An Inclusive Litany

9/28/01

A few of the readers of the Boston Globe demonstrate that at least for them, life goes on with little change. Letter to the editor, September 12, 2001:
The United States has long bombed, invaded, and subverted the governments of other countries. Now someone has done it to us. I'm not happy about this, but neither am I surprised.

—Bryce Nesbitt
Cambridge

Another letter from September 13:
Nothing in the world can ever justify what was done to America on Tuesday. However, as an American historian, I respectfully urge the media to stop using the word "terrorist."

The word "savage" was once used to dehumanize Indians to deny that Native Americans had any rational motives for their attacks on European colonies, whose "innocent" men, women, and children were annihilating peoples and cultures older than Europe itself.

We should also recall America's shock during the 1968 Tet offensive, when we suddenly found Viet Cong guerillas in the US Embassy in Saigon, right under the noses of an overconfident US military, which could have been predicted had the United States come out of its ethnocentric cocoon of assumptions and actually looked and listened to the Vietnamese.

The word "terrorist," like "savage," and like President Bush's use of the word "faceless" for these attackers, erases the possibility of understanding why these attacks came about, and helps ensure that we will be caught in an endless cycle of retribution.

Criminal as Tuesday's acts were, they were perpetuated by human beings, in response to US policies and the Bush administration's lack of diplomatic efforts to resolve the Mideast crisis. Calling Americans "victims" may make us feel better, but it is only half the story of why this happened.

—Jack Dempsey
Stoneham

[Ed.: The hijackers had, of course, initiated their plans years before Bush became president. Presumably, the previous bombing of the World Trade Center, the U.S.S. Cole, American troops at Riyadh, and two African embassies could be blamed on a similar foreign policy lapse by the Clinton administration. Also, the self-described historian fails to dwell on the fact that the South Vietnam-based Viet Cong guerillas were slaughtered en masse by the North Vietnamese following the latter's military victory over the United States and the South Vietnamese government. Antiwar protestors of the era insisted that the Viet Cong represented an indigenous popular movement in the South, and were not simply puppets of the North.]

Here's another letter from the same day:

The first reaction of both my lovable, but rather right-wing brother in Virginia and father in Texas, both Army colonels, to Tuesday's horrendous events was, "Well, now it's time to take off the kid gloves and get tough with these terrorists!" It's exactly that one-track mindset that got us into this mess. We must take these four actions now:

  • Identify and find and punish the terrorist groups and financial backers responsible. Beef up US airport and airline security.

  • Sincerely apologize to the world community for all crimes committed by the United States in the 20th century in Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.

  • Get our so-called "President" Bush and his sycophants off their collective behinds to become actively engaged in the Middle East and elsewhere to really resolve pressing political problems and to quit thumbing their noses at the world community while the United States does nothing about the environment. If he doesn't make major headway in the next 30 days, impeach him.

  • Drop the American 20th century mindset that "the end justifies the means." And while we're at it, read Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Edward S. Herman who clearly explain how we dug ourselves into this hole and how we can get out!

Only then will the United States cease to be at the center of the bull's-eye and will be able to proudly rejoin the community of man. Until that glorious day, we must all watch our backs, stay clear of identifiable landmarks, and avoid the "friendly skies."

Pull your heads out of the sand, folks. Demand that your government start doing its job. Break your silence! Evolve now or revert to the stone age.

—Edward M. Fergusson
Easton

[Ed.: Elsewhere Chomsky asserts that the attack on Manhattan may not have been as bad as the Clinton administration's destruction of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. Before taking on the somewhat more palatable causes of the Sandinistas and Palestinians, Chomsky achieved notoriety during the 1970s for his tortuous defense of the communist Khmer Rouge regime, which was in the process of killing large numbers of Cambodians, ultimately over 1 million.]

September 17:

A great tragedy has befallen the United States and, in fact, all humanity. We should mourn the loss of life, and do what we can to give solace to the survivors. We must recognize, however, that there have been many signals that such an event would occur. We live in a violent world, including our own country.

We propagate foreign policy on the basis of what the other country can do for us, for example, supplying oil and other commodities that we consumer way beyond prudent levels of need. In short, we are an arrogant country that has confused democracy with a free-enterprise system so that the most important feature of our national life is the bottom line.

We are the most powerful nation on Earth, but might does not make right, nor does our arsenal of devastating weaponry protect against stealth attack.

Despite enormous shortcomings, we have within us, along with our fellow human beings around the world, the capability to rise above the most base aspects of human existence. We need to identify problems, as Derrick Jackson wrote with rare insight ("For America, a dose of reality," op ed, Sept 12), and show restraint as Lawrence Korb suggested ("US musty realize that there are no quick-fixes," op ed, Sept 13). The future is not bleak if we work toward solutions, instead of retribution. The future is chaos and ruin if we do not.

—Anthony J. Palmer
Waltham

Another from September 17:
Unquestionably, the perpetrators of Tuesday's horrific acts of terrorism must be hunted down and brought to justice. However, that in itself will do little to protect us against future attacks.

There is a major step we can take to promote peace in the world, and to reduce the risk of terrorism. We can begin to adopt a multicultural attitude. We can try to look past our own DVD and SUV culture and see that there are other cultures in the world that are just as legitimate, and which have long, honorable histories.

We should not condone any form of terrorism, but these acts are invariably the result of a sense of rage and powerlessness, just as road rage and the Rodney King riots were the results of powerlessness.

We must begin to see ourselves as but one of many cultures and nations that exist on this planet, and to respect and genuinely value other societies, both within and outside the United States. Only then will other countries regard us as team players, and not simply as the ones holding the ball at the moment.

—Peter Davis
Arlington

September 21:
I am upset by the nation's militaristic reaction to this tragedy. It is unhealthy that Americans so earnestly believe in one version of morality with little ability to synthesize other points of view.

We turn one blind eye to our faults as cohabitants of this planet—overconsumption, pollution, concentration of wealth and well-being, intervention (or not) in others' affairs only as they affect our interests—and turn the other blazing, eagle-sharp eye to retribution and mass destruction. Even our religions offer blessings to our leader in his "crusade" to punish.

I thank Derrick Z. Jackson for standing against the nationalist tide and focusing on how our way of life, which perpetuates the suffering of so many others, is one of the causes of hatred (op ed, Sept. 19)....

—Allison Lund
Somerville

[Ed.: In an op-ed on the same day, Jackson places blame for the terrorist attack squarely on America's military support of Israel. It seems Israelis are overall much better-armed than Palestinians, a "gap" that needs to be redressed if we are to avoid future attacks.]

September 23:

President Bush's speech was eloquent and powerfully delivered, but he said all the wrong things. I wish he had declared war on the poverty and injustice that sow the seeds of terrorism. We ignore their needs at our peril.

—Elaine Gottlieb
Cambridge

September 24 [my favorite]:

The article "Children need time to cope with trauma" (Page C1, Sept. 20) gives useful advice for parents concerned about children's play that turns violent. When a 10-year-old child builds a "death trap" for Osama bin Laden out of Lego blocks, psychologist James Garbarino suggests that a parent "march [an] action figure into the structure, arrest Osama bin Laden, and announce, "I'm taking him back to stand trial!' "

Can we ask James Garbarino to give President Bush a couple of hours of play therapy?

—Judith Ryan
Holliston

September 26:
In the article "Mulling options in fight to save economy" (Page C1, Sept. 24), Senator John Kerry was reported to have said the best thing people could do for their country was to go out to dinner or buy a couch or a car. Shame on Kerry for perpetuating the American consumerist mentality in the face of potential economic contraction. Is whipping out the credit card to buy products manufactured in developing countries under undisclosed labor practices really the best we can do?

What about taking a look at our relative prosperity even in an economic downturn and making do with a little less? What about figuring out how we can be good global citizens and not just exploitive global marketers? Shopping is not the best we can do; we can do much better.

—Lorena Kreda
Medford

September 28:
Is it my imagination or are gas guzzling SUVs now adorned with the most American flags? Do they have the most patriotic drivers? Or, if I may be facetious, is it because they have a quarter-of-an-acre of steel and glass on which to display them?

It's also my observation that many drivers of these four-wheeled juggernauts are also some of the rudest people on the road. And when they selfishly fill up at a gas station, the look of utter disgust on their faces is pathetic, especially after they have paid more than $40 for 25 gallons of gasoline.

They may be super patriots in regard to Old Glory, but they could do America a much greater favor by driving their rolling monstrosities to the nearby junkyard and selling them for scrap metal. Surely, with the world in a war-like condition, it won't be long before mandatory restrictions on gasoline consumption will force them to do so. A gas-hungry SUV won't be worth a pound of belly-button lint as far as personal transportation is concerned.

—Donald Mills
South Boston

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