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Friday, October 09, 2009

Emotions, ignorance drive 9/11 wars

Americans' knowledge of international politics is dismal. Ambrose Bierce once said the only good purpose served by war was to teach Americans geography.

Failing to understand international affairs makes Americans vulnerable to the selling of myth, especially one wrapped in the flag. Our leaders, not above manipulating 9/11, used that event as a shock device to instill fear, offering as its sole antidote militarism mixed with patriotism.

Our ignorance makes us prone to the telling of lies by those in positions we trust like ministers and presidents. Blind obedience to government is bound to invite an abuse of power. Our gullibility makes possible the Lie. For that we, the American public, must assume responsibility. We accept what our leaders tell us because we don't know better. Our trust becomes a weapon those we trust use against us.

Part of our gullibility rises from being overworked, part from the exercise of hyper-consumption and -capitalism, which elevate greed into our reason for existing. We work so we have more, not so others have more, though Americans are generous.

In an age of "me," the needs of the nation are easily forgotten. So self-centered we're prone to be that periodic events need to remind us that we have something in common with one another: sinking of the Maine, Pearl Harbor, 9/11, all of which have precipitated wars, which is the perennial method by which Americans come together and by necessity, not choice, learn about the world beyond their borders.

When you have what you want at home, I guess it's easy to get comfortable, and comfortable we've become. Sensing the natural tendency to be indifferent to threats originating outside our borders, Newt Gingrich last year said that we should have reminder attacks: "it's almost like they should every once in a while have allowed an attack to get through just to remind us."

The suspicious timing behind changes to the color-coded terror threat levels is indicative of how tempted incumbent administrations are to jerk the terror boogeyman. Making matter worse is the willingness of so many to abandon non-partisanship in our foreign policy; before Obama even touched down abroad, his mission has been pilloried many times over by his domestic critics.

Bias and partisanship have marred virtually every policy we now have, especially our foreign policy. Whereas it was considered unpatriotic to question the Bush administration's motives after 9/11, every decision Obama makes is now plagued by internal bickering. Where criticism suits their purposes, the domestic political opposition is willing to undermine the President's overseas agenda.

Whatever I may think about the policies our President endorses, I do understand the need to keep my complaints within the family. Of course anyone who watches America knows we're a melting pots of different opinions--that aspect of our character may in fact make our society stronger and more open to debate, rather than weaker, though some abroad might perceive tolerance that way.

Perhaps we're not so tolerant of each other any more. We've dumbed down politically and know less, and trust our leaders to tell us the truth. Worse, we take differences of political opinion personally, and let them divide us.

Unfortunately all too often Americans are afraid to make their viewpoints know. Rather than discuss our different opinions, we tend to confuse intensity and passion with violence and shy away, or get more aggressive. We can't resolve our differences or work through them. Instead we get into an us vs. them mentality, a problem made especially bad when we need to decide what is best for us all in an international context, in matters like wars and foreign policy. We need to agree to disagree, then keep the debate in the family while we give full support to the President as he goes abroad, even if we don't agree.

Consuming media or being consumed by it

In our media-centric society, celebrities speak for millions who lack the courage and confidence to make their voices heard. We consume news without really digesting it. News has become a matter of convenience, a choice of entertainment options on the media platter. Real news is so much more, knowing the truth a matter of necessity in an age of deceit.

Americans are more likely to believe what they read in the mass media than many other societies. Even the Russians during the communist period were less likely than we are to believe what their government told them. I guess people who've been routinely lied to by their governments grow skeptical in proportion to the gap between what they're told and what they see. During Vietnam this was the Credibility Gap, where reports from the US military about body counts and progress were easily disproved out in the battlefield.

Not all change in the infowars is negative. The Internet, and the prevalence of video recording devices, have made disseminating lies made by governments that much harder. In 1999, for instance, during the infamous WTO riots in Seattle, while authorities claimed no rubber bullets were being used, video was being uploaded in real-time to the Web showing spent rubber bullets lying in a street just outside.

Here's a little quib I found in a MIT report on the Seattle protests:
"Indymedia provided elaborate coverage of the WTO protests.  They did this by disseminating thousands of activists’ videos, photos, recorded interviews and print stories...

"We relied on Indymedia reports and videos as one source among many for our data. While some critics viewed Indymedia as reflecting the point of view of protestors, the conventional media sources reflect the perspective of the dominant order. Indymedia’s critique of mainstream media builds on the ideas of Chomsky (1989) and Habermas (1975) who claim that corporate media’s “truth” corresponds with the interests of corporate sponsors, and that a privatized media cannot serve as a free press.  Without a free press, there is truly no genuine public sphere."

Some of you may have looked to Indymedia.org for footage of the recent protests at the G-20 in Pittsburgh, which involved for the first time use of a Long Range Acoustic Device, more commonly known as a noise gun. See the annotated video here; this site, called G-Infinity, is a production of Indymedia's Pittsburgh site.

Like the Seattle protests, an information war was occurring beyond the reach of cameras. Photographers and videographers are targetted during these protests, as stemming the flow of real-time information is a major goal for the authorities.

Perhaps you saw coverage of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008 (blogged it here.) During that event, people who dared film the events were pepper sprayed and subjected to police harassment. In the more recent Pittsburgh event, many University of Pittsburgh students were caught up in mass arrests. These police actions are designed to funnel protestors and bystanders alike into cordons from which they can't escape. Then, when told to disperse, they're choked by chemical agents for "failing to comply."

Most of Middle America probably doesn't care. They don't attend protests, and are quite content to be docile, at least until their jobs or health are threatened. I guess I'm particularly focused on demonstrations simply because I know the mass media won't cover the stories. The conglomerates don't want to reveal anything that might expose the myth that our wars are vital to our security.

While mainstream media did show miniscule clips of the events in Pittsburgh, becoming aware of what was really happening is only possible through alternative media. Unlike all the marketing-laced banter that fills our mainstreams and attention, the real stories like Pittsburgh aren't delivered to the viewer. You have to work to find them on the Web.

No corporation has a vested interest pinning their name to such coverage--potential advertizers might bolt. Improving the quality of coverage doesn't do much to boost sales. American viewerships are based on celebrity worship, not grim realities. So real stories are relegated to limited viewership on some obscure websites like mine.

If Americans don't make an effort to get informed, chances are they won't understand what's really happening to their society and world. As busy as they are, many are hard-pressed to make a healthy meal, much less scour the Web for some story that may not affect them personally. Same with our endless wars of occupation in southwestern Asia--unless you've got a love one in harm's way, you don't have to care; flip the channel and let someone else worry about it.

Some Americans are almost militant in their observance of ignorance; anti-intellectualism is rife. They'd prefer to live in a bubble insulated from ugly realities--I guess we all would. Discovering the Bug Lie entails leaving your comfort zone, and reconciling patriotism and duty with fact and necessity.

Somehow to make our democracy work, we need informed Americans. That commitment simply isn't there, largely because Americans are too busy working to see the big picture. Failing their responsibilities, Americans put their trust in their leaders whose populist rhetoric comforts them. The remedy for Americans too busy to care, or become informed, has been Barack Obama.

Obama the savior

The President just won the Nobel Peace Prize for diplomacy, a curious achievement considering the scale of wars he oversees as the nominal commander of our military forces. (I say nominal because the Pentagon seems to have differing views on escalation in Afghanistan. In London, General McChrystal spoke out on the need for escalation. The White House has been backpedaling since then, and internal policy discussions have supposedly been going on for weeks.)

The young turned out in droves for Obama, soaking up his spiel that he would bring change. Obama's candidacy was often expressed as a sign that American politics had moved beyond race; a black candidate could be accepted. Even bringing up the subject of Obama's race was considered racist by many of his supporters. Now in office, many of his supporters are eager to reach for the ubiquitous "race card" when the President is criticized.

Part of the Obama mistake has emerged from the idea that the President is and should be at the center of our politics. Maybe the President should be less involved in the day-to-day issues in our society. Perhaps Americans no longer see much benefit in getting disconnected, but rather value hyperconnectivity 24/7, 365 days a year. Look no farther than endless cell calls, about things that really aren't worth the time, about media-generated hype meant to sell some product or point of view. We're surrounded by it-can we escape it?

Now we wouldn't want our President to be out-of-touch, but sometimes that can help the human brain sort things out, a sort of mental vacation that allows time for the brain to catch up with the speed and sheer volume of information we receive.

Obama may be too in touch. He's intelligent enough, for sure, but no man can possibly be our guide, or substitute for our lack of time and meditative capacity. Americans are on the whole a shallow people, whose collective psyche is more built around the illusion on our TVs than any sense of shared values.

The real question as our society matures is if we can elevate individuality beyond the needs of the group. We know Americans embrace all the pleasures that come with being free, but can they handle the heavy responsibilities required to preserve a higher standard of living?

There's this notion of sacrifice. Obama even brought the word up, referencing the "sacrifice" made by terror victims on 9/11. The quote made on the anniversary of 9/11 did raise eyebrows, and references to it on the Web have since been stricken. It's like he never said it at all, jettisoned to the Memory Hole courtesy broken links and the infamous Http:404 Not Found error, the end-all for any story in cyberspace if it hasn't been archived.

Making sacrifices is different from being a sacrifice. Sure, we all understand the need for heroes--another loaded term--to give up their lives and freedom for us Americans, so we can have a better world. But when it comes time to make a sacrifice, most Americans think about giving up eating out, or some other mundane inconvenience.

The idea that people are routinely sacrificed is actually Mayan. Obviously the 9/11 victims weren't consenting, so in this respect they've been mislabeled as heroes and patriots.

The idea of their passing for something better than consoles the living, who must bear some sense of survivor guilt. If the 9/11 victims gave their lives for nothing, then I guess the terrorists "win."

I guess the idea of an all-seeing Supreme Leader comforts us in times of trouble. As I've written here over the years, Bush set the dangerous precedent as "The Decider" and emperor upon whose judgment we were led to believe we could depend. The Washington establishment went along, deluded by the false patriotism and militarism spawned by the reaction to 9/11. Rather than thinking about 9/11 objectively, we were encouraged to believe that it was bin Laden and the Arabs. We blamed the Taliban in Afghanistan exclusively, despite evidence that the Saudi government was involved in helping the hijackers.

The government had foreknowledge of the pending attacks, judging from Atta coming up on the Army's radar through Able Danger and the title of Bush's August 2001 briefing "bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.." Yet Americans don't see what they don't want to see. If studying the attacks means entertaining that notion that the government was lying, then a good proportion of Americans would simply not believe in the possibility of 9/11 truth being anything other than what the government tells them.

People weren't the only thing sacrificed in the attacks. Facts, scientific truth, and reason itself were sacrificed in the hate-filled rage that consumed the public reaction. We really haven't had our wits since the attack. We're running a financial deficit largely because of wars that were rationalized by the attacks. It's worth remember that Osama Bin Laden, not wanted by the FBI for the attacks, sought to destroy America economically and they've done a good job of it, assisted of course by our own thirst for vengeance in an unfilled, endless quest for emotional release.

Our leaders urged action. Emotions, particularly fear, became marketing tools. It was easier to sanctify violence against the alleged perpetrator than it was to investigate.

A rational explanation for fires raging for months below the ruined tower, without oxygen, suggesting nano-thermite, was suppressed. Never mind that the Taliban offered bin Laden after 9/11, or that the CIA shut down the bin Laden unit. Disregard WTC 7's free-fall speed, anything else that might not jibe with the idea the culprits were unassisted and the attacks planned in Afghanistan, a justification still used today to continue the occupation there. This disregards what we know: Atta's cell planned the attacks in Hamburg, Germany and they were trained not in some cave in Afghanistan but in Florida.

Ignore also the huge natural resources that lie under Afghanistan, or the fact Karzai and RIce were on Unocal's board, and actively pursued a pipeline deal through the country. None of the facts mattered. Instead revenge took the place of reason, and base instincts ruled the day--and still do, despite the pleas of some of the 9/11 victims' survivors like Amber Amundson. Instead of forgiving, we've chosen to stretch our initial reaction into an open-ended occupation.

Failing to find al Qaeda--not a surprise if they didn't coordinate 9/11--we opted to go after those that reputedly gave them safe harbor, the Taliban. Denied their rights in a system of military tribunals designed to produce convictions, few Gitmo "enemy combatants" have been successfully prosecuted--the majority have been released. The lack of successful prosecutions suggests not only a lack of evidence--derived from coerced testimony or not--but also al Qaeda's limited size, raising doubts as to their ability to pull off 9/11 independent of any outside help.

Trying to justify continued incarceration regardless of guilt or innocence, Congress has passed a law that would keep Gitmo inmates out of the US, where they could make public all the egregious acts committed against them in America's gulag system. Instead, batches are quietly sent home, or to nations where they won't be tortured (it turns out many were enemies of their home regimes and given over to us for that reason, not any involvement in al Qaeda, "the toilet" in Arabic.)

The failure to grasp the truth that our government knew--that 9/11 was allowed to happen--has produced unconditional acceptance of whatever our government tells us, in the name of our security. It's as if Americans are like children who believe what their parents tell them. In that Alice in Wonderland existence we may find some temporary relief, wrapped in a bubble of presumed safety, but the grasp of an ever-growing State will eventually feel like that of a wraith, seizing more power and taking more of what we have through taxes and inflation. As long as we're dependent on the State, we'll never really find a way out of our current predicament, which depends more on interdependence and coexistence than trying to impose our will overseas or increase State power.

It's no wonder that we now find ourselves stuck in ground wars in Asia, a folly military scientists told us to avoid after the experience of Vietnam. Obama debates, and the generals preen on, demanding more boots, which we knows aren't boots at all, but souls. How many more must we sacrifice before Americans realize they've been misled by the government, given a false pretext? 3000 of us have been sacrificed, but do we do all this to honor them, or to placate our burning desire for vengeance? How many more Afghans and Pakistanis and Iraqis have to die?

Ghandi said an eye for eye would leave the world blind. Martin Luther King lamented the cycle of violence, recognizing the futility of trying to end hate by creating more hate. As many peoples have discovered firsthand throughout the previous wars, violence doesn't solve anything. Yes, anger might be temporarily mollified, but at what cost? We will likely be forced to react to yet another terror strike in the future, one likely generated by our forceful occupation. And contrary to what our government tells us, one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. There are plenty of so-called Taliban who have nothing against the American people but simply want us to leave. What if we were occupied by a foreign power--wouldn't you resist, too?

In leaving them alone, we might be left alone. In asking for forgiveness and going home, we'll be performing an act construed as weakness by some (who hate us anyway), but an act of strength by others, those we need to win over.

Accepting the need to change is a harder exercise than continuing to do what's wrong. Until we Americans can come to grips with the truth, that 9/11 no longer justifies what we're doing over there, and that we need to launch a full investigation to find the real culprits, this travesty of justice will go on, and our country will suffer economically and depreciate morally.


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