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Dont Let the Terrorists Win
(Zenger's Editorial, October 2001)


The early-morning terrorist attack on the United States September 11 by hijackers who took over four commercial airliners and turned them into guided missiles that destroyed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon also destroyed the uniquely American naivete that somehow our country was immune to being a battleground. Until then, the seemingly eternal conflicts over land and religion in the Middle East were a spectator sport for us, one we could watch on TV and chuckle over the idiocy of those people killing each other for reasons that to us seemed trivial and silly.

I don't think this country will ever be the same again. Even as I write this, two days after the attack, I feel a sense that this will be a watershed; that we will see time in terms of before and after. The attack on our psyches goes much farther than the deaths of 3,000 or more people, the indefinite cancellation of all commercial flying, the closure of the stock markets and the postponements of sporting events.

America has finally been dragged into the maelstrom of the new and especially horrible kind of war that has existed since the development of long-range cannons in the late 18th century and the perfection of large airplanes in the 1930's. Before then, war was mostly an affair of professional soldiers, fighting on battlefields largely separated from the countries they were fighting over. Now the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians has become so much a part of the strategies and tactics of war that we take it for granted and no longer single out a country that wantonly bombs another and kills its people willy-nilly as particularly evil.

Maybe it will be different now that we've been on the receiving end. Maybe - just maybe - people in this country will remember that what these shadowy terrorists just did to New York and Washington, D.C. is what our own air forces have been doing, merrily and proudly, for over a decade to Baghdad, Belgrade and any other city whose people have had the misfortune to live under a leader who displeased us. Maybe those of us who watched those bombings as cool light shows on CNN will get a glimpse of the slaughter, horror and pain such attacks really entail, now that Americans used to dishing it out are now having to take it.

Hardly likely. What's more likely is that we will respond not from a demand for justice, but for revenge. We will use the sketchy evidence we have so far to justify more of our own attacks on civilian populations in other countries, just as we did three years ago when we responded to the blowing up of an American embassy in Kenya by wantonly destroying a medicines factory in Sudan. And if we do that, we will only make still more people in that part of the world hate us so much that some of them will want to become suicide bombers themselves, staging further attacks on the U.S. and escalating the cycle of terror and senseless death.

The evidence so far - particularly the identities and ethnic backgrounds of the hijackers who have been traced at this point - indicates that this is indeed a product of Middle Eastern terrorists (unlike the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, which was also at first reflexively blamed on "Arab terrorists" and eventually turned out to be the work of two domestic racist loonies). That in itself is cause for fear that the entire Arab-American community will be stigmatized, profiled and even incarcerated the way Japanese-Americans were after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Already San Diego's largest mosque has received death threats on its answering machine from obnoxious dolts who believe everyone who practices Islam is somehow responsible for this madness.

What should we do? First, we should tone down the rhetoric (which I've used a few times above myself) comparing this to war. War, for all its evils, is at least an above-board struggle between enemies who identify themselves as such. For all the horrors of the Pearl Harbor attack, at least it was carried out in planes marked as Japanese and against a legitimate military target. This was not. Despite all President Bush's rhetoric about holding responsible not only the terrorists themselves but also "those countries who harbor them," the last thing we should want to do is regard entire countries as our enemies and turn a devastating act of terror into an even more devastating and deadly all-out war.

Second, we should accept the help of the international community. Until September 11 the United States, especially under Bush II, was acquiring the reputation of being a bully state whose leaders felt its military might entitled it to break any treaty, foul any commitment to any other country, in pursuit of its short-term interests. Now we know that sort of conduct cannot protect us against attacks like these. We need the help of other nations - especially Arab and Islamic countries - to stop the cycle of terrorism by working with us to bring these perpetrators to justice and deny future would-be terrorists the safe harbors they need to plan and execute their missions.

Ideally, the people who committed these crimes should be judged at the International Criminal Court in The Hague (which the U.S. until now has steadfastly refused to be part of, and which we should now join). The nations of the world should get together to fight terrorism the way they have historically fought piracy, as a violation of international as well as national law, while at the same time working together to end long-term violations of civil rights (like the Israeli occupation of Palestine) that give the sickos who do these acts their fig leaf of self-justification.

Here at home, the sooner we get ourselves back to normal lives, the better. The longer planes do not fly, public buildings and financial markets stay closed, and sports teams do not play, the longer the terrorists can claim success in disrupting our institutions and our lives. The whole purpose of terrorism, as the very word suggests, is to make its targets afraid and destroy their joy in life. Far more than any military retaliation, our refusal to let this heinous and cowardly act stop us from living our lives as a free and joyful people will deny those who committed these acts any sense of victory.


Bush's Reichstag Fire
(Zenger's Editorial, November 2001)


On February 27, 1933 - just 3 1/2 weeks after Adolf Hitlers Nazis took power in Germany - a crazed ex-Communist named Van der Lubbe set fire to the Reichstag, the building where the German legislature met, and burned it down. The Nazis' response was to use this act of terrorism as an excuse to call the legislature into session for the purpose of passing the so-called Enabling Acts, which set aside the democratic rights of the German people under their constitution and allowed Hitler and his gang to do what they had always wanted to do - to run Germany as a singularly brutal and vicious dictatorship - for the next 12 years.

Though the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001 were far more devastating than the Reichstag fire and cost far more lives - and though they were clearly the work of a far more organized and efficient group of terrorists (as terrorists go, Van der Lubbe was a lone crazy who clearly had much more in common with Timothy McVeigh than Osama Bin Laden), there's one sickening parallel. Like Adolf Hitler, George W. Bush and his political cronies are using September 11 as an excuse not only to gut the Constitution of its free-expression and due-process protections but to enact a sweeping program of additional welfare for the rich.

Its been clear from the start of the Bush II Presidency that the only reason this consummately untalented man ever wanted to live in the White House was to figure out new ways to enrich himself and his friends. And while the rest of the nation recoils in horror from the attacks, Bush II and company are cynically and implacably using the crisis as a way to continue and intensify their Robin-Hood-in-reverse program of taking from the poor to give to the rich - and as an excuse to quash all dissent in advance by declaring it unpatriotic and even treasonous.

As horribly destructive as they are for human lives and resources, wars can actually be good for an economy. They can - as America's involvement in World War II in fact did - be used to stimulate production and put people to work. But this war, at least so far, is having the opposite effect. Congress has already enacted a $40 billion giveaway to the airline industry, which is in the middle of sweeping layoffs of large numbers of employees. Congress could have made the subsidy contingent on the airlines' keeping their work forces intact (the way they did when they bailed out Chrysler in the 1970's), but nobody - Republican or Democrat - even bothered to suggest that.

Bush's so-called "stimulus" for the economy consists of speeding up the massive tax cuts to the rich already given him by a supine Congress. What's more, he's proposing a cut in the capital-gains tax (which will make it even easier and more profitable for stock speculators to continue to sell America short in the financial markets) and a repeal of the alternative minimum tax for corporations. What that means, in plain English, is a return to those thrilling days in the Reagan administration in which, by sufficiently creative accounting, some of America's biggest and most profitable companies were able to juggle their IRS reports, legally, so that they paid no income taxes at all.

In terms of domestic rights and civil liberties, the Bush administration's opportunism in the face of crisis is even worse than on the economic front. Not only has it responded to the attacks by creating a new Cabinet-level agency with the ominously fascistic name "Office of Homeland Security," but Bushs appointee to head it - former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge - was the architect of the blatantly unconstitutional strategy of pre-emptively arresting potential demonstrators before last summer's Republican convention in Philadelphia.

The self-righteously named "Uniting and Strengthening America (USA) Act" (S. 1510) the Bush administration and Congressional leaders are currently zipping through the process is a blatant recipe for the suppression of all forms of dissent, not just "terrorism." It vastly expands the authority of the secret five-member courts that approve government requests to wiretap private citizens, allows government to monitor individuals private communications wherever they go, and so expansively defines "terrorism" that anyone who joins or donates to an organization that stages a demonstration during which someone throws a rock through a store window can be branded a "terrorist."

The economic and political repression go hand in hand in the current Administrations agenda. The long-term project to make the rich richer and the poor poorer demands a tough police state to keep the poor (including the formerly "middle-class" as they find themselves less and less able to afford the necessities of life) from rebelling and threatening the establishment. Since the November-December 1999 Seattle protests against economic globalization, weve seen an increasing toughness in governments response to dissent in all forms. As Patricia Nell Warren noted in her excellent articles in the June and September 2001 issues of Art & Understanding, people involved in acts of civil disobedience that used to be punished with small fines, probations or modest jail terms are now being hit with heavy financial penalties, felony charges and threatened sentences of a year or more.

It's clear that the bipartisan, corporate-owned American government - of which the Bush administration is just the most open and blatant part - has seized on the terrorist attacks as a Godsend for their anti-civil liberties agenda. Like Hitler seizing on the Reichstag fire as an excuse for building his dictatorship, Bush and his helpers in both major parties are seizing on the genuine terrorist peril to our country as an excuse to build an apparatus of repression in which "freedom" will remain a key part of our "we're-better-than-they-are" rhetoric but will cease to exist as a reality on our streets.

Both articles copyright (c) 2001 by Mark Gabrish Conlan.

I want to visit the Myshkins' page

This article copyright (c) Mark Gabrish Conlan.