The World Is One Place Now

James Adler


Five years ago, on Sept. 25, 2001, still in hair-raising shock waves of caused by 9/11, the Cambridge Chronicle posted on its site my "guest column" on the road the United States should take.  Not just mine, it is a road millions of Americans thought we should newly embark on.  Recently I came upon a copy of the "9/11" issue of progressive magazine, "The Nation."  Turns out half of this issue was filled, eerily enough, with material from before 9/11 and had nothing to do with it, as if it had never happened. The other half was filled not with pie-in-the-sky idealism but with hard-headed and realistic analysis and advice that, if it had been taken, the United States would not be in today's straits.

In case readers wonder, I'm suffering tendonitis of the hands and wrists right now, and so it is difficult and painful and risky for me to use the keyboard.  This is one reason why a few weeks ago I submitted a piece on "The Ethical Case for the Palestinians" which I'd written and given to Edward Said several years ago -and why I've since missed a number of weeks.  It's also one reason I'm offering a piece today which I do not have to write this very minute.

But there's a more basic reason: This OPED reflects, from those shell-shocked feelings and raw wounds, straight out of "Time's Ground Zero," many of our political sensibilities about our best course out of the catastrophe.  Coming from that abyss itself, it avoids any accusations of using 20-20 hindsight today, and it may help remind us of the road most of us knew should have been taken but was not taken.  Incidentally, I recommend people look at the first post-9/11/2001 issue of The Nation.

Three poignant footnotes.

First, the phrase "operation infinite justice" was the first military name for the war in Afghanistan-and war that has so far has failed to capture Bin Laden or Taliban Afghan chief Mullah Omar, or destroyed Al Qaeda, or has served remotely as any deterrent-and now the Taliban may actually be on a comeback in Afghanistan.

Second, certain policies and actions of the new Office of Homeland Security had not yet become controversial.

Third, the Iraq War was not considered by most of us as even on the radar screen of even on the radar screen of the remotest of future possibilities.  Back then it was only being cooked up by neo-conservatives like Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz, and their junior bureaucrats in government, and in their private and well-funded neo-con policy foundations.


Cambridge Chronicle
September 25, 2001

'The world is one place now'

I think that what most Americans feel, even more than our justified anger at the horror that has happened, is fright of war and more domestic terrorism. Otherwise the economy would be booming, for example, in the stock market and airline travel.

All religions, including Islam, teach peace. Also all religions, including the Christian religion, teach non-retaliation. And this is exactly what most people fear - counter-retaliation against us, if we retaliate in a clumsy insensitive way, particularly a way that causes the deaths of innocent civilians, which is just what happened to us.

Isn't it a refreshing relief, and one almost unprecedented, to find the world united with America? To find the world feeling sad for America, and pitying and sorry for our lives lost, rather than angry at America and vilifying us? Where Castro opens his airports to us, and even Saddam Hussein offers us aid if we ask ?

President Bush has established a Cabinet-level Office for Homeland Security.

The best way to insure homeland security is, for us, as a nation, to follow the teachings of all the great religions - including Islam and Judaism and Christianity. And that is not to retaliate in a stupid and clumsy way, which puts us once again in the familiar position of being the big power heavy-handed bully, of which this present moment is the most refreshing exception since the assassination of President Kennedy. For once, we are the sympathized-with victim. Let us not forfeit this refreshing moment, but let it continue, of having the world with us and on our side.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, talk softly and carry a big stick. Increase the power of the "military stick" if necessary, especially around domestic installations. But do not clumsily wield it and lash out with it. Then, suddenly, we would no longer be the sympathized-with anymore. Then, suddenly and once again, there would be millions of people ready to hate us anew and with renewed passion, and a deadly few, on the fringes of these millions, ready to become suicidal martyrs against us.

And this might not take the form of "just" airplanes against buildings, but airplanes against nuclear power plants, and instigation of chemical and biological warfare against us. And little (or big) bombs, from Pakistan or the international black market from Russia's old arsenal.

The world is one place now.

The " bad " thing about this is that we cannot flex our muscle as " the world's only remaining superpower, " in a way that we are perceived - and more often misperceived - as a bully, anymore. If we are willing to give this up, and take a deep breath, and truly and deeply think about it, is this such a bad thing ?

The first thing is that our military could remain just as strong, and continue and further its enormous air and naval and nuclear and technological superiority - but nonetheless orient itself more toward defense and human intelligence and occasional (if absolutely necessary) clean surgical-type actions abroad, and our military budget nonetheless more toward defenses against biological and chemical warfare, toward buying up Russian arms and arms on the black market and destroying them, and for intensive research and development toward the making of domestic non-nuclear power plants and gradual retirement of the nuclear ones.

The second thing is that we could abandon our 50-year irrationally one-sided pro-Israeli policy in the middle east, and support Islamic countries. Instead, we have gratuitously antagonized one billion people, the world's Muslims. There is no " natural " reason for enmity between the United States and the world's Muslims. And the peacefullness of the world's Muslims is shown by the fact that even after a 50-year pro-Israeli policy, so many Muslim governments continue to count themselves as our friends - Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and many smaller ones. Think how much deeper that friendship would be, and how it would extend to the average persons on the street of Islamic countries, if we were to move beyond this decades-old and utterly self-destructive policy.

Even in a population the size of the United States, there are going to be political lunatics  political lunatics like Lee Harvey Oswalds and Timothy McVeigh. So that we need to consider that there will also be political lunatics that will be among the much larger population of one billion Muslims of the world.

And, with our irrational one-sided Middle East policy, this will continueto grow in an inevitably increasingly interdependent and interconnected world, with the ability to turn airplanes into missiles against our buildings, and also our airliners against our nuclear power plants, and
with various carriers (airliners, and also crop-dusting planes and cars and subways) delivering chemical and gas and biological and nuclear weapon attacks. Do we want an indefinite unlimited future with this chilling fear and threat hanging over our and our children's heads ?

If the catastrophe on Sept. 11 helps us do some fundamental reassessments, maybe we should think a minute, take a deep breath, and imagine the kind of world we want and are capable of making - and remaking.

Maybe it would be a world where there would be huge relief, as now, even amid our grief, of America being sympathized with and its losses pitied from around the world.

Maybe it would be a world in which America is no longer being perceived - even if sometimes or very frequently misperceived - by hundreds of millions of people - which constitute a giant reservoir of potential terrorists -- as itself an provocative superpower, and one with a
completely unjust pro-Israeli foreign-policy prejudice. Maybe it would be a world where the world's millions, including its billion Muslims, would think of us as the land of the Statue of Liberty, and not as supporters of Israeli air strikes against people with stones and sticks in refugee camps.

The new Office for Homeland Security may want at least to consider that the elimination of motives for people hating America, the elimination of motives for being to be our enemies, the elimination of America's " "hateability," - the elimination not of "enemies" but rather the elimination of any motivation for masses of the world's people to consider themselves our enemies - would create more homeland security than we could now think possible.

So that, again, now that we Americans are doing these fundamental reassessments, why don't we pause a moment, and take a deep, long, breath,  and allow this hour of good-will toward us simply to sink in--to sink into us, and into the world.

We could certainly maintain and further our large military superiority,  and still put a large proportion of our military budget into human intelligence and defensive and flexible uses, including - again - funding for the worldwide nonproliferation of nuclear and biological and chemical weapons, and for domestic non-nuclear sources of energy.

And especially, to get out the American message about our peaceful and fair and just way of life and fair and just foreign policy, for the most important kind of nonproliferation of all - the worldwide non-proliferation of hatred against us.

Wouldn't this, combined with reassessed military and other policies, do far more than any other course of action to result in a profoundly and lastingly very deep peace ?

Instead of stupidly and madly squandering this moment to bring on a nightmare of future fright and warfare here, and, at best, merely the absence of war and terrorism sustained by an ever-escalating but always imperfect militarized domestic " security, " and because imperfect, broken by sporadic successful terror, even of a nuclear or chemical or biological variety: instead of this, why don't we change some of our unjust rhetoric  (take Theodore Roosevelt's advice and " speak softly " ), and change a few of our policies in the Middle East and elsewhere, and allow ourselves to sink in a presently unthinkably deep and profound degree of future security and peace and profoundly peaceable intentions toward us from around the globe ?

We are in worse peril than during the Cold War - when there were no successful attacks on the mainland, civilian, United States. We are in worse peril, arguably, then we were in World War II, when this didn't happen either, and with the less powerful weapons and our separation by
the then-tremendous barrier of oceans. In World War II and the Cold War - in Berlin, in nuclear weapons development, in making fundamental and creative assessments - we " did what it takes. "

Today and into the future, and " forever " as far as we can foresee, we live in an interdependent and completely porous world filled with nuclear materials and weapons, and material for biological and chemical weapons,  our greatest weakness and liability is our " hatedness " and the " hateability " of some of our policies. In the Middle East and for Muslims,  this isn't one or two identifiable incidents of stands we've taken in the Middle East, it is 50 years of cumulative one-sidedness and bias, 50-years of letting wholly gratuitous and unnecessary hateability trickle and seep deeply into the roots of Islamic culture around the world.

Are we, as we did in World War II and the Cold War, going to do what it takes ? And do the fundamental creative assessment that brings forth an American policy that is both just and fair, and conducive to our greatest...almost unthinkably great...security ?

This would seem to be an almost unprecedented and refreshing opportunity for a turning point, such that tragedy be redeemed, and the lives lost redeemed in the deepest way possible by creating -instead of so-called "infinite justice" - a genuinely infinitely deep deep good for ourselves and our children.

Finally, don't, on the one hand, the precepts of the main religions of the world (including Christianity, and one may consider the currently popular expression, WWJD, " what would Jesus do? " ) and precepts of our foreign-policy fairness and justice, and, on the other hand, uppermost strategic security considerations of calculation and safety and prudence and the creating of the most desirable of consequences, coalesce, now even more than ever before, into a non-self-destructive (non-suicidal) and coherent and dignified and effective and powerful American course and direction?



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Harvard Square Commentary, September 25, 2006