The following is an article that was first published in the Boston Globe on September 16 2001 followed by my revision based on information since then._____________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________
A Change For the Better or Worse?
by James Carroll
AMERICA WAS CHANGED forever by the catastrophe of Sept. 11 - so they say. But what kind of change? As the US response at home and abroad unfolds, concerns mount about forces set in motion.
Change can obviously be very much for the worse. Escalated violence, eroded civil liberties, undercut economy, the mortal clash of religions and cultures, nukes in Pakistan - we have become connoisseurs of the dangers that may lie ahead. But don't we owe it to the gravity of this moment, not to mention those who died, to imagine quite explicitly what change for the better might mean?
What if the catastrophe of Sept. 11 resulted, over the long term, in recognitions and initiatives that made America - and the world - a far better place? My simple purpose here is to invite a movement away from the present context which necessarily remains clouded with threats and questions.
Instead, cast your mind forward 50 years or so. When human beings look back at Sept. 11, 2001, from that place in mid-century, here is what I hope they will see:
A turning point at which regionalisms of every kind gave way in primacy to a widely shared vision of One World. The understandable urge of ''First World'' people to pursue self-interest without regard for the earth's other inhabitants was recognized as a self-defeating illusion. Political structures of governance dating to the 18th century gave way to governance that reflected what 21st century technologies had done to global awareness. This shift made of the earth not one, univocal and therefore totalitarian community, but a community of communities, with full respect for regional and cultural differences. ''God bless America'' remained a slogan, but within ''God bless the world.''
A turning point at which the main mode of resolving world conflict shifted away from the culture of war and toward the culture of law. The decisive change occurred when Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants were arrested by a force acting, with restraint, in the name of law. He was not summarily executed while still in fatigues, but was brought to trial in a newly invigorated International Criminal Court where the case against him and his network was laid out.
He was given a chance to mount a defense, and did. His patently false appeals to fellow Muslims mostly went unheeded. He and his lieutenants were found guilty and were imprisoned for the rest of their lives. This breakthrough exercise of international law itself changed the way humans respond even to savage provocation.
A turning point at which the radical poverty of millions was recognized as an urgent moral question and a political disaster that had to be addressed by politics on a world scale. Hunger as an inevitable breeder of violence finally came to be defined as itself a form of violence. Adjustments were made in the way democratic capitalism understood itself, with markets no longer acting as sole arbiters of the flow of money and resources. Information technologies made possible a revolution in education that led in turn to the spread of democracy, tolerance and, especially, the equality of women. Capitalism found its human face.
A turning point at which power based on a massive threat aimed at civilians was seen for what it was - not only among terrorists, but among the nations still hoarding arsenals of nuclear weapons long after Cold War justifications were gone. Terrorism was understood as the poor man's nuke.
In addition to combating terrorism, nuclear states turned against their own deterrence theory because it, too, was based on readiness to commit mass murder. Washington began by renouncing first use, unilaterally destroying warheads, recommitting itself to arms control treaties, and accepting the ultimate aim of nuclear abolition. National Missile Defense quietly fell off the American agenda. Terrorism was defeated when the ''Balance of Terror'' was dismantled.
As of today such changes seem like impossible dreams, but are they? Isn't the present crisis a revelation, ultimately, of the ground zero that awaits the human race if we continue to define our sense of possibility in narrow terms? ''Realism'' is no longer realistic.
There is no redeeming the anguish of Sept. 11, as if such loss can be turned into gain. But there is a way to make what happened that day even worse - if, in our responses to it, we do not drastically change the way we live on this planet, beginning with how we respond to those who hate us.
Last month, W.H. Auden's great poem ''September 1, 1939'' flashed across the Internet, and I think I know why. Because of its simplest, truest, most difficult line - never simpler, never truer, never more difficult: ''We must love one another or die.''_____________________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________________
James Carroll and many other people obviously didn’t get what they wanted in the first nine years after 9/11. Not only didn’t they catch Osama Bin Laden but they used 9/11 as an excuse to invade a country that was totally unrelated to 9/11 and to clamp down on civil liberties for the majority. This doesn’t mean that we can’t get what he wants and many other people want in the next forty or so years; however it does indicate that we can’t trust those that control the most powerful institutions to do what it takes to solve society’s problems for us. If they could solve our problems and they wanted to they would have already done so.
If the public wants to reach the turning point that James Carroll claimed he would like to see they need to do a much better job educating themselves. The United States and the multi-national corporations that maintain a disproportionate amount of influences over the government have been calling all the shots on most of the issues that involve national security and they have done little or nothing to preserve sincere national security for the majority; instead they have done whatever they can to preserve their own power and their own business interests.
A controversial quote was recently attributed to Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam involved in the mosque in NY; he said that “in the most direct sense, Osama Bin Laden is made in the USA.” This might not be technically true but it is way too close. Osama rose to power because he received support from the USA when he was fighting with the Mujaheddin against the USSR; then when the war was over the Mujaheddin became the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. They became enemies of the USA because of the activities of the USA in the gulf. The majority of the public isn’t familiar with this story; instead they rely on the propaganda that is fed to them from the Mass Media which routinely contradicts itself. This is just a small amount of the propaganda that is being fed to the public. If we’re going to learn from this and prevent things like this from happening in the future then it will be necessary for the public to become much more involved in the way the government is being run and they will have to become much more educated starting with young people in school who have the most to gain or lose and they’re much more open minded in many cases. They’re going to be the ones that make the decisions in the long run.
The American Empire Project, Free Press, the south end Press and other organizations that are much less known that the mainstream press have put out a lot of books that help to show the public how the USA has been behaving more like an empire that a sincere defender of democracy. If the public learns to find information from more reliable sources and helps to develop a truly free press that isn’t controlled by the multinational corporations; and if the public implements true election reform where the election system is controlled by the public not the Mass Media and the multi-national corporations then maybe we can have the just world that James Carroll and many others want to have.
James Carroll’s columns were reprinted as part of a collection along with of some additional commentary in a book Crusade which was part of the American empire Project; for more information see:
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