by David Cogswell
Oct. 7, 2001
George Carlin put it straightforwardly: "I never believe anything my government tells me -- nothing, not ever!"
Yesterday I heard a report that a bomb had exploded in Saudi Arabia killing a number of people including an American. The government said there was "no connection" to the events of September 11.
Of course anyone who thinks at all knows that any statement like that from the government must be read in a very specific context. The context is more of the message than the specific information in the statement itself. The government always has its reasons for saying whatever it says. What it is transmitting a picture of the world, one that will further its agenda. There are many different political factions within the government, but there are certain aspects of the governmental status quo that almost none of the establishment politicians ever challenge.
In this case, by saying there is no connection between the last bombing and the WTC attacks, the administration is saying that this bombing was not attributable to bin Laden, the man who has become the poster boy of terrorism, the face of the enemy. Osama bin Laden is the latest in a string of former Bush family allies (including Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein) who have become the personification of all that "threatens our way of life." In every case they have histories of financial and political dealings with the Bushes. Then at some point in each case, the image suddenly switches in valence and he becomes the enemy of the Western World, the reason for the latest war.
In terms of the administration's current choreography, it is not convenient to attribute the latest bombing to bin Laden, so we are told there is "no connection." It doesn't mean that there is literally no connection between the rage and hatred represented in the different acts. It means what the administration wants it to mean, that we aren't supposed to think about what connection there may be. Because one fact might lead to another and eventually a big picture might emerge that is not pretty. It might cause citizens to question their government's violent intervention in the politics of third world countries, its support of brutal dictatorships and the killing of innocent civilians.
The creation of bin Laden as a poster boy focuses the government's propaganda campaign. It does not necessarily mean that bin Laden had a hands-on role in the incidents of September 11, and it certainly doesn't mean that the death of bin Laden will eliminate the threat of further attacks. His assassination might, in fact, inflame the situation and increase the threat to Americans.
The current much-vaunted unity in the United States - and the reason for Bush's high approval ratings -- is the almost universal agreement on the need to protect the people of this country from further carnage of the kind we saw September 11. It would be reasonable to expect all Americans to share this concern, but a report by ABC news on Operation Northwoods, in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved plans for terrorist attacks against the U.S. population to arouse support for a war against Cuba, shows that not all Americans share even this most fundamental belief.
Beyond the first priority of dealing with the immediate threat, there is a pressing need for a thorough examination of America's foreign policy and a rethinking of America's place in the world. Trying to understand what has caused so much rage throughout the world against Americans is not - as some are saying now - unpatriotic. On the contrary, it is an essential part of a strategy for self preservation. Such an inquiry is not, however, in the administration's interest, and is therefore not likely to be encouraged. It is not in the administration's interest because changing the policies that have aroused so much hatred for Americans could have a negative effect on the bottom lines some of the corporations to whom Bush owes his job. In any case, it would be a very big job and one that would disrupt the status quo fundamentally.
Ultimately it could be the kind of restructuring that could lead to a rechanneling of energy that would revive the economy. But it may not be the kind of economic rejuvenation that would please the powers that be. So instead the explanations we will hear for the hatred will be non-sequiturs like, "They hate us because we believe in democracy…" But Americans truly interested in self preservation will realize they must go beyond what their leaders tell them. Political logic can be lethal.
Bruce Springsteen put it well in a recorded concert. "Blind faith in your leaders will get you killed."