I’m going to give this speech tonight to a crowd of drunk young people. If I’m not back by morning, ask around if there have been any "Islamic burials."
About 10 years ago a bunch of psychotic killers crashed planes into buildings. A tall skinny guy who took credit said he was protesting the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and US support for Israel’s war on Palestinians. That wasn’t exactly going to hold up in a court of law as a justification for mass-murder. But the U.S. government had already, before 9-11, turned down offers from the Taliban to put bin Laden on trial in a third country, and it turned those offers down again.
Instead, the U.S. president said he had no interest in bin Laden, but proceeded to encourage Americans to be afraid of their own shadows. He used that fear to help launch a war without end. We’ve now had nine-and-a-half years of pointless horrific murderous war in Afghanistan and eight years of the same in Iraq, plus a drone war in Pakistan, a new war in Libya, and smaller wars and special military operations in dozens of other countries.
We watched foreign looking people on television dancing in the streets and celebrating the crimes of 9-11 and we thought how evil and barbaric they must be. Knowing nothing about the decades our government had spent exploiting and occupying their countries, toppling their democratic leaders, and kicking in their doors, we assumed that these subhuman monsters were celebrating the killing of Americans because they just happened to dislike us or because their stupid religion told them to.
Of course, we used to have lynch mobs in this country. Ask the freedom riders who left for the deep south 50 years ago today. But we had outgrown that. We were not driven by blind vengeance. We were civilized. The reason we locked up far more people in prison than any other country and killed some of them was a purely rational calculation dealing with prevention, deterrence, and restitution. We weren’t monsters. We didn’t torture or cut people’s heads off.
But those beasts that we started locking up in Guantanamo: they were a different story. They clearly could not be reasoned with. They had to be tied up like animals just to control them. Our government wouldn’t do that to people if it didn’t have to, so clearly it had to. To think otherwise would be inappropriate, disloyal, disobedient. It was best to think what we were told to think, and if most of those people in Guantanamo turned out to be innocent, well at least they weren’t real people like us.
And so we gave up 800 years of civil rights. We tore up the Magna Carta. Because people should have the right to a trial only when the government doesn’t tell us they are guilty. We gave up our opposition to torture. We abandoned our trepidation regarding aggressive wars. We sat silent as President Obama declared his right to assassinate Americans and threw a whistleblower, naked, into a 6′ x 12′ cell in Virginia. We asked Congress to obey the president and the media to cheer for our team. And we watched lots of movies.
The cool thing about movies is that torture works. Completely unlike reality, the torture victim always tells the truth in movies. And killing people works great too. It doesn’t disturb the killer at all or have any nasty side effects. People backing the same cause as the victim never appear as the credits are rolling. Happily ever after is what comes from killing people. The best thing for us to do, unless we’re busy shopping, is to cheer and scream like deranged maniacs whose team just won the super bowl.
And so, after 10 years of shredding the rule of law, hiring mercenary armies, invading helpless unarmed countries, causing the deaths of over a million people, and learning to love torture, all of this warfare did absolutely nothing to locate Osama bin Laden, who was hiding near the capital of a country to which we had decided to allow nuclear bombs and to give billions of dollars. We fought a war in Iraq on the pretense that Iraq was giving bin Laden nukes, while bin Laden was hiding out in a nuclear nation and almost certainly with the knowledge of that nation’s military. Pakistan is now on call should Saudi Arabia need any troops to kill its own people, the United States having heeded bin Laden’s demand and pulled its troops out to deploy them elsewhere in the region — a region in which our government supports and arms dictators until they are nonviolently overthrown or, as in Libya, a rebel force led by a CIA stooge can be backed instead. Only massive ignorance can continue to ask "Why do they hate us?"
And so, after nearly a decade, our government bothered to look for bin Laden, found him, and murdered him. But what choice did they have? A truly fair trial would always involve the risk of acquittal. A semi-fair trial would have risked bringing up undesirable topics, such as the US failure to prevent 9-11, our decades’ old support for bin Laden, bin Laden’s evasion of the US in 2001 and ever since, bin Laden’s reasons for 9-11, and the question of precedent. If we gave bin Laden a semi-fair trial, how would we explain denying one to so many other people? And a truly unfair military trial would have made the United States look even worse. As a CIA guy told me on the radio yesterday: killing him was "cleaner."
Who else used to talk about killing people in terms of cleanliness, I forget? But that’s what we do now. We don’t try people as we tried the Nazis. We don’t lock people up and torture them. We kill them. It’s cleaner. And then we dance in the streets cheering for the killing. But killing Saddam Hussein didn’t bring peace. Killing Muammar Gadaffi will not bring peace any more than killing his children and grandchildren has. Killing Osama bin Laden will bring no peace and is no justice. Nonviolently overthrowing the governments of Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen points us in a better direction, albeit one we can’t picture from Hollywood movies in our heads.
When I wrote two days ago along the lines that I’ve just been speaking, objecting to the celebration of anyone’s murder, I received more positive responses by Email than I’ve seen in a very long time, if ever. My article was posted on more websites and translated into more languages than I’ve seen in a long time too. Veterans for Peace endorsed it as a statement of their organization. There are those who understand that life is not a movie, that the leading cause of US deaths in Afghanistan is suicide, that we cannot continue in this drunken fantasy without destroying everything and everyone we care about.
Enough is enough.
End the war without end.
Bring the troops and contractors and mercenaries home.