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We need to take a long, hard look in the mirror

We need to take a long, hard look in the mirror: 6/ 21/ 2004

The New Bedford Standard-Times gave my most recent thoughts on 9/11 and "why they hate us so" very nice play on their editorial page today. You can go to the online version through the link above, or read it here. My version is a tad diffeent as to headline and layout.

Of moats and motes and looking deeply in the mirror

Over and over again we hear the question, ďWho could have ever imagined they would use planes in this way?Ē

Over and over again comes the obvious - and unspoken - answer: Osama bin Laden.

Thatís right. We, the mightiest nation on earth. We the educated. We the empowered. We the folks who spend more money on defense than the next 17 nations combined. We could not imagine this kind of attack could happen. Therefore, when it came, we were totally unprepared.

And now, as if to find sympathy for their colossal failures, we hear one person after another saying in effect that no one could have imagined such an attack.

Of course they could have. Some bearded guy roaming around in the mountains of the most Godforsaken, backwards country in the world could not only imagine such an attack, but pulled it off.

Ah, but now we know. Really? What is it that we know? That civilian airliners can be used as weapons? Thatís child's play when compared with the devastation and horror that could be wrought with nuclear or biological weapons.

Can we imagine the next attack? Or the one after that? Do we really think we can stop it by building a moat around Castle America? By strengthening cockpit doors? By searching airline passengers more diligently?

We may think this 9/11 Commission probe is sophisticated. We may think weíre getting to the bottom of things. We may think we are finding out what went wrong. But isnít this the simple part of the examination?

Someone just landed a punch on my jaw. Why? because I zigged when I should have zagged. I bobbed when I should have weaved. I was watching his left hand and, he hit me with his right. Simple stuff.

What I really need to know is why does this person want to punch me at all? I can survive one punch. Fifteen rounds is another thing. I want a real answer, not the pablum weíre being fed. I want what no Democratic or Republican politician seems willing to do - have the guts to look in the mirror and ask deeply the question that was on everyoneís lips in the weeks after September 11.

Why do they hate us so?

George Bush has given us the self-indulging, politicianís answer. They hate us because they hate our freedom. Really? Nineteen people sat around in the mountains of Afghanistan, or their homes in Saudi Arabia, and said: ďGee, America has too much freedom. I hate that? Donít you hate that? Letís commit suicide and take a bunch of them with us.Ē

Why do they hate us so?

They hate us because we are good and they are evil.

What are we, children? Do we really believe the world is that simple? There are good guys - us - and there are bad guys - them? That all you need to tell the good guys from the bad guys is to ask them where they are from? If they are from America, they are good. If they are from somewhere else, they are evil?

Why do they hate us so?

Because they were unlucky enough to be born into poverty and we were lucky enough to be born into one of the most wonderful societies the world has ever known?


Because they think we are rich because we are ripping them off? They have the oil. We want the oil. But somehow we end up with the oil and only a few of them get rich - the ones we have struck a deal with. Is this why they hate us?


Because we killed democracy in Iran and supported monarchies and tyrants throughout the middle East - monarchies and tyrants who rip off their people?


Because we support Israel and they support the Palestinians?


Because they believe in a paternalistic culture and think we are robbing them of this and spreading a culture of greed and moral decay?


The only thing I am certain of is this: We are not the good guys. They are not the bad guys. Maybe weíre mostly good. Maybe theyíre mostly bad, or maybe itís a closer thing with the good and bad fairly evenly distributed.

But maybe it has nothing to do with being good or bad. Maybe we simply donít understand one another. Didnít you ever offend someone without knowing it? Without intending it. Maybe someone as close as your wife, or husband, or child, or parent, or neighbor?

We have made some people terribly angry. We have spent millions of dollars and countless hours trying to discover how it is they managed to sucker punch us. But we havenít spent five minutes asking ourselves why they hate us so. We havenít spent a dollar in trying to understand their motives and correct the situation.

I donít know if we can ever prevent another terrorist attack. But I do know that we will not if we simply sit around accepting the kind of answers we are getting from politicians who want our vote. Pat the nice American people on the head. Tell them theyíre good, Then you get elected.

Itís a tough, complicated world. And getting along with our neighbors is one of the most difficult things we do. Maybe we canít do it. But right now the whole world is our neighbor and everything we have done since September 11 has made those who already hated us, hate us more - and many of those who were our friends, start to hate us.

We have to step back from this silliness. We have to rethink. And part of that rethinking has to be a long, hard look in the mirror. And that will be one hundred times as difficult as the self-examination the 9/11 Commission just put us through - and many, many times more profitable.

Jesus said it best 2,000 years ago. ďAnd why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brotherís eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?Ē Matthew - 7:3

Bad apples? Hell no - bad environment

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Beating Specialist Baker

Here we go again - I know I'm beating a horse that should be dead and buried, the case is so obvious - but most people still don't seem to get it. Let me try to put it simply. The prison abuse is exactly what can be expected when you put people into a war environment and give them incredible, life and death power over others. We've seen that in every war and we've seen that in psychological experiments. We just don't want to believe it because so many people are wrapped up in super hero worship of all solider, and a misguided version of patriotism that corrupts everything this country is.

Don't believe it? Read how we abused to the point of medical disability one of our own soldiers who was ordered to pretend to be a prisoner at Gunatanamo. As Kristoff concludes:

President Bush attributed the problems uncovered at Abu Ghraib to "a few American troops who dishonored our country." Mr. Bush, the problems go deeper than a few bad apples.††

Honor the veteran, but . . .

The New York Times > Opinion > By the Light of Other Wars

This is as good a memorial Day editorial I have seen, but it still leaves me with a dull, sinking feeling about this sad day. It concludes:

Today, each generation looks back to its own war ó World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the gulf war and Iraq. In each of those wars, a soldier's death was final, the sense of duty and service as acute as in any other war. In that sense, the meaning of those deaths has not changed over time. What is different, for each of those wars, is the sense of national necessity that lay behind them. Some of America's wars have truly been fought for the very principles that underpin this nation's existence. Others have not. But nothing can dishonor the dead, not even the failures of the living.

Amd which of our wars was necessary?

The Revoiution?

a. Non-violent resistance was having a significant impact in our favor.
b. A few young hot heads wanted to fight primarily over taxes.
c. Was the result really better? Look at the history of Canada or Australia and look at the result and ask yourself that question.

I ignore the war of 1812 because I haven't looked at it closely, but certainly the Mexican War was not justified. It was as bad, if not worse, than our war against Iraq.

How about the war that killed more Americans than any other - Civil War?

1. Well, it was not fought to free the slaves - though that was a relatively noble result, one has to ask if over the long stretch of history we would not have had better race relations if we had followed a more gradual course in this respect. Sucha course was being advocated by cooler heads in the South at the time - and like Communiist Rusia, slavery would have died of its own weight over time. Ending it abruptly was a better solution for the moment, but did it really provide a better solution for the long run?

2. It was fought to preserve the Union - that's what most soldiers in the North thought they were fighting for and soldiers in the South saw themselves a revolutionaries trying to set up their own country. Their reasoning wasn;t that different from our reasons to break away from England.. Why was the preservation of this union so holy? Why would a contract entered into by our ancestors have to be honored today? Would the world be that much different if there was a Confederate States of America today? Was this worth more than half a million young lives and the aftermath of resentment that continues to this day?

The Spanish American War ? Another very questionable adventure. So was WWI - it was "the war to end all wars," a nobel cause totally lost in a vicious peace that sowed the seeds for WWII.

WWII? This is arguably the most necessary. But I would argue that it appeared necessary - perhaps was - only because of man's blunders and ineptitude in ending the War which preceded it. A more just peace - a wise and strong League of Nations - could have prevented things ever getting to the stage where 70 million people lost their lives in WWII,

And, of course, we failed to convince the world to create a just peace and we did not even support the League of Nations. You reap what you sow. And why did Japan attack us? For oil. Sound familiar?

The Korean War? Well, look at the result. We still have one of the most inhumane regimes in the world in North Korea - and one of the most dangerous. So what did we really accomplish there?

Vietnam speaks for itself - and it is slowly becoming clear to people that the Iraq war is not making anything better. And Afghanistan is still a mess and the reason we went in there is Al Quaeda and they are stronger than ever.

So let us remember today - but let us remember more than the honored dead. Let us remember the living who sent them to their deaths out of incompetence - out of the failure of our leaders to be able to settle serious differences the way most people all over the world - and children in kindergarten - settle such differences every day - without resorting to violence.

War is stupid - and the apprent gains over the short run are always negated by long-term losses and embittered relations that set the climate for the next conflict.

No civilized nation allows its citizens to kill one another. Why should any nation be allowed to killt the citizens of another nation? I we can control killing within our various political boundaries, why can't we control this madd murder we call "war?"

Uh huh - we become the thing we attack

Amnesty Slams "Bankrupt" Vision of US in Damning Rights Report

This is no shock, unless you are doing the usual American sleep walk. We have become what we hate - we are now the main target of Amnesty International for our violation of human rights.

Why be surprised. We have a president who I have said many times for the past three years sounds just like Osama bin Laden. They both act as if they are God, able to decide who deserves to live and hwo deserves to die. They both use the same childish language of "good" and "evil." In short, they both act like religious fanatics on a crusade. And they both end up killing or maiming innnocent people and giving a bad name to both religion - and in the case of Bush - their country.

But don't take my word for it - read this account of the latest Amnesty International Report where, among other things, we are lumped right in there with China and Russia - and they may not like the comparison.

Here's a healthy chunk of what Amnesty has to say about us, Russia, China, the Palestinians and , of course, Israel.

However the overriding theme of the report, outlined by Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan in an opening statement, singled out the United States for condemnation.

"The global security agenda promulgated by the US administration is bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle," she charged.

"Sacrificing human rights in the name of security at home, turning a blind eye to abuses abroad and using pre-emptive military force where and when it chooses have neither increased security nor ensured liberty."

The notion of fighting a campaign against terrorism so as to support human rights while simultaneously trampling on them to achieve this was no more than "double speak", she added.

The year 2003 had also "dealt a mortal blow" to the UN's vision of universal human rights, with the global body "virtually paralysed in its efforts to hold states to account" over the issue.

While the report only briefly dealt with damning allegations that US and British troops tortured Iraqi prisoners -- these came to light relatively recently -- it had harsh words about the nations' overall record in Iraq.

"Coalition forces failed to live up fully to their responsibilities as occupying powers, including their duty to restore and maintain public order and safety, and to provide food, medical care and relief assistance," the report's section on Iraq said.

Elsewhere, Amnesty detailed a long list of abuses in Russia, noting that the country's security forces "continue to enjoy almost total impunity for serious violations of human rights and international law" in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

China, despite the accession of a new political regime under President Hu Jintao during 2003, had made "no significant attempt" to end the use of torture and other abuses, which "remained widespread", the report said.

In the Middle East, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority were taken to task for alleged rights violations, with Amnesty saying that some actions by the Israeli army, such as the destruction of property, "constituted war crimes".

Not exactly an uplift, but damned well done

Cold Turkey

Kurt Vonnegut at his best here is writing about everything, but mostly war and peace and phony Christian politicians. You gotta love it - but I suggest that after you finish it, you restore you spirit with the words of another literate giant, William Faulkner, and his brief, but inspiring Nobel Prize speech which you can find here.

Here's how Vonnegut gets reved up and rolling:

Many years ago, I was so innocent I still considered it possible that we could become the humane and reasonable America so many members of my generation used to dream of. We dreamed of such an America during the Great Depression, when there were no jobs. And then we fought and often died for that dream during the Second World War, when there was no peace.

But I know now that there is not a chance in hell of Americaís becoming humane and reasonable. Because power corrupts us, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Human beings are chimpanzees who get crazy drunk on power. By saying that our leaders are power-drunk chimpanzees, am I in danger of wrecking the morale of our soldiers fighting and dying in the Middle East? Their morale, like so many bodies, is already shot to pieces. They are being treated, as I never was, like toys a rich kid got for Christmas.