The traditional valuation of one white American to members
of the brown races usually runs at about 500 to one, and
the western press is mostly incapable of rating Indians
or Chinese in units of under 5,000. Such equations would
require a minimum revenge killing of 500,000, a pretty tall
order, given that the "revenge window" (meaning
the period in which public opinion is sufficiently fomented
to exclude all moral qualms about mass murder of innocents)
is not permanently ajar.
only quick way to achieve killing on this scale would be
with a substantial nuclear device on a city. Given this
requirement, we may applaud the restraint of Thomas Woodrow
in the Washington Times on September 14, though his
moderation is salted with the pusillanimous phrase "at
a bare minimum." Woodrow recommends that "at a
bare minimum, tactical nuclear capabilities should be used
against the bin Laden camps in the desert of Afghanistan.
To do less would be rightly seen by the poisoned minds that
orchestrated these attacks as cowardice on the part of the
United States and the current administration."
there are certainly some hotheads among the President's
counselors eager to endorse such a tactic, the balance of
opinion would doubtless argue against this course at the
present time, on the grounds that it might excite criticism
abroad and further perturb the chances for any long-term
global coalition (the world's White
Citizens Council) against terrorism by the brown races.
dropping a Big One, how can the necessary revenge be exacted?
Cruise missiles, used by Bill Clinton as a way of expressing
his displeasure at Sudan, may be useful for destroying pharmaceutical
factories, hospitals, even defense ministries, but the
body counts are not robust. Certainly not brawny enough
to satisfy a man like retired Army Colonel James McDonough,
who told the Washington Post last weekend that "The
near term will help unleash the terrible anger and outrage
Americans unilaterally feel. It will be swift, total, bloody,
and compelling." Given such requirements, a symbolic
revenge sortie like the Doolittle bombardment of Tokyo after
Pearl Harbor won't be enough.
how about large-scale bombing? Here again, experience tells
us that protracted bombing is required, and though the death
count on the ground can be most satisfactory, the risks
to the aviators can also become substantial. The bombing
of German cities by the Allies in World War Two did yield
a total of 250,000 civilian deaths. Less well known is the
fact that for every two German deaths thus achieved by bombs,
there was one dead or captured Allied airman: 125,000 in
first sortie in any bombing campaign may yield satisfactory
results in terms of civilian deaths, but the target populations
soon learn to go to ground in shelters, or evacuate to the
countryside. As an infant, the present writer spent the
first portion of the Luftwaffe's blitz of London on the
platform of St. John's Wood subway station (one of the deepest
in London) and the latter in Northumberland, during which
time the Cockburn home at number 5, Acacia Road, northwest
London, was leveled by one of Werner
von Braun's rockets, with no loss of life, though a
severe shock for the cat. Casualty rates from NATO bombs
in Yugoslavia were not very high, and neither were those
immediately consequent upon the bombardments of Iraq in
who or what is is there to bomb in Afghanistan? The Russians
have already done their best. A pathetically poor country
in the first place, Afghanistan is only marginally ahead
of Mali, in terms of available infrastructure to destroy,
with far more challenging terrain.
land invasion in force, a blitzkrieg sparing nothing and
no one? Afghanistan is famously the graveyard of punitive
missions embarked upon by the Great Powers, as the British
discovered in the nineteenth century and the Soviets in
the 1980s. The mere mounting an expeditionary force would
take would be a difficult, possibly protracted business,
landing the United States in a prodigious number of diplomatic
difficulties, given the mutual antagonisms and stresses
of adjacent or nearby
states such as Pakistan, India, Russia's dependency
familiar way extricating oneself from confrontation an unsuitable
foe is to substitute a more satisfactory one. Though it
is highly likely that Iran was the sponsor of the downing
of Panam Flight 103, in revenge for the downing of the Iranian
Airbus by the US carrier Vincennes (whose crew was subsequently
decorated for its conduct in shooting down a planeload of
civilians) the US preferred to identify Qaddafi's Libya
as the culprit, as a more easily negotiable target for revenge.
Already there's a lobby, the most conspicuous of whom is
former CIA chief James Woolsey, pressing Iraq's case as
possible sponsor or cosponsor of the World Trade Center
attacks. So sanctions against Iraq could be strengthened,
its cities bombed and perhaps even another invasion attempted.
aware of the difficulties surrounding speedy, adequately
bloody, retribution, Bush's entourage have been talking
in Mao-like terms about "protracted war," or a
"war in the shadows," with the inference that
America's revenge will be exacted for years to come in the
back alleys of the world, cold steel between the ribs of
each Muslim terrorist on a moonless night. The purely nominal
ban against US Government-sponsored assassination (there
have been numerous CIA-backed against Castro since the mid-1970s
ban, if you believe the Cubans) will be lifted, as will
the supposed inhibition against the CIA hiring unsavory
characters, meaning drug smugglers, many of them also
trained in the flying schools of southern Florida.
war in the shadows will be definition be shadowy (hence
poor provender for the appetite for revenge), at least until
some CIA-backed revenge bombing surfaces into public view
like the attempted bombing of Sheik
Fadlallah outside a Beirut mosque, sponsored by CIA
chief William Casey, which missed the Sheik but which killed
over a hundred bystanders, including many children.
war in the shadows will naturally provoke counterattacks
from groups intent on discomfiting America. This is recognized,
rather comfortably so, by America's military men, quoted
in the Washington Post: "Every war has two sides,
and the U.S. public needs to expect reprisals, warned James
Bodner, a former Pentagon official. "Future attacks
against us will be planned, and some may occur," Bodner
in no other American conflict, civilians are on the front
line. That's especially worrisome because the public infrastructure
of the United States especially its airports and border
controls wasn't designed with a long military campaign
in mind. "The safest
place to be in this kind of warfare may be in uniform,"
noted retired Army Col. Johnny Brooks.
moment's reflection instructs us that none of this is likely
to yield the results sought in the short term (revenge)
or in the long-term (victory over terrorism). America's
official reaction magnified an already dreadful disaster
and further exhilarated the foe.
this point, be instructed by a fine, but sadly rare example.
On the morning of September 11 Judge Henry Wood was trying,
of all things, an American airline crash damage case in
Federal District court in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the
wake of the attacks there were orders to close the courthouse.
All obeyed, except Judge Wood, aged 83, who insisted that
jury and lawyers and attendants remain in place. Turning
down a plea for mistrial by the defendant, Wood said, "This
looks like an intelligent jury to me and I didn't want the
judicial system interrupted by a terrorist act, no matter
was the proper reaction. America could do with more of what
used to be called the Roman virtues. Why shut the schools,
and then proclaim counseling sessions, presumably, to instruct
children that the world can be a bad place. And what is
all this foolish talk about "vulnerability," "a
change in the way Americans feel"? A monstrous thing
happened in New York, but should this be a cause for a change
in national consciousness? Is America so frail? People talk
of the trauma of another Pearl Harbor, but the truth is,
the trauma in the aftermath of the day of infamy in 1941
was far in excess of what the circumstances warranted, and
assiduously fanned by the government for reasons of state.
Ask the Japanese Americans who were interned.
for that matter, ground all air traffic and semi-paralyse
the economy for four days, with further interminable and
useless inconveniences promised travelers in the months
and possibly years to come? Could any terrorist have hoped
not only to bring down the Trade Center towers but also
destroy the airline industry? It would have been far better
to ask passengers to form popular defense committees on
every plane, bring their own food and drink, keep alert
for trouble, and look after themselves. A properly vigilant
democracy of the air. Remember, even if there were no x-ray
machines, no searches, no passenger checks, it would still
be far more dangerous to drive to the airport than to get
on a plane.
is hard to beat. In the first few centuries after Christ,
the Romans tried it against the Christians, whose martyrdom
was almost entirely sacrificial of themselves, not of others.
The lust for heaven of a Muslim intent on suicidal martyrdom
was surely never so eloquent as that of St. Ignatius in
the second century who, under sentence of death, doomed
to the Roman amphitheater and a hungry lion, wrote in his
Epistle to the Romans:
bid all men know that of my own free will I die for God,
unless ye should hinder me. . . Let me be given to the wild
beasts, for through them I can attain unto God. I am God's
wheat, and I am ground by the wild beasts that I may be
found the pure bread of Christ. Entice the wild beasts that
they may become my sepulcher. . . Come fire and cross and
grapplings with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, hacking
of limbs, crushings of my whole body; only be it mine to
attain unto Jesus Christ."
haughty imperial Rome made its accommodation with Christians,
just as Christians amid the furies and martyrdom and proscriptions
of the Reformation, made accommodations with each other.
What sort of accommodation should America make right now?
How about one with the history of the past hundred years,
in an effort to improve the moral world climate of the next
hundred years? I use the word accommodation in the sense
of an effort to get to grips with history, as inflicted
by the powerful upon the weak. We have been miserably failed
by our national media here, as Jude Wanniski, political
economist and agitator of conventional thinking, remarked
in the course of a well-merited attack on "bipartisanship,"
which almost always means obdurate determination to pursue
a course of collective folly without debate: "It is
because of this bipartisanship that our press corps has
become blind to the evil acts we commit as a nation."
great nation does not respond to a single hour of terrible
mayhem in two cities by hog-tying itself with new repressive
laws and abuses of constitutional freedoms, like Gulliver
doing the work of the Lilliputians and lashing himself to
the ground with a thousand cords. Nor does it demean itself
with mad talk of firing off tactical nuclear weapons at
puny foes like bin Laden, himself assisted
onto the stage of history by the Central Intelligence Agency.
America has great enemies circling the camp fires and threatening
the public good. They were rampant the day before the September
11 attacks, with the prospect of deflation, sated world
markets, idled capacity, shrinking social services. Is ranting
about Kabul and throwing money at the Pentagon going to
solve those true national emergencies?
© 2001 Alexander Cockburn