Reactions to September 11
After the first reaction to the World Trade Center disaster – shock, anger, grief – all strongly emotional responses, time has permitted me to think about the whole thing more objectively, including second thoughts about the United States government’s reaction.
In order to give you a better insight into the views that follow, I think it appropriate to say something about myself. I am American, born and raised in New York City. I served five years in the US Army, attended the Army Language School in Monterey, California, where I studied Russian (mostly forgotten) and was then sent to Germany in Army Intelligence during the Cold War as an Intelligence Analyst. We sent spies into East Germany, analyzed the information they brought back (when they came back), which we then sent on to Washington, aka Foggy Bottom. The task was to keep track of Soviet troops in East Germany. Except for a few officers and noncoms who made a career of intelligence work, the rest of us “rotated” after a year or two either out of the military or into other areas of endeavor, the result being a constant influx of newbies who had to be trained and gain experience. By the time this happened, they were usually gone.
I learned to have serious doubts about the intelligence community’s ability to know anything or, even when we did, to wonder how it would be understood by the guy who gets a one-page summary of army, navy, air force, CIA, FBI, etc., etc., “intelligence” on his desk every morning.
Since then, I have lived outside the United States, in Europe and South America, most of the time. Not because I necessarily wanted to, but due to having been employed by an international organization that sent me to various countries. Finally, for personal reasons, I opted to stay in Argentina after taking early retirement. I am still an American citizen (and glad of it) and do not hold citizenship in any other country, although my children do hold dual citizenship. This is a somewhat clichéd description of an expatriate who still cherishes his cultural roots. Probably I was not affected by the WTC tragedy as much as US residents were, but I was deeply moved by it. Nevertheless, I am not a “patriot”, and I essentially agree with whoever said that patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel. Nor have I defended US foreign policy when I considered it mistaken – especially the Vietnam war, which I opposed from the beginning.
In general, US foreign policy since the end of World War II has been less than enlightened. Policy towards Latin America has always been self-serving, counter productive and, above all, stupid. Nevertheless, anti-American sentiment hasn’t always been prevalent here. I was living in Argentina when John Kennedy was killed. I received many letters of condolence, some from people I barely knew. For days there was a line stretching for blocks at the US Consulate in Buenos Aries to sign the condolence book they had set up there. In the aftermath of the WTC destruction I received only one telephone call, from an old friend. But many emails of a different nature – some trying to organize peace demonstrations, some implying or stating outright that the United States had only itself to blame, and some even going to the grotesque extreme of implying that the whole thing is a US government conspiracy.
I saw and heard President Bush’s address to congress and the nation (the most dramatic moment being when he looked up to the gallery at Tony Blair and said, “Thanks for coming, Tony”). Despite the hyperbole (We are the greatest! - reminiscent of Mohamad Ali), I essentially agreed with him – or his speech-writer – that the WTC attack was an act of war and had to be dealt with quickly and ruthlessly. But there was the nagging doubt as to whether this guy, who until a few day before was being ridiculed as a dumbbell, his cabinet consisting of business and political cronies, with the exception of Powell, who is Secretary of State because of his military fame, all inexperienced in foreign affairs, knowing no languages other than their own, and usually mangling even that, would be able to accomplish the task at hand correctly and intelligently. Where would they get the information necessary to do this? From our bumbling, bureaucratic, politicized intelligence services? From Tom Clancy? Or both?
As the days went by and the emphasis seemed to be on diplomacy, the formation of a world-wide anti-terrorism front, these doubts were allayed. Maybe they knew what they were doing after all. Then the intensive bombing of Afghanistan began. Back to the old standby: blast the shit out of them. But who is “them”, and where are they? Don’t they realize that massive bombing of empty space and a few shacks is ineffective? That trying to demoralize a fanatical enemy in this way only motivates them more? That despite all attempts to avoid it, there will be many civilian casualties, huge refugee problems, many errant bombs and technical glitches? That the gift of propaganda to the enemy will be received with open arms? That if Osama Bin Laden or some other evil intelligence is really behind the WTC attack and, now, bio-terrorism, we may be playing into his hands?
There are two possible answers: 1. The doubts listed above are without foundation, the action taken is correct and the results will be those desired. 2. They (the government) don't know what to do, so they turn to the military and pass them the ball - with the condition that American casualties are kept at an absolute minimum. The generals then look at the situation from a purely tactical point of view and proceed to do what they are doing. The politicians appear on television trying to look wise, heroic and determined, but as time passes their confusion becomes apparent.
Some years ago I was in Casablanca on a business trip and was invited, together with a small group of Europeans, to dine at a company president's elegantly luxurious home. In the center of each table a huge slab of meat stood upright on a spit. There was no cutlery. We were instructed by our host on how to grab at the tender meat with our fingers, pass it to our mouths, dip our fingers in the finger-bowl, and dig in again. I pleaded vegetarianism, the host clapped his hands, and a plate of delicious fruit appeared before me. The other invitees had to follow local etiquette though, smiling grimly - a minor clash of civilizations. Luckily, the wine was abundant and they soon overcame their squeamishness.
Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, just back from an intelligence mission to Afghanistan for the British, says: “There are things that people who eat with forks don’t know.” If I have doubts about the bombing and I'm so smart, you may ask, why don’t I say what should be done instead.
Because I also eat with a fork.
The following letter is worth reading:
“Humble to me means possessing a quiet confidence. It's not about
bragging about what you have or how strong you are. Humility is knowing your capacities and limitations. And it's not about being a coward. Cowardice and passivity sicken me. It's like having a lot of money in the bank and not bragging to your friends and showing off how much you got. It's not about saying, hey look at me I'm fucking loaded. Why would you need to brag anyway? If anyone asks, I'd say yeah, I have money, I'm doing good.
Anyway, my main point about this Taliban thing is that we should not be going around saying, let's destroy them, etc. I believe that we should not act out of this sort of anger. I know this from personal experience as I have a hot temper. I also don't agree with this whole peace and love thing. I think we need to understand these people more. And understanding the mindset of Taliban, I believe can help us to solve this problem of terrorism. Terrorism is a big fucking problem! It brings up questions of power but we all need to realize that terrorism exists on many other levels. It can exist in a couple relationship, in a family, among friends. It's everywhere! So I don't understand why America (e.g. Bush) keeps discussing this as an evil. Evil is within the country, it's within one self! We need to open our eyes and look to the Taliban with open eyes. Yes something has to be done but it must be done with intelligence, clear thinking and understanding of what the hell is really going on! And this is also why we need to be strong and humble. What do we really know?”
A new book of stories by our perennial author Gaither Stewart, "Icy Current, Compulsive Course" is now available in electronic format from Wind River Press. Soon to be available in a print "print of demand" version. Many of the stories appeared first in SCR. For more information and purchase, click here:Gaither Stewart
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