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Reaping the Whirlwind

(Reprinted from SOBRANS, October 2001, page 1)

With the astonishing attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, the United States has had an experience almost unique in its history, though common enough in foreign lands: it has been attacked on its own soil. I’ve expected something like this since the 1991 Gulf War; as the phrase goes, I was shocked, but not surprised.

[New York skyline 
with towers as ghosts]The shock has already, and inevitably, been compared to that of Pearl Harbor. There is one difference: on December 7, 1941, there was no doubt who the enemy was. The United States immediately declared war on Japan. This time, for the moment, no return address has been found. President Bush has been reduced to blustering that “those responsible” will be “hunted down,” and “punished.” But how do you retaliate for suicide attacks, when those most directly responsible have killed themselves with their victims? No doubt they had support from others, but identifying those others may not be possible. The simple and tempting response is to blame someone arbitrarily, strike him, and call it justice. In this case, Osama bin Laden, wealthy patron of Muslim guerrillas, is the natural target for bogus vengeance.

One thing is only too clear: most Americans have no conception of the depth of hatred harbored against this country in large parts of the world. This is no longer the ideological anti-Americanism of the Soviet era; it’s much more personal and bitter, in large part because of the personal harm inflicted by U.S. bombs, sanctions, and “reliable allies,” from the Middle East to the Balkans. Millions of Iraqis, Serbs, and Palestinians hold this country responsible for the deaths of their family members. We may have forgotten yesteryear’s fleeting headlines of remote places we’d barely heard of; they remember living through scenes as horrible as those of the World Trade Center.

The U.S. Government takes no responsibility for a bullying foreign policy, including unstinting support of a bullying Israel, that has made this country loathed abroad and endangered its people, both abroad and at home. It has responded to the attack with pompous and irrelevant abstractions about “terrorism,” “freedom,” and “democracy.” These are worse than useless: they show that our ruling elite is determined to learn nothing from this terrible experience.

No sensible man will bait a wild animal, and it is not to excuse or defend such awful crimes to say that the U.S. Government has been tormenting explosive passions for many years. Its attitude has been not only self-righteous but cavalier. Few of those it antagonizes have the strength, means, or will to fight back; those who are desperate enough to use unsavory methods are dismissed as “terrorists.” (Methods authorized by governments, such as bombing refugee camps, are not considered unsavory.) Just how are the victims of U.S. foreign policy supposed to get our government’s attention?

Our rulers are already making it clear that they will not respond to the September 11 attack with any measure of introspection and self-criticism; instead, they will, as usual, make it an occasion of further self-aggrandizement. They will continue making us enemies abroad, while “protecting” us at home by curtailing our remaining liberties.

Joseph Sobran

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