I can’t help crying. As soon as I see a person on TV telling the heart-rending story of the tragic fate of a loved one in the World Trade Center disaster, I can’t control my tears. But then I wonder; why didn’t I cry when our troops wiped out some 5,000 poor people in Panama’s El Chorillo neighborhood on the excuse of looking for [drug lord Manuel] Noriega? Our leaders knew he was hiding elsewhere but we destroyed El Chorillo because the folks living there were nationalists who wanted the U.S. out of Panama completely.
Worse still, why didn’t I cry when we killed two million Vietnamese, mostly innocent peasants, in a war which its main architect, [former] Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, knew we could not win? When I went to give blood the other day, I spotted a Cambodian doing the same, three up in the line, and that reminded me; why didn’t I cry when we helped Pol Pot butcher another million by giving him arms and money, because he was opposed to “our enemy” (who eventually stopped the killing fields)?
To stay up, but not cry that evening, I decided to go to a movie. I chose Lumumba, at the Film Forum, and again I realized that I hadn’t cried when our government arranged for the murder of the Congo’s only decent leader, to be replaced by General Mobutu, a greedy, vicious, murdering dictator. Nor did I cry when the CIA arranged for the overthrow of Indonesia’s Sukarno, who had fought the Japanese World War II invaders and established a free independent country, and then replaced him by another General, Suharto, who had collaborated with the Japanese and who proceeded to execute at least half a million “Marxists” (in a country where, if folks had ever heard of Marx, it was at best Groucho).
I watched TV again last night and cried again at the picture of that wonderful now-missing father playing with his two-month old child. Yet when I remembered the slaughter of thousands of Salvadorans, so graphically described in the Times by Ray Bonner, or the rape and murder of those American nuns and lay sisters there, all perpetrated by CIA-trained and paid agents, I never shed a tear. Yet I cried when I heard how brave Barbara Olson, wife of the Solicitor General (whose political views I detested) had been. But I didn’t cry when the U.S. invaded that tiny, wonderful Caribbean nation of Grenada and killed innocent citizens who hoped to build a better life by building a tourist airfield — which my government called “proof” of a Russian base, but then finished building once the island was secure in the U.S. camp again.
Why didn’t I cry when Ariel Sharon — today Israel’s prime minister — ordered, the massacre of two thousand poor Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila? the same Sharon who, with such other Irgun and Stern Gang terrorists as Begin and Shamir (who also became prime ministers), killed the wives and children of British officers by blowing up the King David hotel where they were billeted?
I guess one only cries for one’s own. But is that a reason to demand vengeance on anyone who might disagree with us? That’s what Americans seem to want. Certainly our government does and so, too, most of our media. Do we really believe that we have a right to exploit the poor folk of the world for our benefit, because we claim we are free and they are not?
So now we’re going to go to war. We are certainly entitled to go after those who killed so many of our innocent brothers and sisters. And we’ll win, of course. Against Bin Laden. Against Taliban. Against Iraq. Against whoever and whatever… In the process we’ll kill a few innocent children again. Children who have no clothes for the coming winter. No houses to shelter them. And no schools to learn why they are guilty, at two, or four, or six years old. Maybe Evangelists [Jerry] Falwell and [Pat] Robertson will claim their deaths are good because they weren’t Christians, and maybe some State Department spokesperson will tell the world that they were so poor that they’re now better off.
And then what? Will we now be able to run the world the way we want to? With all the new legislation establishing massive surveillance of you and me, our CEOs will certainly be pleased that the folks demonstrating against globalization will now be cowed for ever. No more riots in Seattle, Quebec or Genoa. Peace at last.
Until next time. Who will it be then? A child grown-up who survived our massacre of his innocent parents in El Chorillo? A Nicaraguan girl who learned that her doctor mother and father were murdered by a bunch of gangsters we called democratic contras — who read in the CIA handbook that the best way to destroy the only government which was trying to give the country’s poor a better lot was to kill its teachers, health personnel and government farm workers? Or maybe it will be a bitter Chilean who is convinced that his whole family was wiped out on the orders of Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who could never tell the difference between a Communist, a democratic socialist, or even a nationalist.
When will we Americans learn that as long as we keep trying to run the world for the sake of the bottom line, we will suffer someone’s revenge? No war will ever stop terrorism as long as we use terror to have our way.
So I stopped crying because I stopped watching TV. I went for a walk. Just four houses from mine. There, a crowd had congregated to lay flowers and lit candles in front of our local firehouse. It was closed. It had been closed since Tuesday, Sept. 11, because the firemen, a wonderful bunch of friendly guys who always greeted neighborhood folks with smiles and good cheer, had rushed so fast to save the victims of the first World Trade Center tower that they perished with them when it collapsed. And I cried again.
So I said to myself when I wrote this, don’t send it: some of your students, colleagues, neighbors will hate you, maybe even harm you. But then I put on the TV again, and there was Secretary of State Powell telling me that it will be okay to go to war against these children, these poor folks, these U.S.-haters, because we are “civilized” and they are not. So I decided to risk it.
Maybe, reading this, one more person will ask; Why are so many people in the world ready to die to give us a taste of what we give them?
John Gerassi is Professor of Political Science at Queens College and the Graduate Center, CUNY, NY.