just as guilty of committing own violent acts
School of Journalism
University of Texas
Austin, TX 78712
work: (512) 471-1990
fax: (512) 471-7979
copyright Robert Jensen 2001
Chronicle, September 14, 2001, p. A-33.
by Robert Jensen
Also posted on
Common Dreams web site and
ZNet, Sept.12, 2001.
September 11 was a day of sadness, anger and fear.
Like everyone in the United States and around the world, I shared the deep
sadness at the deaths of thousands.
But as I listened to people around me talk, I realized the anger and fear
I felt were very different, for my primary anger is directed at the leaders
of this country and my fear is not only for the safety of Americans but for
innocents civilians in other countries.
It should need not be said, but I will say it: The acts of terrorism that
killed civilians in New York and Washington were reprehensible and indefensible;
to try to defend them would be to abandon one’s humanity. No matter
what the motivation of the attackers, the method is beyond discussion.
But this act was no more despicable as the massive acts of terrorism -- the
deliberate killing of civilians for political purposes -- that the U.S. government
has committed during my lifetime. For more than five decades throughout the
Third World, the United States has deliberately targeted civilians or engaged
in violence so indiscriminate that there is no other way to understand it
except as terrorism. And it has supported similar acts of terrorism by client
If that statement seems outrageous, ask the people of Vietnam. Or Cambodia
and Laos. Or Indonesia and East Timor. Or Chile. Or Central America. Or Iraq,
or Palestine. The list of countries and peoples who have felt the violence
of this country is long. Vietnamese civilians bombed by the United States.
Timorese civilians killed by a U.S. ally with U.S.-supplied weapons. Nicaraguan
civilians killed by a U.S. proxy army of terrorists. Iraqi civilians killed
by the deliberate bombing of an entire country’s infrastructure.
So, my anger on this day is directed not only at individuals who engineered
the Sept. 11 tragedy but at those who have held power in the United States
and have engineered attacks on civilians every bit as tragic. That angeris
compounded by hypocritical U.S. officials’ talk of their commitment
to higher ideals, as President Bush proclaimed “our resolve for justice
To the president, I can only say: The stilled voices of the millions killed
in Southeast Asia, in Central America, in the Middle East as a direct result
of U.S. policy are the evidence of our resolve for justice and peace.
Though that anger stayed with me off and on all day, it quickly gave wayto
fear, but not the fear of “where will the terrorists strike next,”
which I heard voiced all around me. Instead, I almost immediately had toface
the question: “When will the United States, without regard forcivilian
casualties, retaliate?” I wish the question were, “Willthe United
States retaliate?” But if history is a guide, it is a questiononlyof
when and where.
So, the question is which civilians will be unlucky enough to be in the way
of the U.S. bombs and missiles that might be unleashed. The last time the
U.S. responded to terrorism, the attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
in 1998, it was innocents in the Sudan and Afghanistan who were in the way.
We were told that time around they hit only military targets, though thetarget
in the Sudan turned out to be a pharmaceutical factory.
As I monitored television during the day, the talk of retaliation was inthe
air; in the voices of some of the national-security “experts”
there was a hunger for retaliation. Even the journalists couldn’t resist;
speculating on a military strike that might come, Peter Jennings of ABC News
said that “the response is going to have to be massive” if it
is to be effective.
Let us not forget that a “massive response” will kill people,
and if the pattern of past U.S. actions holds, it will kill innocents. Innocent
people, just like the ones in the towers in New York and the ones on theairplanes
that were hijacked. To borrow from President Bush, “motherand fathers,
friends and neighbors” will surely die in a massive response.
If we are truly going to claim to be decent people, our tears must flow not
only for those of our own country. People are people, and grief that is limited
to those within a specific political boundary denies the humanity of others.
And if we are to be decent people, we all must demand of our government --
the government that a great man of peace, Martin Luther King Jr., once described
as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” -- that the
insanity stop here.
Robert Jensen is a professor in the Department of Journalism at the University
of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at email@example.com. Other
writings are available online at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/~rjensen/freelance/freelance.htm.
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