I recently received a note from a former supporter of FFF telling me that the reason that she had stopped donating after 9/11 was because we had blamed “the USA” for the 9/11 attacks. She had supported our work from our inception in 1990 until 2001.
Eight years after the 9/11 attacks, I continue to be amazed over this phenomenon.
As I responded to our supporter, we never blamed “the USA” for the 9/11 attacks. We blamed the U.S. government, and specifically the bad things that it had been doing to people in the Middle East, for engendering the anger and hatred that so many people have in that part of the world for the United States. It was that anger and hatred that ultimately erupted in the 9/11 acts of violence.
One problem in all this is that many people honestly believe that the U.S. government and “the USA” are one and the same thing. In their minds they conflate the government and the country. Thus, to them if you criticize the government, you are criticizing the United States.
Yet, it is obvious that we’re talking about two separate and distinct entities here. One group is the government and the other group is the private sector, i.e. “the USA.”
When the American people called the federal government into existence with the Constitution, it was based on a critically important principle: the recognition that the federal government would be the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the country.
Take a look at the Bill of Rights, which the American people demanded as a condition for permitting the federal government to come into existence. You’ll notice something important: Implicit throughout the first ten amendments is a critical point: the biggest threat to people’s rights is the federal government, and the explicit purpose of the amendments is to protect the country from that enormous threat.
Ironically, even as some Americans cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that the federal government is capable of doing such bad things to people that they retaliate with terrorist attacks, the federal government itself is taking a different position. Today, federal officials are fighting hard to keep secret photographs and videotapes depicting U.S. troops torturing, sexually abusing, and possibly even raping Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Why are they doing that? Because U.S. officials feel that the release of the photos and videos will produce so much anger in the Middle East that people will seek to retaliate by killing U.S. troops.
Is that position any different in principle from the position we took with respect to the 9/11 attacks? Of course not. As we stated, both before and after the 9/11 attacks, when the U.S. government does bad things to people, the anger and hatred that is generated can produce retaliatory “blowback” against the United States.
What were the bad things that the federal government was doing to people in the Middle East prior to the 9/11 attacks? Here are some of them: the brutal sanctions that were enforced against the Iraqi people, which contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children; U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright’s infamous statement that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it”; the deadly and illegal no-fly zones over Iraq; the unconditional financial and military support of the Israeli government; and much more.
In a society in which many American citizens are criticizing the federal government for the bad things it has done with the economy, Social Security, Medicare, the drug war, bailouts, immigration, the dollar, and so much more, why do some Americans still consider it inappropriate to criticize what the federal government has done to foreigners? Isn’t it the responsibility of an enlightened citizenry to criticize the wrongdoing of its own government, both foreign and domestic, with the aim of keeping it on the right course? Isn’t that what genuine patriotism is all about?