Ignorance and Empire
Those of us still in command of our faculties wish we could tell our stunned European allies, as well as the entire Middle East, that not all of us have lost our minds, not all of us favor nuclear belligerence, and not all of us support a war against Iraq over the issue of phantom weapons.
Americans obviously have every right to be angry at the savages who perpetrated the attacks of last September. But the willingness to attack countries like Iraq that had nothing to do with it, the refusal to ask seriously what the motivation for these attacks may have been, the lack of any real outcry against the White House's nuclear bluster — all these things demand explanation.
The fact is, most Americans are completely ignorant of what their country has been up to in the world over the years. What they know is themselves: they're friendly, they have cookouts, they play badminton, they march against breast cancer. Naturally, then, they conclude that in attacking America it's decency the terrorists aim to destroy.
They generally know little to nothing about Israel and the Palestinians, about the extent of the United States' global reach, or about the effects of the embargo on Iraq — 500,000 dead children ("worth it," according to Madeleine Albright). While the foreign press, even in friendly countries, has urged Americans to consider how their government's aggressive foreign policy has made them less secure and more vulnerable to attack, Americans by and large are scarcely even aware that such a point of view exists.
It'd be nice if Europeans, Middle Easterners, and even terrorists themselves were aware of this: the American population knows next to nothing about the whys of this conflict. All they know is they've been attacked, and they think it happened because they live in a democracy, which the terrorists hate. It can hardly come as a surprise that the combination of these factors has produced the extremely ill-conceived and profoundly misguided belligerence we are seeing.
Obviously, I hold no brief for terrorists, so I'd prefer not to receive any emails from people making a concerted effort to misunderstand what I am saying. The point is, they play badminton in Switzerland, too, but few in Switzerland are worried about a "dirty" nuclear device being detonated in one of their cities.
With a population so docile as this, the federal government has been able to get away with launching a completely open-ended "war on terror," not to mention the usual half-truths (to put it delicately) that always accompany war.
Thus in a story that arose briefly and then disappeared forever, shortly after the humanitarian drops began the Pentagon actually accused the Taliban of planning to poison the food packages American planes were dropping. "We are confident in the information that we have that they may intend to poison one or more types of food sources and blame it on the Americans," Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem said in late October. This whopper was a little much even for the Pentagon to maintain: we are to believe that Taliban officials considered it a good and sensible risk to run out into the open, confiscate food packages, poison them, and then scatter them again? So they could then claim Americans were taking civilian lives? Couldn't they just point to the bombing?
As a matter of fact, according to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put together a slide show as part of a briefing on the President's options, one segment of the presentation was called "Thinking Outside the Box: Poison the Food Supply." National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and aide Frank Miller objected, however, and that portion was never shown. But the whole incident really ought to leave us speechless.
We make quite a production out of telling other countries to settle their disputes peacefully, but for years bombing (after a suitably impossible ultimatum whose terms grow harsher the more the target country seems willing to comply) has apparently been the first option for the U.S. We then profess to be baffled when other countries call us arrogant.
It never seems to occur to anyone apart from the unreliable weakling Colin Powell that this level of belligerence can only have the effect of increasing terrorism and accelerating the development of "weapons of mass destruction." Had the American principle been that the U.S. would lay waste to any country harboring terrorists, that would itself have been problematic given both our woefully inept intelligence services and the inevitable civilian casualties, destruction, resentment, and new waves of would-be martyrs that such campaigns leave in their wake. But it would at least have been an understandable principle that other countries could take into account. The proposed war on Iraq, on the other hand, targeting a country whose terrorist connections have not been established at all, sends the signal that no one is safe. What choice do we have, weaker countries will ask themselves, other than arming ourselves with every possible retaliatory force, given that no proof of wrongdoing need be supplied prior to U.S.-U.K. invasions?
That was the strategy Lenin used in the Red Terror — if he'd attacked only people who were obviously guilty of opposing the Bolshevik regime, this would hardly have had the desired effect. The point of the Terror was precisely to attack some innocent victims in order to terrify the rest into absolute submission. Is this a model we want to follow?
The problem with that approach, apart from the moral nihilism it presupposes, is that an aroused population eventually tore down the statues of Lenin.
Some of us want to know why we can't simply withdraw from the Middle East and live like a normal country again, rather than the global empire we have allowed ourselves to become. We are told that such actions would constitute appeasement of the terrorists. But what would we say about someone with his head inside a hornets' nest who, when told that the most sensible solution to his constant stinging sensation was simply to take his head out, replied that such a retreat would amount to a surrender to the hornets?
The need for an informed American people has perhaps never been greater, but it's rarely been more difficult to get alternative perspectives before the public.
In the spirit of Gary North and Burt Blumert, then, I close by reminding readers of the need to support LewRockwell.com, an island of peace and sanity.
March 28, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [send him mail] holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard and a PhD in history from Columbia. He is professor of history at Suffolk Community College on Long Island, associate editor of The Latin Mass, and an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute."