly, butchered in the scores of thousands as they fled northward along what became known as the "Highway of Death," out of combat, in full compliance with U.S. demands that they evacuate Kuwait, effectively defenseless against the waves of aircraft thereupon hurled at them by cowards wearing American uniforms.46 Also at hand were some 10,000 Iraqi guardsmen retreating along a causeway outside Basra, killed in another "turkey shoot" conducted by U.S. forces 24 hours after the "war-ending cease-fire" had taken effect.47 Untold thousands of others were there as well, terrified teenagers, many of them wounded, refused quarter by advancing American troops who disparaged them as "sand niggers," then buried them alive while they pleaded for mercy, using bulldozers specially prepared for the task.48
Neither the litany nor the count ends with the suffering of Iraq, of course. Present on 9-1-1 were the many thousands of Palestinians shredded over the years by Israeli pilots flying planes purchased with U.S. funds and dropping cluster bombs manufactured in/provided by the USA.49 There, too, were the "Intifadists," rock throwing--or simply fist-waving-Palestinian kids mowed down with numbing regularity by Israeli troops firing hyper-lethal ammunition from American-supplied M-l6 rifles.50 Also in the throng were the hundreds massacred in refugee camps like Sabra and Shatila under authority of Israel's onetime defense minister, now prime minister, and always fulltime U.S. accessory, Ariel Sharon.51 Countries, no less than individuals, will-indeed, must--be judged not only by what they do but by the company they elect as a matter of policy to keep and support (ask the Taliban).
Compared to others with whom the U.S. has bonded since 1950, moreover, the appalling Mr. Sharon might well purport to saintliness. Consider the 300,000 Guatemalans exterminated after the CIA destroyed their democratically-elected government in 1954, installing in its stead a brutal military junta dedicated to making the country safe for the operations of U.S. corporations.52 Consider, too, the million or more Indonesian victims of a CIA-sponsored 1965 coup in which the Sukarno government was overthrown in favor of a military regime headed by Suharto, a maneuver that led unerringly--and with uninterrupted American support--to the recent genocide in East Timor.53 The ghosts of these victims were surely present, along with their Iraqi and Palestinian counterparts, on 9-1-1.
No less apparent are the reasons for the presence of the multitudes subjected to numerically lesser but nonetheless comparable carnage by an array of other U.S. client governments: persons tortured and murdered by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's secret police, the SAVAK, after the CIA-engineered dissolution of Iran's parliamentary system in 1954,54 more thousands "disappeared" and summarily executed after the CIA-instigated 1973 overthrow of Chile's Allende government and installation of a military junta headed by Augusto Pinochet;55 thousands more murdered by agents of the ghastly "public safety" programs implemented with U.S. funding and supervision throughout South America during the 1960s58 still more who lost their lives to the U.S. sponsored and orchestrated "contra" war against Nicaragua's Sandinista government during the mid-1980s.57
Although the list of such malignancies is still and rapidly lengthening, it is appropriate that we return to the roster of those whose fates were sealed by the U.S. in a far more direct and exclusive fashion. Of them, there is certainly no shortage. They include, quite conspicuously, three million Indo-Chinese, perhaps more, exterminated in the course of America's savage and sustained assaults on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the 1960s and early 1970s.58 To those claimed by the war itself must be added the ongoing toll taken by America's "stay behind" legacy of landmines, unexploded artillery rounds and cluster bomblets, as well as an environment soaked in carcinogenic-mutogenic defoliants.59 Added, too, must be those lost to the U.S. default on its pledge to pay reparations of $4 billion in exchange for being allowed to escape with "honor" from a war it started but could not win.60 America has never been known for paying its bills, either literally or figuratively.
Present, too, on 9-1-1 were the uncounted thousands of noncombatants massacred by U.S. troops at places like No Gun Ri amidst the "police action" conducted in Korea during the early I950s.61 As well, there were the hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians deliberately and systematically burned alive by the Army Air Corps during its massive fire raids on Tokyo and other cities conducted towards the end of World War IL62 And, to be sure, these victims were accompanied by the dead of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, indiscriminately vaporized by American nuclear bombs in 1945--or left the slow, excruciating deaths resulting from irradiation--not to any military purpose, but rather to the end that the U.S. might demonstrate the technological supremacy of its "kill-power" to anyone thinking of questioning its dominance of the postwar world.63 For all its official chatter about the necessity of preventing weapons of mass destruction from "falling into the hands of rogue states and terrorists," the U.S. remains the only country ever to use nuclear devices for that reason.64
Then there were the Filipinos, as many as a million of them, "extirpated" by American troops at the dawn of the twentieth century, as the U.S., having wrested their island homeland from the relatively benign clutches of the Spanish Empire, set about converting the Philippines into a colony of its own.65 Nor was there an absence of "Indians," people indigenous to America itself, whose unending agony was enunciated in the silent eloquence of several hundred Lakota babies, mothers and old men dumped into a mass grave-a crude trench, really--after they'd been annihilated by soldiers firing Hotchkiss guns at Wounded Knee in 1890.66 Punctuating their statement were the victims of a hundred comparable slaughters stretching back in an unbroken line through Weaverville and Yrika to the Washita and Sand Creek, through the Bad Axe to Horseshoe Bend and beyond, all the way to General John Sullivan's campaign against the Senecas in 1794, a grisly affair from which his men returned proudly attired in leggings crafted from the skins of their victims.67
Intermixed with those massacred wholesale were many thousands of native people slain piecemeal, hunted down as sport or for the bounties placed upon their scalps at one time or another by every state and territory in the Lower Forty-Eight.68 Many more thousands could be counted among those who'd perished along the routes of the death marches--the Cherokee "Trail of Tears," for instance, and the "Long Walk" of the Navajos--upon which they were forced at bayonet-point, "removed" from their land so that it might be repopulated by a self annointedly superior race busily importing itself from Europe.69 Then there were the millions dead of disease, smallpox mostly, with which they'd been infected, often deliberately, as a means of causing them more literally to "vanish."70
In the end, the grim column of stolen lives reached such length that it threatened to disappear into the distance. Towards its end, however, could still be glimpsed a scattering Of Wappingers, a small people now mostly forgotten, eradicated by the Dutch in their founding of New Amsterdam, now New York, the victims' severed heads used for a jolly game of kickball along a street near which the WTC would later stand.71 As for the street upon which this gruesome event took place, it is now named in honor of a prominence by which it would long be flanked, the wall enclosing the city's once-thriving slave market.72 The lucrative trade in African flesh--that, and extraction of discount labor from such flesh--were, after all, ingredients nearly as vital to forming the U.S. economy as was the "clearing" and expropriation of native land.73
Thus, the millions lost to the Middle Passage took their places among their myriad Asian and Native American cousins.74 They, and all who perished under slavers' whips after being sold at auction in the "New World," were worked or tortured to death on chain gangs after slavery was formally abolished,75 or were among the thousands lynched during a century-long "festival of violence" undertaken by white Americans--there were six million active members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1929--to ensure that ostensibly "free" blacks remained "in their place" of subjugation.76 The atrocious record of apartheid South Africa always came in a feeble second to the malignancies of Jim Crow.77
Intermixed, too, were a great host of others: the thousands of Chinese coolies imported during the nineteenth century, none of them standing "a Chinaman's chance" of surviving the brutal conditions into which they were impressed while laying track for America's railroads and digging its deep shaft mines throughout the Wesk78 the millions of children consigned in each generation to grinding poverty and truncated life spans across America's vast sprawl of ghettoes, barrios, Indian reservations and migrant labor campa79 millions upon millions more assigned the same or worse in the neo-colonies of the Third World, the depths of their misery dictated by an unremitting demand for super profits with which to fuel America's "economic miracle."80 Truly, there seems no end to it.
Why should "they" hate "us"? The very question is on its face absurd, delusional, revealing of an aggregate detachment from reality so virulent in its evasiveness as to be deemed clinically pathological. Setting aside the wholly-contrived "confusion" professed in the aftermath as to who might be properly included under the headings "we" and "they, the sole legitimate query that might have been posed on 9-1-1 was--and remains--"How could 'they' possibly not hate 'us'?" From there, honest interrogators might have gone on to frame two others: "Why did it take "them' so long to arrive?" and "Why, under the circumstances, did they conduct themselves with such obvious and admirable restraint?"
On Matters of Balance, Proportion and "Security"
There can be no defensible suggestion that those who attacked the Pentagon and WTC on 9-1 1 were seeking to "get even" with the U.S. Still less is there a basis for claims that they "started" something, or that U.S. has anything at all to get even with them for. Quite the contrary. For the attackers to have arguably "evened the score" for Iraqi's dead children alone, it would have been necessary for them to have killed a hundred times the number of Americans who actually died.81 This in itself, however, would have allowed them to attain parity in terms of real numbers. The U.S. population is about fifteen times the size of Iraq's. Hence, for the attackers to have achieved a proportionally equivalent impact, it would have been necessary that they kill some 7.5 million Americans.
Even this does not apprehend the reality at issue. For a genuine parity of proportional impact to obtain, it would have been necessary for the attackers to have killed 7.5 million American children. To inflict an overall parity of suffering for what has been done to Iraq since 1990-taking into account the million-odd dead Iraqi adults--they would have had to kill roughly 22.5 million Americans. The instrumentality by which such carnage would have been dispensed would presumably have been not just the three "300,000 pound cruise missiles" employed on September 11,82 but also the other 49,997 airborne explosives necessary for the attackers to break even in terms of the number of bombs and missiles the U.S. expended on Iraq's cities after their air defense systems had been completely "suppressed."83
The targets, moreover, would not have been restricted to such obvious elements of what America's general staff habitually refer to as "command and control infrastructure" as the Pentagon and the WTC. Rather the attackers of 9-1-1 would have followed the well-established U.S. pattern of "surgically" obliterating sewage, water sanitation and electrical generation plants, food production/storage capacity, hospitals, pharmaceutical production facilities, communications centers and much more upon which Americans are no less dependent than Iraqis for survival.84 The result, aside from mass death, would be a surviving population wracked by malnutrition and endemic disease (just as in Iraq today).
Framed in these terms, it is immediately obvious that, were the U.S. somehow forced to compensate proportionally and in lives for the damage it has so consistently wrought upon other peoples over the past two centuries, it would run out of people long before it ran out of compensatory obligation. Indeed, applying such standards of "pay back" vis-a-vis American Indians alone would require a lethal reduction in the U.S. population, using biological agents and comparable means, of between 98 and 99 percent.85 Hence, no one other than the most extravagant of America's many network propagandists has claimed that the attacks upon the Pentagon and WTC were carried out as part of an effort to extract anything remotely resembling a genuine equivalency in suffering.86
It follows that 9-l-l was a mostly symbolic act, a desperate bid to command attention on the part of those so utterly dehumanized and devalued in the minds of average Americans that the very fact of their existence has never been deemed worthy of a moment's contemplation. On the basis of the September 11 "wake up call"--and perhaps only on this basis--could they position themselves to "send a message" standing the least chance of being heard by the U.S. body politic. Whether it might be understood is an altogether different matter, given the media's predictable, craven and across-the-board compliance with official demands that the attackers' carefully articulated explanations of their actions not be placed before the publiC.87
Still, at one level, the message delivered was uncensorably straight forward and simple, assuming the form of a blunt question: "How does it feel?" The query was and remains on its face one well worth posing. Not since its own Civil War ended in 1865, after all, has the U.S. been directly subject to a serious taste of what it so lavishly and routinely dishes out to others (no, Pearl Harbor doesn't count; it is located in Polynesia, not North America).88 Small wonder that, for most Americans, including even a decided majority of the troops who've served in "combat" since Vietnam, the grisly panoramas of war, mass murder and genocide have become sanitized to the point of sterility, imbued with no more concrete reality than any other "home entertainment" offering.89
How else to explain the popularity of increasingly technicalized military jargon like "kill ratios," "force degradation" and "collateral damage" among the general public?90 How else to understand the public's willingness to accept the absurd proposition that a teenager safely ensconced at a computer console while launching missiles meant to slaughter unseen/unknown others at a thousand miles distance some-how or another qualifies as a "hero"?91 Americans have in effect collectively lost their grip, and with it all sense of the charnal stench wafting from the policies, procedures and priorities they've consistently endorsed. The attacks of 9-1-1, while certainly designed to inflict the maximum material damage possible, given their very limited scope,92 were even more clearly intended to force U.S. citizens into some semblance of re-acquaintance with the kind of excruciation their country--and thus they themselves--have become far too accustomed to dispensing with impunity.
This brings a second level of the attackers' message into focus. If it could be anticipated that Americans would find it exceedingly painful to undergo a heavy bombing of even the most token sort--as surely they would--it could also be expected that they would begin casting about with considerable urgency for a way of ensuring that such "terrorism" would not be repeated. This, in turn, suggested that U.S. citizens might at last be receptive to embarking upon the only route to attainment of this worthy objective, a trajectory marked by Noam Chomsky's formulation, advanced shortly after the attacks, that "if you really want to put an end terrorism, you have to begin by no longer participating in it."93 Or, more sharply, "stop killing their babies," as the matter was framed by Georgia State law professor Natsu Saito a short while later.94
At base, what the attackers communicated was the proposition that, from now on, if Americans wish their own children to be happy and safe, they are going to have to allow the children of other peoples an equivalent safety and chance for happiness. In effect, Americans will have to accord a respect for the rights of others equal to that which they demand for themselves, valuing "Other" youngsters as much as they do their own.95 Finally, and emphatically, the U.S. is going to have to abide by the rules of civilized behavior articulated in international law (its own citizens shouldering the responsibility of seeing to it that this is so).96 The character of a society rejecting such eminently reasonable terms as being "unfair" should be to a large extent self-revealing.
Unfortunately, this is precisely what the preponderance of Americans have done. Refusing the prospect that the collectivity of their own attitudes and behavior made something like 9-1-1 inevitable, they have instead bleated their "innocence" for all to hear, meanwhile reacting like a figurative Jeffrey Dahmer, enraged because the latest of his many hapless victims has displayed the effrontery of slapping his face.97 Witness, if you will, the frenzied demands accruing from every major media outlet that those suspected of involvement in the 9-1-1 attacks--or of supporting the attackers in some fashion--be subjected to "complete extennination."98 Witness as well the winks and chuckles with which commentators from "right" and "left" alike greeted photographic evidence that American surrogates in Afghanistan have been gleefully castrating and otherwise mutilating captured enemy soldiers before summarily executing them.99
Once again--this time in the name of a "crusade" to "rid the world of evi1"100-Americans have enthusiastically embraced a policy devolving upon the systematic and potentially massive perpetration of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Here, a sublime irony presents itself: Since by no morally-coherent standard--moral assessment being necessary since the term employed is exclusive to the vernacular of theology/morality101-can the policy at issue be construed as anything but "evil," claims that it has been implemented for the above-stated purpose amount to little other than announcements of suicidal intent.102 Still more ironic is the fact that the situation in many ways requires a more literal than metaphorical interpretation.
"Out there," amidst the seething, bleeding psychic wastelands spawned by the unspeakable arrogance of U.S. imperial pretension, someone is quietly awaiting the definitive answers to questions of whether and to what extent Americans might respond constructively to the warnings posted on the WTC and Pentagon. A grim smile upon his face, her finger upon the trigger, s/he is almost certainly mouthing words to the effect of, "Go ahead, punk. Make my day. "103 What will it be next time? A far larger and more destructive wave of suicide bombings? Dispersal of biological or chemical agents? Detonation of one or more portable nuclear devices? All of these?104 The object, no doubt, will be to attain something much closer to bona fide payback for what the U.S. has done, and is doing even now.
The straw-like "option" at which the great majority of Americans are presently grasping in a transparent attempt to restore their sense of exemption from responsibility--the notion that a combination of military force, intelligence gathering and "tightened domestic security" can ultimately immunize them from the consequences of their country's actions (or their own inactions)--is purely delusional.105 Short of setting out to kill every man, woman and child in the Third World, little can be expected of the military in terms of preventing "terrorist" responses to its own crimes. Suggestions that the CIA can somehow alter the situation, rendering applications of military force "surgically" effective against "the terrorist infrastructure" are laughable, as should be evident from the abysmal failure of the agency's Phoenix program, undertaken for precisely the same purpose in Vietnam.106
Claims that measures like those described in the recent "Homelands Security Act" will produce the desired prophylactic effect are the most vacuous of all.107 The "internal security model" most often cited by "experts" for emulation by the U.S. is that of Israel, a country which, although it has converted itself into a veritable garrison state over the past thirty years, has been spectacularly unable to prevent determined attackers from striking almost at will."108 All that can be expected of such "defense" initiatives is repression of what little actual political liberty had been left to residents of "the land of the free" by the dawn of the new millennium."109
The Miracle of "Immaculate Genocide"
In the final analysis, it is quite reasonable that fulfillment of America's now fervent quest for security be made contingent upon its willingness to commence a process of profound national introspection that, alone, will enable it to fundamentally rework its relationship(s) with those upon whom it has heretofore proven so cavalier in visiting the worst sorts of oppression. There is much militating against attainment of so positive a development, however, not least the fact that, in the U.S., a pathology often associated with clinical disorder has mutated long since into what can best be described as a normative social condition.110 "There are," as Susan Griffin has observed, "whole disciplines, institutions, rubrics in [American] culture which serve as categories of denial."111
The mentality involved is in some respects multifaceted and complex, but always self-serving and convenient, each facet serving mainly to augment or complete its ostensible antithesis, producing a whole remarkable for nothing so much as the virulence of its intractability.112 Writing of the holocaust perpetrated by U.S. troops in the Philippines a century ago--an onslaught entailing orders that every male Filipino over the age of ten be slaughtered, and the resulting deaths of one in every six inhabitants on the island of Luzon113--historian Stuart Creighton Miller describes "the tendency of highly patriotic Americans...to [vociferously] deny such abuses and even to assert that they could never exist in their country."114 The pattern is unmistakably similar to that exhibited by severe alcoholics who, despite all evidence of the damage their behavior has caused, chronically insist that "the opposite of everything is true."115
More subtle than the characteristic refusal of "conservatives" to allow mere facts to in any way alter their core presumptions was/is the complementary nature of the "alternative" interpretation(s) most often posed by their "progressive" opponents. Noting that the Philippines genocide was a matter of public knowledge by 1901,116 Creighton Miller goes on to observe that collective "amnesia over the horrors of the war of conquest...set in early, during the summer of 1902."117 He then concludes by reflecting upon how "anti-imperialists aided the process by insisting that the conflict and its attendant atrocities had been the result of a conspiracy by a handful of leaders who carried out, through deceit and subterfuge, the policy and means of expansion overseas against the will of the majority of their countrymen."118
"By refusing to acknowledge that most Americans had been bitten by the same bug that afflicted Roosevelt, Lodge, and Beveridge, anti-imperialists were letting the people off the hook and in their own way preserving the American sense of innocence. Unfortunately, the man in the street shared the dreams of world-power status, martial glory, and future wealth that would follow expansion. When the dream soured, the American people neither reacted with very much indignation, nor did they seem to retreat to their cherished political principles. If anything, they seemed to take their cues from their leader in the White House by first putting out of mind all the sordid episodes in the conquest, and then forgetting the entire war itself."119
So it was then, the more so today. Contemporary conservatives, whenever they can be momentarily boxed into conceding one or another unsavory aspect of America's historical record, are forever insisting that whatever they've admitted can be "properly" understood only when viewed as an "exception to the rule," an "aberration," "atypical" to the point of "anamolousness."120 None have shown a readiness to address the question of exactly how many such "anomalies" might be required before they can be said to comprise "the rule" itself. When pressed, conservatives invariably retreat into a level of diversionary polemic excusable at best on elementary school playgrounds, arguing that anything "we have done is somehow excused by allegations that "they" have done things just as bad."121
Progressives, on the other hand, while acknowledging many of America's more reprehensible features, have become far more refined in offering hook-free analyses than they were in 1902. No longer much preoccupied with such crudities as "conspiracy theory,"122 they have become quite monolithic in attributing all things negative to handy abstractions like "capitalism," "the state," "structural oppression," and, yes, "the hierarchy."123 Hence, they have been able to conjure what might be termed the "miracle of immaculate genocide," a form of genocide, that is, in which--apart from a few amorphous "decision-making elites"124--there are no actual perpetrators and no one who might "really" be deemed culpable by reason of complicity. The parallels between this "cutting edge" conception and the defense mounted by postwar Germans--including the nazis at Nuremberg--are as eerie as they are obvious.125
The implications of this were set forth in stark relief during the aftermath of 9-l-l, when it was first suggested that a decided majority of those killed in the WTC attack might be more accurately viewed as "little Eichmanns"--that is, as a cadre of faceless bureaucrats and technical experts who had willingly (and profitably) harnessed themselves to the task making America's genocidal world order hum with maximal efficiency--than as "innocents."126 The storm of outraged exception taken by self-proclaimed progressives to this simple observation has been instructive, to say the least. The objections have been mostly transparent in their diversionary intent, seeking as they have to focus attention exclusively on janitors, firemen and food service workers rather than the much larger number of corporate managers, stock brokers, bond traders, finance and systems analysts, etc., among those killed. 127
A few have complained of the "cold-bloodedness" and "insensitivity" embodied, not in the vocations pursued by the latter group, but in describing their attitudes/conduct as having been in any way analogous to Eichmann's. Left unstated, however, is the more accurate term we should employ in characterizing a representative 30-year old foreign exchange trader who, in full knowledge that every cent of his lavish commissions derived from the starving flesh of defenseless Others, literally wallowed in self-indulgent excess, playing the big shot, priding himself on being "a sharp dresser" and the fact that "money spilled from his pockets...flowed like crazy...[spent] on the black BMW and those clothes--forgetting to pack ski clothes for a Lake Tahoe trip, dropping $1,000 on new stuff," and so on.128 As a "cool guy" with a "warm heart"? A "good family man"? Just an "ordinary," "average" or "normal" fellow who "happened to strike it riCh"?129 HOW then are we to describe Eichmann himself?130
Clearly, either the devastating insights concerning "the banality of evil" offered by Hannah Arendt in her1963 study, Eichmann in Jerusalem, have yet to penetrate the consciousness of many American progressives,131 or American progressives are in the main every bit as mired in the depths of denial as the most hidebound of their conservative counterparts.132 Irrespective of whether there is an appreciable segment of the U.S. population prepared to look the matter in the face, however, the same condition of willful blindness cannot be said to prevail throughout much of the rest of the World.133
Excusing one's self for one's crimes is never a legitimate prerogative, nor are attempts to hide or explain them away. This is all the more true while the crimes are being repeated. Neither justice, forgiveness nor exegesis can be self-administered or bestowed. Of this, there should be no doubt in a country where the principle of "victims' rights" has lately been enshrined as an article of juridical faith.134 Those who comprised the "chickens" of 9-l-l will have their say, and it will ultimately be definitive. In this connection, the only real question confronting the U.S. polity is how in the future it will be necessary for them to say it. And that, rightly enough, will be entirely contingent upon the extent and decisiveness with which Americans prove capable of factoring such voices into the calculus of their personal and national self-concepts.
In the Alternative
In 1945, addressing a strikingly similar context of national criminality and denial--albeit one in which the state and its collaborating corporate institutions had been pounded into physical submission by external forces--the philosopher Karl Jaspers set forth a schematic of culpability, acceptance of which he suggested might allow both Germans and Germany to redeem themselves.135 Internalizing Jaspers four-part formulation stands to yield comparable results in America, for Americans, and thus for everyone else as well. It is therefore well worth summarizing here (in a somewhat revised form reflecting enunciation of the Nuremberg Doctrine and other subsequent developments).136
First, there is the matter of criminal guilt. States, corporations and other such entities, while they may be criminally-conceived, and employed for criminal purposes, do not themselves commit crimes. Crimes--that is, violations of customary or black letter law--are committed by individuals, those who conceive, employ or serve state and corporate institutions. Those alleged to have committed specific offenses are subject to personal prosecution and punishment.137 If the transgressions of which they stand accused are of a sort sanctioned either explicitly or implicitly by the state under which authority they've acted, their prosecution cannot as a rule occur before tribunals controlled by that same state.138 Nor, if mere vengeance is to be avoided, can such tribunals be placed as a rule under control of the immediate victims. Where crimes of state and/or state-sanctioned crime are at issue, the only appropriate judicial forum is an impartially-composed international court.139
Second, there is the matter of political guilt. It is the collective responsibility of the citizens in a modern state to ensure by all means necessary that its government adheres to the rule of law, not just domestically but internationally.140 There are no bystanders. No one is entitled to an "apolitical" exemption from such obligation.141 Where default occurs, either by citizen endorsement of official criminality or by the failure of citizens to effectively oppose it, liability is incurred by all. Although degrees of onus may be assigned along a continuum traversing the distance from those who most actively embraced the crime to those who most actively opposed it, none are "innocent."142 The victims thus hold an unequivocal right to receive reparation, compensation and, where possible, complete restitution in ways and amounts deemed equitable and fair, not in the estimation of those liable, but in the judgment of an impartial international court.143
Third, there is the matter of moral guilt. While it may prove impractical in settings where crimes of state are at issue to try all who have committed offenses (whether by way of perpetration, or by complicity), those who go unprosecuted are not thereby absolved.144 To them belongs the public stigma associated with their deeds and consequent existential confrontation with themselves. In this, there can be no recourse to the supposed mitigation embodied in the apology that one has "merely done one's job" or "just followed orders."145 Still less can exoneration be found in prevarications concerning "human nature"; if it were the "nature" of humans to engage in such acts, everyone would do so, and, self-evidently, not everyone does.146 Each individual is thus personally responsible for his/her acts, "including the execution of political and military orders," and thus socially/morally accountable for them.
Finally, there is the matter of what Jaspers termed metaphysical guilt. This rests most heavily upon those who, while not guilty of any specific offense, averted their eyes, sitting by while crimes against humanity were committed in their name.147 It encompasses as well all who, while we may have registered opposition in some form or degree, did less than we might have--failing thereby to risk our lives unconditionally--in our struggle to prevent or halt such crimes. Therein, incontestably, lies the guilt shared by all who opt to remain alive while Others are systematically subjugated, dispossessed, tortured and murdered.148
Those who would reject such criteria out-of-hand might do well to bear in mind that they join company thus with Carl Schmitt, a leading light among the nazi legal philosophers, who was among the first to pronounce them "beneath attention."'149 Others, seeking to neutralize the implications by equivocation, insisting that while a Jasperian schema "makes sense for Germans," the "good offsets the bad" where America and Americans are concerned, should be aware that this is precisely the argument offered by Germany's "New Right"--neonazis, by any other name--with regard to the Third Reich itself.150 If it can be agreed that the Hitlerstaat remains impervious to rehabilitation, regardless of its well-documented instigation of expressways and Volkswagens, the same holds true for the U.S., irrespective of the supposed triumphs of "American civilization."151
Such issues must be faced straightforwardly, without dissembling, if Americans are ever to hold rightful title to the "good conscience" they've so long laid claim to owning. How they are to respond to what stares back at them from the proverbial mirror is an altogether different question, however. Transformation from beastliness to beauty can be neither instantaneous nor, in terms of its retroactive undoing, complete.152 There is no painless, privilege-preserving pill that can be taken to effect a quick fix of what ails the U.S., no petition, no manifesto, no song or candle-lit vigil that will suffice. The terms of change must and will be harsh, inevitably so, given the propensity of those who seek to prevent it to gauge their success by the rotting corpses of toddlers.153 This truth, no matter its inconvenience to those snugly situated within the comfort zones of political pretense,154 is all that defines the substance of meaningful struggle.'55
It cannot happen all at once, but it must begin somewhere, and for this there is need of nothing so much as a focal point. That, and external assistance, given Americans' abject inexperience in undertaking projects entailing the least hint of humility. Fortunately, an action agenda" combining both elements readily presents itself. Americans must demonstrate, conclusively and concretely, that they have at last attained a sufficient degree of self-awareness to subordinate themselves both individually and as a country to the rule of law.156 Such an initiative, only such, and then only if it is pressed by every available means, is likely to reassure those who came on 9-1-1 that the seeds of Jaspers' wisdom have at last taken root in the U.S. to an extent making future such attacks unnecessary.
All who fancy themselves progressive--in common with every conservative who has ever mouthed the lofty rhetoric of "law enforcement"--can start by inaugurating a concerted drive to compel their government to reverse its 1986 repudiation of the compulsory jurisdiction previously held over U.S. foreign policy by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).157 Concomitantly, Americans can set about such action as is necessary to ensure that their country joins the rest of the world in placing itself under the jurisdiction of the newly-established International Criminal Court (IC6).158 Massive international support and assistance is virtually guaranteed to accrue to any such U.S. citizen initiative.
Following a parallel track, although much of it falls within the domain of jus cogens ("customary law") and are thus enforceable against the U.S. without its agreement,159 an important gesture would be embodied in Americans taking such action as is necessary to compel their government to ratify those elements of international public and humanitarian law it has, often alone, heretofore refused to endorse. High on this lengthy list,180 is the 1948 Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which the U.S. presently claims a "sovereign right" to self-exemption from compliance. 161 Recent additions include the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (t989)162 and the International Treaty Banning the Use, Production, Stockpiling and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines (1998).163
Most important of all--given the abysmal record of the U.S. when it comes to bringing even those acknowledged to have perpetrated war crimes and crimes against humanity before its domestic bar of justice,164 given the fact that only the most token punishments have ever been visited upon those few who have for cosmetic reasons been domestically tried and convicted of such offenses,165 and given the imperative of establishing that Americans are finally serious about adhering to the law--such action as is necessary must be taken to compel delivery of an initial selection of present/former U.S. officials for prosecution by the ICC.166
Here, although the list of imminently eligible candidates is all but overwhelming, a mere threesome might constitute an adequate preliminary sample. The first, on the basis of her earlier-noted statement concerning the fate of Iraq's children and administration of attendant policies, should be former Secretary of State Albright. Second, for reasons explained quite well by Christopher Hitchens and others, should be former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.167 The third should be current North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms, the bellicosity of whose threats to visit "dire consequences" upon the world community "in the event a single American is ever indicted" for violating the laws of war and/or international humanitarian law exemplifies the manner in which the U.S. has for decades thwarted implementation of procedures for the peaceful resolution of international disputes (this in itself offers prima facie evidence of Helms' complicity in the more direct crimes perpetrated by his codefendants).168
Prosecution of these three major U.S. criminals before the ICC would pave the way for a series of such trials, targeting as in the Nuremberg proceedings representative defendants drawn from each of the interactive "classes" of American offenders-governmental, military, corporate, scientific and so on--comprising the elite decision making stratum of America's New World Order.169 Collaterally, the criminal trials would in themselves lay a superb evidentiary groundwork for consideration of international tort claims by the ICJ, in many cases the sole procedure through which issues concerning indemnification of America's proliferate victims are likely ever to be satisfactorily addressed.170 It may also be anticipated that, under these conditions, the principles realized in international fora will be absorbed by the U.S. judiciary, as they were in postwar Germany, to an extent sufficient for bona fide prosecutions of America's war criminals and other such terrorists to at last commence in domestic courts.171
Against this backdrop, otherwise preposterous assertions that recourse to "the World Court is the way to proceed" in halting America's persistently murderous aggression take on a certain coherence. The question begged in such formulations, as they stand, and as they've stood all along, concerns enforcement. A court is not a police force. Less, is it an army. Neither its jurisdiction nor its judgments are self-executing. Its decrees are vacuous without a means of exacting compliance.172 Should it turn out that Americans were prodded by the pain inflicted on 9-1-1 to finally begin shouldering the responsibility of forcing their government to obey the law--with all that this implies--it may be said that a world historic corner was turned on that date. Should this not prove to be the case, however, others, especially those Others most egregiously victimized by American lawlessness, will have no real alternative but to try and do the job themselves. And, in the collectivity of their civic default, Americans, no more than the Good Germans of 1945, can have little legitimate complaint as to how they may have to go about it.173
To See Things Clearly
If the prescription sketched out in the preceding section offers the prospect of improving the level of security enjoyed by all Americans-mainly by drastically reducing the need for it--it contains a range of other benefits as well. Salient among them is what, with respect to Germany, Harvard political scientist Daniel Jonah Goldhagen has described as an "internationalization of the 'national' history."174 By this, he meant a process through which the country's apprehension of its past has been subjected to such intensive and sustained scrutiny/contributions by others that the "collective, narcissistic self-exaltation" typically marking such narratives has been preempted. This, Goldhagen concludes, has enabled contemporary Germans to attain a far more accurate--and thus healthier-conception of themselves than they were likely ever to have achieved on their own.175
It is exactly this kind of aggregate self-understanding that Jaspers posited as being essential to a process through which the varieties of guilt he'd so carefully delineated could be transformed into their antithesis, creating what he hoped might constitute an insurmountable psycho-intellectual barrier against any wholesale resurgence of the mentality from which Germany's communality of guilt had emerged.178 There is no reason to assume that the idea holds less utility for Americans today than it did for Germans then, or that the rewards for the world of America's figurative denazification would be any less substantial than those manifest in the more literal German process.
A wealth of information necessary to redefining the character of the "American experiment" can be expected to take center stage in the above-described judicial proceedings, whether international or domestic, criminal or civil. Much of it will prove to have been available all along, publicly displayed but usually distorted beyond recognition, its meaning neatly buried in the texts, rendered alternately in terms of triumphalism or apology, that from the first have comprised America's historical canon and its popular counterpart(s).177 Reinterpreted through the lens of law, detailed at trial by those charged with assessing the culpability of individual defendants and/or the degree of responsibility inhering in the polity that empowered them, even that which was "known" will stand exposed in the glare of an entirely different light.
Such developments represent a good start, but by no means an end point or culmination. Even the most honest and penetrating of prosecutorial presentations is by nature erratic and uneven, skewed by the parameters of its purpose to focus in fragmentary fashion upon certain usually topical matters, emphasizing, de-emphasizing or ignoring issues of wider historical concern without regard to historiographical requirements.178 The record made during the course of any' trial, and the conclusions formally drawn from it, must therefore be compared to/combined with those obtained in related proceedings to create a composite. This overarching iteration of what has been "discovered" through adjudication must then be broken down again in various ways, sifted and refined, its implications adduced and contextualized (that is, reinterpreted by way of their connection with/dissimilarity from "broader" i.e., historically deeper and more diverse--processes or sequences of events).179
Plainly, it will be forever premature to proclaim the consummation of such a project before the most thoroughgoing reconstruction of American history, and thus a complete resignification of the codes of meaning and value residing within it, has been achieved. With this in mind, the problem confronting those who would accept it is how best to approach so monumental a devoir. A method is needed by which to deal with the surfeit of data at hand, arranging it in ways which lend coherence to its otherwise nebulous mass, tracing not just its outer contours but the inner trajectories that gave them shape, coaxing it to divulge truths too long denied.
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