“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 military action.
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 port?
Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.