Sunday, September 11, 2011

ten years later


09/02/11: "[N]ew details of a 2006 Iraq house raid in which an Iraqi family was allegedly bound and executed by U.S. forces [has recently been disclosed]. The cable excerpts a letter written by Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, to Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State at the time. Alston describes how 10 Iraqis living on a farm were killed. The dead included a 28-year-old man and his wife, the man’s 74-year-old mother, his sister, a visiting relative and five young children ranging in age from five months to five years old. According to the cable, U.S. forces were fired upon when they approached the property, resulting in a firefight. The American troops then entered the house, bound all of the residents, and executed them. Shortly thereafter, an air raid was called in to destroy the home." [X]

* * *

"It seemed like everywhere we left..."

"...if the enemy wasn't there when we got there..."

"...they were when we left."

"We seemed to be sorta growing them, you know?"

"Planting them, like seeds."

"Wherever we went, we sorta bred the enemy."

"He just came out of nowhere..."

"It was almost as though, if we weren't there..."

"...there would be none."

Images & text from Joseph Strick's documentary Interviews With My Lai Veterans (1970)


The following was written by Wallace Shawn in 2001, shortly after the destruction of the World Trade Center. (Originally published in The Nation magazine.)

To: The Foreign Policy Therapist

From: The United States of America

November 12, 2001

Dear Foreign Policy Therapist,

I don't know what to do. I want to be safe. I want safety. But I have a terrible problem: It all began several weeks ago when I lost several thousand loved ones to a horrible terrorist crime. I feel an overwhelming need to apprehend and punish those who committed this unbearably cruel act, but they designed their crime in such a diabolical fashion that I cannot do so, because they arranged to be killed themselves while committing the crime, and they are now all dead. I feel in my heart that none of these men, however, could possibly have planned this crime themselves and that another man, who is living in a cave in Afghanistan, must surely have done so. At any rate I know that some people he knows knew some of the people who committed the crime and possibly gave them some money. I feel an overwhelming need to kill this man in the cave, but the location of the cave is unknown to me, and so it's impossible to find him. He's been allowed to stay in the cave, however, by the fanatical rulers of the country where the cave is, Afghanistan, so I feel an overwhelming need to kill those rulers. As they've moved from place to place, though, I haven't found them, but I've succeeded in finding and killing many young soldiers who guarded them and shepherds who lived near them. Nonetheless, I do not feel any of the expected "closure," and in fact I'm becoming increasingly depressed and am obsessed with nameless fears. Can you help me?

To: The United States of America

From: The Foreign Policy Therapist

Dear United States,

In psychological circles, we call your problem "denial." You cannot face your real problem, so you deny that it exists and create instead a different problem that you try to solve. Meanwhile, the real problem, denied and ignored, becomes more and more serious. In your case, your real problem is simply the way that millions and millions of people around the world feel about you.

Who are these people? They share the world with you--one single world, which works as a unified mechanism. These people are the ones for whom the mechanism's current way of working--call it the status quo--offers a life of anguish and servitude. They're well aware that this status quo, which for them is a prison, is for you (or for the privileged among you), on the contrary, so close to a paradise that you will never allow their life to change. These millions of people are in many cases uneducated--to you they seem unsophisticated--and yet they still somehow know that you have played an enormous role in keeping this status quo in place. And so they know you as the enemy. They feel they have to fight you. Some of them hate you. And some will gladly die in order to hurt you--in order to stop you.

They know where the fruits of the planet, the oil and the spices, are going. And when your actions cause grief in some new corner of the world, they know about it. And when you kill people who are poor and desperate, no matter what explanation you give for what you've done, their anger against you grows. You can't kill all these millions of people, but almost any one of them, in some way, some place, or some degree, can cause damage to you.

But here's a strange fact about these people whom you consider unsophisticated: Most of the situations in the world in which they perceive "injustice" are actually ones in which you yourself would see injustice if you yourself weren't deeply involved. Even though they may dress differently and live differently, their standards of justice seem oddly similar to yours.

Your problem, ultimately, can only be solved over decades, through a radical readjustment of the way you think and behave. If the denial persists, you are sure to continue killing more poor and desperate people, causing the hatred against you to grow, until at a certain point there will be no hope for you. But it's not too late. Yes, there are some among your current enemies who can no longer be reached by reason. Yes, there are some who are crazy. But most are not. Most people are not insane. If you do change, it is inevitable that over time people will know that you have changed, and their feeling about you will also change, and the safety you seek will become a possibility.


Tyler said...

The final, bisected image is from Libya, not Iraq or Afghanistan (or Pakistan). I spent quite a long time looking for the kind of picture I wanted, and though I found a few that would work, none of them were large enough to withstand the kind of enlarging that was required. But since the United States has bombed buildings and houses in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as all over the Middle East), and especially since the final image in this post is meant to be symbolic, I decided that the particular facts concerning the photo made little difference.

* * *

As it just so happens I recently picked up a copy of Wallace Shawn's Essays at a Borders going-out-of-business sale, and I read the excerpted piece just a few hours ago. I originally planned to post something related to 9/11, and although I wasn't exactly sure what it was going to be, I figured it was probably going to include the David Foster Wallace "thought experiment" that I linked to on the sidebar (for the sake of anyone who might read this in the future, the DFW can be found HERE ). But anyway, the Shawn piece trumped it because it fit better with the theme I was after.

Andrew said...

This is a great post. I don't have much else to add at this point, but have you by chance seen the debate between Chris Hedges and Sam Harris hosted by truthdig?

Tyler said...


No, I haven't seen it yet. I did find it on YouTube (and watched Harris' opening remarks) back when you first mentioned the whole Hedges/Harris feud to me, but I haven't returned to it (it's bookmarked). Now that you've made me more curious, I'll check it out soon(er).

Andrew said...

It's relevant (and fascinating) when the debate turns toward Palestine. Harris maintains that suicide bombers are driven by faith alone and Hedges provides a complex rendering of the socio-economic realities of the Occupied West Bank. Obviously there's much more to this, but I don't want to spoil the fun.