'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Ghosts of 9/11 

From today's San Francisco Chronicle:

By the numbers
Sept. 11 and its aftermath:

2,973: Victims of the 9/11 attacks

272: Deaths of U.S. servicemen and women in and around Afghanistan

2,666: Deaths of U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq war

21,000: Members of U.S. military now in Afghanistan

145,000: Members of U.S. military now in Iraq

1.35 million: Members of U.S. military deployed for Afghan and Iraq wars since 2001

Anyone notice something missing here? US military deaths resulting from the war in Iraq are mentioned, but the deaths of the Iraqis themselves are ignored.

Isn't it rather odd, given that the US launched this war without provocation, resulting in the deaths of anywhere between 40,000 to 500,000 Iraqis and the destruction of the country's infrastructure and social life? The Iraqis apparently have no existence, no stories to tell, independent of a narrative imposed by an outside imperial power. Like a sinister family secret in a novel by Poe, Faulkner or Caldwell, we must repress their experiences, erase them from our conscious daily lives, despite the risk, if not probability, of greater future turmoil.

After all, acknowledgement of the atrocity in Iraq, and its roots in 9/11, unravel a simple moral tale of victimization, raising troubling questions about how a country that was so brutalized could then proceed to inflict exponentially greater brutality upon people in another country, people without any connection to the original incident. It is as if our leaders, understandably lacking the capacity to comprehend the 9/11 attacks rationally, felt compelled to try to create an after the fact justification for them, with the Iraqis misfortunate enough to find themselves selected as the target.

Not surprisingly, some of the troops in Iraq are engaged in tangled contortions to create a connection between 9/11 and the war:

Staff Sergeant Adam Navarro was just a New York City police cadet when the Twin Towers came crashing down and his class was thrown into uniform and put onto the city streets to keep order.

"To my back were the Twin Towers, still in flames, with smoke and debris and that smell. We set up barriers and basically we shut down that whole street," he recalled at a ceremony outside Baghdad marking the fifth anniversary of the attacks.

"They told us: 'This is our street, protect this street, one street at a time we are going to take back this city,'" he recalled. "For me this is one long day that 9/11 started. And now the United States is in Iraq, and I'm still serving that day."

Or, consider:

"We were living there non-stop for the first three weeks -- except for the funerals," recalled Sergeant Sean Cummins, a firefighter who remembers the eerie silence when he first rushed into the disintegrating towers.

"There are still a lot of people for whom no remains have ever been found, so their family members, they will never move on," he said in his soft Irish brogue. "And I'm here in Iraq, this is my way of moving on."

For Cummins, who grew up in Ireland and witnessed at first hand activities of the Irish Republican Army, coming to Iraq was a way of fighting the scourge of terrorism -- a belief which the Senate report denying any link between Saddam and 9/11 hasn't dimmed.

"You can say he wasn't supporting (terrorism) but I believe he was. The Senate may say there's no evidence ... but you can support terrorism just in a passive way by not expelling them," he said with an intense look in his fierce blue eyes.

This is the terrifying legacy of 9/11 that will haunt us for years to come: soldiers like Navarro and Cummins were so grief stricken, so angry after 9/11 that they wanted to kill Arabs, and the leadership of this country, Republican and Democrat, callously provided them an opportunity to indiscriminately do so with the sanction of the state. We are creating monsters who will someday return home, and, then, we will have to ask ourselves, was the gratification of our bloodlust for 9/11 sufficient reward for what we encouraged these men to do to themselves?

For me, as I reflect upon 9/11, as someone fortunate enough not to have been directly touched by it, I understand that it has philosophically pushed me away from socialism and towards anarchism, because it was the vicious interplay between hierarchy, nationalism and racism that made this war inevitable after 9/11, and, so, naturally, I have gravitated towards a social perspective that explicitly rejects and condemns them, even as I recognize that, in my personal life, I will invariably fall short of fulfilling such a utopian vision.

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