by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
Sept. 11, 2006
OUR NATION'S SAD JOURNEY
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- I originally wrote this column, "A Time To Think Clearly," for The American Reporter on Sept. 14, 2001, three days after the attacks on New York and Washington.
I'm not claiming any prophetic gifts. Any American who was awake and had a sense of history was feeling the things I was feeling five years ago. I wish that I would have been completely and totally wrong about the things I wrote in this piece, but even the gods can't change history.
The war drums are beating. The primal urge for revenge is rising. The flags are waving and blind patriotism is the order of the day. And many, many more innocents will die.
Tuesday's attacks were horrible beyond words. But I am afraid our nation's reactions to them will be even worse.
Take this editorial from the New York Post that appeared on Sept. 13:
"The heavens need to fall on their heads. They need to bleed. Not next month. Not next week. Now. Who are they? Who cares? Cast a wide enough net, and you'll catch the fish that need catching. ... So locate them. Pinpoint them. Bomb them. And bomb their smoldering rubble - one more time! ... The weight of America's military might - just short of nuclear oblivion - needs to be visited on those who planned and executed Tuesday's attacks. And also on those who support the terror - benighted souls that they are. ... Dispatch enough of them on the journey with no return, and this war will end quickly enough."
I've read some other variations on this theme from the rest of the laptop bombardiers on the right...words that need not be repeated here. These are the words that have inspired Americans to lash out at all things Arabic. The reports of attacks on Arab-Americans by so-called patriots increases by the day, as if vandalizing a mosque or beating up someone of Middle East descent will avenge the thousands who died.
"War fever is never more vicious than when it is unfocused, when the enemy is not yet clearly identified and war aims are not yet spelled out," wrote Eugene Leach, a history professor at Trinity College, in The Hartford Courant. "It is then that civil liberties, human values and democratic institutions are at risk. ... If we are provoked into war, it will involve none of the massive military campaigns of World War II. It will more resemble a cold war of antagonism always on the edge of hot war, with similar costs: titanic sums of money spent on security, civil liberties curbed, anxiety and paranoia displacing hope and trust, the life of the mind constricted and contorted, and vast opportunities for human betterment lost."
Already, Congress whisked through a $40 billion appropriation for the military in preparation for the war that's certain to come. Expect many billions more to be spend against an shadowy and ill-defined enemy in a war without a front line.
Expect the Bill of Rights to be further trashed in the name of security. Within hours of the attack, according to Declan McCullagh, a political reporter for Wired, FBI agents began showing up at Internet service providers around the country demanding to place their "Carnivore" e-mail tracking software on their systems.
Under the terms of anti-terrorism legislation passed in 1996 in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, immigrants can be held and expelled without due process. It is a crime to provide material support for any designated foreign terrorist organization (and the Secretary of State has the authority to decide which groups are 'terrorist organizations'). And part of that law made it more difficult for prisoners to appeal their convictions. In the name of speedily dispatching Timothy McVeigh, hundreds of other prisoners were executed after their legal rights were curtailed.
Expect more domestic spying by the FBI and other federal agencies. Expect our public spaces to be turned into armed camps. Expect the freedoms we once knew to be curtailed in the name of "security." Commentator Patt Morrison wrote in the Los Angeles Times about how this attack will challenge us to preserve those freedoms in the weeks and months to come.
"If they, whoever did this, expects us to become like them, like any fearful and besieged and vengeful people...if 'better safe than sorry' becomes the national motto...if the land of the free becomes the home of the military checkpoint and the national ID card, then we fail the test," she wrote.
We can't let ourselves be blinded with fear, such as this nation did right after World War I when the federal government staged raids without warrants against leftists and radicals and deported immigrants, or during World War II when we rounded up Japanese-Americans into concentration camps, or during the Cold War, when the anti-Communist witch hunts raged.
And we need to remember, in all the talking about the need for revenge, about the various acts committed by this nation over the years. President Bush talks about the coming war as a battle between good and evil and proclaiming "our resolve for justice and peace," but one must never forget how many millions of civilians throughout the Third World that have been killed for political purposes by the U.S. government over the past five decades.
"If that statement seems outrageous, ask the people of Vietnam. Or Cambodia or Laos. Or Indonesia or East Timor. Or Chile. Or Central America. Or Iraq. Or Palestine. The list of countries and peoples who have felt the violence of this country is long," wrote Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, for the Common Dreams NewsCenter site (http://www.commondreams.org).
"The stilled voices of the millions killed in Southeast Asia, in Central America, in the Middle East as a direct result of U.S. policy are the evidence of our resolve for justice and peace. If we are to be decent people, our tears must flow not only for those of our own country. People are people, and grief that is limited to those within a specific political boundary denies the humanity of others. And if we are to be decent people, we all must demand of our government - the government that a great man of peace, Martin Luther King Jr., once described as 'the greatest purveyor of violence in the world' - that the insanity stop here."
Our nation is the world's leading arms dealer. We've flooded the Middle East with our weaponry. And never let it be forgotten that the CIA funded and trained Osama bin-Laden, and others like him, during the 1980s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. We have known for years that he was developing the capability to carry out an attack such as the Sept. 11 horror, yet little apparently was done to thwart it.
I remember well the blind jingoism during the Gulf War and how quickly this nation was whipped into a war frenzy to obliterate Iraq. We went to war without thinking, without making even the slightest effort to let diplomacy work. A million Iraqis have died since then as a result of our continuing embargo, and our warplanes are still bombing Iraq a decade after the war. And Saddam Hussein, another rogue that our government supported and sold weapons to up until the day his armies invaded Kuwait, still is in power because despite the rhetoric to the contrary, our national security people have long maintained that not having Saddam in charge might be even worse for the Middle East.
We must not think carelessly about war. We must not think carelessly about curtailing the civil liberties that are the hallmark of this nation. We must not destroy all that makes us the beacon of democracy in the name of revenge.
Peace, and the spirit of democracy, must prevail on earth.
Five years later, who would have thought Osama bin Laden would be still on the loose, that the Taliban would be making a comeback, that we would invade Iraq for no apparent reason other than we could, that every fear we had about eroded civil liberties and domestic spying would come true and then some, and that we would be revving up for an attack on Iran even as Iraq and Afghanistan fall into chaos.
The gods can't change history, but we can resolve to change the future so that when the 10th anniversary of 9/11 rolls around, peace and the spirit of democracy will prevail.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.