The war that the United States has been waging against the nonwhite peoples
of the world for over half a century came home yesterday.
Nothing does, nothing can, justify the brutal terror attack that may have
killed thousands of innocent civilians. It is a crime against humanity of
the highest order, and the sympathies of all right-thinking people must be
with the families of the victims.
But we must understand what led to it, and draw the right lessons from it,
or as Santayana suggested, we may be condemned to relive it.
Let us not pretend that this was the only harvest in history that was never
The main practitioner of attacks that either deliberately target civilians
or are so indiscriminate that it makes no difference, is no shadowy Middle
Eastern terrorist, but our own government.
Where was the justified rage of commentators, analysts, and talking heads
when the United States attacked civilians on a massive scale during the
Gulf War, even referring to Basra, a city of 800,000, as a "military
target." Where was it when they deliberately destroyed the water treatment
systems of the country, and then spent ten years carefully rationing the
chlorine needed to treat the water and the medicines that could be used to
fight an explosion of water-borne disease, while over 1 million Iraqi
Where was it when the U.S. invaded Panama, in blatant violation of
international law, shelled a lower-class civilian neighborhood of Panama
City for hours, broadcasting commands for the people to surrender in
English, not Spanish, and then bulldozed most of the estimated four
thousand (mostly civilian) dead into unmarked mass graves?
Or during Guatemala's genocidal dirty war against the indigenous Mayan
population, inaugurated after a CIA-sponsored military coup in 1954, and
supported by the United States through the 1980's, which killed a quarter
of a million people? When the United States financed an army of thugs to
rape, torture, and murder innocent peasants in Nicaragua whose only crime
was that they wanted to control their own lives?
When NATO destroyed the civilian infrastructure of Serbia? When, on
hundreds of different occasions since December 1998, U.S. planes dropped
bombs on Iraq?
None of these victimizations of innocent people in other countries by our
government justifies the victimization of innocent Americans by any foreign
agency (and we must remember that as yet there is no conclusive evidence
about who committed these atrocities). But they do help to explain the
anger many people feel against the United States, and the symbols of its power.
Everybody (so it seems) is beating the drums of war, in a way we have not
seen in this country since the much-referred-to attack on Pearl Harbor.
George W. Bush, in his speech to the nation yesterday, said "We will make
no distinction between the terrorists who committed these attacks and those
who harbor them," suggesting that retaliation will not only be swift and
severe but indiscriminate, that it will involve targeting the innocent
citizens of the country from which the perpetrators happened to plan this
Unfortunately, it seems that most Americans are choosing to learn the wrong
lessons from this. Instead of learning that the imperial fantasies of being
able to destroy entire countries without incurring a single American
casualty, of being able to antagonize half the world and somehow assure
complete safety by intelligence operations have crumbled when brought into
contact with reality, they have decided that what we really need is more of
a failed and completely untenable policy.
In this Orwellian world we have lived in for almost six decades, we have
internalized the debasement of language so thoroughly that we rarely
question it. We have spent all that time being told, and thinking, that
"national security" is imperiled by Cubans' desire to live free of external
domination, by anything that threatens U.S. corporate profits, that it is
something that has to do with the ability of our government and our
corporations to control the rest of the world.
Now, confronted with the first significant real threat to national security
in a long time, we should finally be able to see that our genuine security
is not enhanced by military aggression against other countries, by buildup
of expensive military equipment that could not possibly have helped against
an attack like this, or by attempts at total economic domination of the
Massive retaliation will just keep us locked in a cycle of violence. We
have come to the sharp limits of the security that can come from the boot
on the neck, and must, if we are to be secure, try what can come from the
Mutual disarmament and peace based on global justice are the only way. Let
us be first in peace as we have been first in war for so long.
Rahul Mahajan is an antiwar activist, and serves on the Coordinating
Committee of the National Network to End the War Against Iraq and the Board
of Directors of Peace Action. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org