Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Perspective and Connection

Juan Cole offers some perspective on "The Day That Changed Everything". His take is that what changed was far less than Americans have been led to believe.

The massive forces of international trade and globalization were largely unaffected by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. China's emergence as a new economic giant in East Asia continues, with all its economic, diplomatic, and military implications. Decades-old flash points remain.

Tom Englehardt reveals the real connection between the 9-11 attacks and Iraq.

Think of that link this way: In the immediate wake of 9/11, our President and Vice President hijacked our country, using the low-tech rhetorical equivalents of box cutters and mace; then, with most passengers on board and not quite enough of the spirit of United Flight 93 to spare, after a brief Afghan overflight, they crashed the plane of state directly into Iraq, causing the equivalent of a Katrina that never ends and turning that country -- from Basra in the south to the border of Kurdistan -- into the global equivalent of Ground Zero.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Forward to the Dark Ages

Although the religious right seems to think it an abomination, one of America’s founding values is religious tolerance as expressed in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. The Framers spoke and wrote eloquently of God and spiritual values but they also recognized the pernicious influence of established religion.

That’s why I am distressed to see that the “democracy” BushCheney is establishing in Iraq comes with a distinctly religious flavor. Not only does the Iraqi Constitution prohibit legislation that conflicts with the tenets of Islam but the effect of American blood and treasure seems to be increased sectarian violence.

In a country where mixed marriages between Sunnis and Shi’ites were common, they are now becoming rare if not impossible. Not only are dating rituals increasingly hazardous but these days finding a partner who meets the family religious requirements is extremely difficult.

He was a dashing young computer engineer. She was a shy student at his alma mater. They fell in love over lunch last year in the university cafeteria and promptly became engaged.

As they prepared for a future together, the couple barely discussed a subject that, under Saddam Hussein's rule, amounted to a footnote in matters of the heart: He was a Shiite Muslim; she was a Sunni Kurd.

But now those labels are tearing the couple apart. Barred by their families from marrying anyone of the opposite sect, the couple has erased one another's cellphone numbers and stopped speaking.


Each thwarted Sunni-Shiite relationship etches the gulf between the two groups a little deeper and foils another opportunity to produce the next generation of children with mixed backgrounds -- those living testaments to the not-so-distant peace between the sects.

...[A] 24-year-old Sunni who said he would never marry a Shiite, fears that Iraq has already begun a free fall into carnage.

He shook his head and pointed at a dirty white ashtray filled with five crumbled cigarette butts. "The future of Iraq will be like this," he said.

An ashtray. The perfect metaphor for BushCheney’s “democracy”.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11, 2002

On the first anniversary of the 9-11 attacks I was on the Appalachian Trail in Maine, pretty much removed from the rest of the world. I’d been walking for five months–almost 2,000 miles–and was less than three weeks from completing my hike. Even so, I carried the memory of the attacks with me. I’d stopped in a town a few days before and saw some of the run up to the anniversary on television, so it was on my mind as the one year anniversary approached.

One of the things that struck me on the day of the attacks was how important it was that I hike the Appalachian Trail in the coming year as I had planned. On September 11, 2001 I thought of all the people who had put off important things that suddenly would never be done. This hike, that I’d thought about for almost three decades and had seriously planned for the last eight, suddenly became even more important.

So now it’s a year later. Each morning between eight and nine, I think about planes, buildings, explosions and death. It’s out of character for an Appalachian Trail hike but the images and thoughts are there, part of the consciousness seared into my brain the year before. Strangely enough, on the actual anniversary, those thoughts are superceded by my more immediate concern with an oncoming storm. If I remember the attacks at all, the memory is fleeting and disappears completely when the rain finally hits. After about an hour walking in a downpour, I reach Sabbath Day Lean-to with my hiking partners, Red and Gary. It’s not even noon but the day is dark and cold so we decide to hole up in the shelter there. Not long after, another hiker, Rocky Top, pulls in.

Out of the rain, we spend the first anniversary of the Day That Changed Everything watching fall blow into the Maine woods on a chilly storm. Despite the wet and cold, I am dry, comfortable and content. Falling leaves fly past the shelter on each gust of wind. Water drips off the roof. Fall in Maine is really coming on now, more and more leaves are turning color. The woods are dark and somber. A feeling of change is in the air.

The four of us trade stories and wonder what the next few weeks on the trail will be like. I’ve known Red and Gary for years and have hiked with them all the way from Georgia. I met Rocky Top back in May in southwestern Virginia and have encountered him occasionally along the way. Today is the first time I really get to spend any time with him. Today we are a small, close community of shared experiences and hopes.

I bring this up on this fifth anniversary of the attacks because it reminds me of what is truly important in this world, namely the human connections that link us one to another, and the dramatic reminder that life is uncertain. Because life is uncertain, those links–family, friends and even passing acquaintances–are so very important. They create a unique and special place for us in an all too anonymous world. Also important making time to do the things that are special to each of us. I think often of the many people who went about their normal lives on the morning of September 11, 2001 thinking they still had time to hug a child, tell a partner of their love or take that once-in-a-lifetime trip.

The 9-11 attacks offered many lessons to America but amid all the geo-political and strategic policy debates, this is the one that rings most true to me.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thinking 9-11

On this fifth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, Americans are remembering that event in various ways. I would like to think that most of us will remember the victims and their families who lost so much on that day. But as a whole, we are arguing and debating that event and its larger meaning for America. The ABC mock-u-drama, “The Path to 9-11" provides an opportunity for the wingnuts to blame the attacks on Clinton just in time for to use the event as a political prop in the 2006 mid term elections. This is hardly new. They did it in 2002 and 2004. Should we expect anything else? Perhaps–and this is pretty iffy–Americans will know by now that much of the BushCheney war on terror is little more than an exercise in military adventurism.

My partner, Maggie, tells me that I need to think and write about other things. She’s right, of course. Spending too time on this is depressing for anyone. It also triggers far too memories of Vietnam for me. Not just the combat but the lies, deception, anger and paranoia of that era. Maggie’s been urging me to write more about the Appalachian Trail and non-political events.

I can’t quite do that on this particular day. My thoughts drift back to September 11, 2001 all too readily. I was living in Window Rock, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation and did not have a television (being unwilling to pay cable fees for very minimal service) so I did not see the images broadcast over and over and over. I heard the reports on National Public Radio and saw pictures on the internet but the combination of media and physical isolation made the event seem remote. Far more noticeable was the absence of aircraft in the skies overhead or activity at the airport adjacent to my home.

Still, I felt the anger, rage and shock. But I also asked “why?”, a question asked by only a few on that day and not many since. Somehow, looking beyond the attack itself was considered unpatriotic in the immediate aftermath. For many, it still is. Somehow, looking for causes was seen as taking the attackers’ side. Which is ludicrous. It’s like trying to fight a disease by only treating symptoms. At best, you will only keep problems at bay rather than solving them.

But addressing the root causes of terrorism is not something Americans are willing to do. Not when BushCheney promises quick action, and–most of all–safety. Look at the past five years and ask if all of our expenditure of blood and treasure has really made a difference comparable to the cost. BushCheney claim that they have kept America from being attacked but at best, they have closed off some of the more obvious opportunities. They have done little to address the reasons why so many want to harm the US and its allies. I have no illusions that the sources of hatred and fear will ever be eliminated but I do believe that quite a bit can be done to reduce the threat by addressing the poverty and hopelessness that leads so many to seek revenge in fundamentalism and suicide attacks.

That takes patience, determination and thought. In the long run, it’s the only thing that will provide real security.

Cost of War

Five years after the 9-11 attacks on the United States, over 62,000 people have died in the War on Terror according to a report in The Independent. The financial cost to the US and UK exceeds the amount needed to pay off the debts of every poor nation on earth.

The [estimate]is the first attempt to gauge the full cost in blood and money of the worldwide atrocities and military conflicts that began in September 2001. As of yesterday, the numbers of lives confirmed lost are: 4,541 to 5,308 civilians and 385 military in Afghanistan; 50,100 civilians and 2,899 military in Iraq; and 4,081 in acts of terrorism in the rest of the world.

Note that most of the dead are Iraqi civilians. That's a pretty high toll for a nation that had no part in the 9-11 attacks.

Then there's the money.
Beyond the blood price, there is a dollar and sterling cost. In July it was reported that the US Congress had approved $437bn (£254bn) for costs related to the "war on terror". This, a sum greater than those spent on the Korean and Vietnam wars, compares to the $375bn that Make Poverty History says is needed to clear the debts of the world's poorest nations. The British Government has spent £4.5bn on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the search for the man who actually planned the 9-11 attacks has gone "stone cold".

Are we safe yet?