Sunday, September 30, 2001

Get Real!

U.S. foreign policy since world war II has been criticized and often blamed for the September 11 attacks. I think that's dangerous and shows a level of pacifism that is pretty scary. There are many who think appeasement of the forces behind this attack will resolve the "problem" and stop further terrorist activity. I'm not sure where these people get their opinions from but maybe they've been listening to Harvard's well known pacifist Noam Chomsky, who has written extensively on this over the past few weeks.

Why is it that people are so quick to blame the U.S. for everything, even what happened 3 weeks ago. Geez, over 6,000 innocent people were killed in New York and Washington, D.C. ...many of them were guilty of merely going to work. Period.Jenny Tomkins, Australians Abroad, September 29 2001

In the name of God, more than 6,000 noncombatants are dead, more than 6,000 families bereaved. From what dark wells of malevolence springs this dreadful reflex desire to dance on their graves? Bryan Appleyard Sunday Times (UK) September 23 2001

An Irish Times editorial castigated America for its unilateralist policies. Numerous commentators said that the U.S. had bought this upon itself with its hateful foreign policy. A major radio presenter on the national station, RTE, said that "the sins of America's past were coming back to haunt them. Blaming America - What the European elite really think about 911. David Quinn, columnist with The Sunday Times (Ireland edition) September 24, 2001

I live in a city where over twelve thousand people have been murdered or injured in the past 18 days, most on day one. Most of these people were ordinary workers and many were the breadwinners for their families.

These atrocities were committed by people who did not know their victims. The dead and injured had never met or seen the murderers. The over 6,000 dead were not given any chance to bargain for their lives, to beg, to say goodbye to their spouses, friends or children. No time for them to make arrangements for those left behind.
My first question is - "Does it matter what country these people were in at the time?" Just because it wasn't Afghanistan or Palestine, are their deaths and injuries any less real?

My second question is, "What possible logic draws some people, many in Australia, to blame the deaths and injuries and resulting damage to people, society and world peace, NOT on the killers, but on American foreign policy of the past few decades?"
Am I missing something? Is there some vital part of the argument that they have forgotten to tell us? Let me try to reason it out.

Four decades ago American foreign policy led to the slaughter of innocent civilians in Vietnam. As well as this, the U.S. has supported Israel over Palestine, the Muslims against the Serbs, and has not supported Castro and has given arms to the fundamentalists who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan. A bit of a muddle all round, and no doubt some of these policies were misguided or just plain wrong.

At the same time, the US is an independent country, has a democratically elected government, and doesn't impose harsh laws on its citizens. Women here are not beheaded for adultery, females are allowed an education. A multi-cultural and racially tolerant society is encouraged.

No society is perfect. But, BECAUSE the USA is NOT perfect, when its citizens and immigrant workers are "punished" by deranged fanatics, then we should "understand the context". And while the murderers definitely believed god was on their side, god help any American who mentions god and country in the same sentence.
Is that it? Or have I got it wrong?

Perhaps Sue Williams, who wrote in the Sun Herald (Changing partners in an Orwellian dance of death) can tell me. I quote from her article,

"I realise it may be sacrilegious these days not to want to kill all the ragheads in the Middle East and spit on their womenfolk in Lakemba. And it may have been un-Australian, or un-American, when seeing TV footage of Palestinians celebrating the World Trade Center horror, to have asked why the US engenders so much hatred, rather than simply cheering an arsenal into the Persian Gulf".

Who is encouraging spitting on women, or killing what Ms. Williams terms, "ragheads"?

And just WHO does Sue Williams think engendered the hatred in the Palestinians? The people at the World Trade Center? I don't think so.

Writers like Ms Williams, inevitably preface their own hatred of a culture with sentences such as "Of course, no amount of hatred could ever justify flying passenger planes into busy office buildings." And then they go on to justify it.

I should feel sorry for these logic-challenged people who attempt to influence opionion in democratic societies. No doubt Ms Williams is not peddling her thoughts in Afghanistan as she'd suffer a similar fate to the 6,000 office workers, firemen, police men and women and cleaners.
But here in New York it is difficult to ignore the many naive articles coming out of my own country.

Getting back to normal

Meanwhile, New Yorkers are trying to get back to normal. "What is it like now?" I am frequently asked. Well, it is far from normal.

With many of the bridges and tunnels joining the island to the rest of NYC and New Jersey, either closed or restricted, the traffic is unbelievably slow, and getting too and from work is a major problem. Despite measures to ease the situation (private cars MUST carry more than one person), the fact that the subway system is still working at 20% below capacity, and that bomb squads and police are regularly inspecting cars and trucks on tunnel and bridge approaches, means a substantial slow-down.

There are no smiles on the faces of the people in the streets. There is the gap left in the skyline, and now the sky. The absence of planes is noticeable. We are getting used to military vehicles, bomb disposal cars and the random searches of vehicles.
People are still staying home. There is the smell of death in lower Manhattan. Firemen interviewed on TV have the look of WW1 shell-shocked soldiers.

On the way to work last week, I passed some firemen unloading shovels and rescue capsules they'd brought back to their depot from ground zero. Knowing than these men had been salvaging body parts, and what the shovels had been used for, I hurried on.

And although people with apartments near the World Trade Center are starting to be allowed back, life will still not be easy for them. Their apartments are full of debris. Computers blown through the windows on the 11th, body parts, dust and rubble.
I fear our city will never be the same again. But from reading some of the press commentaries in Australia and Britain, at least this will make some people, very happy. After all, we all only got what we deserved...

Kate Juliff
September 30th 2001

Sample responses from readers

Below is a small but representative selection of readers' responses to last week's article, Clouds.

Dear Kate,

I happened to come across your Web site via Alumni.Net. I was pleased to
see a response to the trend to deplore the terrorist attacks but then add a
criticism of America, or its foreign policies, or its past international
relationships, etc. Somehow, this ill-conceived association of ideas is
meant to 'prove' that America deserved what it got and it is good to see
such tripe being exposed for what it is.
All the best
Vida Jarasius (MA, Uni of Melb 1977)

Hi Kate,

Just wanted to say well done on your last column. I can't believe people are preaching peace at this stage. War is an ugly, terrible thing, but if you don't have a military response to thousands of innocent people being killed, when do you have one?

And even if US foreign policy has been imperfect in the past, that's no excuse, reason or justification for what happened to civilians in New York.



You have hit the nail on the head!

The sadness will ease but not in the short term, people are now starting to attend the Memorial Services for individuals. The fact that they have to be Memorial Services says it all. I attended one up in New Fairefield Connecticut on Friday night.

Candace Williams was a young 20 year old girl who had worked as an intern in one of my groups from January to June, she was on one of the flights which crashed into the World Trade Center. She was smart, pretty, and had such a love of life that it was very painful to see her family and friends as well as her work mates impacted so hard. The pain will ease and New York will go back to being New York, but the resolve will never fade, I think of all the slogans we will see the one on the cap says it all.

I think America may just have the staying power to go after this like it has not for some time.