Dec. 27, 2001
My initial reaction to the disaster of September 11, 2001, (See below), included the assumption that out of all that horror at least one good thing was bound to come, that it couldn’t possibly be avoided.
Namely, I was sure that our federal government would have to recognize that what killed all those people could not have been stopped by a bigger military or a military in outer space. I honestly had no doubt that, since American buildings had been destroyed with pocketknives, the futility of spending more and more money on the military and encouraging other countries to do the same would now be clear to all. If we already had a military triple the size of all our supposed enemies combined, why make it four times or five times as big? Why put weapons that didn’t even work in outer space? Why maintain nuclear weaponry? If enough hatred or jealousy or lunacy and a handful of pocketknives could defeat all that machinery, then why build it? I hardly thought this needed to be said. It seemed so obvious.
It also did not occur to me that a widely disapproved of, pathetic, ridiculous pair of politicians, the Mayor of New York and the unelected President of the United States, would suddenly be revered and treated almost as deities. I think my failure to expect this desperate need for authority and father figures (and who can deny that the choice of these two clowns displays desperation?) is a large part of the reason for my faulty expectations regarding the viability of continued arguments for military build-up.
We don’t call it military build-up anymore, of course. We don’t even call it defense. Now it’s “security.” Who can oppose security? It calls to mind a warm room with a supply of blankets more than bombs ripping walls apart and shattering human limbs and skulls.
I do not think I underestimated the cynicism or greed of weapons manufacturers. I think I underestimated the infantilism of many Americans and the ability of a cynical media to encourage childish dependency the likes of which had not been seen since the Reagan era. The media has a lot to answer for. In general it presented people with two choices: bombing Afghanistan or doing nothing. Most people wanted to do something, many of them wanted someone to tell them what that something was, and the media (along with George and Rudolph) told them that the something had to be bombing Afghanistan.
How many of us bought that absurd idea, despite the fact that in most situations we recognize and debate numerous options! When a building was blown up in Oklahoma, the two choices were to prosecute suspects or do nothing. Bombing the suspects’ nation wasn’t even considered – at least not after the FBI figured out which nation that was. (Of course, it would never bomb Bin Laden’s home nation of Saudi Arabia either.)
So, I am humbled, but somehow I have not been completely cured of optimism. I am counting on the media’s thirst for blood to backfire. When India reacts to its “terrorists” by attacking the people of an entire nation, our media will not universally praise that behavior. As other nations declare their enemies “the terrorists” and attack, citing the U.S. as a moral example, we will be forced to witness the same destructive behavior that our government is engaged in, but this time we will see it from afar and be able to recognize it as misguided. Or does the media have another trick up its sleeve that I haven’t thought of?
October 8, 2001
We don’t always have trouble thinking of multiple mutually complementary solutions to a problem. The Washington Redskins could use a better offense, a better defense, and better coaches. When someone comments on the need for a better offense, rarely does anyone scream in anger “What the hell do you mean, ‘The defense is flawless!’?” And why would they? No comment had been made about the defense one way or another.
But the instant someone suggests ways that the United States’s foreign policy could do better at not encouraging mass hatred of the United States, a chorus screams “What do you mean ‘The terrorists were justified!’?” Of course, nothing had been said about terrorists being justified, but that is not often deemed relevant.
The same thing happens when someone points out that reducing poverty tends to reduce crime: “What do you mean ‘Murderers aren’t to blame!’?”
The trouble is not one simply of intellect. Americans are not incapable of recognizing that you can address a problem in two or three or fifteen ways. In fact, most Americans can see that it might make sense to both prosecute a suspected murderer AND reduce poverty AND limit the availability of handguns AND improve community policing AND expand educational and employment opportunities.
Certain Americans are even capable of recognizing that it could possibly make sense to prosecute suspected terrorists AND pay airport security guards a living wage AND stop the sanctions and bombings in Iraq AND recognize the Palestinian nation AND not bomb medicine factories and lie about it AND stop ripping up international treaties AND stop selling weapons to the world and training the world’s terrorists AND work to create healthy democracies.
But these intellectual feats are usually stymied when a crime is involved. A football team’s failure is allowed to have more than one cause. A crime must absolutely have a single agent to blame, quite regardless of what the facts might be.
The desire for vengeance shapes the understanding of the crime. We want someone to attack, therefore we must find someone to blame. And we want our attack to address the entire issue, therefore no systemic problems can be blamed, and no one on “our side” can be blamed. We blame the terrorists for flying planes into buildings (and how could we not?), but we go on to decree that those terrorists existed and functioned outside the realm of causes and effects, so that nothing else can be faulted.
This prosecutorial thinking cripples our public policy, but it may be having a positive effect on it as well. While our military claims to be attacking only terrorists in training, it also claims to be dropping food on the rest of Afghanistan. We are not, as we would have done as recently as the Gulf War, blaming a national population. Our drive for vengeance itself, in its intense precision, (together with a growing awareness of racism and xenophobia, not to mention refusal to risk American military lives), may be saving a people from great suffering.
It is too early to draw conclusions, but it seems possible that domestic and international demands for human rights, decency, and due process have moved us halfway from dropping bombs to dropping bread, viz. to dropping both. Halfway from horror to humaneness is not nearly far enough, but it is progress.
September 30, 2001
A Peace Movement was born yesterday. Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. was filled from Freedom Plaza to the Capitol with people marching for peace. As we marched, we waved our banners, held up our peace signs, and chanted. The energy was tremendous, and the solidarity complete. So was the diversity: this is a movement unlimited by race, sex, region, age, religion, or sexual orientation. Its potential to expand is unfettered by anything other than war fever, arrogance, and xenophobia.
The estimates of the number of people participating have ranged from 4,000 to 25,000. I’d guess it was close to 10,000, but not more, just based on what I could see from ground level.
There was supposed to be a demonstration of 100,000 against the IMF and the World Bank. This event had been planned for months. The meetings had been moved from a residential area to downtown and had been shortened in length. A plan had been devised to erect a 9-foot wall around several blocks to keep the demonstrators away, and a lawsuit over that plan was making its way through the courts.
When the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, one of the organizations planning the demonstration decided quite quickly that Americans are too stupid to distinguish between demonstrations against corporate greed and undemocratic decision-making, on the one hand, and planes crashing into buildings, on the other. So, that group cancelled. But another group wisely switched the focus of the demonstration to peace and opposition to racism. The IMF and WB cancelled their meetings. But a group of anarchists went ahead with plans to march to those buildings.
Meanwhile, war fever swept the country, propelled by media warmongers. There were cries for revenge, columns by conservatives explicitly urging us to temporarily abandon all concern for “what Jesus would do,” and speeches by the President equating disagreement with support for terrorists. That the peace movement leapt onto the stage with such strength yesterday (in the face of this burning rage to murder in response to murder, deny freedoms in the name of freedom, and encourage hatred of America in response to hatred of America), is testimony to a collective wisdom that has learned to retain lessons from the past while ignoring the media’s framing of our options.
Thousands gathered in Freedom Plaza to hear speeches before marching toward the Capitol. Most of the speeches were excellent. I hardly disagreed with a single one of them, despite their diversity of viewpoints. Refocusing the issue on America’s misguided foreign policy and selective support for terrorism necessarily requires concern for a number of places in the Middle East, Colombia, Puerto Rico, etc., etc. (and implies absolutely nothing about failing to also blame the terrorists for the recent terrorism in New York and D.C.). But three hours of speeches was a bit much.
Someone organized this event by allowing representatives of dozens of groups to speak. None spoke more than a few minutes. I would have liked there to be one or two key speakers who tied this array of concerns together. I want to hear about why Midwesterners support this cause and why lesbians should be in the front of the march, but I also want some unity and a clear instruction of what to do after this weekend, how to organize others to join the movement.
In addition, I was disappointed by the fact that none of the speakers seemed very peaceful. Many in the crowd did. And many held banners with inspiring quotes from Gandhi and MLK. But no one spoke like Gandhi would have spoken. No one spoke without heated anger. Martin Luther King Jr. used to spend half of his speech on the need for love and nonviolence. This may have annoyed some of the already converted, but it also converted countless from that public that we now deem too stupid to distinguish a demonstration from an airplane. Not one speech that I heard yesterday mentioned nonviolence, though many attacked violence. This movement will not acquire the strength to actually accomplish something other than a feeling of solidarity in a storm unless it actively promotes nonviolence.
A man in rags and a beard brought a two-sided picket sign to the rally that read “Nazi SS, Foreskin Holocaust, Zionist Racism, IMF World Bank.” Many were confused by this, because they found it of the highest possible offense, but thought they agreed with half of it. That’s the trouble with slogans, but also the trouble with demonization. Many at the rally came close to demonizing Israelis, not to mention George W. Bush. But when this guy came along demonizing Israelis with the word Nazi, it made quite a few people uncomfortable.
In fact, several organizers of the demonstration started trying to move this man away from the stage and toward the side of the square. They ought to have let him hold his banner wherever he wanted, in the name of freedom of speech. But if they were going to move him away, they ought to have done so effectively. Instead, they spent the better part of an hour pushing him around. Someone ripped half of his sign off (and it was curious to see that the back of his poster said “Republican National Committee”), but in the end he remained with his tattered half a sign. Every TV camera and journalist focused on this major news event and ignored the speeches taking place on stage.
I expected to see more about that in the news last night and today. Instead, news coverage focused on the group of 1,500 or so anarchists marching to the IMF and getting into scraps with the police. And the special focus was on a small group that burned an American flag.
These anarchists have recognized what is wrong with the world, but they are quite mistaken about how to change it. If our goal is to actually improve people’s lives, we must be willing to shape our message to be the most effective possible. That means not denouncing anyone’s religion or anyone’s nation, and that means not demonizing anyone, not even George W. Bush. What we dislike about him is that he demonizes and disdains others. We cannot show the world a better way if we do the same.
Like John Lennon when he wrote “Imagine” – the singing of which by so many religious patriots may never cease to bewilder me – I believe we would be much better off without religions or nations. But spitting on someone’s religion or nation is not going to persuade them to join in a common cause, however noble. My advice for the ubiquitous American flag is, by all means, do not fly it. But do not burn it or spit on it or even fly a modified version with corporate logos for stars or a peace sign overlaid on it. Fly a world flag. Fly a UN flag. Fly a peace flag. Dream of One World Indivisible. But do not debate whether America has done more harm or good to the world (that can’t be measured or answered) and do not piss people off when there is work to be done.
The goal of the warmongers is to paint pacifists as allies of terrorists. Do not assist in this portrait. The warmongers want to honor the dead by creating more dead. We have to promote honoring the dead by working for peace. Working for peace must be presented as honoring the dead. This means that we need to build a BIG movement, and we need to demand concrete actions. We need to demand a new general outlook, but we also need to insist on very specific demands, beyond “Don’t bomb Afghanistan,” more precise than “Get out of the Middle East,” and more long-lasting than “Give the poor world food.”
We need a positive long-term political proposal that can be supported in the streets. And we will have one. We will have one soon.
The first thing anyone can do is link to http://www.internationalanswer.org and join the ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). The second thing everyone should do is call and write and Email your Congress Members and tell them what you think. The media is not going to tell them for you.
Sept. 20, 2001:
Walk outside and ask a few random people. Chances are you’ll find one who thinks the patriotic warmongering rattling around this country is the height of stupidity. You’re almost certain to find at least one who thinks it’s all “understandable” but wishes there were some alternative, although none has occurred to them. In either case, these people will all say they believe they are part of a tiny minority.
I’ve had people ask me how they can get in touch with a group of people who think like they do about war and peace, whether in fact any such group exists. When I suggest one, they sometimes reply “Oh, but I don’t want to be involved with people who start riots at IMF meetings.”
The corporate mass media has controlled Americans’ thinking to the extent that people who hold quite popular opinions believe they are utterly alone, and supporters of nonviolence and promoters of social improvements are viewed as destructive and violent.
But, with the possible exception of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, is there a greater crime in recent memory than the routine actions of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO? Are secret, undemocratic determinations of debt and demands that damage entire countries while boosting profits for multinational corporations an insignificant news item when compared with the actions of the small group of protesters who use violence? Does that small minority’s inexcusable and imbecilic behavior carry such weight that the entire idea of protest is now illegitimate?
One of the organizations planning a protest against the IMF and World Bank for Washington D.C. at the end of this month cancelled it after the disasters of Sept. 11. Another, admirably, switched to planning a protest of racism and war. The IMF and World Bank have now cancelled their meetings. What is needed is a demonstration for peace and for international democracy. Anyone who has been planning to be in DC on Sept. 29 should be here and bring some friends.
Screaming about wanting a criminal suspect dead or alive, and starting a war over it, is hardly constructive behavior to be respected and placed beyond criticism. We are used to watching the media convict domestic criminal suspects, and we are used to watching our state and federal governments kill them. But pursuing this course on the global level could have bigger fallout, to put it mildly.
I confess that I thought our television stations and newspapers were campaigning for a war because it would boost their profits. Now they claim that they have been losing money by doing too much work and not running any advertisements. (I guess all those callous expressions of concern for victims on the part of various fast-food restaurants and banks have been treated as public services announcements?)
Let’s calm down a minute and ask ourselves how we can best prevent further death and destruction. We can even limit our concern to Americans. I think the course of action that presents itself is the same as it would be if we considered others.
Sept. 17, 2001:
Every American should sign this:
Do not kill for me. If I am murdered, do not murder for me in response. If I could be the last one to die and end the cycle of violence, I would consider that an honor. I disown and condemn the actions of anyone who would dare to do violence on my behalf. Such actions are short-sighted, destructive, and infantile, where not cynical. Do not do them for me.
Sept. 11, 2001:
If we want a safer country, there are a whole lot of ways not to get it: a missile defense shield, a new network of spies, a bigger military, attacks on other countries.
There are a whole lot of ways to make this country less safe: training terrorists; selling weapons; perpetrating bombings, sanctions, and criminal exploitations abroad; enlarging the wealth gap and increasing the system of election by corporate funding at home; making our government the enemy of the world by disregarding treaties, encouraging arms races, leading environmental destruction, pushing a destructive form of globalization that obliterates local concerns, while fighting every effort at representative international governance; and making our government the enemy of its own citizens by working against them and in favor of corporate bribe payers.
The horrendous acts of destruction we have just seen are not surprising. We know that the world hates our government, and our government goes out of its way to encourage that hatred. We cannot maintain such behavior in the face of this clear message that massive long-term hatred combined with a few razor blades or knives can destroy our cities and make us all live with the terror that other peoples live with. Missiles are no answer to this. Tanks and ships are no answer. Spies and terrorists on our side (at least until they switch sides) are no answer.
After we destroyed European cities 60 years ago, we rebuilt them. After we destroyed Baghdad, we worked to cut off that country’s supply of safe water, deprive its people of medicine, and reign unpredictable terror on all of those people’s lives. We bomb cities, medicine factories, and embassies, and then announce on our news shows the number of American deaths involved. We view Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes and assassination of Palestinians with jealousy (Why can’t we do that to people we don’t like?). We support Israel to the exclusion of any concern for its neighbors.
When CNN and Fox announced that the United States military had bombed Afghanistan, those outlets’ wishful thinking had not reached beyond the plausible. Viewers found it entirely believable that “we” had done such a thing, even without knowledge of who was responsible for the attacks on New York and D.C.
The mood on Fox shifted from one of somber body-count-guessing to cheerful surmising that U.S. “intelligence” must have known almost enough to stop the terrorism, put the pieces together a moment too late, and followed through by bombing Afghanistan. And why not? The “president” was vowing retribution against whoever did it and whoever “harbored” them.
Is retribution the way to make people like the United States, or a way to make people further despise it? Which would our weapons manufacturers and patriotic demagogues prefer?
In recent years we have begun to approach an international level of civilization in our attitude toward executing criminals in the United States. Some of us even recognize that when you impose great poverty and hardship on people, educate them in violence, provide them with weapons, and plan for their future by building extra prisons for profit, murdering them does not “correct” anything or “serve justice.” When will we come to a similar understanding on the scale of war? When will we turn to the underlying problems?
We are the richest country by far. Much of that wealth is based on the exploitation of others, including many of our own. We advertise our wealth through our television, radio, print, and internet productions. We are the most powerful country in terms of capacity for destruction by far. We are the most arrogant and uncooperative country by far. In fact, we are arrogant enough to imagine that our “power” is enough to allow us to treat billions of human beings with contempt and not suffer for it. If we are going to “lose innocence” as the TV keeps advising us to do, let’s lose any belief in untouchable power and let’s gain a recognition of our own guilt.
The FDIC just put out a press release to assure us that American money is safe. Really?
Imagine ther’re no countries;
It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for,
and no religion, too.