by Martin Murie
(Swans - August 24, 2009) This letter, written in Orsigna on September 14, 2001, is a summing up based on Tiziano Terzani's presence at an Osama bin Laden training camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 1995. In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11 Terzani calls for a better cultural understanding that could lead to an opportunity to think and act differently. He leads off this way:
The world is no longer the one we knew. Our lives have changed for good. Maybe this is the opportunity to start thinking differently from how we've done till now, the chance to reinvent the future for ourselves and not just retread the same old path that's brought us to today and could lead us to annihilation tomorrow. (1)
He goes on to tell of his leaving the training camp "feeling dismayed and alarmed."
All the time I was with the hard, smiling mullahs and the many young men with their cold, contemptuous stares, I felt plague-ridden, the bearer of a disease with which I'd never before felt infected. In their eyes this disease was simply my being a Westerner, a representative of a decadent, materialistic, exploitive civilization which was insensitive to the universal values of Islam.
Terzani is trying, again and again, to make a key point. Here is one of his attempts.
The problem is that we'll never be on the right path so long as we continue to believe we have a monopoly on what is good, so long as we continue to consider our civilization as the civilization and take no notice of others.
In other words, we have a very simplistic view of our "enemies." We underestimate them, just as the Nazis underestimated the Yugoslav guerrillas, just as we in the United States underestimated the nation of Vietnam, and now we go merrily on, taking the rhetoric of politicians as gospel.
A hard look at Manifest Destiny can shake us up. In the very beginning of our freedom from English tyranny we thought of ourselves as the very model of the future of all nations of the world. Can we recall the fear that swept through our ranks, encouraged by conservative leaders, when the French Revolution turned ever more radical?
Can we remember our invasion of Mexico, based on a presidential lie -- "Blood has been shed on American soil"?
Abe Lincoln happened to be a member of the House of Representatives at the time. He asked, "Just where did this occur?" and received no answer.
Our superior artillery killed civilians in Vera Cruz and, near the end of the war, in Mexico City. U. S. Grant was contemptuous and alarmed at how the military handled that conflict. So were other soldiers. Desertion rates were the highest the US military had weathered. The St. Pats artillery battalion, sickened by discrimination and killing of civilians, deserted en masse and went over to the Mexican side where they were put to good use by Santa Anna, the commanding general.
What did that war give us? Polk, the lying president, wanted California, but he got much more: parts of Utah, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, in addition to California and, of course, Texas. To round it out in 1853 the US diplomat, Gadsden, managed to buy over 30,000 square miles on the south borders of Arizona and New Mexico, to ensure a southern railroad route.
The 1847 Mexican invasion is a forgotten war, just as the Korean War is fading from memory. We weren't told that our bombers and fighters ravaged North Korea from the Yalu River to the fighting lines, upping the body count, almost all civilians in cities and towns.
My only criticism of Terzani's Letters Against The War is that he fails to mention explicitly the sordid collusion between corporate powers and governments, all over this beautiful planet. The virtues of Terzani's writings are that he was there, on the ground, talking to hundreds of citizens, enduring the scorn, keeping his independence, no matter what bureaucratic or military adventure suddenly confronted him and his friends. He had the nerve, at the early date of 2001, to point out the dangers that America's Manifest Destiny poses: We have an unbelievably over-simplified view of our "enemy," and that leads to reliance on raw technology, such as drones. And we citizens of God Bless America fall into the trap of believing our pundits and politicians and what the TV and other media tell us.
When General "pistol-packin" Patton called the cartoonist, Mauldin, to his office to tell him to quit drawing those Willie and Joe sad sack cartoons for Stars and Stripes, Mauldin didn't back down. Patton's stupid view was that the cartoons were bad for the morale of the troops. On the contrary, Willie and Joe were heroes for infantry enlisted men, being just like we were: weaponed sad sacks trying to survive. The cartoons told the truth about front lines and combat. I put them alongside Tiziano Terzani's writings. Both tell the truth, from being on the ground, independent, not embedded, steering clear of box canyons of acquiescence.
1. Tiziano Terzani, Letters Against The War: Letter From Orsigna: An Opportunity, 14 September, 2001. See Swans complete posting of "Letters Against The War," Swans.com, September 8, 2008 (republished June 1, 2009). (back)
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