It comes as no surprise that the Bush administration has decided to follow the Old Testament’s admonition that “an eye for an eye” is the right and proper course in response to the East Coast attacks. And so the “plucking out of eyes” in retribution begins with the cruise missiles and 500-pound bombs of the wealthiest, mightiest, nation on earth falling on one of the world’s poorest countries, bludgeoning yet again a people that have already raised a generation of children who have known nothing but the ravages of war. That more than a million refugees are leaving what little security their homes provide, fleeing the bombs by trekking into the fierce cold of an oncoming winter in the sere and rugged mountains of the Hindu Kush, only assures that many more innocent women and children, the old, the lame, and the weak will die of disease, deprivation, hunger, and cold. For many, America’s striking back brings a satisfying taste of revenge, as if we can simply bomb our way to justice. But for those who listened carefully to the words of the recent speeches by both President Bush and Osama bin Laden, these actions seem to tumble us down a never-ending spiral of fear, terror, and death.
President Bush, full of the bluster one would expect from a Texan who controls the most powerful armed forces in the world, tells the nation that “We will not waiver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.” This is big talk from a guy who assiduously avoided any involvement in the Vietnam War thanks to his father’s political clout. But then again, George W. isn’t donning camos and heading for Afghanistan, walking over the bones of the Russian and English soldiers who never returned from their own disastrous incursions there. In a classic example of Orwellian double-speak, the Bush administration has dubbed this campaign “Enduring Freedom.” But here at home, freedoms are quickly being curtailed as a seemingly numb Congress passes new “security” measures with little or no debate, little or no financial accounting, and virtually no opportunity for the people of this country to either know the content of those new laws, or have the chance to com- ment on them.
The very foundation of America’s democracy rests upon the precept that the government is of, by, and for “the people.” Now, in a faux-patriotic frenzy, that precept has been discarded as the Bush administration and Congress, “leap without looking” into momentous, perhaps horrendous, decisions. Sitting on the sidelines, our citizens are force-fed the corporate media’s selective presentation of the latest polls, but virtually none of us can say for sure what might be in the bills Congress is passing, what it will cost us or our children, and whether or not the tradeoffs in the loss of personal freedoms, civil liberties, and future fiscal stability of our country are worth the price.
What might that price be? We have a clue in the chilling words of Osama bin Laden’s video. Unlike Bush, bin Laden has been a frontline guerrilla fighter, has seen death and destruction firsthand, has stared into the teeth of the overwhelming might of the massed power of the Soviet Union’s tanks and helicopter gunships—and beat them. Dressed in camouflage battle gear, sitting in front of a cave with an AK-47 assault rifle near at hand, bin Laden issued this warning: “[N]either America nor the people who live in it will dream of security before we live it in Palestine, and not before all the infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad.” Doubtless many Americans would have laughed to hear such a boast from one man in a tiny, impoverished country half a world away. But following the horror of the Sept. 11 attacks, with which bin Laden is credited, laughter no longer seems so appropriate. We have discovered, in a wave of destruction, fire, and blood, that we are not invulnerable and that, even from half a world away, a man we once trained in the art of war can strike this nation a horrible blow.
I hate to say it, but I fear America’s experience in this regard is not over. Sitting on my dining room table is a book with the simple title Germs. It is brand new, written by three outstanding reporters for The New York Times, and tells a horrific tale of what might await us as we enter what they call “the warfare of the 21st century.” Like a Stephen King novel come true, Germs details the development of biological weapons over the course of the last century. Using recently declassified documents, hundreds of interviews, and “on-site reports” from the former Soviet Union’s biological weapons labs, the authors paint a grim picture of bio-warfare and bio-terrorism, and our own vulnerabilities to what they call “the poor man’s hydrogen bombs.”
In a largely symbolic effort, the Air Force is now flying fighter cover for weekend sporting events. But how do you stop the martyr, dying for Allah, who simply walks among the crowd coughing, spreading lethal contagion among the masses? The simple answer is, “you don’t.” Already, masses of Muslims around the world are condemning America’s attacks on Afghanistan, which bin Laden has characterized as attacks on Islam itself. Clerics in Pakistan are calling on their followers to launch a jihad against America, a Holy War in which no quarter is expected or given. As we have already seen firsthand, there are certainly those who would willingly die for the cause, and now their numbers are growing.
President Bush and Osama bin Laden both noted that Americans were fearful at this juncture in our history. Both were right. Bush seeks to reassure us, as pictures of our smart bombs, cruise missiles and mighty armaments fill our television screens. But bin Laden, whether we destroy him or not, has already scored another victory by turning the “dreams of security” for hundreds of millions of Americans into a nightmare of apprehension and fear as we wait for his promised retribution—a retribution that any thinking person must acknowledge is a very
When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.