Aftermath of the Disaster

Terrified New Yorkers Flee for Their Lives!

 Irony, Rage, Denial, but Little Truth

As I awoke on this first Sunday after the great terror rained down from the skies over the nation’s Capitol, and the Financial Center of the world in lower Manhattan, I was greeted with rumors and rumblings of war. And as the day proceed the rattling of sabers became fairly deafening, drowning out any attempt at sober and objective analysis of both the possible causes of the Kamikaze like attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon, and what strategy the nation should now employ to eradicate those causes. Most disappointing has been the pronouncements of our elected officials and Christian clerics.

Both too often speak as if they are addressing a nation of little children or adult morons. The preferred rhetoric of the day abounds with simple-minded equations of those “evil men” who are out to “destroy our democratic Christian way of life” because they envy and hate our “American freedom and prosperity.” Even as enlightened and reasonable a man as Senator Charles Schumer came on WCBS TV and resorted to moronic arguments like “They hate us because we are free, because I can go to a book-store and buy any book I want” and – turning to the black woman anchor, a super intellectual lightweight – he said “they hate you because you don’t have to wear a veil.”

The question, put to the senator by the Afro-American anchor that prompted this torrent of propagandistic invective masquerading as wisdom was: “Why do these people hate us so, do they want to turn us into the Talibans?” This, as strange as it seems, is about the level of the discourse conducted by the talking airheads who control the mikes in the major media, whether radio or television. And, rather than take the opportunity television offers to speak to millions in order to raise the level of the discourse by calling for a measured response and soul searching about American policy in the middle east, the politicians and clerics have, for the most part, descended to the level of the media wags.

Yet the present crisis, which has forced the anchors to engage in extemporaneous conversation due to the many hours they are on the air covering unfolding events, has exposed how ignorant they are of world affairs as well as their moral bankruptcy. It is frightening to think that many people look upon these overpaid over hyped media personalities as well informed and ethical sources from whom they can gain wisdom about the world.

The awful truth is that many of these anchors have skills that are closer to those of an actor than what is required of a journalist. One News organization – If memory serves it is the Fox network – recently hired a third-rate blond actress whose career was going nowhere on the big screen to serve as a news anchor. While serious female journalists howled in protest, the suits at the network put the blond bubblehead on the air reading the news while displaying her shapely legs ala Katie Couric – that’s what your favorite news anchor does folks, just read copy by an anonymous author off a teleprompter. That she has been successful verifies the claim made by many journalists that it is more important for a successful TV anchor to be physically attractive and able to read news copy with the proper emotions than to develop crack journalistic skills and spend years learning about world affairs. Hence the sordid state of our present public discourse should surprise no one, for it is being conducted by morons!

However, the same claim cannot be made for our clerics. Among the ranks of men of the cloth who are entrusted with the spiritual guidance of our nation are charlatans like Jerry Falwell, and pious preachers like Wyatt T. Walker, and many who have extensive educations in philosophy, religion, history, and the social sciences. But most of all, for Christians, the canonical text is the Holy Bible. The New Testament, which contains the teachings of Jesus Christ, expressly forbids the use of violence, and instructs us to “Love thy enemy” and “Turn the other cheek.” Advice all too readily given to black folks suffering from centuries of horrid oppression, whether in the USA or South Africa, by the same white folks who are now whipping up the war hysteria.

I have heard one Christian cleric after another call for war against the Muslim terrorists with all the fervor of a medieval monk recruiting knights for the crusades – a term actually employed by President Bush. The teachings of Jesus – whom they all give lip service to – along with reason, are the first casualties of the nationalistic war fever that has gripped the nation. In fact, the orgy of self-righteous anger my countrymen are engaging in just now is such that it is dangerous to try and offer a reasoned argument based upon the Christian principles taught by Jesus. Indeed, in a flurry of jingoistic indignation the clerics have scrapped the biblical injunction, “Vengeance is mine! sayth the lord,” faster than the Lone Ranger could draw his gun.

It is not surprising that the clearest voices calling the nation away from this course of blind vengeance and setting forth arguments based on Christian charity and reconciliation have come from the African-American community. The first voice that I heard clearly calling for the nation to reflect upon its policies in the Middle East, and the Bush administration’s increasingly unilateralist posture in world affairs, was the Reverend Jesse Jackson who, despite the recent exposure of his adulterous affair, remains one of the clearest voices for Christian charity in governmental policies.

And the other was the courageous warning of the black Episcopal priest who spoke to the nation at the “Day of Mourning” ceremonies in the National cathedral. With all of the high and mighty congregated to express their anguish at the sudden attack on the nation’s centers of power, including four former presidents who are far from innocent of blame in the present tragedy, the compassionate Cleric admonished the nation not to become the evil they were seeking to redress.

Here in New York this Sunday, progressive black preachers long committed to the struggle for social justice through public policy informed by Christian charity – Herbert Daughtry, Calvin Butts, Al Sharpton, etc – called the nation away from blind rage and reminded us of white America’s long record of sinful treatment of people of color. These insightful clerics, who refuse to join in the national chant for war against the infidels, made it clear that the American government is not blameless in the disaster that has befallen our nation. That such an obvious conclusion may soon become grounds for the government to tap our phones and intercept our e-mails – scrapping the civil liberties that are one of the finest features of American civilization – is a true measure of the abysmal mess we are in.

However if the poet James Russell Lowell was right, that “Truth crushed to earth will rise again,” as Dr. Martin Luther King was fond of pointing out, then no matter how hard the official mythmakers in our government, pulpits and press try to deny any culpability on the part of America’s foreign policy establishment for the present disaster, the truth will out. And the truth is that American policies in the Islamic world – and the so-called Third World in general i.e. African, Asia, and Latin America – over the past century have created innumerable enemies with a passionate hatred for the USA.

For instance, between 1890 and 1932 the US military intervened in the affairs of third world countries 45 times. And since the close of World War II the US has conducted 20 armed interventions into the internal affairs of other countries, all of which were in support of anti-democratic forces. It is this disgraceful legacy to which the historian and lawyer Gerald Horne refers when he argues that white Americans have promoted a policy of democratic institutions for themselves, quasi-fascism for African-Americans, and fascism for third world countries.

The evidence is abundant and incontrovertible. To deny these fundamental facts is to eradicate the possibility of reaching the kind of understanding that is essential to developing a new world order that can foster peace and prosperity for all peoples. Hence it will not well serve the national interest to deny the history and present realities that so many others in the world are living or share as collective memories.

For instance, none but a Charlatan or an ignoramus can deny that the Islamic revolution, which began with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, is a direct response to American policies in the region. The root cause of the revolution was the American decision to have the CIA overthrow the constitutionally elected government of Muhammad Mossedeh in 1953 and establish the Pahlevi dynasty – a group of greedy, dictatorial, murderers – to reign over the Iranian people as absolute rulers backed by American military might.

It is common knowledge to anyone who has cared to study the matter that torture was a standard tool for quelling dissent and maintaining the Shah’s stranglehold on the country. There was no pretense at democracy, yet the US government supplied the Shah with the most advanced military hardware, which he paid for with the oil wealth of the country, wealth that the Shah squandered as if it were his personal fortune.

But while the Pahlevi’s and their US sponsors basked in Hubris, the increasingly militant clerics of Iran, led by the exiled Ayatollah Khomeni, who would burst upon the scene like and old testament prophet calling for the death of “The Great Satan,” was quietly winning the hearts and minds of the people. And when the people rose in righteous anger fueled by a militant and redemptive brand of Shiite Islam, the Shah’s army, the best equipped fighting force in the region, proved impotent as the soldiers turned their guns on their officers.

Sadly, most Americans, who are terminally provincial, never heard of any of this until the Mullahs ordered their Muslim students to take American hostages. I remember well how, aside from the CIA operatives who the architects of this mess were, Middle East Scholars, and a hand full of progressive intellectuals concerned with international solidarity with the oppressed, most Americans were standing around completely befuddled, clueless. The dominant theme of the discourse among my fellow Americans at the time was: “What’s wrong with these crazy people, why are they doing this to these innocent Americans!” But to those of us who had been studying American policy in Iran the Islamic revolution came as no surprise.  Just as only the methods used by the terrorists of 9/11 surprised us, not that it happened; for that was predictable.  Yet most Americans were caught completely off guard.

Hence the dominant discourse in the aftermath of the present disaster is strangely familiar. The same mind-numbing ignorance and self-righteous bombast that characterized the mainstream American response to the Iranian revolution now colors the present conversation. And the incredible policy blunders that led the US to arm Iraq to invade Iran provoking a bloody war that Iraq eventually lost but not before acquiring advanced American training and military technology.

However, when the Iraqis decided to use their military might to reclaim a part of their oil rich territory – which Saddam Hussein calls “The fifth province of Iraq” – that the British colonialists had ripped off and renamed Kuwait, then placed under the control of a Bedouin Sheik whose vast oil wealth enables him to rule as a benevolent dictator, George Bush Senior, along with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell launched “Desert Storm,” supposedly to save these rascals!

The present conflict with Osama Bin Laden, and the pending invasion of Afghanistan to arrest him, is also the consequence of misguided American meddling. Ben Laden and the fanatical, super- repressive Taliban regime is a product of the largest CIA covert action since WWII, a two-billion-dollar operation which trained the militant Islamic forces – “ the Mujahadeen “ who were then called “freedom fighters” – in “urban terrorism” to employ against the Russians. Hence, if the terrorist who wreaked such devastating violence on Washington and New York were trained in Afghanistan, it is a particularly horrible case of what the intelligence community calls “Blowback”!

Finally, there is America’s long-standing policy of always supporting the Israelis in their struggle with the Palestinians. On Tuesday the Arab-American leaders who met with the President the day before, held a press conference at which they candidly addressed the issue of America’s apparent unconditional support for Israel as a major source of hatred for this country in the Islamic world. Although acknowledging the danger of being accused of anti-Semitism for speaking out on this issue, they never-the-less chose to speak their minds.

But they are not alone in arguing this point. A retired Admiral associated with The Center for Defense Information made the same point in an interview with former Daily News columnist Earl Caldwell, in a live broadcast on WBAI FM last Saturday. The admiral argued that there is no purely military solution to the scourge of Islamic Terrorism; only a solution to the problems that give rise to the terrorist – whom he said were “made not born” – can finally end this deadly plague. It was obvious to all who watched the television reports on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that Arab parents were not going to long tolerate the steady procession of caskets bearing the bodies of their children, slaughtered by Israeli soldiers for throwing rocks. That’s why the suicide bombers came as no surprise to many observers.

Listening to the swelling howl for blood vengeance that now drowns out any attempt at a rational and honest discussion of the issues surrounding the most-deadly terrorist attack in US history, I fear for the future of my children. With one child living in an area where there is a major concentration of military installations, and another dwelling in the shadow of nuclear reactors, a quiet but persistent terror creeps into my soul, and I long to find the voice that could conjure the words powerful enough to turn this nation away from the path of death and destruction, and study war no more. I wish for the language that could convince my irate countrymen that now is the time for diplomacy not bombs! For if history teaches us anything it is that violence begets more violence.

Sadly, since the arrogance of the largely Anglo-Saxon white male elite who still own and run this country knows no bounds, they will more than likely rush head long into the abyss and rain bombs on many thousands of innocent people – and increasingly we hear a rising call for nuclear weapons. To claim that this is a Christian response is blasphemy; to confuse it with wisdom is pitiable self-deception, to declare it just is a vainglorious lie! And, like the poet said, “No lie can live forever.” Since no man or woman of the cloth has yet shown the moral courage to say “We have reaped what we have sown” – at least it has yet to reach my ears – like Thomas Jefferson, I fear for the fate of my country and “I shudder when I reflect upon the fact that god is just!”

Reaping what You Sow…

New Yorkers Struggling to Survive the Attack

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Playthell George Benjamin

Ground Zero, New York City

September 11,  2001

  • Orginally Published in The Black World Today

Our Refusal to Learn the Lessons of History…

        South Vietnamese Fleeing the Fall of Saigon in 1975

 Dooms us to Repeating Costly Mistakes

After carefully surveying the human saga, Dr. George Santayana, a professor of Philosophy at Harvard, observed: “Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”  There has never been a nation for whom this axiom is more appropriate that the USA.  As I write the big story of the moment is the fall of Kabul, the capitol of Afghanistan, as the Taliban takes over the country.

One need only listen to President Biden’s speech at the beginning of the final , assuring us that the US retreat from Afghanistan would bear no resemblance to our retreat from Vietnam in 1975, to recognize that the US has learned nothing from history.  For even Stevie Wonder can see it’s SOS…same old shit!   Just look at the film…the South Vietnamese who had sided with the Americans in the war were storming the American embarkation point, holding onto the blades of helicopters as they ferried US personnel away, and crowds of Afghans are now holding onto US transport planes as the try to take off on the runways, in a desperate last ditch effort to escape the fate that awaits them at the hands of the Taliban.

When the persistent question arises, “how could this happen?” the routine answer is that there was “an intelligence failure.”  Of this there can be no denial.  However, the problem with this explanation is that few seem to recognize it is an intelligence failure that began over 60 years ago and has persisted ebbing and flowing like an ocean tide, with military conflicts returning in intervals like the theme of a bad song.  Alas, the US government, high on self-righteous hubris and fired up on the dangerous destructive fiction of “American Exceptionalism,” the misbegotten belief that “America is the essential nation” graced by God and destined to lead the world, traverses the globe attempting to pound the non-believers, the evil heretics, into submission.

It is this set of beliefs, which also holds the interests of US multi-national corporations sacred, requiring a pro-capitalist posture on the part of other nations, that has been the raison d’ etre for the continuous foreign wars that stains our history with the blood of peoples around the world who have suffered American interventions.  Hence the present disaster in Afghanistan cannot be understood apart from the history of US foreign interventions since the end of World War II, when the USA emerged as the most powerful nation in the world.

Armed with the awesome power of atomic bombs, a newly invented weapon whose unprecedented capacity for widescale destruction had been recently demonstrated by the horrible bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – which many observers regard as a war crime since it was an indiscriminate attack on civilians – along with the most developed and productive economy in the world, the US elite set out to realize Henry Luce’s earlier prediction that the 20th century would be “The American Century.”

In order to achieve this Pax Americana, a post war world order where all roads would lead to America, just as they had once led to Rome under the ancient Pax-Romana, there was first the matter of nullifying the influence of Communism, which placed the US in direct conflict with Soviet Russia, who had been a critical US ally in the war against the fascist axis powers of Italy, Nazi Germany and the Japanese “Empire of the Rising Sun,” which sought to unite all of Asia under Japanese leadership. “Asia for the Asians” they cried, even as they raped the Chinese city of Nanking with unprecedented cruelty, while invading Korea and Vietnam.

Having defeated the Fascist powers in a grand alliance with the Soviet Union, in which the Russians had lost 27 million people, the United States now considered them the paramount obstacle to American global ambitions, keeping the world safe for US capitalism.  Hence the policy of “Containment” was hatched by US foreign policy wonks such as George Kennan, and put into practice by American statesman and bureaucrats led by the Dullies brothers, Allen and John Foster, who served as CIA Director and Secretary Of State during the crucial years of the 1950’s when the Cold War began.

Watching the world they were making, Dr. WEB DuBois, the most prescient American social scientist/ historian/activist of the 20th century, observed: “If the Dullies brother are wise men then God save our fools!” History verifies the gravity of Dr. DuBois’s remarks because the policies initiated by the Dullies Brothers led to Korea, Vietnam, the overthrow of Iranian democracy in 1953, the genocidal repression in Guatemala, support for right wing dictators all over the Americas and the world, from the murderous Sukarno in Indonesia, the Cuban strongman Fulgencio Batista, a corrupt American puppet whose oppressive regime led to a popular people’s revolution led by Fidel Castro – young idealistic middle-class lawyer who was radicalized by Batista’s nullification of an election won by progressives dedicated to ushering in a more equitable society that overthrew him, nationalized the vast tracks of land owned by the US based United Fruit Company which paid starvation wages, and began to build a socialist society in Cuba.

Had the US government stood up for democracy in Batista’s Cuba, there might never have been a revolution.  And had they embraced the revolution instead of automatically resorting to the “Containment” policy Castro would not have been driven into the waiting arms of the Soviet Union in an alliance for national survival.  If President Kennedy had not decided to try and overthrow the Cuban Revolution by supporting the corrupt racist white Cuban exiles in the misbegotten “Bay of Pigs” invasion, the history of US Cuban relations could have been entirely different and mutually beneficial, positive and productive rather than negative and destructive, as would the history of all the Americas over the last half century.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the last decade of the 20th century – the reasons for which are too complex to dissect here, but Vladimir Putin has called it “the greatest tragedy” of the last century – the world looked forward to a period of planetary peace free of constant wars and rumors of wars, with the horrible specter of nuclear annihilation ever hovering in the shadows.

Americans especially were giddy at the prospect of a “peace dividend” where the billions being squandered on maintaining a warfare state would be put to good use solving the myriad problems confronting American society.  And the military-industrial complex – a voracious monster consuming a large proportion of American treasure and intellectual talent, an unholy alliance between industry and the military that President Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe that defeated the Nazi’s, warned against at its inception –  would be put in check and eventually dismantled.

But this promise of a future free of perpetual wars proved to be a short- lived illusion.  For the policy of containing communism would soon be reincarnated as the “War on Terror,” an American effort to contain the spread of radical Islamic theology, whose growth was largely a response to odious American policies in Islamic countries that produced both the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the terrorist attack by Islamic Jihadist on America of 9/11.

Hence the present debacle in Afghanistan has deep roots in decades of American foreign policy that has kept the US mired in the muck of constant military conflicts, large and small, overt and covert, since the end of World War II.  The intellectual roots of the Afghan war can be found in the machinations of the policy wonks of the Project for a New American Century, that were installed in the American national security apparatus after Dirty Dick Cheney – Liz Cheney’s daddy – brought them into the administration of George W. Bush.

After the disastrous attack by Islamic Jihadist on 9/11, their hawkish theories became official US foreign policy, effectively replacing the more cautious counsel  of Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice with the reckless imperialist vision of the likes of  warmongering wonks such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol, et al.

It was a view premised on the vision of a unipolar world with the US reigning as the only global superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union, where the US could successfully pursue a policy of Pax-Americana – a new world order based on the prolific use of military power in pursuit of American objectives around the world – with Israel and Saudi Arabia playing pivotal roles in the containment of militant Islam.  The thinking that led us into the present hot mess in Afghanistan, a defeat more inglorious than Vietnam, can be clearly seen in a policy paper formulated in the Project for a New American Century.” 

Titled “Redesigning America’s Defenses,” it was a plan in search of a President foolish enough to implement it – I have published an extensive analysis elsewhere titled “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank.” It will soon be available online.   They tried to introduce it during the Administration of George The First, Bush the Elder, but as a former head of the CIA, he understood too much about the realities of the world to embark on such a reckless adventure.  Cheyney and Donald Rumsfeld made their pitch for the ideas that would later appear in the PNAC policy paper when Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Operation Desert Storm, whose mission was to drive the invading armies of Saddam Hussein out of oil rich Kuwait.

Cheney and Rumsfeld, both prominent members of the Bush Administration, wanted to use the conflict to topple Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, but General Powell put the brakes on this blatant attempt at mission creep and uttered the now famous advice to President George HW Bush. Invoking the Pottery Barn Rule, he said: ”If you break it you own it.”  Pointing out that if the US took down Saddam, we would be responsible for putting Iraq back together again.  Wisely, President Bush listened to General Powell, rejecting the advice of the future founders of The Project for a New American Century, whom he and General Powell routinely called “The Crazies” behind their backs.

With the election of George Bush Jr. aka “Clueless George,” the Crazies got the opportunity they had been waiting for.  Dick Cheney, a founder of the Neo-Con think tank, was now Vice President of the United States, and placed in charge of choosing key personnel in the national security apparatus.  And, predictably, Cheyney chose policy wonks from his think tank PNAC.  After the 9/11 Jihadist terror attack on the US, Clueless George panicked and turned to them for guidance – effectively sidelining Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.  And this resulted in the invasions that launched the wars in which we are finally ending in humiliating defeat a generation later!  Alas, looking at the photos of Afghans holding onto departing American military planes in 2021, is indeed like watching a rerun of the US departure from Vietnam in 1975.

            Attempting to Flee Afghanistan with Americans

A Defeated America Retreats 2021

 So, yes there was indeed an intelligence failure that led to our debacle in Afghanistan, but it began in the middle of the last century, when the American government began to believe that they could shape the nations of the world to conform to American desires through containment of undesirable movements, covert political subversion, and armed intervention into the affairs of other nations. There is a straight line from those decisions to now, albeit with some bizarre twists turns and cul de sacs.

Hence when the question of where things went wrong in Afghanistan comes up, the “intelligence failure” that led to the present disaster, I am reminded of a conversation between the great pugilist Sugar Ray Robinson and the Judge conducting an inquest after Robinson accidently beat an opponent to death in the ring.  “When did you know your opponent was in trouble Mr. Robinson,” asked the Judge.  To wit Sugar replied: “I knew he was in trouble when he signed the contract your honor.”

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

8/17/2021