Friday, July 15, 2005

Apologists among us

This thought-provoking posting at Norman Geras' blog, Apologists among us, made me think about something that has often occurred to me after one terrorist outrage or another. My reaction, when I hear of a terrorist attack, in Israel, the United States, Britain, Russia, Iraq, etc., is usually first of all shock and sadness, and then anger and often a desire for revenge against the terrorists (not that I'm advocating revenge, but it is one of my first feelings - I would advocate cool analysis, investigation, and measures to find the attackers and defend the vulnerable, instead). I feel helpless. I can't understand why people would do such a thing, especially to innocent civilians (the attack in Baghdad yesterday that killed many children was particularly appalling). I am interested in having a political understanding of how such things occur, but I don't view this as an explanation or excuse for why people commit such atrocities.

A month or so after September 11, I went to NYC to visit friends, and made a trip to the World Trade Center site. I couldn't see much, because of the fence around the whole site, but between the slats I could see the pile and the skeleton left of part of the buildings, a couple of stories high. I also saw another building that wasn't destroyed but had obviously been hit by falling debris and a huge gash in it (I think this was the Deutsche Bank building). It wasn't as horrible a sight as it would have been earlier, but it was still stunning. As I looked at it I was trying to figure out why people would do this - how they could possibly bring themselves to do this - and I had no answer. I took the train back uptown still baffled and shaken.

It didn't occur to me right after the attacks, or at any point thereafter, what the U.S. had done to "deserve this." I thought it was completely undeserved, as I think is true for every terrorist attack. It made me angry that people had attacked our country this way.

For this reason, I'm baffled why people react to terrorist attacks by searching for "root causes," as Norman says. It seems to be part of the whole ethos of blaming the victim, even if the victims include oneself. I think it's important to understand the political framework for these attacks, but that framework includes a lot more than the usual suspects - all the purportedly evil things the U.S. (or Britain) has done in the Middle East.

And I'm even more baffled when people's reaction is that since the attack was caused, for example, by Britain's participation in the Iraq War, that this means that Britain should pull out of Iraq. Isn't that simply giving in to the enemy, declaring defeat? Is the correct answer to an attack surrender, or preparing better defenses and going after the attackers? Even if one opposed Britain's participation in the Iraq war, isn't it simply giving in to terrorists to do what (you think) they want? And why would someone who opposed the war want to give in to terrorists, whom I hope he or she also opposes?


  1. Why did anarchists kill so many leaders during the period around and before the first World War?

    Throughout Europe and America.

    I can tell you part of it. US Presidents, when they saw a problematic strike, would generally send in the troops to shoot the strikers.

    You know, I could see how a person might get upset about this, and see little or no possibility for change, and take more radical steps.


    Was Teddy Roosevelt an "appeaser" or somehow evil for stopping the practice of simply shooting strikers? Did the "terrorists" have a point?


    America has been supporting, in effect, the stability of the dictatorial and despotic regimes of the Middle East for many, many decades.

    It is wrong.

    The US and UK (without any authority) bombed Iraq for a decade between the two Iraq wars.

    It didn't matter how much you might have cared about this, there was no chance at all that the policy would change.

    Some people took to extreme measures. Of the world's 1,000,000,000 Muslims, far less than 100,000 have ever gotten involved in such activity, and far fewer have ever taken up arms or bombs to fight (and here, I am not counting the proxy war in Afghanistan, heavily funded by the US [$3,000,000,000 dollars] and joined by GHW Bush, who declared "Allah-u-Akbar" on the Afghan-Pakistani border while Vice-President).

    Good luck. History is a huge subject. More things happened since I started writing this post than either of us could ever know. Meals eaten, conversations had, business deals made.

  2. I think, Josh, that you're seeing things from such a vast distance that you can't see the individual people here in the U.S. who were killed by the terrorists on September 11.

    We clearly don't agree politically. And I don't think you have all your facts correct. After the first Gulf War, the UN passed resolutions declaring various parts of Iraq no-fly zones - which the U.S. and U.K. were empowered to defend against Iraqi planes. Remember why there were no-fly zones? One was in the north, one in the south. The one in the north was to protect the Kurds from being slaughtered by Saddam's army. It had the net result of making it possible for the Kurds to set up a semi-autonomous democratic state of their own. The one in the south was a case of shutting the barn door after the horse has escaped - we urged the Shi'ites to revolt, and then stood there as Saddam's army killed them. The no-fly zone was to prevent more of that happening. Didn't the Kurds and the Shi'ites deserve to be protected, at least a little bit, from the malevolence of Saddam Hussein & his Baath party?