A lot can happen in three years.
In the United States since 9/11, about 4,000 children died from child abuse and neglect; in more than 80 percent of cases, parents were the perpetrators. About 36,000 Americans died from unnecessary surgery. Another 21,000 died from medication errors in hospitals, along with another 60,000 from other errors in hospitals. Adverse reactions to prescription drugs killed about 100,000. Roughly 10,000 Americans died from accidental drowning. About 2,100 died from bicycle accidents. Homicidal Americans killing other Americans took another roughly 60,000 lives. Suicide took more than 90,000. Traffic deaths amounted to well over 120,000.
Despite all of America's mayhem and death (more than 7,000,000 Americans died in the last three years, including the clearly avoidable ones listed above plus hundreds of thousands not listed that were at least in part avoidable), the subject of 9/11 is never allowed to rest. About 3,000 Americans died on 9/11 in a spectacular act of hatred and vengeance, carried out, so far as we know, by 19 men, all of whom were themselves consumed.
Those who attacked America certainly did not do so because they hated democracy or rights, no matter what President Muffinmouth keeps deliriously muttering. Likely, they would not even have understood such concepts, coming as they did from cultures where conditions prevail comparable to those of centuries ago in Europe. But anyone understands abuse and bullying, and it is America's terrible, careless abuse of its wealth and power to which they were violently responding.
In a Congress which consistently fails to remedy America's social ills, its members always disparaging sensible regulation and rules to cover their abject political cowardice and bought-and-paid-for status, it took no time to start a war, even though it was clear that no nation had attacked the United States, and to pass legislation more repressive than any possible regulation. Scene after scene of America's grunting, spewing legislators resembled life imitating art in the form of a movie for teen-agers, The Planet of Apes.
Whoever was responsible for 9/11 beyond those who killed themselves (America's press automatically attributes the act to al Qaeda, a shadowy and rather small organization at best, although still no proof has been offered), the U.S. responded by spending tens of billions of dollars to invade two nations. Billions more were spent stuffing already-bloated intelligence agencies like geese being prepared for pâté de foie gras and cranking up the megawatts snapping and crackling through the wires to the nation's military Frankenstein.
The money wasted on killing and maiming in Iraq might have done many fine things for the world. It might have built fine new schools in every wretched ghetto and backwater across the United States. It might have been used to launch an historic alternate-energy program, bringing down costs dramatically for technologies such as solar cells, contributing to the future well-being of all of humanity. Even a small portion of it could have done some spectacular things for fundamental science or medicine. Another small portion would have generously funded the simple technologies used for bringing clean drinking water to parts of the Indian subcontinent where arsenic and other compounds slowly poison millions year after year. The possibilities are almost endless.
But no, it all went to a destructive, psychotic fantasy called the war on terror (and more specifically to invade a place where, much as in the old Soviet Union, terror was never tolerated for a second). It should be clear, there can be no such thing as a war on terror, because terror is not a society or a regime or an army or even an ideology. Terror is a violent response to severe grievances. You can work hard to track down specific law-breakers and you can enhance security measures and you can work to redress grievances - all these are reasonable and fitting things to do - but there is no place or army that you can attack with any meaningful purpose. Of course, that simple fact hasn't stopped America from instituting vast new abuses in the name of fighting a war on terror. As with the country's crusade against communism, the pointless violence reflects America's own shibboleths, fears, and internal politics rather than meaningful policy. American politics are so utterly poisonous and corrupted that the failure of one party to commit some barbarism abroad automatically is used by the other party as a visceral issue. When Bush speaks of a long-haul war against terror, he really means a renewal of the same cycle of vicious domestic politics with a new foreign bogeyman and new foreign victims.
Estimates of civilians killed by American forces in Iraq have been slow in coming. America's press shows almost no interest, perhaps taking its lead from a government which doesn't want the subject mentioned. But then, Daddy Bush never advertised how many he slaughtered in the brief, first Gulf War he started with subtle winks and suggestions to Hussein. It is certain that tens of thousands of pathetically-equipped conscripts died under waves of B-52s whose carpet bombing on the desert sealed the men in their own graves: cooked and packed underground by millions of pounds of high explosive.
Quite recently, an Iraqi group announced what may be the best count in view of its language and network of contacts in every part of the country. It spent months talking to everyone from gravediggers to doctors, deliberately avoided counting military deaths, and came up with 37,000 civilian killed.
The immense suffering of a major part of the population who, overnight, lost the means to earn a living must be added to America's achievement, as well as the birth of violent resistance to occupation, an excellent laboratory for developing future generations of terrorists, and tidal waves of violent crime (things consistently under-reported in the U.S. press). Independent observers in Europe, including many British soldiers, have been taken aback by the violence and heavy-handedness of America's occupation. The abuses documented in the published photos from Abu Ghraib prison (and there are many others not published) show a small part of what American soldiers have done. Consider one clear instance, fairly typical according to witnesses in Iraq brave enough to speak up and at least one Marine non-commissioned officer who has left the service, the Pentagon-invented Battle of Samara. Headlined in America's press as a remarkable American victory, it was actually a slaughter of scores of civilians by sweltering, disgruntled, trigger-happy soldiers.
Only devotees of the Orwellian fantasies of Fox News and CNN and those who depend on Defense Department contracts for a living (and, sadly, that is now a truly gigantic number in the U.S.) ever accepted Bush's claims about Iraq. Recent American stories about "they knew," referring to the fact that Bush was informed by outsiders of the weak nature of his claims, are bitterly amusing. The world was awash in good information that told us Bush was lying before the invasion. It came from past weapons inspectors, current weapons inspectors, Iraqi refugees, diplomats, national leaders, and scrupulous journalists (a category that notably excluded employees of the New York Times and Washington Post). As it always does, understanding the truth required that essential skill, prized by courts everywhere, of evaluating the credibility of each witness. In Bush's case, this was an open-and-shut judgment for anyone with powers of observation. The man's every word is shrill and hollow.
America's stubborn refusal to think was broadcast to the world in childish demonstrations of antipathy towards France - restaurant owners pouring vintage wines down the drain - and, to a lesser extent, Canada. Had Americans just listened to sane voices coming from outside their nearly hermetically-sealed society, about 1,000 of their soldiers now dead would be alive, taxpayers would be at least 100,000,000,000 dollars richer, oil prices wouldn't be setting record highs, and the country would not be facing a years-long burden in Iraq, something, by the way, that is not going to change in the slightest if John Kerry is elected. (No one should forget, although the Democratic candidate strains the meaning of words to maintain otherwise, Kerry voted with the thumping, spewing gorillas to launch the war).
Of course, more Americans and others working for Americans have died than the 1,000 or so soldiers. For in this disgraceful war, America farmed-out substantial occupation duties to richly-paid private contractors - people once known, before the dawn of political correctness, as mercenaries or assassins. No effort is even made to keep track of how many of these are killed although I doubt many people much care.
Many small stories of 9/11 remain untold. I do not mean the kind of mawkish-tabloid stories that will be featured on the anniversary, but stories that help explain what happened afterward. One of mine concerns an American woman I know who left her job that morning and frantically raced around to gather her three children from schools and daycare and take them home, just in case, any terrorists were going to sacrifice their lives to send airliners hurling into rural Maine. Of course, the odds - infinitesimally small as they were - were at least the same that any airliners would crash near her house located in a more populated area. A deadly road accident during her frenetic car trip was a far more likely outcome than avoiding another hijacked plane crashing.
The point of the story was repeated only recently in testimony at Congressional hearings by members of "9/11 families," an American lobby group of professional victims, some of whom made flatly ridiculous statements about the country being unprepared for another attack, including Twilight Zone stuff about little Elizabeth or Kyle not being able to play outside safely (Good God, one wishes such people could spend one day with a miserable Iraqi family cooped up in a shattered apartment surrounded by violence and ruin so that they truly understood what terror is). Well, I do suppose a twenty-foot wall could be built around America and all of its possessions and embassies abroad with all planes and boats being required to stop outside for complete inspection, but in an age of globalization and the huge economic gains being made from it, it does seem an unpromising idea.
Both stories are measures of the terrible job America's press does informing people on politically-sensitive matters and of the irrationality so commonly observed in American society. Americans behave this way partly because they have so little understanding of the world and live in a fantasy concerning even the realities of their own country. American television doesn't ever show pictures of the country's dead, abused or murdered children although there are plenty of them (anymore than it showed the pictures of piteous Iraqi children mangled by bombs), but for videos of the planes striking the World Trade Center, networks left the replay switch in the "on" position for weeks. The flashing-message signs at service-station gas pumps are not used to remind motorists of dead kids in their neighborhood, but they sure were used to blink out idiotic slogans like "Never Forget!" over and over after 9/11. It all became something of a national computer game with life-like graphics, frightening and titillating Americans, reinforcing paranoid conceptions.
So far as the world is concerned, it might be fine were Americans to remain happily cocooned in their fantasies, if only they didn't leave their bloody set of butcher's tools in the hands of some of the world's most ignorant and dreadful elected leaders. These armies and weapons are never used to defend democracy or freedom or human rights (or even to stop the several horrifying genocides that have taken place in recent decades) - in fact, there exists no threat to America requiring such huge armies and dreadfully destructive machines - they exist solely to bully and intimidate and overthrow.
Can you think of one example of America displaying behavior that might be regarded as that of a human rights-respecting democracy towards Iraq and its neighborhood? Would you include actively supporting the tyrant Hussein for many years? Supplying him the means to wage chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq war? Supporting the tyrant Shah in neighboring Iran for decades, right down to the day of his death in exile? Shooting down an Iranian airliner full of civilians with no apologies or proper compensation? Kissinger's duplicitous promises to the Kurds when they proved briefly useful? Pushing American forces into view near the holy places of Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War?
Doing decades of Enron-style business with Saudi Arabia's feudal ruling family? Supporting, against all reason and decency, the violent apartheid policies of Israel? Putting a leader like Musharraf of Pakistan, elected by coup, on the regular payroll? Invading Afghanistan and making cozy deals with psychopathic warlords? Keeping an embargo on Iraq for a decade in the face of overwhelming proof that it was killing hundreds of thousands of innocents? Invading and occupying Iraq?
Please, is there a even hint in any of that about democracy and concern for human rights? No, there is only the ruthless manipulation and menacing displays of an imperial power using its might to get what it wants. Observed from the receiving end, in no case could you distinguish an enlightened nation at work. At the same time, on the sending end of things, America's cowardly politicians flatter constituents' vanity about having done brave and heroic deeds in the cause of freedom, and, truth be told, they get away with it, every time.
I wish Americans had the least spark of imagination and will to compare their almost delusional fears with the colossal human misery they have inflicted on the world. I wish, too, they had the imagination and will to understand that nothing has changed with American policies which literally assembled the forms and poured the concrete foundation for 9/11. All that has changed is that America has spent immense resources to pitch the world into more violence and lunacy.
Osama bin Laden or whoever was responsible for 9/11 must sit back on the anniversary date quietly chuckling as he reflects on his achievement, not only because he was able to see all of this happen at the mere cost of 19 followers, but because it is so stunningly clear that America still doesn't get it.
John Chuckman lives in Canada and is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil company.
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