The Lost Opportunities of Liberty

by Gilles d'Aymery

September 17, 2001

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So much has already been said and written. The disbelief, the shock, the horror, the psychological trauma, the grief, the mourning, the sorrow, the bereavement, the prayers, the empathy, the compassion, the daring and gallant efforts of the rescuers and their own tragic losses in the line of duty; and all the mirrored emotions, the calls for retaliation, massive reprisal, revenge, retribution, a tooth for a tooth, an eye for an eye, blood for blood -- all natural, almost primeval reactions; then the ratcheting rhetoric of the pundits, the politicians, the military, the "authorities," the "leaders," heading us -- and responding to the primal scream of the nation -- on the war path in the defense and in the name of "civilization," within the ever-lasting mental stratum of "Good versus Evil," us versus them.

We shall never learn, shall we?

Watching those two planes hit the majestic towers and their subsequent crumbling disintegration on television, again and again, incapable to realize and internalize the magnitude of the tragedy, a thought crossed my mind in the form of simple questions: Is this how the inhabitants of Belgrade felt in 1999 when their city was being destroyed by invisible ordnance launched from 15,000 feet and higher? When the magnificent and historic bridges in Novi Sad were falling like small ants of steel and concrete, is this how the people there felt? When the pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, was obliterated by Tomahawk missiles in 1998, killing hundreds, is this how the Sudanese felt? How are the Iraqi people feeling before the decade-old and continuing killing of over one million of their own? The list is long and ancient.

The country could have asked those questions on September 11, 2001, without debating the moral equivalences or differences, without obfuscating the enormity and the horror of the present tragedy, but concentrating on the killing of human beings and the insufferable destructions in the world, all over, often of our own making. One can grieve and think or one can grieve and react. The former attitude manifests a conscious decision to move in the direction of reason. The latter, emphasizing emotions, rationalizes the irrational and leads to hysteria. The questions were not asked and so there is no answer, only a call to arms, a path to war.

We shall never learn, shall we?

Professionals in the fields of science, medicine and engineering are trained to look for the root causes of events, whether a disease, a mechanical failure, etc., not just for their manifestation. They endeavor to devise solutions that will remedy the disease or the failure. For the past few days no interrogation, no pondering, no comment has once surfaced regarding the root causes of this tragedy. Our (western) societies as a whole have chosen to look at the trees, not at the forest. The trees are presented in terms of "cowardice and terror," to be uprooted or eradicated by any necessary means, at whatever cost. The forest meanwhile remains way beyond the horizon, seemingly out of reach. Huge additional resources are going to be funneled into the means to wage war. Searching for the root causes would have required asking how much it would cost the industrialized nations to move their economies away from oil, for our thirst for oil and its consequences in terms of military-industrial expenditures and long-term involvement in the regions are the true causes of this tragedy. Instead, we are resorting to the age-old palliative, war.

We shall never learn, shall we?

Official rhetoric has repeated hour after hour, day after day, that the American people would get united, would pull together and would not let the "terrorists" win the day. Indeed, in the wake of this tragedy, the people united and pulled together in two unmistakable directions. First, a call for retribution against "evil" and second a longing for more safety and security, both of which the powers-that-be are more than willing to provide. This is payback time, say the "experts." "Make no mistake, the giant has been awakened," the nuclear superpower will take care of the suicide bombers. Other "experts" agree, safety will be enhanced through implemented strident security measures to the satisfaction of a frightened and much relieved citizenry. More insidious will be the increased powers devolved to the security apparatus (FBI, CIA, NSA, DEA, INS, etc.) through FISA and other instruments. In both cases the consequences on civil liberties will be felt for years to come. Benjamin Franklin once said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin, it will be argued, could not have imagined our times and its dangers (though suicide raids and assaults are a very old happenstance). We are told and are convinced that we are being attacked on our "own" soil by shadowy figures from foreign, wicked lands. The extent of the risks becomes a key justification for further limiting our civil rights. In that sense, the "terrorists" have largely won, for, as James Madison wrote in a May 13, 1798 letter to Thomas Jefferson, "Perhaps it is universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad."

We shall never learn, shall we?

Forget liberties. War it is. The die is cast. The nation is mesmerized by its thirst for blood. Another crusade is being launched. More destruction, more hatred, more revenge awaiting on the red horizon, in an endless cycle of viciousness, a beast, phoenix-like, raising its head again and again, liberties shrunk, strangled, raped, eviscerated, and I, standing witness, powerless to stop the imminent death raining in my name and yours, in grief and mourning for all the victims of senseless acts, at home and abroad, in the name of whichever "Good" or "Evil," and in expectation of the forthcoming bloodbath and further descent into the darkness of barbarity....I say to all, with empathy, compassion and deep humility, "Oh Humanity, Oh Humanity, please save us from our own demons."


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Published September 17, 2001
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