HIROSHIMA COMES HOME,
BY ROUTE OF ISRAEL
After the September 11 attack upon American symbols of economic and military power, there was a remarkable tendency among mass media pundits and politicians to decry the sensational killings at the World Trade Center and Pentagon as a new "Pearl Harbor": the 1941 Japanese military attack that was the gateway to World War II. This is a dubious association. A far better comparison to the recent mass slayings is not the opening event of World War II, but its closing one: Hiroshima. Why? Because Japan aimed to destroy only the American military at Pearl Harbor in that first attack. The United States, in the context of the resultant declared war, was ultimately indiscriminate in its concluding nuclear attack(s) on the Japanese people. The ultimate weapons of mass destruction were dropped on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, torturously annihilating not just the enemy's military, but huge masses of "innocent civilians" as well. There is hence a cruel moral relativism about mass murder, depending where one political and culturally stands, reflecting the old adage that one man's "terrorist" is another man's "freedom fighter."
The moral justification for the American mass slaying of Japanese innocent civilians was of course the prevention of more American losses, as well as ultimate - decisive -- victory. The recent slaughter of thousands of American people and the destruction of symbolic institutions of American power brings the wake of Hiroshima back home to us -- certainly not on the greater horrific scale of a nuclear bomb attack, but nightmarish enough.
In the early drumming for war against the vaguely defined "terrorists" today, we are repeatedly told that we are the civilized and that the mass murderers are implicit savages. Perhaps less. When former general Norman Schwartzkopf repeatedly tells NBC that the recent "terrorists" were immoral "bastards," by virtue of the fact their targets were not merely military targets, he echoed the thoughts of the entire American governmental establishment and mainstream popular American sentiment. The commandeering of planeloads of innocents to murder other innocents for any cause is truly sinister. All may instinctively think vengeance. Yet, as heinous as such attacks are, the likes of Schwartzkopf betrays a dual moral standard. Schwartzkopf, former professional soldier, strains to inject a moral dimension to the Western sanitization of mass killing -- the provenance of the organized military. War today is of course institutionalized -- culturally-sanctioned savagery. And modern spin-doctors go to enormous lengths to sanitize (per, for example, the 1991 attack upon Iraqi troops and Baghdad) the public consumption of the realities of war. Civilian dead slain by Americans are routinely dehumanized in moral doublespeak as "collateral damage." And these dead, innocent or otherwise, are comfortably invisible in the spread of aerial photographs and Star Wars video simulations of "precision" cruise missile attacks. On the receiving end of civilization's bombs, of course, the views are not so remote, not so sanitary.
Western civilization has established a code of rules and ethics about killing. And while such standards are nobly set with great self-congratulation about whom to kill and maim, and in what permissible manner, the bottom line is that all players in any violent contest are playing to win. Unfortunately, the more desperate one adversary is, "civilized" or not, the more likely it is to stretch the boundaries of what is acceptable modes of killing. (In this regard, whatever the ethics of mass murder, nuclear bombs -- designed to lay waste entire vistas -- exist, even in the most "civilized" states as a viable, albeit last, option to self-preservation. And may God protect anyone from the most emotionally lethal combination: rage, desperation, and dedication.) When the US military sends billions of dollars of high-tech weaponry to go tame, say, people with spears (using hyperbole here to make a point), those who guide the actions of sophisticated tanks and F-16s can rest in the luxury of how to make distinctions about the methods of killing. And winning. The nemesis in the war game, however, may have vastly inferior playing tools. And they may not trade on the same moral standards for killing people -- nor would they have that luxury -- to protect, or expand, their way of life.
There is no question that the "terrorist" attacks upon the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were acts of "war." And they were breathtaking in their daring, ruthlessness, inhumanity, and brutality. But while this is a "new" type of war for America, it is old for the perpetrators. They have been engaged in a decades-old battle, one of which few Americans are aware, angry recipients of American foreign policies. Most Americans watch the TV images of New York disaster with disbelief and astonishment. What, they wonder, is happening? Who are these savage murderers? And what have we done to attract their hatred?
Other than the vague notion of "terrorist," and the fact that they are predominantly Muslims and/or Arabs, Americans do not have much sense who their new adversary is, why this enemy kills innocent people, and what their grievances are. Few Americans can fathom the idea of a "suicide bomber" in any terms less than "fanatic." Few in the land of 31-flavors of ice cream can comprehend Third World poverty; political, social, and economic degradation; omnipresent injustice, atrocity, and suffering; and kamikaze-style dedication to die so certainly for a cause. In popular convention the new kamikazes are perhaps not human: they abandon the presumptions about human universalism and dignity, and are closer to animals. Even more bizarrely, seemingly incongruous, these people claim to be religious. Mass murder on behalf of God grates against modern ethics. The notion that a "terrorist" is an vicious extension of guerilla war may not even be on the conceptual map. The spectacularly coordinated suicide attacks were a "surprise" to an unsuspecting New York morning in every respect. Many Americans never even realized that we had such an enemy.
For those who do know anything at all about the origin of such hatred, in the illusory world of video talking heads and sound bites the entirety of recent Middle Eastern history and its resulting conflicts are simplified into the visage of a single man: Osama Bin Laden. Black-bearded, turbaned, and veiled in white gowns, he parades about in the nether-video world of network television, looking half-pirate and half-Jesus, both saintly and -- automatic rifle in hand -- bloodthirsty. He is the Western world's new Hitler. President George W. Bush announces to the world that, radiating from such a sinister figure and his religious mafia, America is engaged in a new struggle. On fairy tale-like terms, it is, he declares, a simple struggle between "good" and "evil." It is proposed that we, as a nation, must "get" Bin Laden, as if his death and that of his loyal followers will rid us of a growing menace. As if, in the most primal terms, the symbolic crumbling of the Twin Towers of American capitalism can be atoned for by Bin Laden's shaggy, severed head on a post.
Thus informed, thus prepared, in the angry wake of the sensational murders of thousands of Americans, we march towards war, not against a rival nation - a spot on the map, but to destroy, inexplicably, a belief system - convictions that may be found anywhere from a peasant's dilapidated desert hut in Afghanistan to an engineer's luxurious house next door in suburban Los Angeles, a belief system deeply rooted in hostility to Western mores and Western-inspired injustice. What's more, this belief system is woven (however unwanted by most Muslims) within the larger belief system of Islam. The implication of a "war" on an enemy who may be found virtually anywhere is profound, for this nemesis is deeply rooted, too, in the very fabric of American multiculturalism which, in large degree, shields him. In a conventional war, generals draw X's on maps, troops board ships, and planes and entire nations shake beneath waves of bombing. Today, the enemy is well represented in America itself, and must be impossibly sorted person by person from an ethnic community, -- from very families -- of which the fugitive is a cultural and religious part.
The casualties of the American Hiroshima are more than just dead Americans. Rocked severely here too is the very thesis of multiculturalism, where Americans of varying ethnicities are suddenly forced to confront, however uncomfortably, the fundamental tenets of political correctness. While everyone decries that the suspicion, categorically, of America's Arab and Muslim population is immoral bigotry, few can look honestly at mosques and Islamic centers and not feel suspicion. Who can board a jet today and not note with discomfort the two men with "Middle Eastern features" who sit behind them? Yes, overwhelmingly, Arabs and Muslims decry the terrorists too and there are certainly many noble tenets in that universal faith. But it only takes one to taint a whole community, and there are obviously very large numbers of Muslims from throughout the world involved in murderous activities, based upon their very particular perspective of the tenets of Islam. It is within the generic Muslim community -- and not the Irish or Mexican -- that people are sworn to violently attack the American people in a hallowed holy war against the Western world view.
Indeed, in the wake of the sensational terrorist attacks, varying shock waves radiate in all directions. While politicians and media spokespeople declare a new-found American unity, one cannot help but look at his or her neighbor with new wariness. The very premises of political correctness are profoundly under attack. Many public leaders are calling already for increased surveillance of American civilians and institutions and a curtailment of traditional civil liberties. Declarations of revenge are made by public officials in churches (not, we notice, from synagogues). And while everyone declares a vengeful need to strike back with awesome force against the demonic perpetrators of political mass murder, no one can ascertain with certainty who this new enemy is. The enemy is vague because America today is diffused in a potpourri of religious, ethnic, cultural, and political sensibilities. For the FBI and the American military establishment who seek to "bring the perpetrators to justice," the socio-cultural amiguity of modern America can only enforce a relative impotence upon them. The House of Islam rests on noble pillars, but it is expressly from under its roof that killers take solace in their interpretation of the words -- and goals -- of the Quran.
How have we got here? What is happening to us? Why have Islamic zealots aimed their rage at the American people? Why has political mass murder been wrought upon American soil? Why are we poised for a violent leap into confusion and darkness? Few Americans have the slightest idea. The American peoples' knowledge of Islam, the Arab world, Israel, and contesting currents in Middle East could fill a corner of a shrunken pea pod; i.e., American public opinion about the Middle East is, for the most part, what they absorb, like sponges, from television. As such, the sensational attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were the most profound of surprises. Not only were Americans unprepared for this onslaught. Far more importantly, few have the slightest idea why they have been chosen, indiscriminately, for such a hideous payload.
Any analysis of the Islamic "war" upon America must examine United States foreign policy, a magnet for international Arab and Muslim hatred. The 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran was one of the most newsworthy uprisings against American interests and the spread across the world of American consumer culture. In that scenario, the US government was instrumentally supportive of the dictatorial Shah of Iran and his dreaded secret police system, widely hated by the Iranian people. The base of revolt was religious, and the Ayatollah Khomeini became the symbol for Americans for Muslim fanaticism, even though also then few Americans had the slightest information about the grievances of the Iranian people. Islamic-based struggles against existing regimes also exist from Afghanistan to North Africa. Saudi Arabia and Egypt, described as "moderate" regimes and firmly in the circle of Western influence, are widely reviled among the rank and file in the international Muslim world.
There are various Muslim and Arab grievances - many legitimate -- against US foreign policy in the web of all this, but the central object of collective rage is the state of Israel; the recent New York/Washington mass murders are merely inevitable extensions of the Arab/Muslim conflict across the world, brought home to an American government that has long supported repression of the Palestinians. Once one cuts through Israeli-Zionist apologetics and lobbying for Israel, it is clear that America has lent its heavy hand to the brutal repression of non-Jewish peoples in the Middle East, increasingly so in recent months, and the victims' blood is on American hands. The American government, largely do to Jewish American pressures, has sustained the Jewish state with over $81 billion dollars since 1948. Weapons - guns, jets, tanks, helicopters - that kill Palestinian children are often of American manufacture. It is not America's war, but for years we have supported Israel's brutal suffocation of the Palestinian people. It can be assumed that the continuous slaying and mutilation of "innocent people" in the Palestinian world hardened the terrorist attackers on American soil to, in their view, a parallel value system. If Palestinian and other Arab/Muslim lives mean nothing to the American people, then such, we discover, will be the worth of American lives.
If you want to solve a problem, you must first understand it. There are few signs that anyone is interested in this simple fact. Rather, the mass media veils the Israeli dimensions to our colossal problem. It is simply decreed throughout the American corridors of power that American ideals are under attack and that savagery calls for counter-savagery. This echoes, of course, what has been going on recently in Israel. Palestinians are penned in virtual concentration camps; they are murdered by Israeli assassins, troops, and Jewish civilians. The Palestinians respond, in turn, with their own violence. They have no resources whatsoever to sustain a war against the Israeli oppressor, so they use what is at hand: rocks, small arms, knives, stealth, "suicide bombers." Violence begets violence, and the spiral of bloodshed spreads endlessly like a primal disease. Raging like a fire in dry grass, its sparks can only - sooner or later -- make its way from whence fuel for the fires originates.
The terrorist attacks are truly, as so many media celebrities proclaim, a wake-up call. But it is not the kind so commonly declared. It is a wake-up call not to solely to annihilate a new enemy, but to learn something about them. In order to "vanquish" any adversary, one must know, literally and figuratively, where they are coming from. Thus unarmed, we can only lose this prospective "war" as it is presently constituted. The endless cycles of violence between Israel and its adversaries has literally crashed into flames where it was inevitably destined: the heart of America. The U.S. military can spread throughout the world in its search for terrorists -- assassinating some, bombing others. We can invade Afghanistan. Bomb Iraq. Kill Iranians. Assist despotic Arab regimes in their own hunts for terrorists. Join Israel is repressing even deeper the Palestinians. But with each dead Muslim body, the infectious rage throughout the Islamic world against American blindness can only multiply. We could not win in Vietnam. The murkiness of the guerilla enemy in Vietnam is nothing compared to a worldwide campaign to separate Muslim "fundamentalist terrorists" from the rest of the Muslim population. The "terrorist" enemy is transnational. There are even 7 million Muslims in America. Which ones are "terrorists?" Which ones are not? How do we know?On the current course, we may anticipate further ruptures in the delicate multicultural fabric of American society, heightened interethnic conflict, and increased international antipathy in the Middle East towards American interests. Why? Because of what is never stated: On the world stage, even among American leadership, Israeli national interests dominate American ones.