Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Nexus of Infamy

Casualties of 9/11: Part Two
By Greg Guma
*****

On September 10, 2001, it looked like there was more than enough time to prepare for whatever came next. The next day, of course, many things changed. Like a volcanic eruption, predictable and yet inevitable, murderous assaults on symbols of US military and economic power shattered the landscape, rocked institutions, and altered how we would live for years to come. Some compared the September 11 attacks to Pearl Harbor, a day that would "live in infamy." Others pointed to the date itself -- 9/11 -- and called it an emergency wake-up call.

In less than an hour, on a sunny Tuesday, two commercial airline flights were hijacked, diverted, and crashed into the World Trade Center in the heart of New York's financial district. A third slammed into the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed before reaching its target, most likely the White House. Hundreds died immediately, and thousands more were killed in the fires and destruction that followed. As TV networks beamed images around the world, political leaders expressed outrage, pledging to track down the perpetrators and "bring them to justice." 

That night, the world mourned, and million prayed for salvation from the cycle of violence. No one took "credit" for the carnage, but the initial evidence pointed to the Middle East, Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden. The urge to go after so-called "rogue states" and their accomplices around the world was irresistible. The Bush administration expressed outrage and shock, claiming the attack could not have been predicted. 

Though not much noticed at the time, this was not the first September 11 that had left its mark on world history. In fact, the date marks crucial and revealing turning points in several US military engagements, as well as Islamic history and the development of Israel. That provided little consolation, but did suggest a curious historical nexus.

September 11, 1814, for example, was the day the US effectively secured its northern border by defeating the British in the Battle of Plattsburgh. Twenty-eight years later, it also marked a turning point in the US campaign to annex part of Mexico: San Antonio was captured by Mexican forces (they later retreated). In 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt picked the same date to issue an attack order directed at German and Italian ships in US waters, one more step toward World War II.

The 1973 Chilean military coup, welcomed and secretly backed by the US, also climaxed on September 11. And, in 1990, President George Bush I chose the date to tell Congress that Iraq was threatening Saudi Arabia, thus expanding support for his decision to go to war in the Persian Gulf.

In more recent times, 9/11 played a role in the Middle East conflict. Exactly a year before the suicide attacks on the US, Jordanian authorities selected the date to bar the mayor of Um El Fahem, a Palestinian village, from entering Jordan, despite a valid entry visa. A member of the Palestinian Legislative Council was also banned, for no apparent reason. Meanwhile, the Saudi Ministry of Pilgrimage issued restrictions on visits by overseas groups to Mecca and Medina, important sites for followers of Muhammad.

If that isn't enough, the date also pops up in relation to nuclear weapons. September 11, 1996, was the day the UN approved the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ending test explosions. Exactly 51 years earlier, Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote a fateful letter to President Harry Truman. Noting that the atomic bomb, which had been used for the first time a month before, represented a dangerous "first step in a new control by man over the forces of nature," he warned that US superiority might not last. "If so," he wrote in 1945, "our method of approach to the Russians is a question of the most vital importance in the evolution of human progress." The Cold War was straight ahead.

Tomorrow: Warning Signs
This essay is adapted from Greg Guma’s 2003 book, Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization and What We Can Do.
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