Oct 11, 2001
The U.S. population, which, up until now, had been able to stand aside from what went on in the rest of the world, watching only as observers, has now suffered a taste of the horrors that U.S. imperialism has regularly rained down on people around the world. The collapsing skyscraper is no longer a fleeting picture that CNN transmitted from Baghdad, without conveying a sense of the human cost; no longer a shot in a violent video game. It has become a symbol of the vulnerability felt by the population of the big cities of this country, above all, New York.
Certainly, the U.S. has known violence on its home soil before U.S. society is hardly pacific, after all. But September 11 was the first time that the U.S. has confronted on its home soil such a massive attack and furthermore one carried out by forces from another country.
The victims of the attack, those who suffered the consequences of policies which the U.S. government has carried out in other countries against other peoples, were not themselves the instigators of those policies. But they were the ones who paid the price for those policies, and in a horrible way. They were the stand-ins which the terrorists used to demonstrate that the symbols of American power were not secure. (To use the phrase that Timothy McVeigh picked up from his training during the Gulf War they were the "collateral damage" a concept that all terrorists who target the population would agree with.)
Socialists, like other parts of the population, were horrified by such an action and feel themselves in complete solidarity with the families and friends of the victims and everyone who was touched by this tragedy.
We are equally outraged at the implicit and sometimes explicit singling out of immigrants usually immigrants from the Middle East, although not always by politicians and the media, leading to the attacks on immigrants we have seen.
It goes without saying that we oppose the campaign that the politicians of both parties, supported by all the bourgeois media, have been carrying out to convince the population that in order to pay respect to those who had died they must seek retribution and vengeance: concretely, they must support the campaign of terror the U.S. intended to launch against the people of Afghanistan, under the guise that they would thus bring down the terrorists.
In the nearly four weeks between September 11 and October 7, we were confronted by an orgy of super- patriotism. Schools, churches, workplaces, public buildings were awash in flags, with people encouraged to fly them on their own homes and cars, or wear them on their person. TOYS"R"US took out a full page ad in newspapers throughout the country, proclaiming, "Let your kids show their true colors. Make a Flag. Make a Difference." Most businesses took out big ads in the daily papers calling for a "putting aside of differences" in the interests of "national unity." People were assailed with "God Bless America" everywhere: in religious services, union meetings, the re-opening of baseball and football games even in the piped in music in elevators and shopping centers. And while the Administration's first choice of a slogan for its military campaign, "infinite justice," was put aside after complaints from Muslim clerics, the organizing of a national day of prayer showed that the American "jihad" was moving full steam ahead. After attending a prayer service, the senators rushed back to the capitol to pass, 98-0, a bill authorizing Bush to use "all necessary and appropriate force" in response to the attack of September 11. Bush showed up in New York, to carry out what sounded like a football pep rally at the site of the wreckage, under which there might still have been survivors, then sped around the city alternating prayers with demands that the rest of the world "choose sides."
On October 7, the Bush Administration gave the signal for the U.S. attack to begin, an attack every bit as terrorist as the one on September 11. The people of Afghanistan are now being made to pay the price and be the "collateral damage" in the U.S. attempt to get at Osama bin Laden. They have already paid a bitter price in the civil wars which have wracked the country, in the exactions which one regime after another placed on them all of this supported or even instigated by one U.S. administration after another.
It's difficult to say to what extent this campaign to build support for a new war has had an impact. But one thing is certain and that is that the polls which show overwhelming support for the bombing of Afghanistan don't begin to give a picture of the way the U.S. population is thinking. Certainly, there are people who support the bombing with a kind of lynch mob attitude: the killing and the beating of immigrants, the firebombing of their shops and houses, and the more general harassment that many immigrants have faced even in the workplace from their fellow workers attest to that. There are undoubtedly many more people who support the bombing, often not very happily, but for the simple reason they don't see anything else which promises to protect them from further attacks. But there are also a sizeable minority who say, when you talk to them, that it makes no sense to kill other people in the name of the people who were killed here. And, to the extent that we can gauge, there is a small minority that already understands, even if they don't know the history very well, that the U.S. has contributed to making a hell-hole of the Middle East and, more specifically, even of Afghanistan. As could be expected, there are people and perhaps the majority who waver between a range of views, depending on who they are talking to and what has come up in the conversation.
Of course, if there are more terrorist attacks, the situation could harden and the "kill em all" mentality could become much more prevalent although it's difficult really to foresee what the reaction would be in this situation. In any case, there is no doubt that the propaganda coming from every politician and official spokesperson will be more stridently jingoist.
In the situation as it is right now, it's been difficult for people to disagree with what the U.S. is doing to express their disagreement. We don't speak here about militants, but of ordinary people who undoubtedly are intimidated by the constant barrage of propaganda, including above all in their workplaces. In the absence of anyone who has enough confidence to speak out, each one feels isolated, as though he or she were the only one to oppose what is going on, or even just to have doubts.
The trade unions certainly have the size and the implantation to provide a different view. What they do not have is the willingness to oppose the foreign policy carried out by the U.S. state. Once again the trade union bureaucrats have wholeheartedly lined up to throw their support to a U.S. war to the open terrorism being carried on against the Afghan peoples.
Immediately after September 11, they rushed, one after another (in the words of the UAW) "to offer Bush our full support in his efforts to bring these terrorists to justice." Every union paper and website was immediately filled with such statements and calls for the whole population to unite behind the president.
After the U.S. bombing started, no union issued a public statement of protest. It was not until two days after the bombing was underway, that any official statement from the unions even hinted at what had happened, and then in the most disgusting way. Without ever acknowledging that bombs were raining down on Afghanistan, the AFL- CIO paid for a two-age ad appearing in papers in the biggest cities, in which the following avowal appeared: "And we're standing behind our President in the counterattack on terrorism."
With only the current leadership of the trade unions to speak for the working class, it is the jingoism of Bush that wins the day, if only by default. This points up, once again, what it means that there is no revolutionary party or even just a revolutionary organization which could offer a different explanation of the situation as it is, an organization with at least some implantation in important parts of the working class.