Another response to Terrorism: "Good" vs. "Evil":
Two Symbols of American Capitalist Hegemony
Inside Corporate America
The Observer, London
Sunday September 23, 2001
There's two people you ought to know: Greg O'Neill and Clinton Davis. They are exceptionally important because, according to Rana Kabbani, writing in my British sister paper The Guardian, they are "two symbols of American hegemony." Technically, she was referring to the two towers of the World Trade Center. But it was not American hegemony which fell 50 floors into horrid, crushing oblivion. Nor was it just some architectural artifact which was instructed with the "painful lesson" about US foreign policy described by Kabbani with unapologetic glee.
For four years, I've brought you tales from Inside Corporate America -- from pig swill price-fixing conspiracies ripping off Asia to Texas power pirates turning off the lights in Rio. And when the profit hunt turned from goofy to cruel, I've told you the names of victims from Argentina to Tanzania. Now the victims are inside America itself, from what US television hair-do Tom Brokaw, happy to play the emblem game, called, "The symbols of American capitalism."
Davis worked in the basement of the Trade Center. O'Neill on Floor 52 of the South Tower. (And until I started spending too much time in London, my office was on the 50th floor of the North Tower.)
Here's what O'Neill did in Suite 5200. When the Exxon Valdez grounded, he fought British Petroleum and Exxon to get compensation for the natives of Alaska. When he learned a power company had faked safety reports on a nuclear plant, O'Neill, a lawyer, hit them with a civil racketeering suit and ultimately helped put these creeps out of the nuclear business.
Davis worked in the cops' division of the state's Port Authority. Neither Davis nor O'Neill would be my first choice for a symbol of US imperial might, to target for retaliation for "terror by Jewish groups," to use Kabbani's bone-head words.
If anything, the Trade Center was a symbol of American socialism. These towers were built by New York state in the 1970s, when ‘government-owned' became quite unfashionable in Britain. One tower, still owned by Davis' employer, the Port Authority, generates the revenue which pays the bonds which keeps the city's infrastructure — subways, tunnels, bridges, and more — out of the hands of the ever-circling privatizers. Convincing capitalists that publicly-owned operations are as good an investment bet as General Motors fell to government securities market-makers, Canter Fitzgerald (100th floor, 700 workers, no known survivors).
I have a request for Britain's Left. Today, George W. Bush is beating the war drum against Osama Bin Laden, a killer created in our President's very own Cold War Frankenstein factory. During the war in Vietnam, thousands filled jails (including me) to resist it -- we may have to again. It would help those of us Americans ready to stop the killing machine if Europeans would stop the lecturing.
In a sickening but not unique commentary, The Guardian's Seumus Milne wagged his finger at Americans still gathering corpses. "They can't see why they are hated." He demands, as do too many of my otherwise progressive colleagues, that Americans must ‘understand' why O'Neill and Davis were the targets of blood-crazed killers. Hey, if you're government backs Israel, well, just get used to it, baby.
(And what do you mean ‘they are hated,' Seamus? When did the developing world fall in love with the Imperial conquerors of Iraq, Palestine and the Khyber Pass?)
After London's Canary Wharf was attacked, I don't remember America's Left suggesting this was a just revenge for the Queen's occupation of Ireland; a time to cuddle up to the berserkers with bombs.
Commentators like Kabbani and Milne have a great advantage over me. While Bin Laden hasn't returned my phone calls, they seem to know exactly the killers' cause. We have to "understand" that the terrorists don't like America's foreign policy. Well, neither do I. But I also understand that the bombers are not too crazy about America's freedom of religion nor equality of women under the law. And they're none to happy about our reluctance, despite televangelists' pleas, that we cut off the hands of homosexuals.
On my journalistic beat investigating corporate America, I've heard every excuse for brutality and mayhem: "We met all the government's safety standards," "We never asked for the military to use force on our behalf." The excuses and bodies pile up.
Maybe I just have to accept that killing is in fashion again, for profit, for revolution, to protect American interests or to take vengeance on American interests.
Baroness Thatcher thinks we should understand Pinochet; the Bush family ran their own little jihad against Communism I was supposed to understand; now some Britons -- sadly, the one's I like and respect most -- want us to understand a new set of little Pinochets with beards.
Afghan-American Tamin Ansary suggests we understand victims, not victimizers. He wrote in a personal note from Texas, "The Taliban are ignorant psychotics. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler." But now we come to the question of bombing Afghanistan back to the Stone Age. Trouble is, says Ansary, "that's been done. Level our houses? Done. Turn our schools into piles of rubble? Done." Bombing would just stir the ruins and kill crippled orphans the Taliban will abandon in Kabul.
To prevent an unelected US President from ordering up this new atrocity, grieving Americans don't need nasty admonitions about the causes, just or unjust, of our killers.
What's missing is an alliance against the murder of civilians. Serbians themselves turned over Milosevic. Why not demand that the Moslem world turn over Bin Laden and his hounds, not as part of a give-him-up-or-we-blow-you-up ultimatum, but as a statement of our humanity and expectation of theirs.
That terrible Tuesday evening, I had to call O'Neill's home. He answered the phone. "My god, you're safe!"
O'Neill replied, "Not really." I hope that doesn't disappoint Ms Kabbani.
Davis was safe too, in the towers' basement. But he chose to go up into the building to rescue others.
Today, this symbol of American capitalist hegemony is listed as missing.
Greg Palast writes Inside Corporate America, a column for The Observer (London), Sunday paper of the Guardian Media Group. At http://www.GregPalast.com you can read and subscribe to Greg Palast's columns.
>> When the Exxon Valdez grounded, he fought British Petroleum and Exxon to get compensation for the natives of Alaska. <<
Not that it matters, but was this O'Neill representative of the WTC's employees? I doubt it.
>> If anything, the Trade Center was a symbol of American socialism. <<
Most businesses are at least somewhat "socialist," to misuse the economic term. Witness the airlines' cry for a government bailout.
>> It would help those of us Americans ready to stop the killing machine if Europeans would stop the lecturing. <<
Yes, leave the lecturing to good Americans like me. But how does such lecturing hurt antiwar protests, exactly?
>> "They can't see why they are hated." <<
Yep, that's true. Americans are widely disliked and Americans don't understand the reasons.
>> He demands, as do too many of my otherwise progressive colleagues, that Americans must ‘understand' why O'Neill and Davis were the targets of blood-crazed killers. <<
Palast is arguing out of both sides of his mouth if he thinks calling America's enemies "blood-crazed" will soften our blood craze for revenge. Peace won't happen because Americans get tired of braying for violence and death—not for ten or 20 years, anyway. It'll happen because we understand that the situation is more complex than Bush & Co. have made it out to be.
>> Hey, if you're government backs Israel, well, just get used to it, baby. <<
Israelis, Palestinians, and much of the rest of the world are used to war-like violence. Why shouldn't we get used to it too? Isolating ourselves from the world's problems—the preferred Bush strategy—hasn't made them go away.
>> When did the developing world fall in love with the Imperial conquerors of Iraq, Palestine and the Khyber Pass?) <<
The only "imperial conqueror" of Palestine is Israel, at least recently. And most of the world, including allies such as France, are happy to do business with the "imperial conqueror" Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
>> After London's Canary Wharf was attacked, I don't remember America's Left suggesting this was a just revenge for the Queen's occupation of Ireland <<
If I'd thought about it, I would've suggested it. The IRA gets support from Irish Americans, because they recognize its aims—if not its means—are legitimate.
Palast also doesn't remember Great Britain bombing Ireland or Boston's Irish for harboring, supporting, and financing the IRA's terrorism—because such bombing didn't happen. Perhaps that's because Britain isn't quite as bloodthirsty for revenge as America.
But perhaps Palast remembers how Britain did address the years of IRA terrorism against it: with talk and negotiations, not violence. Why does he think America shouldn't try to understand the roots of terrorism when Britain did try to understand the roots?
What's Bin Laden's cause?
>> While Bin Laden hasn't returned my phone calls, they seem to know exactly the killers' cause. <<
Commentators on all sides have theorized on Bin Laden's cause. Some of them have quoted him and ex-Al-Qaeda members. Palast seems to know the cause too, although his assertion of a "blood craze" isn't exactly rational.
>> But I also understand that the bombers are not too crazy about America's freedom of religion nor equality of women under the law. <<
We aren't imposing those things on Islamic countries. We are supporting Israel to the tune of $3.5 billion a year, stationing troops in places like Saudi Arabia, and bombing civilians in Iraq.
>> Baroness Thatcher thinks we should understand Pinochet; the Bush family ran their own little jihad against Communism I was supposed to understand; now some Britons -- sadly, the one's I like and respect most -- want us to understand a new set of little Pinochets with beards. <<
Understanding isn't condoning, a distinction Palast seems not to grasp. When a Tim McVeigh blows up a building or a white boy shoots up a school, I'd say we should try to understand them too. (That's not hard in McVeigh's case, since he articulated his reasons.)
But understanding them is almost completely unrelated to how we punish them. McVeigh got his punishment and so should the terrorists, whether we understand them or not.
The US can do whatever it wants to Bin Laden and few non-Muslims will shed a tear. But understanding what created the terrorists and their fanatical devotion to their cause will help prevent more fanatical terrorism from arising.
>> Afghan-American Tamim Ansary suggests we understand victims, not victimizers. <<
Ansary also suggested we avoid war in Afghanistan. Oops.
The ideal is to understand both victims and victimizers. It's asinine to think terrorists have "evil" genes or undergo some sort of "blood craze." I find Palast's anti-intellectual position as sickening as he no doubt would find mine.
Incidentally, if the terrorists were suffering from a blood craze, and did go to trial at the Hague, they might be convicted only of manslaughter, not murder. Manslaughter is what you get if you commit a crime of passion, right? Do we really want to argue their crimes were irrational?
And if they were literally crazed or insane, as many have suggested, then what? If they go to trial, maybe they're found not guilty by reason of insanity. Or maybe they're found guilty and committed to a comfy mental hospital.
These are the logical outcomes of calling our enemies insane and then subjecting them to our criminal system. Luckily, I'm sure our courts would find the terrorists sane according to the legal definition. That would reduce all the "insanity" rhetoric to rubble.
Bin Laden = Hitler?
>> "The Taliban are ignorant psychotics. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler." <<
When you think Hitler, think of Germany reacting bitterly to the harsh peace terms imposed on it after WW I. Nazism didn't happen because Hitler willed it into existence. He took advantage of the German resentment already present.
The analogy is apt. Bin Laden may be a fanatic beyond reason, but he isn't the most popular person in the Islamic world because 1.1 billion Muslims are suffering a "blood craze." He's popular for a reason. If we eliminate him but do nothing to deal with the underlying problems, a dozen more Bin Ladens will take his place.
For anyone who knows history, Bin Laden hasn't even reached the level of Slobodan Milosevic, much less Saddam Hussein or Pol Pot, much less Hitler or Stalin. See Dubya-Speak: Justice Means Killing People for more on our attempts to demonize Bin Laden.
>> To prevent an unelected US President from ordering up this new atrocity, grieving Americans don't need nasty admonitions about the causes, just or unjust, of our killers. <<
Don't they? What do they need, then? According to the polls, they think they need to destroy what's left of Afghanistan.
>> What's missing is an alliance against the murder of civilians. <<
With our bombing of civilians in Iraq, I believe we're running neck-and-neck with the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide for most civilians killed in the last decade. I suggest we call Palast's proposed alliance the "United Nations" and let it vote on our bombing of Iraq, Israel's occupation of the West Bank, and the 9/11 mass murders. Oops, I believe we already know the outcome of that strategy. Our "United Nations" alliance would condemn all three.
>> Why not demand that the Moslem world turn over Bin Laden and his hounds, not as part of a give-him-up-or-we-blow-you-up ultimatum, but as a statement of our humanity and expectation of theirs. <<
If Colin Powell is seriously saying we'll reward the Taliban if they turn over Bin Laden, we're essentially at that position now. That position came about because critics like the British Left, mostly silent in the US, proclaimed their opposition to revenge for revenge's sake.
And if the Taliban doesn't turn over Bin Laden, then what? Palast's column amounts to his saying, "I don't want to think about the underlying problems. I just want revenge." If he can't say anything constructive about the situation, maybe he should give his column slot to me. Calls for eradicating the evildoers are a dime a dozen.
Palast tries again
In another "Inside Corporate America" column (The Observer, 10/14/01), Palast again tackles 9/11. His comment and my response:
>> It is eery, anguishing and vile to watch Bush's free-market fanatics join together with a self-absorbed element of the left to use this tragedy to sell us their phoney little bags of political ashes. <<
Palast should've thought of that before he wrote his previous column advocating war and denouncing liberals who opposed it. He contributed to the very problem he now complains about. Duh.
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