Speech at October 11th rally at University of California, Santa Cruz:

By Manuel Schwab

October 11th, 2001

Donald Antrim, in his response to the September 11th attacks on the Twin Towers, attacks which he watched on television from Europe where, as he reminds us, “the destruction of cities exists in living memory,” asks “is the United States now a part of the rest of the world?”

The question should startle us; not because anyone should be surprised that the United States is considered by much of the globe as a population politically exempt from accountability to its neighbors, but because it should bring home a point much overlooked by Americans in our response to the September 11th crisis. For much of the rest of the world, destruction of buildings exists not only in living memory, but as a present reality. This is a reality that returned home one month ago today.

I do not use the term “home” lightly here. The carnage that some of us witnessed, that most of us had mediated to us by the television and radio industry, is not simply a general catastrophe that resides across the globe on account of a natural human tendency for war and collective aggression. It is a reality that has in one sense always existed here, as the invisible side of our government’s international policies, as the unfortunate side-product of our economic security.

To say that the reality of the world returned on September 11th is surely insane. We, as opponents of the present retaliation against Afghanistan, must certainly recognize that War is an unreal nightmare that we must dedicate ourselves to eradicating. But I think that the events of September 11th demand of us a rarely asked, less rarely answered question: When did the war really begin?

The reality that has returned from the lands upon which our foreign policy is played out is the reality of the Palestinian cities of the West Bank, in which the systematic destruction of orchards has been carried out without US condemnation, alongside missile attacks against Palestinian infrastructure by US funded, and US manufactured weaponry. It is the reality of an entire generation of youth that makes up the ranks of the present Intifada, who have all too often been fatally shot by soldiers carrying US weaponry. This is a reality that has been with us much longer than we think.

It is the reality of Iraq since the Gulf war, a country against which the weekly bombing campaigns have never really ceased, and whose population, when not faced with these direct bombings, must contend with the disease and starvation issuing forth from continued US sanctions aimed at deposing Saddam Hussein. Hussein, in turn, remains almost entirely unaffected, bolstered in part by the military strength the United States gave him to fight Khomeini in the Iran-Iraq war of past decades.

And it is, of course, the reality of Afghanistan, the Afghanistan of a decade ago as much as the Afghanistan of the last five days. In 1986, then CIA chief William Casey took three actions that he believed would help the US backed Mujaheddin defeat the Soviet Army that was threatening a takeover of that country. As part of the strategic maneuvers undertaken to win the cold war, Casey provided the Mujaheddin with American made Stinger Missiles, provided CIA Operatives for the training of the militants, and supported an initiative by the Pakistani Intelligence Agency to recruit radical Muslim militants from around the region. The training camps of this cold war conflict were the training camps of Osama Bin Laden. He built massive weapons storage complexes in the region with CIA funds, he set up training camps of his own, he was an operative on our side of that particular war. His Jihad began a decade later, fueled by his anger at the continuing military presence in the region after the Gulf War.

This is the reality that has been our country’s hidden face for as long as most of us have been alive. It is the reality that returned home on September 11th; the reality that we are desperately trying to push back to the peripheries where it was once contained. Now let us be clear, to link the attack of September 11th to the US’ Mideast policy is not to condone those attacks, as they are the return of a reality that was unbearable to begin with, and is no more bearable upon its return. It is not to provide an exhaustive explanation of the war in which we are now engaged, as no explanation seems complete. It is, rather, an appeal to those of us who see ourselves as having become targets overnight, an appeal to take the outrage behind the attacks seriously, to remember what it means to the rest of the world when we veto UN Security Council Resolutions against the bombing of civilians in Palestine. It is, in short, an appeal to all of us to ask ourselves seriously the question “when did this war really begin?”

We have been warned by Edward Said that “the equation between understanding and condoning is profoundly wrong.” If we fail to attempt to understand the systemic motivations behind the attack, preferring to pretend that they sprung from nowhere, we engage in the short-sighted ignorance that is a precondition for militarism. All too long, that ignorance has been willed. The fact of a strike on United States soil does nothing to bring us closer to being part of the rest of the world. Not yet, as we are still in grave danger of understanding war as an unfortunate but unavoidable exception to a general peace.

Those of us who resist wars like this one—wars of that rare variety, the kind our government calls by name—know that it is our highest goal to refuse to allow our bodies to be drawn into battle. What we fail to recognize is that in the unpublicized wars of our day-to-day, the draft is being carried out by other means.

Hannah Arendt has written that “…in politics obedience and support are the same.” How many of us, however, were capable of understanding the true content of our citizenship, and the true face of our country’s policies during the years in which this war was covert? Few of us recognized it for what it was, because we had been drafted into a homefront army that saw only “democracy” when we looked at belligerent interventions, only “freedom” when we looked at economic domination, and all too often saw “peace” when we were actually confronting war. And so we did not resist. We had been drafted into the consensual fantasy that we were a peaceful nation, defending democracy; a fantasy that is today just as much part of the armature of war as the industries that help produce it. While the draft of our bodies seems to many of us inconceivable, we have unwittingly been compelled to obey with the draft of our minds.

Now that we are faced with the concerted effort on the part of the United States to once again negate the implication of September 11th, we must ask ourselves whether a resistance to this war is meaningful without a resistance to the fantasy that generates it. If we ask for a return to a peacetime normalcy we are missing the point, that normalcy never existed except in our ignorance: on account of a war held from sight by the power of our nationalist illusions.

In 1954, while trying to oust an unsympathetic government in Iran, the CIA invented a term for the unintended consequences of covert US activities. They called them “blowback” and it is a term that can be aptly applied to much of what I have always hated about our government’s policies. This is the path we are on today, towards more “blowback”, and I am deeply appalled.

There is, however, one form of blowback that I would whole-heartedly embrace: one unintended consequence that I deem indispensable—a precondition for pacifism. We must generate this blowback at home. It must be based in a thorough, intelligent, and obdurate refusal to buy back into the illusion yet again. It must come from those of us who believe that we can no longer afford to have our people made targets along with the rest of the world. It is the blowback of a systematic disobedience, a signal that the ranks of the reserve army of public sentiment are deserting, and the proof that this is an army without whom this war cannot be fought.

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