by Stephen Gowans
"This is precisely the kind
of threat we face," began U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen,
speaking to reporters about the panel he has set up to investigate
the bombing in Yemen of the USS Cole. "Countries are unwilling
to take us on head to head but will resort to acts of terrorism to
achieve their goals."
Compare the number of U.S.
service personnel killed in terrorist attacks to the number killed
or missing in action since 1983. The numbers, 319 killed by
terrorists to 246 killed or missing in combat, make the point,
underscored by Mr. Cohen, that the U.S. faces a growing terror.
But another comparison can be
made. This time of civilian deaths and casualties due to U.S.-led
Five hundred civilians alone died
in the Kosovo air war, to say nothing of the larger toll of civilian
deaths caused by the 1986 Libya air strikes, the 1989 Panama
invasion, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the 1998 cruise missile attack
on a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory, and the 1998, and ongoing,
Iraqi air strikes. Add to that the post-war civilian casualties from
scatter bombs, Iraqi deaths that follow from vital civilian
infrastructure having been devastated in the Gulf War, the landmines
the U.S. persists in using, cancers caused by depleted uranium
munitions scattered across Iraq and Serbia, future malignancies that
will arise from the environmental degradation occasioned by the
bombing of Serb fertilizer and petrochemical factories, and another
point becomes doubly clear: that the world faces a growing, and much
larger, terror: U.S. military action.
Not that terrorist attacks can be
condoned, on anyone, including U.S. military personnel, but when you
jackboot around the world killing so many people, is it so unusual
that some people strike back?
Of course, they don't usually
strike back at the people who plan and order the attacks, or in
whose interests the attacks are carried out, but against soldiers
who are usually ill-paid, are often recruited from the margins of
U.S. society, and hardly personally share in the enormous bounty of
U.S. global domination.
Not too long ago, New York Times
columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that: "For globalization to
work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower
that it is...The hidden hand of the market will never work without
the hidden fist -- McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell
Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps
the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US
Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps."
The 246 U.S. soldiers killed or
missing in action, the 319 felled by terrorist attacks, and the
countless number of civilians killed and maimed by U.S. bombs and
missiles, to say nothing of the more than one million Iraqi
civilians dead from a decade-long sanctions regime, is the price the
people who run the U.S. are willing to pay for the fruits of their
global hegemony. But it's not their lives that are imperiled, not
their children laid to rest in cold graves, not their limbs blown
apart by scatter bombs, and not their friends and neighbors who face
either the deadly fury of cruise missiles, or the terrorist attacks
with homemade bombs that inevitably follow.
It's easy to dismiss the deaths
and injuries of others as worth it from the safety of a Wall St.
boardroom, a Manhattan newsroom, or a Pentagon planning room.
Asked about the hundreds of
thousands of Iraqi children who have died as a result of Iraqi
sanctions, that's exactly what former U.S. Secretary of State
Madeline Albright said: "We think it's worth it."
Were the "blowback"
deaths of the sailors on the USS Cole worth it? To people like
Albright, perhaps. To the dead sailors themselves, and their
families, no. After all, what did they, themselves, get from their
country's global hegemony beyond, say, a McDonalds in every foreign
Mr. Steve Gowans is a
writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.