Democratic Underground

Part Five
September 16, 2001
by Democratic Underground readers

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I remember when I was in college in the late 1980's being accused of being unpatriotic because I refused to support our policy in Central America. I was told that first Reagan and then Bush were our elected leaders and that I should support their fight against our enemies abroad. I said that I had a duty to leave the country better than I found it and thus I would oppose a wrongheaded policy.

The eight years of the Clinton Administration I often thought back to that criticism as I saw a right wing war to bring down a duly elected President being waged. Repeatedly these 'patriots' used lies and smears to try to stoke hatred of those that they don't like and to try to undermine our elected leader.

Now they have sunk even lower. Chris Ruddy of blames Bill Clinton for the bombing, Ann Coulter of the National Review takes pot shots at Hillary while mourning a friend, Jerry Falwell blames the ACLU, abortionists, gays, and lesbians for making God angry, Orrin Hatch blames Bill Clinton too, the list goes on. It simply amazes me the lengths these patriots will go to to trash their enemies. I thought even these people would have the decency to let the bodies cool first.

The contrast with the behavior of liberals could not be more clear. I read numerous liberal sites on the web. A partial list includes this site, bartcop, buzzflash, salon, slate,,, and mediawhoresonline. Not one of these sites saw fit to demonize George Bush or Republicans. Many of them either published emergency numbers or became founts of information on the bombing. The few criticisms of George Bush on these sites were to criticise his response to the attack not to blame him for it. Again the contrast could not be clear. We tried to leave the country better and more united, they tried to blame their enemies and demonize people.

I have never been more proud to be an American nor have I been more proud to be a liberal. Now if only we could get the 'patriots' to act patriotic we would be all set. We will survive this but we must be vigilant. We can not let the false patriots of the right be the only voice. We must fight to leave this country better than we found it.

— Dave Conroy

I woke up on the west coast to scenes of my beloved city. As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I heard the reporter say the World Trade Center was on fire. My first thought was we have had fires before - okay. Then, unbelievably, a plane rammed into the building.

In the 1980's I worked as a temp throughout lower Manhattan. I spent a month on the 86th floor of the World Trade Center. I remember sitting at my desk and seeing the view. Even at that floor, you could see planes, helicopters and the occasional bird. You could see the entire city laid out, including Brooklyn and of course Lady Liberty.

The view needless to say was breathtaking. I cannot fathom what people felt as they watched these planes plow towards them...

God bless them.

Now, I try to be stoic but I cannot seem to wipe the last tear away.

— Michelle

What a pathetic excuse for a United States president we have. For days now I have been listening to New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Governor George Pataki as they explained, described, consoled, and directed. No cue cards. No index cards to tell them what to say or do. Just off he cuff. From their own heads and hearts. Intelligent, capable men who knew what needed to be done and said, and were doing it.

Switch to Louisiana on Tuesday, then Nebraska, then to the White House and what did we get? Pathetically brief comments about "war" and "victory" and "them" and "us." Maybe that kind of butt-kicking mentality is what got us to where we are vis-ŗ-vis the Arab world today. Could not our president at least have done as well as the New York mayor and governor were able to do in this time of fear, anguish, distress, and terrible pain? Mr. Bush's scripted comments were at least coherent, if occasionally falling short of what was needed from our nation's leader, but his off-the-cuff comments were the faltering, struggling, scrambled reflections of the underachiever he has always been.

For those of us who have seen what REAL leadership looks like, in Giuliani and Pataki and New York's other officials, I can only conclude that we have a desperately not-up-to-the-challenge president. For those who recall President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II and their marvelous ability to rally their respective nation's people, and to generate the kind of confidence the times required, this is a sorry version of a U.S. president we have. Heaven help us all.

If he can't lead this country, he should get out of the way of those who can.

— Lois Erwin

In the wake of the recent tragedy, among the many responses from citizens of the United States, one of the most frequently heard, especially among politicians, have been calls for "unity" and giving full support to our President. As one of the many citizens of the United States who lacks substantial confidence in our President, this response concerns me to some degree, because I fear that it represents some sort of knee jerk reaction that implies that we should give our President carte blanche to handle this crisis however he sees fit.

The responses have been many and varied, including many that have been loony and destructive, ranging from calls to round up all the "foreigners" in our country and send them back to where they came from, to demands to make a "parking lot" out of the whole Middle East. I consider people responsible for the latter type of responses to be very similar to the terrorists who attacked this country, although even worse. They are similar to them in that they are filled with hate and that they believe that their hate justifies any conceivable reaction, including the massacre of untold numbers of innocent civilians. They are worse than the terrorists because, unlike them, they live under circumstances where they should know better. If people like that ran our government the world would probably quickly degenerate into chaos, and civilization would soon end.

The response by our government so far has been, as far as I can tell (which isn't much) responsible. The main response, after caring for the victims, has been to find out who is responsible, with the goal of apprehending them and punishing them for what they have done. That is appropriate as far as it goes. But it is not enough. It is sort of like trying to cure a bad case of pneumonia in a person who has AIDS. It needs to be done, but it won't cure the underlying problem. What must be done in addition is to understand the underlying reason for what happened. Only by first doing that, and then addressing the underlying causes, will we ever be able to live in a world where this kind of thing does not happen.

To begin to understand the underlying causes of this problem I think that it is first imperative that we Americans understand something that, judging from most of the comments I have heard, few Americans understand: That is that what happened on September 11th is nothing new. This kind of thing goes on all the time in the world today, as it has since the dawn of human history. Just consider the atrocities that occurred in Yugoslavia, Chechnia, and Rwanda, among numerous other countries, in the 1990s. By comparison what happened to us a few days ago is minor. The only reason why this seems so new to Americans is that it hasnít happened here in almost 60 years.

The fact is that America has an isolationist attitude towards the rest of the world that causes it to tune out these types of events when they happen elsewhere in the world. This attitude is reflected and exacerbated by our news media and by our government. It was typified by George W. Bush as he campaigned for the Presidency when he said clearly that if he is elected President the United States will not get involved in areas of the world where our interests are not directly at stake.

This same kind of attitude, of course, was shared by most countries in the world in the 1930s. This is widely recognized today, as is the fact that this attitude led to the temporary domination of Europe by an evil regime that came close to ending civilization as we know it. We know this today, and we almost uniformly condemn the attitude and actions that led to Nazi domination of Europe and World War II. This lesson is taught in most or all of our schools. So it seems strange to me that this lesson, which is so widely accepted when looked at 60 some years retrospectively, is not recognized when similar circumstances (in many respects) exist in our own time.

The United States contains over 250 million people, of widely varying religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. What goes on within our borders is certainly not perfect by any means, and there is much room for improvement. But it is a far cry from the atrocities that have been occurring in many other countries in recent decades. We would not tolerate that kind of thing within our own borders. If one racial group in Los Angeles began an "ethnic cleansing" campaign against another racial group, our government in Washington wouldn't just sit there and let it happen. Even if they were inclined to do just that, our citizenry wouldn't tolerate it. So why do we (and the rest of the world) tolerate it when it happens in other countries?

There are obviously many and complex reasons for this, but perhaps the main one is that most Americans don't believe that it is in our interest to be concerned with things like this. I believe that the events of September 11th should serve as a message to us that the stability and well being of other parts of the world are indeed of vital interest to our country. That is, these events should provide that message to us. I am afraid, however, that in our zeal to find and punish those responsible for the recent atrocity, we will lose sight of the larger and underlying message. And if that happens we may be successful in our short-term goal without addressing any of the underlying problems. In that case we may have a respite from terrorism for now, but the respite will only be temporary.

Given that there has been a great deal of hate in the world throughout human history, and given that this has led to violence and atrocities on massive scales throughout human history, what is the underlying cause of this? There are many and varied opinions on the answer to this question, and probably no general consensus. My understanding of human history is that perhaps the most important common denominator for hate, violence, and atrocity in the world is wide disparities in wealth, and therefore in living conditions, between people. Certainly much of the world today live under conditions that would be considered unthinkable for many people who live in relatively wealthy countries such as the United States. I have heard the life of a typical terrorist described as "desperate" and "hopeless." If that doesn't describe the situation of the people who recently attacked our country, why else would they spend months or years training for a mission which if "successful" would result in their crashing into a building and burning to death?

My main concern with the Bush administration is that it seems committed to a course that would ignore the issues that I have discussed above (this was obvious during the Presidential campaign of 2000). In the first place, within the United States the Bush administration seems committed to increasing, rather than decreasing disparities in wealth between people. This of course is the obvious intention and effect of his tax cut, which goes disproportionately into the pockets of the wealthy in this country. When this was pointed out during the election campaign Mr. Bush couldn't dispute this fact, so he defended it instead, by saying that these wealthy people deserve to have this money because it is their money - as if their value to society were 100 or 1000 times as great as the majority of American working people.

Similarly, the Bush administration's attitude towards the rest of the world is manifested by its turning away from environmental and human rights issues which need our support. Because we are the most powerful nation in the world today, many complex worldwide efforts to address critical global problems are likely to succeed only with our support and participation. So if we decide not to participate it shouldn't be surprising when these efforts fail.

Enough said. I believe that the long-term issues having to do with terrorism are far more important than the short-term issues. In other words I believe that even if we are completely successful in finding and punishing those responsible for the recent atrocities, the world will continue to be filled with hate, violence and terror unless and until the long-term problems are dealt with satisfactorily. That is why I believe that it is counterproductive, even at this time of crisis, to have a knee jerk response that says we will fall behind our leader and give him full support for whatever he decides to do.

— Kevin Tavris

For the past few days the skies have been overcast, rainy, and downright gloomy here in the southern New Mexico mountains. The astronomer in me would normally find this rather frustrating, but right now I don't really seem to care, since it matches my mood almost exactly.

Like all Americans, and I suspect - and hope - most people around the planet, I was shocked and horrified by the events of this past Tuesday. I've seen the televised images countless times: the passenger jetliners crashing into the towers of the World Trade Center, the subsequent crumbling of those structures onto the ground; and I'm still not sure that the fact that these are not glitzy special effects in some adventure movie, but rather are stone cold reality, has sunk into my brain. I cannot even begin to imagine the horror that must have been experienced by those aboard the hijacked airliners, in and near the World Trade Center, and in the Pentagon during those moments when their lives were snatched from them. As I contemplate the thousands of innocent people who lost their lives in such a senseless slaughter, I search for answers to the same questions that I'm sure haunt everyone else who has seen these images: who could have done this? And why?

As horrible as these scenes are, what sinks me into the deepest despair is the fact that this is nothing new. We've seen this thing before, countless times. We see it all the time in the land that some people call Israel and others call Palestine: the seemingly never-ending stream of young Palestinian suicide bombers in supermarkets and shopping malls, and in the continuing shelling of Palestinians and demolition of their homes by Israeli tanks and bulldozers. We saw it in the frightened face of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durrah before he was cut down by gunfire at Netzarim, and in the bloodied bodies of Israeli soldiers dangling from the window of the police station at Ramallah.

We see it elsewhere, too. We've seen slaughter in the streets of Northern Ireland, and in the jungles of East Timor. We saw it during the Nazi regime, when six million Jews were sent to unspeakable deaths during the Holocaust, and in the killing fields of Cambodia during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, and in the ethnic cleansing that has gone on in the Balkans. We saw it in all the burnings-at-the-stake during the Inquisition, in the streets running full of blood during the Crusades, and in the bloodbath upon bloodbath upon bloodbath that has marked almost every era of human history.

And before we Americans start to feel too smug, we've seen it here, too, and by our own hands. We're seeing it right now in hate-filled attacks against American citizens simply because they are of Arab origin or of Islamic faith. We saw it in the beating and dragging deaths of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd. We saw it in the destruction of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. We've seen it in faraway places like My Lai and No Gun Ri, and closer to home in the death squads of Honduras and El Salvador. We saw it in the slave ships that came from Africa, and in the slave plantations of the 19th Century, and in the lynchings of the 20th. We saw it in the way our ancestors took this land from those who were here first.

And, lest we forget, the death toll in Hiroshima and Nagasaki - cities full of unarmed civilians - numbered in the tens of thousands. Let's also remember that these were only a small fraction of the tens of millions of lives - military and civilian, and on all sides - that were lost during World War II.

Of course, we humans have accomplished many wonderful things as well. We've landed people on the moon and brought them safely back to Earth, and we've made extraordinary progress against the many diseases that have afflicted us throughout our history. We've gleaned secrets from the farthest galaxies in the universe, and from the cells within our bodies that tell us who we are. And we've made progress on other fronts, too; we often talk through our disagreements, both as individuals and as nations, and don't always find it necessary to sink to fisticuffs, or to war.

My heart sings when I think of the heroism of the rescue workers in New York, many of whom have risked - and sacrificed - their lives for their fellow human beings, and of the people around the country, and around the world, who have donated their blood for the victims of Tuesday's tragedy. I rejoice as I continue to receive messages of sympathy and shock from friends and colleagues all over the world (including, I add for the benefit of Americans who might want to engage in stereotyping, my scientific colleagues in Iran). When I contemplate these types of actions, I begin to believe that perhaps there is hope for us humans.

There are parts of me that want to wreak the vilest vengeance upon the perpetrators of Tuesday's actions, and that of course is a sentiment that I am seeing many places now. I hear talk of declaring, and preparing for, a state of war. But against who? And, ultimately, what good would it do? You can't very well threaten with death someone who considers it the highest honor to be killed for his cause. And even if we were able to wage war against and kill those who were responsible, aren't we just going to provide incentive for many more individuals who would want to follow in their footsteps?

And if we do engage in war, aren't we far more likely to kill unarmed civilians than we are to kill the responsible perpetrators? What good does that do? The passions this would enflame would almost certainly provide recruitment incentives for our adversaries. Perhaps more importantly, it would simply bring us down to their level. I would somehow like to believe that we can be better than that, and that we can rise above our darkest impulses. Can we?

Our response to this past week's attacks represents one of the severest challenges we have ever faced as a nation, and as the human race as a whole. I have to admit that I don't have much in the way of answers here. I'd like to think - with every part of my being - that there is some way that we could bring the perpetrators of Tuesday's actions to appropriate justice, yet still retain the humanity that we've struggled so hard to achieve. But maybe there isn't. As much as this might go against everything I'd like to say I believe in, perhaps the only way to prevent recurrences of events like last Tuesday's is indeed to engage in an all-out, no-holds-barred, civilians-be-damned, total state of war.

If that's really the case, then I do have a couple of suggestions. After we've made the world safe from terrorism, or whatever it is we'd be trying to do, let's take a good, hard look at all the carnage we'll have left around us - that's if there are any of us left to look around, of course - and let's drop any pretense we might have that we're somehow "noble" or "righteous." We should also forget for a while about exploring space, or researching stem cells, or trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe, or other such pursuits. Those are activities for a mature species, and it'll be all too clear that we'll still have a lot of growing up left to do.

— Alan Hale