Friday, 9 September 2011

A day which will live in infamy - and myth

I can still  vividly remember exactly where I was when news broke of the attacks on the twin towers ten years ago and the unfolding horror of it all - and I only say that as a preamble to make it clear that I'm as sensitive to the human tragedy as the next man:

Even so. Maybe ten years is too soon to try and get some historical perspective - but it is necessary when myth-making spillls dangerously into policy-making. And doing so needn't take anything away from the individual tragedies nor does it add to the conspiro-loons or Islamo-fascists and their apologists.

Watching all the coverage of the 9/11 anniversary I can't help but recall the words of the historian Shelby Foote on American hubris regarding their civil war: “We think that we are a wholly superior people – if we’d been anything like as superior as we think we are, we would not have fought that war.  But since we did fight it, we have to make it the greatest war of all times...  It’s very American to do that.”

History - and suffering - is not a numbers game. But sometimes numbers do give a perspective. It's often quoted that more people died in the 9/11 attacks than at Pearl Harbour in 1941. True - but if we are measuring recent civillian casulaties then 41,000  were killed in the war in Bosnia and  another 70,000 in the Darfur conflict. These are often forgotten - simply because they occured in obscure parts of the world in countries that aren't global players.  

Of course it's not just about the numbers. 9/11 also defined a turning point in American relations with the outside world. The attack on the US homeland was something unprecedented and so represents what has been described as a 'loss of innocence' for a  nation, which unlike many others, even in Europe, has not endured foreign attacks, invasion or occcupation. Undeniably 9/11 changed international relations and heralded in the new concept of  'the war on terror'.

But such interventionism by the US  is nothing new.  The US empire (Howard Zin's phrase not mine)  has been policing the rest of the world  in defence of its own interests since the nineteenth century. And specifically when it comes to the Middle East and relations with the ex-colonial (and coincidentally or not Islamic) word, America has been waging undeclared wars for many years. 

Which leads to an ironic footnote - the date of 9/11 will forever now be remembered as it is - rather than for the anniversary of the US inspired  and financed military coup of 1973 in Chile that eliminated the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende and installed a fascistic-regime that enjoyed the support of US and British governments for the next seventeen years.

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