September 11, 2001 Wake Up Call: We Are Not Worth More, They Are Not Worth Less

September 11, 2001

The shocking September 11 attacks on U.S. symbols of capitalism (the World Trade Center) and its indispensable military protector (the Pentagon) caused tragic loss of life, provoking deep feelings of grief and anger here and abroad. Equally intense feelings of grief and rage have been experienced by hundreds of millions of people in numerous countries for decades due to a historic pattern of U.S. interventionist policies generally unknown to our public. Will we be able to also feel their pain?

The United States comprises only 4.5 percent of the globe’s population, yet consumes 25 percent to nearly half the world’s resources, depending on the particular resource examined. Meanwhile, the "Third World," which comprises 75 percent of the earth’s population, is squeezed with only 15 percent of the world’s resources. This imbalance is neither ecologically sustainable nor morally justifiable. Despite the representations of political and economic leaders, the globalization of capitalist economics is exacerbating this imbalance.

To perpetuate our grotesque consumption pattern, which lays waste to the native environment in addition to causing much human suffering, requires a world imperial apparatus–a plutocracy supported by a complacent public with a well-financed, globally positioned military. It requires a bully mentality, a willingness to use brute force to get what we think we need. It has historically been enabled by an arrogant, Eurocentric ethnocentrism and a deep, stubborn racism. The U.S. public’s awareness of the consequences of its addictions is obstructed by a national rhetoric that paints us as an enlightened defender of freedom, a self-serving mythology perpetuated generation after generation. This ideology amounts to our own brand of fundamentalism.

Our disproportionate consumption of resources has driven U.S. policy to consider desires for local autonomy and self-determination in the world as threats to the American Way Of Life (AWOL). Free access to every corner of the globe to feed our insatiable consumer appetites basically requires a pattern of robbery and pillage. People who threaten that access are characterized for the U.S. public as "communists," "narco-guerrillas," "Hitlers," "terrorists," or some other demonization, justifying any actions taken against them.

Policies carried out to eliminate these threats have often been so brutal they have been conducted in secret. "Plausible deniability" originated during the Cold War when U.S. policymakers sought to shield covert operations, ostensibly from our enemies. In reality, however, these policies were kept secret from the U.S. public who, once knowing, would vigorously oppose them as intrinsically unconscionable. Secret or not, U.S. policies regularly violate with impunity international and domestic laws.

U.S. policies have been applied with enraging double standards. For example, with U.S. support, Israel defies numerous United Nations resolutions and international laws relating to the protection of besieged Palestinians in their occupied lands. We turned our head when Israel invaded Lebanon and killed thousands, and bombed Iraq in the early 1980s. Yet when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and killed hundreds, we bombed them into the Stone Age. We are still bombing Iraq. Who even cares? We have imposed cruel sanctions against the Iraqi people that have killed a million civilians, many of them children.

Unfortunately, our leaders have been too arrogant to consider likely side effects of their secret policies ("blowback"). For example, by creating numerous "terrorist" training camps to prepare thousands of radical Islamic men to oust Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the U.S. in effect created the "Mujahideen" who are now equally enraged with continued U.S. interference in the historic Arab world.

During my lifetime alone, the U.S. has conducted at least 200 military and thousands of covert interventions into more than 100 sovereign nations, amounting to a pattern of "wholesale" terrorism. The details of these attacks, once known, are so gruesome as to be beyond comprehension of most U.S. citizens. My own experiences in nearly two dozen countries in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Latin America have revealed direct connections between U.S. economic and military policies, and the preservation of impoverishment and repression of the majority. This results in the tragic premature snuffing out of countless lives. What I have witnessed has wrenched my heart, radically changing my life.

As might be expected, the violent pattern of U.S. imperial behavior breeds anger, then rage, which sooner or later boils to the point of motivating aggrieved people to plot desperate acts of revenge. This might be called "retail" terrorism." The proverbial chickens have come home to roost, and many more are waiting in the wings. No amount of military might or vigilance can provide us the security we seek amidst this vast sea of rage. Only a radical change toward humility and mutual respect in our attitudes and policies can do that.

Perhaps the recent acts of "retail" terrorism against the U.S. will serve as a wake-up call, provoking us, amidst the horror, to carefully reexamine our history of "wholesale" terrorism, and the assumptions of AWOL upon which that behavior is based. Perhaps our own pain will lead us to greater empathy for others. Perhaps our arrogance will give way to humility. Perhaps our materialist obsessions will give way to simpler lifestyles in harmony with the planet and her billions of inhabitants. Perhaps a commitment to justice and mutual respect will replace our bullying, imperial Pax Americana.

Planning foreign policy on vindictiveness rather than stopping to ask why such violence happens is, quite frankly, downright foolish, and extraordinarily dangerous. Retaliation is likely to inspire further acts of rage against the U.S. population, and increases probability of a world catastrophe. Pervez Hoodbhoy, professor of physics at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, Pakistan, has offered a clear prescription. In addition to unequivocal condemnation of the horrific acts, he reminds us of what seems obvious: "The security of the United States lies in its re-engaging with the people of the world, especially with those that it has grievously harmed." The truth is that we are not worth more, and they are not worth less. The most radical action needed is a change in our hearts and minds!


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