I thought about going into Manhattan yesterday morning to be at “ground zero” at the moment of the 12th anniversary of 9/11. But the more i thought about it, the more i realized the image makers combined with the people who suffered real personal loss would make the experience unworkable for me.
First some uncomfortable history. The 9/11 attacks did not come from nowhere, nor were they a surprise, nor was it because “they hate our freedom.” The reasons for the jihad against the US were publicly outlined by bin Laden in 1997. The reasons were threefold:
- US military presence in Saudi Arabia (despite significant protests)
- US sanctions in Iraq that killied 600K children
- US support of Israel’s oppressive policies towards Palestine
Though you would never know it from listening to the US media, much of the Middle East viewed these attacks as self defense against a US regime which was running over the region in a fashion mostly invisible to US Americans.
It was not a surprise because then president Bush II got the Aug 6, 2001 Intelligence briefing which sited that Osama was determined to strike within the US. This was just 5 weeks before the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks.
Real people died in the 9/11 attacks. Also importantly, it set the 8 million plus people of NYC (and the about 1 million of Washington DC) into a heightened sense of anxiety and fear. The damage from these attacks were massive.
So was the backlash after them. The anti-globalization movement was in full swing following the 1999 failed WTO summit in Seattle. In Sept 2000, over 100K protesters came to the World Bank/IMF meeting in Washington to protest the dangers and injustice of globalization. From an organizer’s perspective, this was, for me, as powerful as the lightning start of the Occupy Movement. Globalization is an organizer’s nightmare of an issue. There is no sound bite to describe it, it is inherently complicated and it has many different layers of problems embedded in it. These range from corporate takeover of decision making, to anti-union and anti-environment national law circumventing thru international treaty, to development banking shenanigans, to the robbery of the global south by rich countries, to disruptive trade agreements. So every citizen activist who gets a mic stuck in their face for 7 seconds has an impossible task.
The government backlash and people’s own sense of paranoia crushed this movement. Add to that the draconian restrictions and police state enabling legislation found in the Patriot Act. The WTC attacks were also the justification for the illegal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also emboldened the US domestic spying program of the NSA.
September 11 is also the date 40 years ago that the Nixon administration supported Augusto Pinochet’s killing the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. Declassified Top Secret files indicate that this was one of the US’s many violations of international law. Pinochet killed over 3,000 people and tortured nearly 30,000 according to extensive reports.
This is enough depressing history. On this historic day the US stands at the edge of war with Syria. What is not new, is that this attack would not have the support of the UN Security Council and thus would be in violation of International Law, like the Iraq and Chilean attacks. [It is also an international law violation to threaten an attack on another country without Security Council approval, something the US has been doing for weeks.] What is even more important and shocking is that Obama may well not even be able to get the US Congress to agree on these attacks. Would he go forward anyway?
We may never find out because the Russians have come to the political rescue proposing that Syria give up its chemical weapons. Syria has agreed (admitting for the first time it even has these weapons). Obama requested a delay in the congressional vote on the resolution to bomb Syria, in time to avoid potentially embarrassing votes in both chambers.
It is worth noting that the US used chemical weapons extensively in Vietnam. US-sprayed Agent Orange between 1962 and 1971 is responsible for killing and maiming 400K people and inducing birth defects in 500K Vietnamese children. It is also worthy of note that the US is not pressing Israel to give up its chemical weapons stores. Israel has signed the chemical weapons treaty, but not ratified it and thus technically is not bound by it.
So before you wave a flag to commemorate the death of victims of a terrorist attack a dozen years ago, it would be good to reflect on the US’s own illegal and immoral attacks around the globe.