February article 2013

Reflections – February 2013

Friends:Those who’ve followed these postings know that my legal battle with the federal government over a $16,000 fine (for traveling to Iraq to bring medicine without a U.S. license) has ended. The judge dismissed the government’s efforts to collect saying the government waited too long to sue. See Bert’s Case for a history of the legal issues.

Last month I focused on my personal experiences in New York City a month after September 11th, 2001 – about my assumption that 9/11 was an instance of blowback – and then my becoming convinced that the official government story of what happened that day cannot be true.

In the past several months I recommended to friends David Ray Griffin’s book 9/11 Ten Years Later and links to two videos, tinyurl.com/911OnPBS and tinyurl.com/EdAsnerOnPBS (now with a million views). This month I’d like to consider what nonviolence might have to teach about the events of 9/11.

The first consideration of nonviolence – as of science – should be to ask, What is true?

I contend that if World Trade Center Building 7 were in any other city and/or collapsed on any other date, there would be no question at all as to what caused the collapse. People would look at the comparison videos with controlled demolitions and listen to the Dutch demolition expert (who didn’t know this was on 9/11) and know immediately what had happened: it was a case of controlled demolition.

If they were told fires caused the collapse (as the government claims), they’d immediately say, But where are the flames? – compared to the raging fire shown in the first minute of the Ed Asner video. And how is it that office fires have never before or since collapsed a modern steel-framed skyscraper? – let alone collapsed it in a symmetric, free-fall manner. That would take a miracle!

So why did perhaps a quarter of those I asked to look at the evidence not find it convincing. I think the most reasonable explanation is this: If fire did not collapse WTC 7 but explosives did, Arab hijackers could not have done it! Only some persons with sufficient influence and access could have planned and executed the demolition of this building housing the SEC, IRS, CIA, Secret Service, and Office of Emergency Planning.

Our minds are very quick. Our subconscious immediately connects these two facts – no Arab hijackers but some very powerful people with influence – and sees where it goes. It leads to the conclusion that maybe all of 9/11 is not what we’re told. It leads to the possibility that there are powerful people who are willing to kill, who have the power to do so, who believe they’ll get away with it – and they are not Arab hijackers but Americans.

That is a very disturbing thought. A thought which our minds shy away from. So a second consideration of nonviolence might be, Is there anything more important to us than the truth?

But at the heart of nonviolence, in my understanding, is this question: How do we view people who do things we consider bad, even things we consider evil? (It is not, first of all, a question of how we act towards them, but how we understand them.)

Consider this story about Gandhi from Jim Douglass’ great book Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth. It takes place in South Africa in 1908. A man waited for Gandhi as he was leaving a meeting. Gandhi went to the man, linked arms with him, and said something quietly. The story continues:

The man hesitated for one moment, then turned and walked away with Mr. Gandhi. … Both men were speaking in a very low voice. At the end of the street the man handed something over to Mr. Gandhi and walked away….

What did the man want – anything special?” [asked Gandhi’s companion].

Yes,” replied Mr. Gandhi, “he wanted to kill me.”

To kill you,” I repeated. “To kill you? How horrible! Is he mad?”

No, he thinks that I am acting traitorously towards our people; that I am intriguing with the government against them, and yet pretending to be their friend and leader.”

But that is wicked and dreadful,” [Gandhi’s companion protested]. “Such a man is not safe; he ought to be arrested. Why did you let him go like that? He must be mad!”

No,” replied Mr. Gandhi, “he is not mad, only mistaken; and you saw, after I had talked with him, he handed over to me the knife he had intended to use on me.”

He would have stabbed you in the dark. I….”

But Mr. Gandhi interrupted me. “Do not disturb yourself so much about it. He thought he wanted to kill me; but he really had not the courage to do so. If I were as bad as he thought I was, I should deserve to die. … I do not think the man will attempt to injure me again. Had I had him arrested I should have made an enemy of him. As it is, he will now be my friend.”

The essence of this story is in the last paragraph. Even when confronted with someone wanting to kill him, Gandhi was able to put himself into the state of mind of ‘the other’. Gandhi was able to realize what gave rise to the man’s intent – without agreeing (of course) that it was a desirable thing to do.

This seems to me to be a central way to practice nonviolence, especially when confronted with the terrible acts of causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children during economic sanctions – or the deliberate causing of deaths during the events of September 11, 2001.

In the case of Iraq, I frankly struggle to hold to a nonviolent attitude towards the two U.S. Air Force colonels who designed the Gulf War bombing policy – and then who justified it – which led to these deaths. In their minds, I can imagine, was the task of overthrowing Saddam Hussein (to be replaced by ‘our guys’ in power) without having to endanger American soldiers lives by invading the country.

Tactics of terror are often thought to be a weapon of the weak, of fanatical forces who feel their cause justifies harming and even killing innocents not involved in their struggle as a means to their ends. I believe this is a wrong perception. In Barbara Tuchman’s classic book The Guns of August about the first month of WWI, she explains the use of terror by the powerful German military:

The turn of events in Belgium was a product of the German theory of terror. Clausewitz had prescribed terror as the proper method to shorten war, his whole theory of war being based on the necessity of making it short, sharp, and decisive. The civil population must not be exempted from war’s effects but must be made to feel its pressure and be forced by the severest means to compel their leaders to make peace. …

Suddenly [the world] became aware of the beast beneath the German skin. Although 1870 proved the corollary of the theory and practice of terror, that it deepens antagonism, stimulates resistance, and ends by lengthening war, the Germans remained wedded to it.

The terrorism of denying Iraqi civilians electricity, safe water and sewage processing, even medicines to alleviate the epidemics of water-borne diseases – all this was done, no doubt, to force the Iraqi generals to yield to U.S. wishes and overthrow President Saddam Hussein from power. That this terror – visited primarily on Iraqi civilians, especially children – failed to achieve a speedy end to its goal is well known. That it cast U.S. foreign policy as a beast beneath U.S. rhetoric of concern for Iraqis is clear. That it deepened antagonism, stimulated resistance, and lengthened U.S. occupation is clear.

Gandhi said good ends must be matched by good means; means are the end in the process of becoming.

Narayan Desai – author of My Life is My Message, whom I wrote about previously – wrote this recommendation for Gandhi and the Unspeakable: “Jim Douglass’ deeply researched little masterpiece based on Gandhi’s faith in nonviolence and his assassins’ misguided philosophy is an eloquent story of the two conflicting philosophies that humankind faces today and makes us pause and think.”

This conflict of philosophies is with us today. The misguided philosophy that the U.S. can kill its way out of terrorism – “out terrorizing the terrorists” – is behind current U.S. drone-assassination policy. Today that policy has already killed Americans without any due judicial process … and it has no geographic limitations; that is, it’s a policy allowed to kill Americans even within the U.S. borders.

There is a certain logic behind such a policy – along with the other policies violating American human rights. The acts of terrorism of 9/11 are used to justify torture, extraordinary rendition, indefinite detention, and extra-judicial killings. The U.S. military and intelligence budgets have been doubled. There is hardly any public outcry over the precedent of extra-judicial killings even of Americans.

Given the many miracles the government story requires us to believe about 9/11, we should be open to think about the motives of those who did that crime. Was 9/11 done precisely to create the political space to allow these actions? Was 9/11 to justify the means to make this the ‘new American Century’ where the U.S. rules the world. Was 9/11 “the new Pearl Harbor” as the means to achieve this goal?

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