The American people survived the threat of terrorist attacks during the millennial celebrations. But fear was definitely in the air. Seattle canceled its celebration after a man was arrested at the Canadian border with bomb-making materials. New York City sealed its manhole covers in Times Square and flooded the streets with cops. Throughout December, the television talk shows featured what seemed like an endless parade of terrorism experts to talk about the threat that Americans faced. And, of course, the U.S. government, with its daily terrorism advisories, investigations, press conferences, and rumor-mongering, continued to be the driving force behind all the terrorism hysteria. Faced with the threat of both terrorism and Y2K, millions of Americans decided to play it safe and sit out New Year’s Eve at home.
Throughout all the hype and hysteria, U.S. government officials behaved as if they were innocent babes threatened by people who simply have an overwhelming desire to kill Americans for no good reason at all.
But the truth is that there are plenty of people in the world who have very good reason to hate the U.S. government. If we ignore this, we do so at our peril.
For example, look at what our government has done to the people of Iraq. Ever since the supposed end of the Persian Gulf War, we have maintained a vicious, brutal embargo against the Iraqi people. Our government claims that the embargo is necessary to punish Saddam Hussein and to ensure that he complies with orders from the United Nations. There’s even the hope that the embargo will force Saddam from power (the same hope that policymakers have had for the Cuban embargo for 35 years).
But a political ruler is the last person who is going to suffer the effects of an embargo. If a foreign government placed an embargo on the United States, would Bill and Hillary Clinton and the members of the Cabinet suffer its effects? Would our top governmental officials be the first to starve? To watch their children starve?
The embargo against Iraq has caused extreme suffering, in terms of malnutrition and health conditions, not for Iraq’s ruling elite but rather for the Iraqi people, and especially for their children. How many Iraqi babies have died because of the U.S. embargo? How many women have died during childbirth because of the embargo? How many fathers have seen their children’s growth stunted?
How many Iraqis are likely to forget and forgive the loss or serious illness of a child? How many of them are likely to say, “I will put the death of my child behind me and recapture my love for the United States of America”?
The tip of the iceberg
It’s not much different when it comes to U.S. governmental misconduct in other parts of the world. Remember the crisis in Iran, when the Iranians took American government officials hostage? The U.S. government acted the innocent throughout the crisis. Yet, it continued to maintain the secrecy of its CIA and Pentagon files detailing the U.S. government’s active participation in the torture of Iranian citizens by the shah of Iran and his cohorts. An Iranian whose son or brother suffered such torture was not likely to forget. He was likely to remember that it was not only his own government that killed his son or brother, but the U.S. government as well.
What about our government’s participation in the overthrow of democratically elected Salvador Allende in Chile and its participation in the murder of a young American journalist who was covering the overthrow? What about our government’s overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz, the democratically elected president of Guatemala, an action that threw that country into a civil war that ultimately caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people? What about our government’s support of right-wing death squads in El Salvador? Or its training of Latin American military forces in the fine art of torturing their own citizens?
One bad part of all this is that these examples may very well be just the tip of a horrendous iceberg of evil that our government has been engaged in for some 50 years. It is impossible to know the extent of our government’s foreign wrongdoing because it continues to maintain the secrecy of its foreign operations, even those going back 60 years. (As Robert B. Stinnett points out in his new book, Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor, U.S. government officials today adamantly refuse to declassify documents relating to what FDR and his cohorts knew and when they knew it with respect to events leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.)
The bottom line is: Lots of people around the world hate the U.S. government and they have good reason to do so.
What is terrorism?
“Terrorism” is, of course, an interesting term. What is a terrorist and how are his actions different from the brutal and vicious actions of a government? It seems that the U.S. government’s position is that its misconduct is always good and moral simply because its actions are for the “national security” of the United States and in our “national interests.” And it seems that anyone who tries to defend himself from our government’s actions or who counterattacks is a “terrorist.”
For example, consider our government’s conduct in Yugoslavia. The U.S. government first committed an illegal act by going to war against Yugoslavia. (The Constitution does not authorize the United States to intervene in the domestic affairs of another country and also does not authorize it to wage war without a congressional declaration of war. The charter of the United Nations also does not authorize a nation to militarily intervene in the domestic affairs of another nation.) Then our government proceeded to engage in an enormous bombing campaign designed to break the spirit and morale of the Yugoslav people.
What was the primary weapon on which our government relied to win the war? You guessed it! Terror! Terror resulting from a massive bombing campaign. If Americans were fearful of isolated terrorist bombings on New Year’s Eve, imagine how the Serb people must have felt, day after day, as they experienced one of the most terrifying bombing campaigns in history. Imagine the terror the people on that passenger train must have felt as a U.S. plane approached the bridge over which the train was traveling. Imagine their terror as they plunged to their deaths after the pilot’s missile struck the bridge. Imagine the terror experienced by the Serb people after the United States targeted a television station — and its staff — for extermination. The terror of being targeted by U.S. bombs was so real that the Serbians even stopped wearing the Target store logo they had defiantly worn on their shirts at the start of the crisis.
Apologists for the U.S. government would argue, “But war is hell. People always get killed during war.” But why don’t they have the same “hard-core” attitude when “international terrorists” respond with attacks on Americans and on American office buildings?
Terrorism or war?
Why should it be surprising that people who have suffered the effects of U.S. government terror tactics decide to defend themselves and counterattack? Isn’t war about defense and counterattack as well as attack? Should we really expect people to simply permit themselves to be bombed or starved or terrorized without ever striking back?
And once they decide to strike back, what is the best method by which to do so? A frontal assault on the U.S. Navy? A bombing attack on Ft. Benning, Georgia? That would obviously be suicidal. No, they’re going to do what small armies have done against big armies throughout history — engage in guerilla tactics. They’re going to ambush, set traps, and bomb targets where they have a good chance of escaping detection or capture — such as a U.S. embassy overseas or an office building here in the United States.
But to characterize this as terrorism is nonsense. This is war. When our government wages war against others, we have to expect the enemy to respond by waging war against the United States.
Are “we” the government?
One regrettable consequence of this is that the enemy does not always distinguish between the U.S. government and the American people. I’ve thought about hanging a sign outside my office building that says, “I stand against my government’s wrongful conduct in Iraq, Iran, Yugoslavia, Latin America, and other parts of the world. Therefore, please do not bomb my building.”
Unfortunately, however, I don’t think it would do much good. Why? Because the U.S. government itself does not distinguish between a foreign government and its citizens. For example, our government knows full well that its embargoes against Iraq and Cuba are hurting the people of those two countries, but its attitude is: “Tough luck. If you don’t like it, get rid of your ruler.” Moreover, in the wake of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, our government has a difficult time explaining why “terrorists” should exclude nongovernmental buildings and personnel from their bombing plans.
Our government, like all governments, thrives on crises. As the new century was approaching, government officials stoked the fire of crisis with its daily advisories and press conferences on terrorism. Since the American people rely on their government to protect us from the bad guys, everyone feels like he’s “one with the government.” Certainly no one even thinks of leveling criticism at this protector in the midst of the crisis.
Fortunately, there was no terrorist incident for more reasons than the obvious one. If there had been a terrorist attack, you can be 100 percent certain that the U.S. government would have used the crisis as an opportunity to march America farther down the road to total destruction of our civil liberties.
Our protector deserves more than criticism. It deserves condemnation. Because our protector is the primary reason that Americans are hated and despised in different parts of the world — and why “terrorists” are now terrorizing the American people. There is one and only one solution to the problem of terrorism by foreigners against Americans: for the American people to put a permanent end to state-sponsored terrorism by their own government.