Category Archives: 9-11
We just got through wishing for “peace on earth” and celebrating the birth of a new age, and now it’s Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday – another opportunity for us to think about peace, nonviolence, and doing things in a new way. On a personal note, tomorrow is also my younger son’s 44th birthday. I’d like to dedicate this post about how we can have peace on earth to him. Happy birthday, Jesse! You and your brother and the children you’ve each brought into the world are my inspiration for doing this.
Can we really have peace on earth? How?
I agree with all the folks who say that we have to start by cultivating peace within – following a spiritual path and meditating or having quiet moments of just being – open to messages from that part of our intuition that’s a spark of the divine, our connection with everything and everyone else. Then we have to do our best to be that peace in our personal lives, accepting and loving ourselves and others where we are, learning nonviolent communication, being of service to each other, etc.
But if it stops there, either our violent world won’t change noticeably, or, if it does, it will take so long that the unnecessary killing and wounding and suffering with go on much longer than it has to. I’d like to see us take the peace we’ve cultivated within and bring it into the larger world, witnessing to it with strangers and organizing to make it a global force, alongside the dark, unconscious forces of fear and greed that are hurting so many and destroying the natural world on which we depend. Not so there can be a battle, ’cause we’re nonviolent, but so folks can see and try an alternative.
What brings us peace shouldn’t put us to sleep, because it’s of a piece with what enlivens us, what’s given us life and beauty and love. It’s mellow, but it’s an active thing. I believe that that life and that love can not only take precedence over the smallness and fear that brings suffering to our individual lives, it can eventually disassemble the economic, political, cultural, and military death machine all these individual beliefs and practices have created. “All” we have to do is make it our top priority and truly bring it to bear.
We can do that individually in acts of courage that inspire others. That’s a necessary part of it. But we also need to get together – to organize and form affinity groups for both mutual support and planning actions and campaigns. Getting together multiplies our power exponentially, and history shows that when we’re steadfast in it, not even the mightiest government can stand against us. Hitler and Stalin are no more, and the American “evil empire” won’t last forever either. Another world really is possible.
It won’t be easy, and there is much to learn and practice, but we can do it, if each of us puts in his and her bit. As King and his hero Gandhi taught, we also have to stay as consistently as possible in a place of love and courage and nonviolence to make it work. And some of us have to be willing to risk everything, even our lives, for our values.
Here’s an example of what I mean: During the civil rights movement, David Hartsough, one of the founders of the Global Nonviolence Peace Force, was sitting in at a lunch counter helping to desegregate it, and a man approached him from behind. Holding a switchblade knife and with a horrible look of hatred on his face, he said, “You nigger lover – If you don’t get out of this store in two seconds, I’m going to stab this through your heart.” Hartsough looked the man in the eye, and said, “Friend, do what you believe is right, and I’ll still try and love you.” The man’s jaw and hand dropped, and he left the store. (More on Hartsough in the next day or so.)
Think about what it would take for you to take that kind of risk and devote that kind of energy to standing up for what you value.
I think many of us, including myself, have gotten inured to the increasing violence and ugliness of our society. The wars; the shootings; the increasingly ugly and violent books, TV shows, and movies. “We tried that in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s,” we say or think, “and it didn’t work…We tried it in 2003 before Bush launched the US invasion of Iraq. Millions of people demonstrated around the world, but the invasion went on as scheduled, devastating an entire country. The same in Afghanistan.” But did we launch an effective, consistent, in-it-to-the-finish campaign, putting our lives on the line? No. Most of us just marched for an hour, and hoped that, magically, our numbers on that day would deter a committed, powerful elite that had already demonstrated its indifference to a public opinion unwilling to “put its money where its mouth was.” This was an elite that had already gotten away with altering the outcome of two presidential elections and allowing (and aiding and abetting) the 9-11 attacks – more brazen even than the elite (or a small portion of it) that had JFK, Bobby, and King assassinated. Or than the one now calling the shots that I and others believe recently faked the death of Osama bin Laden (he probably died 10 years earlier of a genetic disease), among other things.
It’s going to take a lot more will and numbers and moral force than we’ve shown so far to counter this kind of entrenched and amoral power. Are we willing to accept that challenge?
Not that this is about hating the members of this elite – who are sometimes us – individual people acting or not acting as they believe they must. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Or they/we know, but can’t resist the temptation.
We can do better, especially together. We can cultivate the best in ourselves, our spark of the divine, our little light; join it with that of others; and learn from history and past and present teachers how to turn the ship around, stop the hurtling locomotive…It doesn’t have to go over the cliff (global warming) or keep running innocent people down till we’ve all been destroyed by it.
“They” can’t maintain the death machine without our participation and consent, tacit or active. We’re the ones who provide the money and the bodies for their wars, who act like everything’s fine when it isn’t. We haven’t known what to do about it, how we can break out of the current cage when there’s no convenient utopian island to step to. That perfect island will probably never exist. But we can create islands in the midst of what’s happening, and – together – each do better and more than we have.
The new age, the Great Turning as it’s been called, is trying to be born. This is its time. It requires maybe not all hands on deck to manifest, but more of us. Will we stand up and be counted? We’re God’s, the Goddess’s, Spirit’s heart, hands, and voice in this material world. It’s what we make of it: heaven, hell, or something in between. Shall we move more strongly toward heaven (peace) on earth?
Ideas on how in the days to come…
In this post I’m using and adapting an article by Robert Jensen, professor of journalism at the University of Texas, posted on Al Jazeera 11-3-11. Jensen starts by noting that pundits and politicians keep asking Occupy gatherings around the country what their “demands” are. His suggested response: “We demand that you stop demanding a list of demands. The demand for demands is an attempt to shoehorn the Occupy gatherings into conventional politics, to force the energy of these gatherings into a form that people in power recognize, so that they can roll out strategies to divert, co-opt, buy off, or – if those tactics fail” – suppress or crush the challenge to business as usual (bring in the cops and injure Iraq war vets). Rather than listing demands, we critics of concentrated wealth and power in the US can deepen our analysis of the illegitimate systems that produce that unjust distribution of wealth and power. Allowing these systems to remain intact, as mere reform movements do, guarantees more of the same: the new boss will be the same as the old boss.
Let’s start with American empire. It doesn’t bring freedom and democracy – like empires throughout history, it’s used and uses coercion and violence to acquire and maintain a disproportionate share of the world’s resources. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq are just the most recent examples of this. American empire began with the dispossession of Native Americans, and went global around 1900 with a takeover of the Cuban and Filipino fights for independence from Spain (American suppression of Filipino freedom fighters and their families was as brutal as the same action in Vietnam). American empire emerged in full force after World War II, with the United States using the Cold War with the Soviet Union to subordinate the developing world to the US economic system. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, this effort has gone forward with the excuse of fighting drugs and terrorism, the latter “war” admitted to be never-ending.
Whether in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, or Asia, the central goal of US foreign policy has been to nip every independent course of political or economic development in the bud, using any means necessary. The victims of this policy, the vast majority of them non-white, can be counted in the millions. In the Western Hemisphere, US policy was carried out mostly through proxy armies, such as the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s, or support for dictatorships and military regimes that brutally repressed their own people (El Salvador, Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, and elsewhere). The economic blockade of Castro’s Cuba must also be included in this category. The result throughout the region was hundreds of thousands of dead – millions across Latin America over the course of the 20th century – and whole countries ruined.
Direct US military intervention was another tool of US policymakers, with the most grotesque example being the attack on southeast Asia. After supporting the failed French effort to re-colonize Vietnam after World War II, the US invaded South Vietnam, dropped more bombs on North Vietnam than had been used in all of World War II (including bombing dams that caused devastating floods), and intervened in Laos and Cambodia, at a cost of three to four million dead and a region destabilized. Saturation bombing of civilian areas, routine killings of civilians, and 11.2 million gallons of Agent Orange to destroy crops and ground cover were all part of the US terror war in the region, which, among other things was responsible for the genocidal Pol Pot regime in Cambodia.
The US government used the 9-11 terrorist attacks (which it may have allowed to happen) to justify an expansion of military operations in central Asia and the Middle East – most notably the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It wanted to take down Saddam Hussein not because he was a horrible dictator – the US has supported and supports dictators around the world that go along with its program – but because he’d started operating independently and challenging US control of mid-East oil.
These imperial policies and practices are immoral and illegal. Because non-Americans and non-whites have a stubborn desire to control their own resources and manage their own affairs, they’re also ineffective in the long run. The American people are beginning to reject the goal of dominance, from which we get few benefits and incur many dangers. We don’t want to run the world – we want to share it, equally and respectfully.
Capitalism, the economic system underlying US empire, is inconsistent with basic human values. That statement may be shocking to many Americans, who’ve been taught that capitalism is the only sane and rational way to organize an economy in the contemporary world (the financial crisis that began in 2008 has scared many people, but it hasn’t always led to questioning the nature of the system). But read on.
Capitalism is an economic system in which property, including capital assets, is owned and controlled by private persons; most people must rent their labor power for money wages to survive; and the prices of most goods and services are allocated by markets. Industrial capitalism, marked by the development of the factory system and greater labor specialization, was made possible in the 19th and 20th centuries by sweeping technological changes, the concentration of capital (wealth), imperialism (colonies), and the African slave trade. Finance capitalism, the system we have now, represents a shift to a system in which the accumulation of profits in a financial system becomes dominant over production processes (paper as opposed to real wealth).
In the dominant ideology of market fundamentalism (neoliberal economics, “free” trade), it’s assumed that the most extensive use of markets possible, along with privatization of many publicly owned assets and the shrinking of public services, will unleash maximum competition and result in the greatest good – and that all this is inherently just, no matter what the results. If such a system creates a world in which most people live in poverty (as it has), that isn’t taken as evidence of a problem with market fundamentalism, but as evidence that fundamentalist principles haven’t been imposed with sufficient vigor. (Note that fundamentalist principles are never applied to huge banks or stock market manipulators, who are always bailed out with taxpayer money when their schemes fail. Nor is it applied to the military or military contractors, necessary for enforcing the system.)
All of this is based on the view that since humans are basically greedy and self-interested, a viable economic system must reward greedy, self-interested behavior. Greed and self-interest are certainly part of human nature, but we’re also just as capable of compassion and selflessness, with the capacity to act out of solidarity and cooperation — as seen in the Occupy movement.
The form of capitalism in operation around the globe today is often touted as going hand in hand with, even as necessary for, political democracy, but in fact it’s inherently anti-democratic. In the real world – not in the textbooks or fantasies of economics professors – capitalism has always been, and will always be, a wealth-concentrating system, and if you concentrate wealth in a society, you concentrate power. For all the trappings of formal democracy in the contemporary US, everyone understands that for the most part, the wealthy dictate the basic outlines of the public policies put into practice by elected officials. Powerful investors rather than unorganized voters are the dominant force in campaigns and elections, which – as we’ve seen in 2000, 2004, and possibly even 2008 – can be “fixed” or managed. Political scientist Thomas Ferguson describes political parties in the US as “blocs of major investors who advance candidates representing their interests” and says that “political parties dominated by large investors try to assemble the votes they need by making limited appeals to particular segments of the electorate.” There can be competition between these blocs, but “on all issues affecting the vital interests that major investors have in common, no party competition” ever takes place. Democrats and Republicans are essentially the same — an oligarchy, or, as Michael Moore puts it, a kleptocracy.
People can and do resist the system’s attempt to sideline them, and an occasional politician joins the fight, but such resistance takes extraordinary effort. Those who resist sometimes win victories, some of them inspiring, but to date concentrated wealth continues to dominate. If we define democracy as a system that gives ordinary people a meaningful way to participate in the formation of public policy, rather than just a role in ratifying decisions made by the powerful, it’s clear that capitalism and democracy are mutually exclusive.
As a system dependent on continuing growth (on a finite planet), capitalism is also ecologically unsustainable. Technology can help a little, but it won’t enable us to transcend physical limits. Both the human communities and non-human living world that play host to capitalism will eventually be destroyed by it. Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live – groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species, and climate change – and the news is bad. Living as we do in a petroleum-based system fast running out of easily accessible oil, we also face a huge reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds our lives. Because our leaders, who profit from the current system, want to keep that profit going as long as possible, we haven’t faced the fact that our system is incompatible with life, or prepared for any of these problems.
The question now isn’t how to prevent crises, but how to mitigate the worst effects. Most crucially, we need to abandon the dominance/subordination dynamic, if we want to survive and, eventually, thrive in a cooperative, sustainable way. Rather than taking this an invitation to panic, our best course is to take our time and continue with the process the Occupy movement has begun – acting from love rather than fear. Rejecting the election campaign/debt crisis mass media political babble, Occupy gatherings are experimenting with a different kind of public dialogue about our common life, one that rejects the forces of terror deployed by concentrated wealth and power-over. These are ordinary people just learning how to cope, feeling the power-with of beginning by not accepting the legitimacy of the current system, then talking together – taking the time to hear every voice – about how we can do things differently.
9-11 Ten Years On
I didn’t have the same take on 9-11 as the majority of Americans seemed to at the time, and my thoughts and feelings about it now are still pretty much the same. I almost didn’t have a chance to register shock and horror at the attacks because of my reaction to everyone else’s shock and horror, not to mention the media commentary. With all due respect to those who died and their bereaved families, it seemed somewhat self-centered and overblown, not to mention hysterical. After all, other countries, now and in the past, have suffered the same or worse – sometimes, especially recently, at the hands of the United States. That was, in fact, part of the motivation for the attacks, it being no accident that the World Trade Center, home of the globalized finance that’s been more destructive than positive globally, and the Pentagon were the targets. Malcolm X’s statement about JFK’s assassination being “a case of chickens coming home to roost” was, honestly, the first thing that came to my mind. I hasten to add, as I always had to then: I’m talking about reasons and motivation, not justification. Violence directed toward innocent victims is never justified.
No one – even my close friends and family – wanted to hear thoughts like this at the time, and anyone else who expressed them publicly was accused of heartlessness and lack of patriotism. “We all have to stick together,” was a common remark. (More on patriotism in a later post.)
Almost worse than this was the way the event was being misinterpreted. “Because they hate us,” “pure evil,” etc. Even my normally sensible niece thought the attackers were evil incarnate, inhuman, the sort of reaction that’s contributed to horrible prejudice – still encouraged by many political and religious groups in this country – against Muslims, Arabs, Iranians, the Other. Fear or love? I’ve mentioned that important dichotomy in some of my introductory stuff, and will be coming back to it again and again. Love knows we’re all human, no matter what we do – we all have some spark of good or divinity in us. Which means that if we try – and we should try – we can empathize and find common ground.
All of these issues are still very much alive, making the tenth anniversary commemorations of 9-11 the same as every other year since 2001 – only more so.
Over the years more people have taken a critical look at the 9-11 phenomenon, however. I was particularly interested in three editorials written in recent weeks on the subject, which I’ll quote for you almost in their entirety, with comments in brackets. (I know – this is long, but it’s well worth your time.) Before starting that though, I want to mention that – along with at least 50% of Americans, according to polls – I believe the Bush administration (in particular, the Vice President Cheney) purposely allowed the 9-11 attacks to occur so that the American public would go along with the invasion of Iraq, the so-called Patriot Act, etc. Which makes the whole commemoration thing even more ghoulish. (See Crossing the Rubicon by Michael Ruppert and The New Pearl Harbor by David Ray Griffin.) It also makes you wonder what it takes to get the American people to revolt. Anyway…
The first editorial is “Let’s Cancel 9/11” by Tom Engelhardt, which appeared 9-8-11 on TomDispatch.com. Engelhardt advises us to “bag…the tenth anniversary ceremonies for 9/11, and everything that goes with them: the solemn reading of the names of the dead, the tolling of bells, the honoring of first responders, the gathering of presidents, the dedication of the new memorial, the moments of silence. The works.
Let’s [s]hut down Ground Zero…Close the memorial built in the ‘footprints’ of the former towers before it can be unveiled this Sunday. Discontinue work on the underground National September 11th Museum due to open in 2012. Tear down the Freedom Tower (redubbed 1 World Trade Center after our ‘freedom’ wars went awry), 102 stories of the most expensive skyscraper ever constructed in the United States (estimated price tag: $3.3 billion.) Dismantle the other three office towers being built there as part of an $11 billion government-sponsored construction program…If we had wanted a memorial to 9/11, it would have been more appropriate to leave one of the giant shards of broken tower there untouched.
Ten years into the post-9/11 era, haven’t we had enough of ourselves? Isn’t it time to rip the band-aid off the wound? No more invocations of the attack to explain otherwise inexplicable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the global war on terror. No more invocations of 9/11 to keep the Pentagon and the national security state flooded with money. No more invocations of 9/11 to justify every encroachment on liberty, every new step in the surveillance of Americans, every advance in pat-downs and wand-downs and strip downs that keeps fear high and the homeland security state afloat.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 were in every sense abusive, horrific acts. And the saddest thing is that the victims of those suicidal monstrosities have been misused here ever since under the guise of pious remembrance. This country has become dependent on the dead of 9/11 – who have no way of defending themselves against how they’ve been used – as an all-purpose explanation for our own goodness and the horrors we’ve visited on others, for the many towers-worth of dead in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere whose blood is on our hands. Isn’t it finally time to go cold turkey? To let go of the dead?
We can’t forget, but we could stop the anniversary remembrances. We could stop invoking 9/11 in every imaginable way so many years later. We could stop using it to make ourselves feel like a far better country than we are. We could, in short, leave the dead in peace and take a good, hard look at ourselves, the living, in the nearest mirror.
Within 24 hours of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the first newspaper had already labeled the site in New York as ‘Ground Zero.’ If anyone needed a sign that we were about to run off the rails, that should have been enough. Previously, the phrase “ground zero” had only one meaning: it was the spot where a nuclear explosion had occurred.
The facts of 9/11 are, in this sense, simple enough. It was not a nuclear attack. It was not apocalyptic. The cloud of smoke where the towers stood was no mushroom cloud. It wasn’t potentially civilization ending. It didn’t endanger the existence of our country, or even of New York City. Spectacular as it looked and staggering as the casualty figures were, the operation was hardly more technologically advanced than the failed attack on a single tower of the World Trade Center in 1993 by Islamists using a rented Ryder truck packed with explosives.
A second unreality went with the first. Almost immediately, key Republicans like Senator John McCain, followed by George W. Bush, top figures in his administration, and soon after, in a drumbeat of agreement, the mainstream media declared that we were “at war.” This was, Bush would say only three days after the attacks, “the first war of the twenty-first century.” But it wasn’t. Despite the screaming headlines, Ground Zero wasn’t Pearl Harbor. Al-Qaeda wasn’t Japan, Nazi Germany, or the Soviet Union. It had no army, no finances to speak of, and possessed no state (though it had the minimalist protection of a hapless government in Afghanistan, one of the most backward, poverty-stricken lands on the planet).
And yet – another sign of where we were heading – anyone who suggested that this wasn’t war, that it was a criminal act and some sort of international police action was in order, was simply laughed (or derided or insulted) out of the room. And so the empire prepared to strike back (just as Osama bin Laden hoped it would) in an apocalyptic, planet-wide war for domination that masqueraded as a war for survival.
In the meantime, the populace was mustered through repetitive, nationwide 9/11 rites emphasizing that we Americans were the greatest victims, greatest survivors, and greatest dominators on planet Earth…
There is little on this planet of the living more important or more human than the burial and remembrance of the dead…And surely it’s our duty in this world of loss to remember the dead, those close to us and those more removed who mattered in our national or even planetary lives. Many of those who loved and were close to the victims of 9/11 are undoubtedly attached to the yearly ceremonies that surround their deceased wives, husbands, lovers, children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. [Actually, many aren’t, because it prevents them from the at least partial forgetting essential to healing and moving on with life.] For the nightmare of 9/11, they deserve a memorial. But we don’t.
September 11th as a memorial and Ground Zero as a ‘consecrated’ place have turned out to be a blank check for the American war state, funding an endless trip to hell. They’ve helped lead us into fields of carnage that shame the victims of the attack.
It’s time to inter not the dead, but the worst urges in American life since 9/11 and the ceremonies which, for a decade, have supported them. Better to bury all of that at sea with bin Laden and then mourn the dead, each in our own way, in silence and, above all, in peace.”
In “Memory,” published by the Chronicle Review of Higher Education on 8-7-11, Lawrence Weschler expresses similar thoughts:
“Though I live in New York and was as horrified as anyone that first morning, almost from the start I began to feel myself peeling off from the general tenor of response, the grand consensus.
Of course, I felt horrible about the loss of life – 2,606 in the towers themselves; another 150 or so in the crashing planes – and for the families of the victims, especially the kids. But they were hardly the only people around who suffered grievous losses that year…
Get a grip, I found myself thinking, as the event grew ever more fetishized over the ensuing months – the gaping hole in the skyline acquiring an idol-like status, all political life (and prior common sense) seeming to get sucked into its yawning vortex. New York wasn’t the first city that’s ever faced a terrorist attack, I kept having to remind myself, nor the first city ever to have been bombed (hell, we ourselves, as Americans, had repeatedly bombed a good many of the rest of the world’s cities).
Maybe it was just that we’d imagined ourselves immune from the forces impinging on other people’s lives, immune from history (history previously being defined precisely as something we did to other people, not something they ever did to us); and now suddenly that old historical machinery was clanking away big time, the chains catching hold, and it didn’t feel at all good.
Nor can it be said that, historically speaking, we went on to acquit ourselves with much distinction. Londoners during the Blitz had to endure this sort of thing day after day, for weeks on end, but they didn’t crumple. Under Churchill’s leadership, it was as if the more the Nazis threw at them, the greater their focus, the more uncanny their calm: Far from buckling, they bucked up. They retained perspective.
When you’re under murderous assault is precisely not the time to turn your entire political culture inside out. That’s what the terrorists want you to do, that’s what they’re [literally] dying for you to do. You’re supposed to resist that temptation.
Instead, in thrall to the serpentine blandishments of fear, we spooked ourselves (or at any rate allowed our political class to spook us) into the grotesque disfigurations of the Patriot Act; the witch hunts aimed at Arabs and South Asian immigrants (many of them second- and third-generation American citizens); the botched invasion of Afghanistan; the calamitous Iraq fiasco; the preposterous fetishizations of Hallowed Ground and the Families and the Heroes; in sum, the hysterical deformation of virtually all of [already much deformed] American politics, which in turn allowed the egregiously incompetent President George W. Bush that second term with its Katrina debacle, burgeoning deficits, and the whole clueless build-up to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Not that everyone got it wrong, of course. The late Susan Sontag, for one, saw things clearly from Day One. Writing in the first issue of the New Yorker after the attacks, she concluded: ‘Politics, the politics of a democracy – which entails disagreement, which promotes candor – has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. “Our country is strong,” we are told again and again. I for one don’t find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that’s not all America has to be.’
Those words got her roundly excoriated, even by the magazine’s editor. (After which, remember, the New Yorker, like so many others in the mainstream media, went on to endorse the Iraqi campaign at its outset.)
But I digress. You ask, How do I think 9/11 will be remembered 100 years from now? Forget 100, let’s say 50. I suspect people in 2061 will no more remember the World Trade Center disaster than we today do the General Slocum [ferry disaster in New York in 1904 in which over 1,000 lost their lives]. This is because such people as will still be around in 2061 will be too busy dealing with the rampaging effects of global warming. To the extent that they’ll be thinking about the first decade of the 21st century at all, they may be wondering what on earth the people back then could have been thinking as they let warning after warning go unheeded.
The 10 years just passing, as we all must realize if we are being honest with ourselves, constituted the hinge decade, the decade when something substantial had to be done if the world were going to avoid the exponential catastrophe into which we have now embarked. (You can’t go on sagely noting, year after year, that we have only 10 years left within which to confront the crisis, without at some point those 10 years having run out.) Perhaps we could have done both: honored the victims of 9/11 while at the same time tending to the far greater devastation bearing down on us. The point is that we [didn’t], and in almost every conceivable way, the result has been an utterly squandered decade.”
In “Epitaph for Another September 11th,” published by The Nation magazine on 8-30-11, Ariel Dorfman reminds us of a Tuesday, September 11th not 10, but 38 years ago: the day General Augusto Pinochet, with tacit U.S. support, overthrew the democratically elected Chilean government of Salvador Allende, ushering in 17 years of a brutal dictatorship characterized by the torture and the murder (“disappearing”) of 1,198 “leftists.” Dorfman writes that Chile and the United States offer “contrasting models of how to react to a collective trauma.
Every nation that has been subjected to great harm is faced with a fundamental series of questions that probe its deepest values. How to pursue justice for the dead and reparation for the living? Can the balance of a broken world be restored by giving in to the understandable thirst for revenge against our enemies? Are we not in danger of becoming like them, in danger of turning into their perverse shadow [if we allow ourselves to be] governed by our rage?
If 9/11 can be understood as a test, it seems to me that the United States failed it. The fear generated by a small band of terrorists led to a series of devastating actions that far exceeded the damage occasioned by the original [event]. Two unnecessary, [continuing] wars, a colossal waste of resources that could have been used to save our environment and educate our children, hundreds of thousands dead and mutilated, millions displaced, a disgraceful erosion of civil rights in America, and the use of torture and rendition abroad… And, last but not least, the bolstering of an already bloated national security state that thrives on a culture of mendacity, spying and trepidation.
Chile also could have responded to violence with more violence. If ever there was a justification for taking up arms against a tyrannical overlord, our struggle met every criterion. And yet the Chilean people and the leaders of the resistance – with a few sad exceptions – decided to oust General Pinochet through active nonviolence, taking over the country that had been stolen from us inch by inch, organization by organization, until we bested him in a plebiscite that he should have won but could not. The result hasn’t been perfect. The dictatorship continues to contaminate Chilean society several decades after it lost power. But all in all, as an example of how to create a lasting peace out of loss and untold suffering, Chile has shown a determination to make sure that there will never again be another September 11th of death and destruction.
What’s magical about that decision to fight malevolence through peaceful means is that Chileans were echoing unawares another September 11th, back in 1906 in Johannesburg, when Mohandas Gandhi persuaded several thousand of his fellow Indians in the Empire Theatre to vow nonviolent resistance to an unjust and discriminatory pre-apartheid ordinance. That strategy of satyagraha [soul or truth force] would, in time, lead to India’s independence and to many other attempts at achieving peace and justice around the world, including America’s civil rights movement.
One hundred and five years after the Mahatma’s memorable call to imagine a way out of the trap of rage, 38 years after those planes woke me in the morning to tell me that I would never again be able to escape terror, ten years after the New York of my childhood dreams was decimated by fire, I would hope that the right epitaph for all those September 11ths would be the everlasting words of Gandhi: ‘Violence will prevail over violence, only when someone can prove to me that darkness can be dispelled by darkness.'”
You may also be interested in reading “The War of Terror Decade” by Anthony Arnove, author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal and coauthor with Howard Zinn of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, published on 9-11-11 at www.socialistworker.org, a great alternative news site. In “9-11 Blind,” published widely on the Internet on 9-7-11, Tom Hayden gives the damning facts and figures. I find his political analysis and prescriptions to be incredibly naïve, however. He’s still fantasizing Obama to be anti-war at heart, “forced” to do the things he does – which amount to continuing and even intensifying the Bush program. Hayden also still believes in the American electoral system in general and the Democratic Party in particular, two entities that have proven time and time again not to be useful in trying make this a country (and world) that works for all. Always change a losing game.
Thanks for reading this far.
…is that each needs the other.
To start, let’s define the terms. Politics, for me, is reading, listening, thinking, talking, and acting in almost any sphere. Spirituality is anything you think it might be that isn’t pre-canned, spoon-fed organized religion. A principled atheist (sometimes called a “humanist”) can be spiritual, whether he or she knows it or not. Conversely, a rote Christian, Jew, Muslim, or whatever who never thinks independently and/or demonizes other groups is not, at least in my book.
Politics without spirituality lacks grounding in values, caring, and a sense that we’re all connected and connected with the earth. Spirituality without politics (caring about what’s happening in the world and doing something about it) is solipsistic navel-gazing. More than one of my friends and much that I read tell me that peaceful meditators, even if they do nothing else, are contributing to the welfare of the world. If their meditation practice gives rise to inner balance and calm in the rest of their lives, that may be true in a narrow sense. They may be more loving and patient, and people who encounter them may come away feeling calmer and happier too. All good. But undemocratic and unequal global and national political/economic systems go right on destroying and hurting. Spiritual practice could gradually lead to more people questioning the right and necessity of these systems continuing to exist, but making spiritual practice the source for and temporary refuge from direct political – hopefully revolutionary – activity would be a whole lot better. That’s what I do, and what I hope you’re doing, too.