Three Who Dared by Defying September 11: (Susan Sontag, Ward Churchill, Richard Berthold)

The late Susan Sontag was vilified for this brilliant analysis of the meaning of September 11, 2001. This was her essay in The New Yorker that dared to suggest that September 11 was a response to previous acts of American expansionsim as opposed to a surprise, unprovoked “Pearl Harbor” attack prior to American entry into World War II:

The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgment that this was not a “cowardly” attack on “civilization” or “liberty” or “humanity” or “the free world” but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions? How many citizens are aware of the ongoing American bombing of Iraq? And if the word “cowardly” is to be used, it might be more aptly applied to those who kill from beyond the range of retaliation, high in the sky, than to those willing to die themselves in order to kill others. In the matter of courage (a morally neutral virtue): whatever may be said of the perpetrators of Tuesday’s slaughter, they were not cowards.

Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. America is not afraid. Our spirit is unbroken, although this was a day that will live in infamy and America is now at war. But everything is not O.K. And this was not Pearl Harbor. We have a robotic President who assures us that America still stands tall. A wide spectrum of public figures, in and out of office, who are strongly opposed to the policies being pursued abroad by this Administration apparently feel free to say nothing more than that they stand united behind President Bush. A lot of thinking needs to be done, and perhaps is being done in Washington and elsewhere, about the ineptitude of American intelligence and counter-intelligence, about options available to American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and about what constitutes a smart program of military defense. But the public is not being asked to bear much of the burden of reality. The unanimously applauded, self-congratulatory bromides of a Soviet Party Congress seemed contemptible. The unanimity of the sanctimonious, reality-concealing rhetoric spouted by American officials and media commentators in recent days seems, well, unworthy of a mature democracy.

Those in public office have let us know that they consider their task to be a manipulative one: confidence-building and grief management. Politics, the politics of a democracy—which entails disagreement, which promotes candor—has been replaced by psychotherapy. Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen. “Our country is strong,” we are told again and again. I for one don’t find this entirely consoling. Who doubts that America is strong? But that’s not all America has to be.

—Susan Sontag
Ward Churchill, professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado, was fired for comments in this important essay that cascaded into a vicious, book-burning investigation of “scholarly misconduct” which shamed C.U. and the super-patriots seeking conformity in academe. These are excerpts from “Some People Push Back” On the Justice of Roosting Chickens “: (Note the gracious reference to Holocaust victims–Jews and Gypsies– ignored by the thought police that extrapolated the “Eichmann” comment to purge him from academia).

Meet the “Terrorists”

Of the men who came, there are a few things demanding to be said in the face of the unending torrent of disinformational drivel unleashed by George Junior and the corporate “news” media immediately following their successful operation on September 11.

They did not, for starters, “initiate” a war with the US, much less commit “the first acts of war of the new millennium.”

A good case could be made that the war in which they were combatants has been waged more-or-less continuously by the “Christian West” – now proudly emblematized by the United States – against the “Islamic East” since the time of the First Crusade, about 1,000 years ago. More recently, one could argue that the war began when Lyndon Johnson first lent significant support to Israel’s dispossession/displacement of Palestinians during the 1960s, or when George the Elder ordered “Desert Shield” in 1990, or at any of several points in between. Any way you slice it, however, if what the combat teams did to the WTC and the Pentagon can be understood as acts of war – and they can – then the same is true of every US “overflight’ of Iraqi territory since day one. The first acts of war during the current millennium thus occurred on its very first day, and were carried out by U.S. aviators acting under orders from their then-commander-in-chief, Bill Clinton. The most that can honestly be said of those involved on September 11 is that they finally responded in kind to some of what this country has dispensed to their people as a matter of course.

That they waited so long to do so is, notwithstanding the 1993 action at the WTC, more than anything a testament to their patience and restraint.

They did not license themselves to “target innocent civilians.”

There is simply no argument to be made that the Pentagon personnel killed on September 11 fill that bill. The building and those inside comprised military targets, pure and simple. As to those in the World Trade Center . . .

Well, really. Let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire – the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance” – a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore” – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.

The men who flew the missions against the WTC and Pentagon were not “cowards.” That distinction properly belongs to the “firm-jawed lads” who delighted in flying stealth aircraft through the undefended airspace of Baghdad, dropping payload after payload of bombs on anyone unfortunate enough to be below – including tens of thousands of genuinely innocent civilians – while themselves incurring all the risk one might expect during a visit to the local video arcade. Still more, the word describes all those “fighting men and women” who sat at computer consoles aboard ships in the Persian Gulf, enjoying air-conditioned comfort while launching cruise missiles into neighborhoods filled with random human beings. Whatever else can be said of them, the men who struck on September 11 manifested the courage of their convictions, willingly expending their own lives in attaining their objectives.

Nor were they “fanatics” devoted to “Islamic fundamentalism.”

One might rightly describe their actions as “desperate.” Feelings of desperation, however, are a perfectly reasonable – one is tempted to say “normal” – emotional response among persons confronted by the mass murder of their children, particularly when it appears that nobody else really gives a damn (ask a Jewish survivor about this one, or, even more poignantly, for all the attention paid them, a Gypsy). [Emphasis added]

That desperate circumstances generate desperate responses is no mysterious or irrational principle, of the sort motivating fanatics. Less is it one peculiar to Islam. Indeed, even the FBI’s investigative reports on the combat teams’ activities during the months leading up to September 11 make it clear that the members were not fundamentalist Muslims. Rather, it’s pretty obvious at this point that they were secular activists – soldiers, really – who, while undoubtedly enjoying cordial relations with the clerics of their countries, were motivated far more by the grisly realities of the U.S. war against them than by a set of religious beliefs.

And still less were they/their acts “insane.”

Insanity is a condition readily associable with the very American idea that one – or one’s country – holds what amounts to a “divine right” to commit genocide, and thus to forever do so with impunity. The term might also be reasonably applied to anyone suffering genocide without attempting in some material way to bring the process to a halt. Sanity itself, in this frame of reference, might be defined by a willingness to try and destroy the perpetrators and/or the sources of their ability to commit their crimes. (Shall we now discuss the US “strategic bombing campaign” against Germany during World War II, and the mental health of those involved in it?)

Which takes us to official characterizations of the combat teams as an embodiment of “evil.”

Evil – for those inclined to embrace the banality of such a concept – was perfectly incarnated in that malignant toad known as Madeline Albright, squatting in her studio chair like Jaba the Hutt, blandly spewing the news that she’d imposed a collective death sentence upon the unoffending youth of Iraq. Evil was to be heard in that great American hero “Stormin’ Norman” Schwartzkopf’s utterly dehumanizing dismissal of their systematic torture and annihilation as mere “collateral damage.” Evil, moreover, is a term appropriate to describing the mentality of a public that finds such perspectives and the policies attending them acceptable, or even momentarily tolerable.

Had it not been for these evils, the counterattacks of September 11 would never have occurred. And unless “the world is rid of such evil,” to lift a line from George Junior, September 11 may well end up looking like a lark.

There is no reason, after all, to believe that the teams deployed in the assaults on the WTC and the Pentagon were the only such, that the others are composed of “Arabic-looking individuals” – America’s indiscriminately lethal arrogance and psychotic sense of self-entitlement have long since given the great majority of the world’s peoples ample cause to be at war with it – or that they are in any way dependent upon the seizure of civilian airliners to complete their missions.

To the contrary, there is every reason to expect that there are many other teams in place, tasked to employ altogether different tactics in executing operational plans at least as well-crafted as those evident on September 11, and very well equipped for their jobs. This is to say that, since the assaults on the WTC and Pentagon were act of war – not “terrorist incidents” – they must be understood as components in a much broader strategy designed to achieve specific results. From this, it can only be adduced that there are plenty of other components ready to go, and that they will be used, should this become necessary in the eyes of the strategists. It also seems a safe bet that each component is calibrated to inflict damage at a level incrementally higher than the one before (during the 1960s, the Johnson administration employed a similar policy against Vietnam, referred to as “escalation”).

Since implementation of the overall plan began with the WTC/Pentagon assaults, it takes no rocket scientist to decipher what is likely to happen next, should the U.S. attempt a response of the inexcusable variety to which it has long entitled itself.

Richard Berthold was a professor of history at the University of New Mexico who stated on September 11, 2001, “Anybody Who Blows Up the Pentagon Gets My Vote.” When a professor expresses an opinion in a classroom, he or she should be protected by A.A.U.P. guidelines on academic freedom. No sanctions should be imposed in an allegedly free country with its sham democracy with suspensions, forced retirements or forced removal of a course from one’s normal teaching rotation. The classroom must be a censorship-free zone for professors to express views, regardless of their popularity or acceptability to a public drunk with blood and revenge. It was disgraceful that the war fever gripping the nation forced Dr Berthold to apologise and eventually take early retirement.


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