Justice for September 11 Victims!
Congress Must Act Now to Guarantee Full, Fair, and Immediate Compensation for All!
by David Jones
The author is a member of the Labor Standard editorial committee and a longtime trade union activist.
The ghastly and chilling sight of New York’s World Trade Center towers collapsing into rubble on September 11, carrying thousands to their deaths, now takes its place in the grisly catalog of political mass killing in the modern era. The hijacking and deliberate destruction of the four airliners triggered a human disaster of extraordinary character and proportion within the boundaries of the United States. The consequences of these heinous and reactionary acts, which have brought immense and almost unprecedented anguish to the residents of this country, continue to ripple out in widening concentric circles from what, in a phrase that contains far more than it is intended to, has been dubbed “Ground Zero.”
There can be no doubt that as a visual image of virtually instantaneous mass extinction of human life through human agency the only adequate comparisons are the horrifying and indelible pictures of the mushroom clouds rising over Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
This, of course, is not the analogy that the Bush administration and other agencies of the American ruling class seek to present to the people of the United States. “America Under Attack!” and “America United!” rolled by continuously on television screens as the normally lethargic United States Congress rose in almost frenzied response to the president’s orations at its joint session on September 21 with repeated standing ovations that seemed peculiarly similar to familiar film footage of Reichstag rallies of the Nazi era, seen often on the various cable television channels devoted to endless replays of World War II.
Unity for What?
The question of “unity” for what and for whose benefit is left unaddressed by the media and the politicians. Inherent in this silence is the presumption that “America’s” interests are one and indivisible. This is the permanent and unchanging message of all our ideological institutions. It is reiterated continuously through the mass media, the schools, the compulsory singing of the national anthem and recitation of the pledge of allegiance at events from ball games to classrooms to union meetings. Its ultimate symbol is the flag, now spontaneously displayed on every block in deep and sincere solidarity with the victims of the World Trade Center catastrophe.
Nonetheless it is inevitable that eventually the fault lines of class society will be refracted through the prism of this crisis, as they are in all social crises. Even in World War II, where patriotism and deep-going sentiments of national unity were at a peak never reached before or since, and where the multiple factions of the union bureaucracy were committed to no-strike pledges subordinating workers’ needs to the war effort, class tensions accumulated. The employers reaped billions in superprofits from cost-plus government contracts while workers’ wages were frozen. But the accumulated grievances and tensions were released explosively as soon as the war was over. The largest strike wave in U.S. history erupted in 1945–46, led by the new CIO industrial unions created in the 1930s labor upsurge. And even during the war, the United Mine Workers Union, headed by the bold and charismatic John L Lewis, defied no-strike conditions and a frenzy of patriotic condemnation to conduct a militant strike against the coal operators.
Already, $15 billion has been authorized in direct grants to the airlines. At the same time, Northwest Airlines, for example, which has announced job cuts totaling 10,000, has unilaterally refused to issue contractually due severance payments to the thousands of laid off workers under union contract. The company invoked the doctrine of “force majeure,” meaning that events beyond its control gave it legal basis for invalidating the agreement. No such argument was made in opposition to the multi-billion dollar relief package for the airlines as it was rushed through Congress on September 21.
And with ineffable effrontery, the employers’ mouthpiece in the Upper Midwest, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, editorially advised leaders of two public employee unions on the verge of leading 30,000 state workers out on strike on October 1: “Now would be a terrible time to strike…Keeping paychecks flowing now seems a patriotic duty.” (Emphasis added.) No such admonition, it should not be necessary to say, was addressed to Minneapolis-based Northwest Airlines, one of the state’s largest employers.
“Minnesota lives in a different world from that of Sept. 4, when the two largest state employees unions filed notice of their intention to strike,” the editors wrote. The unions, they warned, “can no longer be confident of widespread public support if their members take to the picket lines. With the layoff toll mounting…tens of thousands of Minnesotans face the prospect of lower incomes this year. Their capacity to sympathize with workers holding out for a few dollars more is eroding fast.”
Is this a prediction, or a wish? Contrary to its pretensions of omniscient neutrality, neither this newspaper nor any other major metropolitan daily has ever endorsed a workers’ strike for higher wages within living memory. Anyone who has a passing acquaintance with labor history knows that the employers have always seized on war and disaster to demand national unity — under their rules. No strikes, no dissent, no challenges to the existing capitalist order. The working masses are called upon to sacrifice their standard of living and their democratic rights while the employers reap in profits. U.S. entry into World War I precipitated a long-awaited attack by the employers, both legal and extra-legal, on militant workers and farmers organizations that continued well into the 1920s with the celebrated Palmer Raids and other attacks, which culminated on August 31, 1918, in what up to that point was the longest criminal trial in U.S. history. One hundred and one members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were convicted in a Chicago federal courtroom of interfering with the war effort and sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years.
Justice and Compensation
The overwhelming majority of those killed on Sept. 11 were ordinary wage earners. The list of confirmed dead, which is perhaps one-tenth of the 7,000 estimated to have been killed, are mostly people in their twenties, thirties, and forties—those most likely to have minor children. It has been calculated that over 1,000 belonged to labor unions. As many as 50 members of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union employed at Windows on the World, a fancy restaurant located at the top of One World Trade Center, are missing and presumed dead. Lives of scores of building trades workers, service employees, and communication workers, as well as hundreds of the celebrated New York City firefighters, were lost. In an ironic twist of fate, most building maintenance workers, primarily members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), survived, because their lot in life calls for them to work the second and third shifts.
What will happen to the families deprived of wage earners’ income, health insurance, future prospects for education, and much more? What happens to the tens, or hundreds of thousands that are losing their jobs as a result?
There is a striking, and what should be distasteful, contrast between the alacrity of the Congress to fork over billions to greedy and opportunistic corporations lining up for government largesse and the obvious high-level consensus that the rank and file victims will be succored only by passing the collection plate among the public at large. Since this is America, it should be known in advance that large portions of the money donated, which can hardly be expected to be adequate even for the immediate needs of the survivors and family members of those killed, will be siphoned off for administrative expense and salaries, and other miscellaneous expenses. This is the record of every large-scale disaster in this country, from floods to tornadoes to civil disorder. The president of the American Red Cross, which is ostensibly devoted to providing emergency aid to disaster victims, is now seen hourly on every TV channel soliciting blood donations. The Red Cross reaps a billion dollars a year in profits from reselling the blood contributed gratis by public-spirited citizens. The association hands out sandwiches, blankets and coffee to disaster victims and banks the rest. The Red Cross has not “patriotically” offered, for example, to suspend the huge salaries of their top officers and to share, at least for the interim, their profits in blood with the victims of September 11.
It is an absolute certainty that more billions will be made available by the government to corporations that experienced or claim losses as a result of the destruction. The cost of replacing and rebuilding lost facilities is almost unimaginable. Who will pay and who will receive? The answer is clear already.
The only way to guarantee adequate compensation for the rank and file victims is for a legally enforceable political decision to be made that these individuals have an absolute right to a moral and material claim on society for just and adequate redress for their losses, guaranteed through suitable statutes and entitlements. The satisfaction of such claims, especially given their present scope and urgency, can only be effected through the power and resources of government. This is exactly what the rulers seek to avoid. Endorsing the legitimacy of this concept would open the door to discussion of other questions — the future of Social Security, for example, where the politicians are already invoking September 11 as a rationale for attacking the system.
Why shouldn’t this society politically guarantee as a fundamental, unshakable, and enforceable principle that every citizen (or resident) is entitled the assurance of a secure old age, with adequate housing, medical care, and other essentials, entirely independent of any fiduciary questions about the so-called Social Security fund? After all, the military budget does not depend on the solvency of a finite “defense fund” to which every worker makes an involuntary contribution through each paycheck. If the military needs more money, they get it. Period.
“Act of War”
One, and perhaps the only, perceptive and cogent observation to escape from the mouth of President Bush during this crisis — one which we may be forgiven for suspecting was not original with him — was that this was “an act of war.” It was, in the sense that it was not only a symbolic attack — if it was symbolic — but a significant and material blow, with immense consequences.
The two World Trade towers alone had scores of tenants whose business apparatuses were totally destroyed. One of the largest, occupying three floors in the WTC North Tower, was Empire Health Choice, a health care insurer operating a vast HMO network through New York State. All claims submitted to them were processed at their WTC offices. The company has notified its institutional customers that they are unable to process payments because they have no access to their records or method of communication. This alone creates a widening disaster for the hundreds of thousands of enrollees who depend on insurance verification to get access to their medical care providers. Many people have had the unpleasant experience of health care claims that are not validated by the insurer due to some temporary lapse in record. Multiply this by hundreds of thousands of claims mounting daily and some sense of the dimension of this emerges. Who or what will solve this problem? What compensation will be available for the dependents of those killed? Will the life insurance companies also invoke “force majeure”?
Already, at this writing, it is reported that thousands are losing their health care insurance. Workers whose coverage depends on full-time employment, now working part-time hours as a result of the fallout from the attacks, are being denied benefits. For example, the International Association of Machinists announced that over 1,000 limousine drivers, members of their union, are experiencing a sharp drop in demand for their services from corporate clients traveling to New York airports. To be eligible for health care benefits, the drivers have to prove that they are working full time, and trips have been reduced by 80 percent in the present crisis.
The as yet unproven universal assumption is that the motivation of the hijackers was to strike a blow against American petroleum imperialism, both symbolic and material. As symbols, the targets could hardly have been more palpable. The Pentagon, of course, is, and has been for the entire post–World War II period, the headquarters and primary organizing center for the application of U.S. military power around the globe. The World Trade Center, located in the Wall Street financial district of Manhattan, is not only the most visible and important single center for the administration of the U.S. financial and banking empire, but in essence the citadel of the Rockefeller family, whose name is virtually synonymous with oil imperialism, in the Middle East and elsewhere. In the mid-1950s, alarmed by the stagnation and decay of the Wall Street district, where the family’s Chase Bank had huge real-estate investments, David Rockefeller initiated a project to revitalize the area with what would be the equivalent today of a multi-billion dollar undertaking, and, in the Rockefeller tradition, at public expense.
At the core of Rockefeller’s project was the creation of the World Trade Center, twin 110-story skyscrapers that would occupy sixteen of the most valuable acres in the world. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a “Rockefeller-packed” institution, as the historian Ferdinand Lundberg described it, underwrote the development, which had the power to condemn land and borrow money at tax-exempt rates. After the buildings’ completion, the problem of filling it with tenants was aided by the action of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to sign a forty-year lease on 60 floors of one building to house over two dozen state offices. By the mid-1970s the state was generously paying $4 million more in annual rent for its 2.3 million square feet than private tenants were paying for comparable areas. The buildings themselves are under the aegis of the Port Authority and thus are tax-exempt.
A “New Pearl Harbor” and the Old One
Comparisons were immediately made to the December 1941 Japanese air attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. That event galvanized U.S. public opinion in support of entry into World War II. It was also, obviously, a “sneak attack” — that is, an assault committed without prior notice or carried out in the course of a duly declared war.
There is another aspect to the Pearl Harbor analogy that was not addressed in the media or by the politicians and talking heads. That is, the attack on Pearl Harbor had been famously and publicly foreseen nearly 20 years before it happened. The legendary American general William (“Billy”) Mitchell, court-martialed in 1925 for his stubborn and insubordinate advocacy of air power, submitted a report in early 1924 after returning from Japan, sometimes called “the masterpiece of his career.” In it he anticipated Japanese imperial expansion in the Pacific, including a scenario for an attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor in what he correctly believed would be the start of a war in the Pacific. His prediction was so precise as to include the times, date and location of the attack. Mitchell said the attack would be made first on Ford Island (Hawaii) at 7:30 am and then on Clark Field (Philippines) at 10:40 am on a Sunday morning in December. It would be in December, he said, when a maximum of military personnel had been granted leave for the holidays, and on a Sunday morning, the sleepiest and most relaxed time of the week. When the attack finally came, it was just as Mitchell had anticipated. His times were off by 25 minutes at Ford Island and 2 hours at Clark Field. As tension between the U.S. and Japan mounted after the beginning of World War II in 1939, Mitchell restated his thesis in a syndicated article published widely in Sunday newspapers in December 1940.
On November 26, 1941, the U.S. State Department presented Japan with a memorandum demanding that Japan withdraw “all military, naval, air, and police forces from China and Indochina.” At the same time Dutch-owned oil fields in Indonesia refused to ship Japanese oil. Earlier, in July 1941, the U.S. government, together with the British and the Dutch, imposed an embargo on the sale of petroleum, iron, and steel to Japan, which had no significant internal source of oil, coal, and iron ore, essential to any industrial economy. As the historian Charles Beard wrote in 1948, “[Roosevelt] had pushed his insistence on a maximum program to the point of explosion…”
American public opinion was deeply divided over entry into another World War, while the Roosevelt administration was privately committed to war with Japan and Germany. Gallup polls, closely monitored by Roosevelt, showed that over three-quarters of the respondents opposed intervention in a new European war. Suspicions, which have simmered ever since, that Roosevelt welcomed and indeed took positive steps to provoke a preemptive Japanese attack have now been confirmed beyond doubt by a startling new book, Day of Deceit, by Robert Stinnett. The author, a decorated WWII Navy veteran and a long-time journalist, obtained access in 1994 through the Freedom of Information Act to one million pages of declassified Naval records relating to U.S. intelligence communications before and during WWII.
The files reveal that, contrary to the official story propagated since the attack on Pearl Harbor, American intelligence had cracked the Japanese naval codes in the early fall of 1940, and as a result knew the exact daily locations of the Japanese fleet as it approached Hawaii.
Stinnett’s most chilling discovery is a 1940 memorandum written by Lt. Commander Arthur McCollum, head of the Far East desk of the Office of Naval Intelligence for the president’s attention. McCollum’s memo outlined a policy for the president designed to provoke the Japanese into committing “an overt act of war” against the United States. McCollum wrote that such a strategy was necessary because “it is not believed that in the present state of political opinion, the United States government is capable of declaring war against Japan.” He proposed eight specific “actions” that the United States should take to make this happen. Action “F” was to keep “the main strength” of the U.S. Pacific Fleet “in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands.” McCollum concluded his memo by writing that “if by these means Japan could be led to commit an overt act of war, so much the better.” Roosevelt put every one of the eight suggested actions into effect. He implemented the last one (Action H) on July 26, 1941, when he ordered a complete embargo of all U.S. trade with Japan.
Three thousand American lives were lost at Pearl Harbor. Lt. Commander Joseph Rochefort, who was in charge of the code-breaking operation and a close friend of McCollum’s, later remarked that “it was a pretty cheap price to pay for unifying the country.”
The Far-Reaching Costs of Corporate Greed
Perhaps the damage at Pearl Harbor was more extensive than the plotters in Washington had anticipated. Roosevelt said in secret sessions before the attack that he was “willing to lose one cruiser, but not five or six.” There is no doubt that the Japanese attack was a massive blow, resulting in vast destruction of U.S. naval power. The U.S. did not regain the upper hand in the Pacific until the Battle of Midway in 1943.
It seems virtually impossible that anyone could have anticipated the collapse of the 110-story World Trade Towers and several 50–60 story adjacent buildings, even after the incredible and unprecedented phenomena of two large airliners crashing into them at hundreds of miles an hour. Certainly, such an outcome must have been beyond the wildest expectations of the amateur pilot-hijackers. Even the great structural damage resulting from the impact of the aircraft would not have been sufficient to cause the collapse.
The underlying cause of the actual collapse of the first tower was the catastrophic release of aviation fuel from the airliners’ fuel tanks upon impact. The resultant fire was so intense and widespread that the steel framework of the building on the floor or floors immediate affected by the impact buckled. The World Trade Center buildings were built some 30 years ago with what was considered an innovative “pipe” design, meaning that the structural strength of the building was located in the buildings’ outer shells, rather than in the usual interior grid structure of steel girders.
When the first floor collapsed onto the one below, it started a chain reaction of accelerating and accumulating force, producing something like the controlled demolition of buildings that is accomplished by the strategic placement of explosive charges. The estimated energy released as the building structure compacted at ground level was equivalent to about 600 tons of TNT, or about one-twentieth of the force of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Most deaths in airline accidents, other than those resulting from direct impact, come from two interrelated factors: (1) total release of aviation fuel from ruptured tanks, and the widespread fires that are ignited; and (2) burning of fabrics and other materials in the interior of the aircraft, which release toxic smoke.
Both of these fatal consequences could be severely limited, first, by requiring that the interior material be fireproofed and, second, by the use of a decades-old technology known as bladder tank fuel cell technology. This methodology is common in private aircraft and in racing cars, and its application virtually eliminates the possibility of catastrophic fuel spills. In this methodology the fuel is held in a sack or “bladder” of flexible material within the rigid structure of the tank itself. The interior of the bladder is filled with a honeycomb-like cell structure of styrofoam that is permeated by the contained fuel. A breach of the wall of the fuel tank then allows only a slow and limited release of fuel, avoiding the typical catastrophic fires and explosions endemic to airline disasters.
But the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a handmaiden of the industry, has consistently refused to mandate these and other elementary safety measures. The agency repeatedly opposes such measures, including those urgently recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), on the grounds that they are too expensive for the airlines. “New protective measures must be justified,” the FAA says, “by an increased level of safety with minimum added complexity, weight, and operational constraints. Estimates of probable costs and benefits derived from implementing the NTSB recommendations are important.” In other words, the profits of the airlines must come first, and they do, where the FAA is concerned.
If safe fuel tanks had been in place on the two airliners that hit the World Trade Center towers, it is a certainty that the buildings would not have collapsed from an entirely preventable fire, and the lives lost would have been reduced from thousands to hundreds.
It is evident that the message the Bush administration is conveying to the American public, and for which is seeks absolute and unqualified support, is that the only adequate and proper response to this tragedy will be further acts of political mass killing, described in the bureaucratic and sanitized double-speak of the political-military apparatus as “military strikes with collateral damage.”
And who and what should be bombed, to avenge this tragedy? Well, that is not so clear. Responsibility for these strikes, of course, has been universally attributed to the schismatic member of the Saudi ruling classes, Osama bin Laden. But no substantial evidence has been advanced so far to buttress this assertion. While there is no compelling reason not to believe that the hijackings were carried out by individuals motivated by deep and abiding rage at the United States/Israeli domination of the Arab and Islamic worlds, their identities and affiliations cannot constitute a complete explanation of the astounding and awful events of September 11.
“If You Know Everything, Why Didn’t You Foresee This”?
Within hours of the attacks, talking heads in the guise of so-called “terrorism experts” appeared on the now continuous television news programs asserting that the hijackings were the work of the Saudi Arabian expatriate Osama bin Laden and his group. CIA and military spokespeople reiterated these assertions. But this smug omniscience contrasts transparently with the obvious lack of any prior preparation or action to interdict the attacks. Bin Laden’s name has been before the public for years, identified by the United States as the mastermind behind the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The question is irresistibly posed, why, with all this certainty, did none of these agencies learn of the conspiracy before it was carried out?
As is well known by now, Bin Laden’s activities have been under constant CIA surveillance for years. Osama bin Laden, a young student and the son of a Yemeni construction magnate who was a close friend of Saudi King Faisal, was recruited in the mid-1980s as part of the training and financing of Islamic religious militants under the direction of the CIA. They were trained and armed for terrorist action against the Soviet Union during its occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. In 1986, CIA Director William Casey in concert with Pakistan’s intelligence agencies initiated a program to bring radical Muslims from around the world to fight with the Afghan Mujaheddin against Soviet forces. The story of the U.S. and CIA creation of bin Laden and his network in the 1980s has been elaborated thoroughly in a book published by Yale University Press, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil, and Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid, a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review.
It is also well known that the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad has worked with considerable success for decades to penetrate organizations of their opponents. It is difficult to believe that under these circumstances an operation on the scale of the September 11 hijacking could have remained a secret hermetically sealed within the immediate circle of the hijackers themselves, especially since it is evident that at least 19 people had decided to sacrifice their lives.
There is, moreover, extensive credible evidence that both the United States and Israel have seen terrorist actions directed against their own installations and citizens as making invaluable contributions to galvanizing the inhabitants of their countries in support of their military and geopolitical policies. While comprehension of this is destined to remain a blank page for most Americans for the foreseeable future, discussion of these matters has taken place in the world press for a long time.
A widely reported documentary broadcast in 1998 by Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), the German public television channel, provided substantial evidence that some of the main suspects in the 1986 “La Belle” disco bombing in West Berlin, an event which was cited as primary justification for a U.S. air assault on Libya, worked for U.S. and Israeli intelligence. The ZDF report said that at least one of the defendants in the bombing trial was a Mossad agent. At least one of the defendants had been working for the CIA over many years. Further, some of the key suspects had not appeared in court because they were being protected by Western intelligence services. The evidence in the report strongly suggested a conclusion that the attack was a carefully prepared provocation. Ten days after the attack, U.S. warplanes bombed the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi. Their attack on the home of Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi killed at least 30 civilians, including many children.
In August 1998 simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed hundreds and injured thousands more. Several U.S. and Israeli sources, including ABC News and the Tel Aviv newspaper Ha’aretz, reported that a U.S. informant in Kenya had warned the American government two weeks before the blast that the Nairobi embassy had been targeted for a bomb attack.
There was also the suicide truck bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, in October 1983, and as recently as October 2000, the bombing of the U.S. naval destroyer, the USS Cole during its refueling in Aden, Yemen. Scores of U.S. military personnel lost their lives in these two attacks alone. For at least 30 years, since the 1972 Olympics, terrorist attacks emanating from the Middle East have occurred across many borders. Why were the powers that be so utterly incompetent and unprepared for what happened on September 11, and yet so immediately knowledgeable about its origins?
It seems utterly fantastic that the United States government would permit, much less foster, for any purpose, repeated terrorist attacks on its own facilities and citizens, even conceding that it has the barbaric cynicism to balk at virtually nothing in the pursuit of its fundamental objectives. Yet there is now irrefutable proof that Roosevelt, paralyzed by what he correctly saw as adverse public opinion as he sought a suitable means of entry into World War II, was prepared to sacrifice thousands of American lives in order to advance the strategic interests of Anglo-American imperialism.
What objectives could this government have that are so urgent and vital, yet forestalled by public opinion, that such an incredible provocation could even be envisaged, much less allowed to occur? That question cannot be answered, yet the historical record demands it be asked. If there are some such goals, they will become apparent shortly, as the United States initiates its assaults on Afghanistan and elsewhere. However, even a glance at a world map will disclose that Afghanistan is strategically located in relation to the countries that formerly constituted the Soviet Central Asian republics, with their large oil resources, as well as producing three-quarters of the world’s opium supply. The other countries along this border, Iran, Pakistan, and China, are improbable candidates for hosting an occupation by thousands of U.S. troops.
It is not the purpose of this article to defend the thesis that September 11 could have been committed with the foreknowledge of the inner circles of the United States government. That is entirely unknowable for the present.
Nonetheless, it is plain that two high-profile matters which jointly concern the United States and its tiny client state of Israel quickly dropped from view after September 11 — that is the ongoing and escalating Palestinian struggle, and the recent United Nations Conference Against Racism held in South Africa, which only the U.S. and Israel boycotted.
The Zionist state has depended since its inception on popular reaction to continuous provocations and acts of terrorist violence against its own Jewish population in order to maintain a social and political climate that will accept, under the guise of self-preservation, continuing war against the Arab world and relentless expansion toward the borders of Herzl, Weizman, and Ben Gurion’s mythical but still real Eretz Israel (“Greater Israel”). “Our fathers had reached the frontiers recognized in the (1948 United Nations) partition plan; the Six Day War (1967) generation has managed to reach Suez, Jordan, and the Golan Heights. This is not the end. After the present cease-fire lines, there will be new ones. They will extend beyond Jordan…to Lebanon and…to central Syria as well,” Moshe Dayan told Zionist youth in 1968.
Other People’s Terrorism
Would the U.S. tolerate an Israeli-fostered provocation that took American lives? On the fourth day of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Israeli planes and torpedo boats attacked a naval intelligence ship, the USS Liberty, operating just 14 miles off the Sinai Peninsula. In broad daylight waves of Israeli fighter-bombers poured rockets, napalm, and cannon fire onto the ship, concentrating on the ship’s antennae and electronic dishes. Torpedoes hit the ship in the center, drowning 25 of the men in that section. The torpedo boats closed to within one hundred feet of the Liberty to continue the attack with cannons and machine guns. As the crew abandoned ship, Israeli warships fired into the life rafts, sinking two. The attacks killed 34 U.S. seamen and wounded 171. Less than an hour after the attack, Israel told Washington that the attack was a “tragic error.” Later Israel said it had mistaken the Liberty for an Egyptian horse transport. According to Admiral Thomas Moorer, “Israel knew perfectly well that the ship was American.” The ship’s flag and markings were in full view of the Israeli aircraft that overflew the ship eight times before the attack, he said. Navy jets from the carrier USS Saratoga, which were sent out in response to the Liberty’s first call for help, were recalled almost immediately by orders from Washington. Later Israel paid the U.S. a token $6 million reparation.
At some level, everyone understands this is ultimately about oil. In the evening of September 11, as many people came forward to donate blood for the surviving victims, many of their more pragmatic fellow citizens jammed gas stations across the country, based on rumors of gasoline prices jumping to $4 and $5 a gallon. The larger context for September 11, and all of the terrorist strikes against U.S. facilities, is the virtually unimpeded and permanent European and American imperialist war against the Arab world, and the extraction of its vast petroleum resources, whose resultant benefits in the Arab world are distributed only to a neocolonial comprador elite. In the current stage of this war, the United States and Britain, to cite only the most flagrant example, have been bombing Iraq, almost on a daily basis, for over ten years. The Gulf War itself, with its occupation of Saudi Arabia by American troops, is reportedly what triggered the defection of Osama bin Laden from collaboration with the United States.
The consequent reaction to this imperial omnipotence, especially since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which was seen widely as the only counterweight to the U.S./Israeli domination of the Middle East, has turned more and more away from secular solutions to religious redemptionism.
As Frederic Jameson, writing in the London Review of Books (issue dated October 4, 2001), observed: “…the seeds of the event are buried deeper than that. They are to be found in the wholesale massacres of the Left systematically encouraged and directed by the Americans in an even earlier period. The physical extermination of the Iraqi and the Indonesian Communist Parties, although now historically repressed and forgotten, were crimes as abominable as any contemporary genocide. It is, however, only now that the results are working their way out into actuality, for the resultant absence of any Left alternative means that popular revolt and resistance in the Third World have nowhere to go but into religious and ‘fundamentalist’ forms.”
Behind all this turmoil, of course, is the struggle carried on since the end of World War I over the oil resources of the Middle East, and, ultimately, the profound inequity of the United States, with some 5% of the world’s population, consuming half its resources. It appears that this unending global war may have, stunningly and cruelly, finally arrived here.
What is “Terrorism”?
“What is ‘terrorism’?” the Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky asked in 1909, at a time when the workers movement in Russia was mired in deep despair after the defeat of the 1905 revolution, and prospects for social change seemed more remote than ever. His discussion of this question deserves to be quoted at length here.
“Our class enemies,” he said, “are in the habit of complaining about our terrorism. What they mean by this is rather unclear. They would like to label all the activities of the proletariat directed against the class enemy’s interests as terrorism. The strike, in their eyes, is the principal method of terrorism.” Employers and their representatives continue to do exactly that. Militant trade union action in Britain during the 1980s was repeatedly labeled as “industrial terrorism” by the conservative press and Tory politicians. The present attempts to stifle the labor movement by baiting it as unpatriotic if it acts in its own interest, as discussed above, began almost immediately after the September 11 attacks.
“The threat of a strike, the organization of strike pickets, an economic boycott of a slave-driving boss, a moral boycott of a traitor from our own ranks — all this and much more they call terrorism,” Trotsky said. “If terrorism is understood in this way as any action inspiring fear in, or doing harm to, the enemy, then of course the entire class struggle is nothing but terrorism.”
But the labor movement endures in spite of all attacks on it, he said. “The efforts of reaction to put an end to strikes and to the mass workers movement in general have always, everywhere, ended in failure. Capitalist society needs an active, mobile, and intelligent proletariat; it cannot, therefore, bind the proletariat hand and foot for very long. On the other hand, the anarchist ‘propaganda of the deed’ has shown every time that the state is much richer in the means of physical destruction and mechanical repression than are the terrorist groups…
“In our eyes,” he continued, “individual terror is inadmissible precisely because it belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness, and turns their eyes and hopes towards a great avenger and liberator who some day will come and accomplish his mission.”
The Social Revolutionary terrorists under the rule of the tsars rejected religion and, in their own eyes at least, fought for a just and humane social order of peace and human solidarity. How much further terrorists motivated by religious superstition are from any consideration of the impact of their actions on the masses can be gauged in part by the distance between the Russian terrorist assassinations of brutal tsarist officials a century ago and the insane acts of mass murder on September 11. Their “great avenger and liberator” lives only in the supernatural. What sort of “terrorism” is it that leaves no message, no ultimatums, no record of the motives for which 19 or 20 people readily contributed their lives?
Terrorism on U.S. Soil
This is, it is said, the largest act of terrorism ever to occur on U.S. soil. If “terrorism” is confined to a juridical definition of concerted extralegal acts of violence, this is probably true. The question of what events might occupy second or third place is left unaddressed. If any thought at all was given to the matter, images of airline crashes and the bombing of the Oklahoma Federal building probably came to mind. But, like everything else in this catastrophe, probing even slightly beneath the surface brings forth other images.
In 1921, maddened and vengeful mobs of white racists, jealous of the success of “Black Wall Street,” as Tulsa, Oklahoma’s African American business district was known, burned and looted over 1,000 Black homes and businesses, lynching and shooting scores of Black citizens of the city’s Greenwood District. Dynamite and inflammable materials were dropped on the district from airplanes. It took nearly 70 years for this crime to even be publicly acknowledged in Tulsa, much less for any discussion of reparations to be opened.
In the late 1850s armed sympathizers of the slave-owning South invaded and burned to the ground the anti-slavery town of Lawrence, Kansas.
And, as is somewhat better known, in 1863 white mobs rampaged for days in New York City, mercilessly and gleefully killing Blacks and destroying vast amounts of property, in the so-called Draft Riots.
There are, needless to say, no tutorials on these matters being conducted on television news channels devoted to the aftermath of the WTC bombings.
U.S. Sentiment — Labor and Peace Groups — Civil Liberties
The rank and file American reaction cannot be gauged simply by the proliferation of flags, or the undoubted temporary satisfaction with which an avenging U.S. military strike somewhere will be greeted by a substantial majority. This is a very different population, both in experience and composition, from what existed at the beginning of World War I or World War II, or during the Vietnam War or even the Gulf War. And this new experience is, for inhabitants of the United States, utterly different from previous terrorist attacks in the last 30 years, and from every war since the Civil War, because of its scale and because it takes place here. The broad reaction is, in many ways, notably subdued.
The shock and horror of September 11 disseminates the reality of global war far more widely and deeply into the U.S. population than anything in living memory. It does not require thinking very far to see that to the extent that this attack was a product of the rage and despair of subject peoples to the desolation of their societies, more bombings and invasions will only fuel the determination to strike back again. The depth of this resolve is unmistakable. Such purpose is beyond the power of any “security” measures to crush. The permanent and undefeatable Palestinian Intifada ought to be sufficient testimony to that, if not the homegrown fertilizer explosion in Oklahoma City.
The social and political conditions that can produce a score or more of young people willing to give up their lives must be profound, and fertile. This is not some miserable aberration like Jonestown, where hundreds of lost souls passively drank the fatal potion. The people who carried out the September 11 acts had to be highly motivated, self-acting, and intelligent to succeed. And what bombing, or invasion, can hope to intimidate people who are ready to give up their lives? As time goes on these consideration will begin to weigh more and more deeply on the American people, and it will become clearer what really happens to ordinary people when cities are bombed. Hiroshima and Nagasaki induced a profound sentiment of pacifism in the Japanese people, which has not been overcome over 50 years later, in spite of the efforts of the Japanese rulers and their U.S. allies.
There is also a vigorous, experienced, and internationalist peace movement of some 40 years continuity in this country, one with significant support among young people, which has responded admirably in this crisis. Some modest, but vital support exists in the labor movement for such sentiments. A valuable beginning was the statement issued by New York City labor activists, dated September 27 and posted widely on the Internet, which calls for a halt to the war drive in the name of the “friends, family members, and co-workers of all colors, nationalities, and religions” of the victims of September 11. The San Francisco Labor Council has adopted a model resolution on September 24, stating in part that, “As we mourn this tremendous loss of life, we declare our resistance to efforts to use this tragedy to engage in military actions that can lead only to more carnage and senseless loss of life.”
Many thinking people already draw back from the probable consequences of the ruthless and indiscriminate military vengeance soon to be forthcoming from the United States. Susan Sontag’s already influential and widely disseminated post–September 11 article in the New Yorker magazine, warning against indiscriminate retaliation, is probably the most prominent expression of such sentiment.
In a significant early reaction to the government’s and employers’ accelerating campaign to take advantage of “national unity” for their own benefit, International President Thomas Buffenbarger of the International Association of Machinists (IAM), the principal labor union in the airline industry, called for Congress and President Bush to act immediately to provide “guarantees of extended unemployment benefits, supplemental compensation and training/ retraining programs, medical insurance and protection from creditors” to the 140,000 members and families of his union who he estimates will be affected. Buffenbarger said that as a result of bipartisan Congressional and White House action on September 21, “Airline executives were given an immediate five billion dollar infusion of cash, another ten billion dollars in loan guarantees and subsidies. We were intentionally left out.”
And in Minnesota, leaders of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees led 30,000 state workers out on strike on October 1, refusing to be intimidated by “patriotic” demands for no action. The unions pointed out that neither food prices, rent, interest nor any other essentials have been frozen as a result of the World Trade disaster. Workers, they insisted, have a full moral and legal right to use the tools available to them to protect their own well-being.
What Does the Future Hold?
Inevitably, as is already apparent, the inequities of capitalist “patriotism” will begin to drive a wedge into the top-down consensus of national unity. New restrictions on civil liberties will galvanize new opposition, sooner or later. Things will go on as before, but of course they will also be changed forever, and not only for those immediately affected. The class struggle, as has been said many times, is irrepressible. And it remains the only way out of the endless violence, oppression, and terror of the last century and the present one. No parliaments, historians, or faint-hearted leaders can repeal it, and a new global working class movement will find its leaders, and its program, out of the wreckage of the past and the limitless promise of the future.
October 1, 2001