CXIII – Meeting a Suicide Bomber

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have met the enemy, and they is us.u201D

~ Pogo Possum, aka Walt Kelly

was a time when the American character could be represented
as u201Crealisticu201D and u201Cpragmatic.u201D This was altogether fitting
for a nation of people preoccupied with industriousness, inventiveness,
and other traits associated with the pursuit of material well-being.
But in recent years, such qualities have begun to erode. The
u201Crealityu201D of men and women living together in society is presented
on television with people in a pseudo-primitive locale eating
worms to survive. “Pragmatismu201D — grounded in the awareness
of causal explanations for behavior – has given way to
u201Copportunism,u201D in which luck and inexplicable forces combine
to produce events in the world. The erstwhile u201Cpracticalu201D American
has become u201Cdelusional.u201D

is this more evident than in the post-9/11 frenzy that has infected
the minds of most Americans. People who were once able to figure
out that Uncle Willie's emphysema was probably brought on by
his habit of smoking three packs of cigarettes each day, are
unable to find causal connections between hijacked-airliner
attacks on skyscrapers and the foreign policies of the United
States government. Indeed, most Americans have been so taken
up with the pursuit of material wealth, that they have had no
interest in knowing of the deeds being done in their name throughout
the world.

of that mid-September morn nearly four years ago were like a
rock thrown through one's picture-window, the view of a carefully
landscaped world now shattered. Would those whose lives had
been obsessed with increasing the equity in their homes be amenable
to realistic, causal explanations for these terrible acts, or
would they insist upon answers that posed no disquiet upon their
minds? Were they prepared to acknowledge the interconnectedness
of practices they had heretofore been content to leave to u201Cexpertsu201D
or, like Uncle Willie, would they be inclined to look for the
source of their ailments in the wicked motives of others, be
they cigarette manufacturers or the victims of American foreign

desirous of shielding their clandestine activities from members
of their own public, began spinning the most fantastic tales
to explain the 9/11 atrocities. The nation's story-teller-in-chief
— who, at the time of the WTC attacks, was rehearsing for a
larger audience by reading stories to schoolchildren in Florida
— was quick to satisfy minds eager for cheap and easy answers.
We were told that the deadly events of that day were brought
on by crazed Muslims, who resented America's materialistic culture
and its insistence upon treating women as human beings! What
better way to avoid thinking about the interconnected causes
of our difficulties than to imagine them the products of disordered

were formally introduced to the u201Csuicide bomber,u201D a man or woman
whose willingness to die for their cause was all the evidence
one needed for the religious fanaticism that was said to motivate
their actions. We feign shock at the suicide-bomber phenomenon,
choosing to distance ourselves from support of the practice
when utilized for ends we value. Do we not speak of u201Ca principle
worth dying for,u201D the same sentiment upon which the jihadist
acts? We do not talk of u201Ca principle worth living for.u201D
Is this because such words are not sufficiently expressive of
our commitment to a cause? Nor do the words u201Ca principle worth
killing foru201D cross our lips. We are willing — in some
cases, eager — to kill others, but killing imposes costs on
others, while dying internalizes costs to ourselves.

is the willingness to die that energizes all active participants
in wars. I recall, during World War II, how Japanese kamikaze
pilots were looked upon in the same way as today's suicide-bomber:
crazed fanatics for their cause. And yet, American war movies
were filled with similar acts by American servicemen: the soldier
who threw himself on a grenade to save his buddies; and the
Navy or Air Corps pilots who intentionally crashed their planes
into enemy aircraft carriers or supply trains. The Congressional
Medal of Honor, or the Silver Star, or the Navy Cross are held
out to servicemen as posthumous awards for suicidal acts that
inflicted great damage upon the enemy.

war system is humanity's improvement upon the lemmings' suicidal
marches into the sea.  The major distinction between the
two is that, what lemmings do by instinct, we humans accomplish
through thought that mobilizes our dark sides. We divide ourselves
into mutually-exclusive herds, and in the process delude ourselves
that u201Couru201D purposes and actions are nobler than u201Ctheirs.u201D Such
a retreat from reality makes it easy for us to distinguish u201Cour
brave troopsu201D from u201Ctheir evil suicide bombers.u201D

is the underlying logic of the war game. Our thinking becomes
institutionalized; mutual-exclusion generates the conflict
that leads to mutual-destruction, all to the gain of
state systems whose well-being, as Randolph Bourne reminded
us, is found in manipulating people into playing this game.
 Having separated ourselves from others, we fail to grasp
the symbiotic nature of war. As the u201Cgoodu201D guys, we believe
we are morally entitled to attack the u201Cbadu201D guys, who are obliged
to accept our attack as just punishment for various u201Cwrongsu201D
that we have defined!

should have remembered from our childhood how attacking another
causes him to retaliate against us, using whatever weapons he
has at his disposal, including himself. But state officials
override the truth known to every playground warrior, and convince
us that our victim's retaliation is an act of u201Caggression,u201D
to which we must respond. Our subsequent attack produces yet
another violent reaction from our enemy, to which we make another
forceful response, and so on in an endless recurrence of death
and destruction.

wartime suffering is causally connected with the suffering we
inflict upon others. If we are to understand the nature of our
blood-stained world, we must abandon our self-righteous definitions
of u201Cgoodu201D and u201Cevilu201D and see our problems in terms of their
interconnectedness. Only fools will accept the u201Cthey hate us
for our freedom and our valuesu201D rationale for this war.  The
reality is that others hate us for the wrongs our government
has inflicted upon them; and we hate those who retaliate against
us for such wrongs.

in the light of interdependency, everyone who supports the war
system takes on the character of a u201Csuicide-bomber.u201D Such people
are often prepared to die — and to send their children to die
— to perpetuate the u201Cnecessityu201D and u201Cgloryu201D of this self-destructive
ritual. So, too, are those that the state defines for us as
our u201Cenemies,u201D and who are prepared to give their lives
for such madness.

suicide-bomber is but the full extension of what is implicit
in politics: institutionalized violence. In order to expand
their reach over the lives and property of people, political
systems must continually find new enemies as fear-objects. Frightful
enemies coalesce the fear-ridden into obedient and manageable
herds. War, then, is the necessary vehicle by which the state
mobilizes itself for the infusion of the human energy upon which
it depends. Like a vampire, the state nourishes itself on the
blood of others.

in other words, is a mutual suicide system, the truth of which
can be found in the 200,000,000 corpses offered in sacrifice
to the state in the 20th century. The man or woman
who straps explosives to his or her body in order to kill or
maim faceless u201Cothers,u201D is but another weapon available to those
warring participants who, unlike their opposition, do not have
tanks, bombers, missiles, or other sophisticated tools with
which to carry out their butchery.

suicide-bomber — like other individualized warriors — is an
omen of at least two trends upon which intelligent men and women
ought to focus their attention. The first has to do with the
increasing decentralization of social behavior. 9/11 confirmed
what H.G. Wells tried to tell us over a century ago in The
War of the Worlds
, when microbes — rather than the powerful
weaponry of the state — provided the most effective defense
against invaders.

the suicide-bomber should serve as a warning for all of us to
be concerned about victims of wrongs who have nothing to lose
even by the most desperate means of retaliation. Perhaps it
is time for thoughtful people to cease dealing with the rest
of the world with the assumption that they are to be the recipients
of our arrogant authority.

must also become aware of the extent to which we have become
participants in our own destruction. Those who praise government
soldiers for making u201Cthe ultimate sacrifice,u201D are invoking the
suicidal impulse no less than the families of dead jihadists.
Those who counsel their children to invest their lives in this
mad, dehumanizing project, as well as egalitarians who encourage
the mothers of small children to leave home for the battlefield,
share the consequences of this mutual suicide pact.

champion the war system — with whatever weapons or tactics employed
— is to embrace the suicidal mindset. Soldiers and insurgents
alike operate from the premise that their lives exist so that
they may be serviceable to the systems for which they fight
and for which they are prepared to die.

you would like to meet a suicide-bomber, try looking in a mirror.
You may discover a reflection of the anger you now direct toward
those who tape bombs to their bodies rather than flags to their

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