Casualties: Part Three
By Greg Guma
During the 20th century, humanity struggled through the early stages of a profound transformation. But after the dissolution of the "superpower" known as the Soviet Union, it became obvious that more than just a matter of one economic and social system prevailing over another was at stake. All systems began to experience severe stress. Alliances shifted unpredictably, ethnic and religious upheavals shook the world, and the planet itself shuddered under the threat of an environmental meltdown.
Before September 11, 2001, behind a calm and prosperous facade, US society was already in crisis, dancing on the Titanic while denying signs of chronic anxiety and dispiriting cynicism. Among the obvious symptoms: a preoccupation with disasters and scandals, nagging feelings of inner emptiness, repressed rage that led some to senseless violence, and insatiable appetites. Despite widespread doubts about the legitimacy of most institutions, not to mention the most recent presidential election, a defensive complacency allowed millions of people to continue ignoring reality.
Earlier in the year, when it was revealed that Henry Kissinger lied about his involvement in the overthrow of a democratic government in Chile two decades before, anger was quickly eclipsed by a handy rationalization. Now, at least, we knew the truth, and we certainly wouldn't be fooled again. But such a conclusion was naïve at best, and more likely another example of denial. Why? Because Kissinger epitomized a foreign policy apparatus that had changed little in more than half a century. To drive the point home, one of his leading proteges, John Negroponte, was shortly appointed US Ambassador to the UN. As one State Department official put it, "Giving him this job is a way of telling the UN: 'We hate you.'" Here was a stalwart imperialist, a man who had proven repeatedly that he was ready to act alone on behalf of US interests, and lie about it without blinking.
That Negroponte was the Bush administration's choice to represent the US at the UN spoke volumes about what to expect -- more jingoism, lies, confrontation, and a clumsy but persistent effort to manipulate reality. One clear example of the latter was the administration's position, dutifully parroted as fact in most press reports, concerning a UN anti-racism conference held in South Africa just two weeks before 9/11. The public was told that Secretary of State Colin Powell and the US delegation walked out as a protest in response to rhetoric directed against Israel. But the real fear, insiders knew, was that staying meant confronting US responsibility for slavery and, more pointedly, demands for financial reparations. The point of the UN gathering was to raise issues and stir conscience. The walkout, in contrast, was designed to muddy the former and divert the latter. Following hard on the end of the conference, the attacks on the US looked, at least in part, like a horrific reaction to US dominance and intransigence.
But when it came to distorting reality, the tactics and objectives were most ominously obvious in regard to the growing international movement against corporate globalization. As in every US political scare for the last 200 plus years, the attack on critics began by promoting the idea that political dissidents were dangerous threats to security and "order." The spin was well underway before the suicide attacks, with property damage by protesters providing the convenient rationale.
Denials to the contrary, the government was ready and eager to classify its opponents as terrorists or "fellow travelers." In May 2001, during testimony on terrorist threats before the Senate Appropriations Committee, departing FBI Director Louis Freeh helped light the fuse. "Anarchist and extremist socialist groups," he explained, "such as the Workers World Party, Reclaim the Streets and Carnival Against Capitalism, have an international presence and, at times, also represent a potential threat in the United States. For example, anarchists, operating individually and in groups, caused much of the damage during the 1999 World Trade Oorganization ministerial meeting in Seattle." In August, the FBI added Reclaim the Streets, which occupied roads with dance parties to protest capitalism and "car culture," to its list of "Threats of Terrorism."
The next, equally predictable move was to use public anxiety, heightened by a real (though anticipated) attack, to override rights like freedom of speech and assembly, privacy, and protection from cruel and unusual punishment. Obviously, the US isn't the only country vulnerable to such manipulation; only the most sophisticated, expert at concealing tyrannical impulses with facile excuses and a façade of well-honed platitudes.
Even before the Twin Towers came down, the spin of the year was the suggestion that "stability" was seriously threatened by economic forces and "extremists" abroad and at home. But with those unconscionable bombings, the ultimate excuse for a political crackdown was provided. Would public anxiety and complacency persist, allowing repression to escalate and take hold? Or, would it turn into righteous anger at the erosion of democracy in the name of security? That became the $64,000 question.
Next: Surrendering Freedom