On the last day of the American Century and the first day of the 21st century, I was about to give a summation to the jury in a case alleging discrimination against Arab-American deli owners by the City of Buffalo and its Police Department. When the news came, the courthouse closed and I drove back to my office. As I heard that the World Trade Center had collapsed, I almost crashed my vehicle. I felt an emotion I never felt before and never want to feel again. I thought of the tens of thousands of people who may still have been in the buildings. For four years in the 1980s, I had passed through the WTC on the way to work a block away. When I got to my office, I was proud that I had a view of the giant edifice, even if I had to stretch my neck a bit to see it.
My next concern was my three close relatives who lived or worked nearby. I could not get through to my parents’ house to get news about my sister, so I drove there. Julie was okay. My nephew Joel was okay. He had watched the disaster from Midtown. My niece Amanda, attending Pace University in the shadow of the WTC, could not be reached. I headed home, stopping to vote in the Republican primary election on the way. Corny as it sounds, I wasn’t going to let those SOBs get me down.
Now I am home and the TV is on. The nonsense, lies, and evasions filled the airwaves like the dust in Downtown Manhattan. Not a single hint of the true cause of this disaster — our policy of global military intervention. No, just a bunch of jerks with axes to grind and dirty little agendas to push, not even waiting for the bodies to be recovered. From James Baker — we need to take the reins off the CIA and allow them to murder people. From another clown: we need more missiles. Huh? From another fool, Cap Weinberger, I think: we need more military spending, more troops. Others suggested that individual freedom needs to be curtailed.
Then the shell-shocked President, hiding out in some military base, showed his face and said that "freedom itself was attacked." A floating abstraction. It seemed to me that a global military empire had been attacked. But what do I know? Bush looked like he was ready to turn over the keys to the Oval Office to Al Gore.
Hours passed and there was still no mention of the likely cause of the disaster — an angry reaction to our global military empire. Instead, there was talk of Pearl Harbor. I thought to myself: this is far worse than Pearl Harbor. That was a military base in a colony. This was chaos and mass civilian murder in the real capital of America. This was Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination and more and worse in one package. This changes everything forever. At least there was good news at 3:00 p.m.: my niece Amanda was safe in Brooklyn. She had not gone to school that morning.
I kept waiting for someone in authority to admit the obvious and accept responsibility. Our nation is defenseless against those who would kill us. There are many who would kill us because we have killed many, and we support other countries that have killed many, and our federal government sticks its nose into other peoples’ business in far corners of the world.
The likely perpetrators of these atrocities list their concerns as the mistreatment of Palestine and Iraq, and the quartering of American troops in Saudi Arabia, and the protection of a hated government in Egypt. Only the day after did our leading establishment columnist, George Will, unabashedly put our policy on Israel at the heart of the disaster: "The acrid and unexpungable odor of terrorism, which has hung over Israel for many years, is now a fact of American life. . . . Americans . . . are targets because of . . . their . . . loyalty to those nations that, like Israel, are embattled salients of our virtues in a still-dangerous world." He and Newt Gingrich, who almost gloated about how Americans now know what it is like to live in Israel, have it exactly wrong. One of the reasons why the odor of terrorism hangs over America as it has in Israel, is our one-sided support for Israel for over fifty years. We are not a target for terrorism like Israel; we are a target for terrorism in large part because of Israel and because of our other Middle East interventions. We have chosen to make the enemies of Israel our enemies. We have chosen to make the friends of Iraq our enemies. Will and Newt want me to know what it is like to live in Israel. Fellas, I don’t want to know what it is like to live in Israel. I want to know what it was like to live in America before September 11, 2001.
I am still waiting for someone to accept responsibility and fall on his sword. I am still waiting for someone, the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the CIA director, to say, you know, when we fail, we take responsibility, and we hereby resign so that others with different and better ideas can take the country in a different direction. No such luck. Those who have created and supported our disastrous foreign policy which has led to the creation of tens of thousands of bitter suicidal enemies in the Middle East and elsewhere, accepted no responsibility. What I heard from them was, "We cannot defend you, but we will do everything we can to make sure people all over the world want to kill you."
This isn’t like Pearl Harbor. After that attack, heads rolled. They weren’t the right heads to be sure, but heads rolled. I want to see heads roll now! This hit too close to home, too close to my sister, my niece, my nephew, my old stomping grounds. I don’t want to go to New York on October 5th to argue a federal court appeal at Foley Square, and see Beirut. I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore.
To all those who control our foreign policy, I say this: the United States must immediately and unequivocally get the hell out of the Middle East and the Far East and Europe and the Balkans and South America! Do you hear me, you morons?
September 14, 2001
James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing at 984 Ellicott Square, Buffalo, New York 14203; (716) 854-1440; FAX 853-1303. See his website at http://jimostrowski.com.