In the wake of 9-11

Immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks I found myself depressed by the chest-thumping xenophobia, mob mentality and demands for revenge that gripped the American public. Given the alarming lack of dissent and critical thinking exhibited by the mainstream US media, I felt compelled to try to put my feelings into words.


Blows Against the Empire

“Perhaps this crushing blow, and the scenes of jubilation from around the Third World, will act as a humbling experience once the dust has settled. Perhaps, too, policy-makers will realise that the US cannot live in sanguine isolation while a starving and destitute world seethes with anger. The rage of the disenfranchised and dispossessed, within America or beyond its borders, must come home to roost one day.”
“The Giant’s Feet of Clay” by Gamal Nkrumah
Al-Ahram Weekly Online, September 13–19, 2001

9-11 Pentagon wreckage

On September 11 the world came crashing down on the United States of America. The horrific attacks against the World Trade Center and Pentagon produced an agonizing grief that consumed the nation for days after the strike. Hour after hour, Americans watched in stunned disbelief as the TV networks presented in excruciating detail the heartbreaking stories of those who had lost loved ones in the disaster, while somber administration spokespeople decried the “evil enemies of freedom” and promised revenge. All this created a national atmosphere where people were justifiably sad, frightened and angry.

Permanent Wars

Yet while the media did a good job of depicting the carnage and reflecting (and creating) the hysteria, it is doing a poor job explaining the bigger picture.

The “Attack on America!” was not the beginning of a new war. It was merely an escalation in a war that had been raging for some time.

Perhaps we did not recognize it as a war because, for the most part, until 9/11 it was the “enemy” that was taking most of the casualties.

The Muslim world has been under attack by the US and its allies for years. We shot down Libyan planes in 1981, bombed Beirut in 1983 and 1984, and attacked Libya again in 1986. In 1987 we sank an Iranian ship, and we shot down one of their passenger planes in 1988. In 1989 we shot down more Libyan planes. During the 1991 Gulf War, well over 100,000 civilians were killed as we targeted our bombs on Iraq’s “infrastructure,” and the sanctions and frequent military attacks continue to kill Iraqis and devastate the country’s society. In 1998 we bombed Sudan and Afghanistan.

The death and destruction that resulted from these actions were not reported by the US media in any great detail. There were no touching vignettes of the victim’s lives, no interviews with grieving families, no close ups of tear-streaked faces contorted with anguish.

The “invisible” consequences of our military adventures perhaps explain the surprise and indignation many Americans expressed at the 9/11 attacks. “Why us?” people asked again and again. “Why did they do this to us?”

Violence begets violence. So, not surprisingly, our assets have been targets of some counterattacks in the ongoing war. In 1983, a truck bomb killed 241 marines in Beirut. In 1988, a Pan Am passenger plane was brought down by explosives placed onboard by Libyans. Our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown up in 1998. Last year the US destroyer Cole was attacked in Yemen, killing seventeen American sailors. On September 11th of this year, terrorists crashed hijacked planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers in New York.

Let’s face it—maintaining our comfortable standard of living requires maintaining control over strategic areas of the globe. With over sixty major military bases and hundreds of smaller installations scattered around the world, the US is an imperial power.

As an empire, we must expect resistance from people whose natural resources we wish to exploit, whose governments we try to subvert, and whose cultures we continue to corrupt. Share on X

Whether it takes the form of protests, military attacks or terrorism, you can count on this: the resistance will not end until the imperialist policies do.

Terrorism can never be stopped. There will always be those with the capability of expressing their anger and frustration through violence. Our society is extremely vulnerable. It always has been, and will remain so despite the draconian “safety” measures the government surely has in store for us.

The Empire Strikes Back

A good way to fight terrorism would be to eliminate some of the policies that cause so much resentment in the rest of the world. It would help if the US started closing military bases in the Middle East, which have no other purpose than to intimidate and control other countries in the region. The US could end the sanctions against Iraq, terminate its support of brutal Israeli actions against Palestinians, and rethink policies that require us to respond to every provocation with overwhelming firepower.

In short, we could start acting like we were a part of the global community, rather than arrogant, omnipotent rulers over it.

Not only would these actions be moral and ethical, they would also help reduce the feelings of humiliation, impotence and frustration that breed extremist ideology.

But that is not the way empires classically behave. Instead, the military strike is the knee-jerk reaction to every act that challenges our hegemony, because as a nation we have dedicated ourselves so single-mindedly to developing our military that it has now become the primary instrument of our foreign policy. Just as with all empires, the military consumes more and more of our resources, assumes an ever-greater role in our national life, and becomes the uncontested answer to every international disagreement. And so George W. Bush, as his father before him, pounds his chest and gears up for violent revenge, as if there were no serious alternatives to consider, no other possible courses of action.

The Many-headed Hydra

These endless military adventures will eventually bleed the Empire’s treasury dry, but there is a more immediate danger. As we now know first-hand, brutal attacks against civilians generate intense rage, feelings of nationalism and calls for revenge. More attacks by Western forces that slaughter even more civilians may eliminate a few terrorist leaders, but will inevitably spawn thousands more embittered warriors, seething with hatred for the US Some of these people, already smothered by poverty and despair, will form the new terrorist cadres.

You can’t fight terrorism with force (Israel has been trying for decades). Like the mythical Hydra that grew two more heads each time the hero severed one with his sword, our indiscriminate bombing and destruction will incubate more resistance, more hatred and more extremism around the world.

For every terrorist leader we kill or imprison, two more will regenerate from within the misery and rubble left by our assaults.

In fact, it’s hard to believe this is not part of the terrorist’s plan. Surely they anticipated we would respond militarily to the September 11th attacks, hitting back hard and indiscriminately. Can it be that by employing the military option once again we will be playing right into their hands, enhancing the power and prestige of the extremists and violence-mongers within the Islamic world?

The Struggle Continues

Make no mistake—even though those of us who oppose imperialism and globalization have goals that are in some aspects similar to the terrorist’s, they are not our friends or allies.

Violence is not the only form of resistance, nor is it the most effective.

The inevitable attacks and counter-attacks in this continuing imperial war will do nothing but fortify the extremists and violentists within both camps.

For activists who believe human life and dignity are the supreme values, not much has changed. We must keep doing what we have always done, except now it will be more difficult because all dissent will be looked upon with suspicion. Expect more police repression, more government spying, less tolerance, and less freedom to protest and resist.

For the government, the terrorist attacks are a dream come true. George W. gets to fight a war of his own, bigger and better than his dad’s (although just as unwinnable). Law enforcement and “security” agencies finally have public support for sweeping infringements on privacy and civil rights.

The Pentagon, already bloated and wallowing in waste, watches with glee as kids line up at recruiting centers, and Congress can’t vote fast enough to toss more billions down the military rathole.

But despite the new climate of fear and jingoism, not much has changed for us. We will continue to oppose militarization, human rights abuses, racism, sexism, homophobia and animal cruelty. We will continue the fight to appropriate power from governments, churches, corporations and the media. We will continue to struggle for a free, just and peaceful world. It may be more difficult, but now it is more important than ever to make our voices heard.

September 29, 2001

Creative Commons License
Text on this page by James L. VanHise licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Attribution: James L. VanHise –

Follow Fragments on

Print Friendly, PDF & Email