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Terrror, American-Style

Back in October 2003, when I posted Noam Chomsky’s “Cuba in the Crosshairs” at TomDispatch, I wrote: “Those of us of a certain age are unlikely to forget ‘the most dangerous moment in human history’ -- the Cuban missile crisis. I remember hearing John F. Kennedy's address that night -- I was 18 -- and wondering quite seriously if I wouldn't be toast by the next day. It was certainly the culmination of all those years when, as children, we ‘ducked and covered’ under our school desks like ‘Bert the turtle,’ while sirens screamed outside and everyone dreamed their own private dreams about how the world might end.”

But when the crisis passed for us, it didn’t for the Cubans.  They were by then embroiled in an early version of an American War (not on but) of Terror.  No one has written more powerfully or consistently on the subject of state violence and state terror or reminded us more powerfully or consistently that "terror" isn't primarily what small stateless bands of fanatics deliver to large and powerful states than Chomsky. History is, in a sense, a history of state terror, and the United States was a practitioner of the form, in the case of Cuba, with unrelenting perseverance and relish for nearly half a century.

In these dog days of summer 2011, I’m reposting the Chomsky piece more than a decade later.  It seems to me that a little reminder of the history of American-style terror might indeed be just what the doctor ordered, especially at a moment when the SEALs who went down in that helicopter in Afghanistan last week are being nationally eulogized as superhuman, the embodiment of everything good and right in this country, as well as (in the president’s words) part of “literally, the finest small-fighting force that has ever existed in the world."

To the Afghans who have experienced thousands of U.S. special operations night raids in the last couple of years, to Pakistanis in the tribal borderlands who are regularly terrorized by the CIA’s drone war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban (including at least 164 children who have died in these strikes), to Iraqis who have had and continue to have similar experiences -- to those, that is, who can’t descend destructively from the heavens, the U.S. global war on terror remains terror itself, as it was to Cubans for decades after Fidel Castro took power in that country.  (On this subject, Chomsky recommends a new book by Kelth Bolander in which he had a hand, Voices from the Other Side: An Oral History of Terrorism Against Cuba.)

Noor Behram, a Pakistani from Waziristan who has been photographing the aftermath of drone strikes in his local area, offers this description of what it’s like to experience them on the ground: “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can't find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.  The youth in the area surrounding a strike get crazed. Hatred builds up inside those who have seen a drone attack. The Americans think it is working, but the damage they're doing is far greater."

It’s a point recently made in another way by no less a figure than retired admiral and former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, who called for the CIA’s drone war to be grounded as counterproductive.  So, on this summer day, take a little plunge into the world of terror before “terror” became an American byword, and so, by definition, what they do to us.

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Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt

nation_unmade_by_war.jpgTom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's His sixth and latest book, just published, is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).Previous books include: Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (with an introduction by Glenn Greenwald). Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 (co-authored with Nick Turse), The United States of Fear, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, The End of Victory Culture: a History of the Cold War and Beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from here.

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