Reaping the Whirlwind
SOBRANS, October 2001,
astonishing attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the United
States has had an experience almost unique in its history, though common enough
in foreign lands: it has been attacked on its own soil. Ive expected
something like this since the 1991 Gulf War; as the phrase goes, I was shocked,
but not surprised.
The shock has already, and inevitably, been
compared to that of Pearl Harbor. There is one difference: on December 7, 1941,
there was no doubt who the enemy was. The United States immediately declared
war on Japan. This time, for the moment, no return address has been found.
President Bush has been reduced to blustering that those
responsible will be hunted down, and
punished. But how do you retaliate for suicide attacks, when those
most directly responsible have killed themselves with their victims? No doubt
they had support from others, but identifying those others may not be possible. The
simple and tempting response is to blame someone arbitrarily, strike him, and call
it justice. In this case, Osama bin Laden, wealthy patron of Muslim guerrillas, is
the natural target for bogus vengeance.
One thing is only too clear: most Americans
have no conception of the depth of hatred harbored against this country in large
parts of the world. This is no longer the ideological anti-Americanism of the
Soviet era; its much more personal and bitter, in large part because of the
personal harm inflicted by U.S. bombs, sanctions, and reliable allies,
from the Middle East to the Balkans. Millions of Iraqis, Serbs, and Palestinians
hold this country responsible for the deaths of their family members. We may have
forgotten yesteryears fleeting headlines of remote places wed
barely heard of; they remember living through scenes as horrible as those of the
World Trade Center.
The U.S. Government takes no responsibility
for a bullying foreign policy, including unstinting support of a bullying Israel, that
has made this country loathed abroad and endangered its people, both abroad and at
home. It has responded to the attack with pompous and irrelevant abstractions
about terrorism, freedom, and
democracy. These are worse than useless: they show that our ruling
elite is determined to learn nothing from this terrible experience.
No sensible man will bait a wild animal, and it
is not to excuse or defend such awful crimes to say that the U.S. Government has
been tormenting explosive passions for many years. Its attitude has been not only
self-righteous but cavalier. Few of those it antagonizes have the strength, means,
or will to fight back; those who are desperate enough to use unsavory methods are
dismissed as terrorists. (Methods authorized by governments, such
as bombing refugee camps, are not considered unsavory.) Just how are
the victims of U.S. foreign policy supposed to get our governments
Our rulers are already making it clear that
they will not respond to the September 11 attack with any measure of
introspection and self-criticism; instead, they will, as usual, make it an occasion
of further self-aggrandizement. They will continue making us enemies abroad,
while protecting us at home by curtailing our remaining liberties.