This year marks the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers and Pentagon. In the aftermath of that attack, several narratives emerged. There was of course the official narrative favored by our corporate and governing elites: one that emphasized nationalism and militarism, along with Manichean “clash of civilizations” imagery. Such imagery has been brought to the fore this year with the right-wing freak out occurring over a proposed Islamic cultural center that is to be constructed near the site of the WTC towers. Another narrative held that the proverbial chickens had come home to roost: that the attacks were blowback for decades of oppression and exploitation at the hands of the US corporate and political establishment. This second narrative was perhaps expressed most infamously by Ward Churchill, but can be found in the writings and speeches of others of varying levels of prominence. Still others view this day as a stark reminder of the destructive power of religious and political fanaticism – a point well worth bearing in mind. Finally, for the more conspiracy-minded, there was the “false flag” narrative that likened the attacks to the Reichstag Fire that cemented Hitler’s hold on power in early 1930s Germany.
What we shouldn’t lose sight of is that in all the memorials this year is that what 9-11 means or “should mean” has a great deal of variability among individuals across the globe. There is no doubt in my mind that terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers and the Pentagon were a terrible tragedy that would be exploited by our own ruling elites in the US. However, let’s not forget that September 11 marks the anniversary for numerous other events: some tragic, some inspirational.
1. Let’s remember that 37 years ago, the democratically elected government of Chile and its President Allende were overthrown in a US-backed coup that resulted in Allende’s death. Countless thousands of people were executed or “disappeared” during Pinochet’s reign of terror that subsequently followed this tragic day in history. Let’s remember the victims of the coup and its aftermath.
2. Forty-one years ago today, in 1959, the US Congress authorized food stamps for Americans living in poverty. For those congressional leaders who voted to aid those in need, let’s remember them.
3. On this day in 1851, in Christiana, Pennsylvania there was a stand-off between several ex-slave families (led by William Parker) and a posse of several armed white men led by a slave owner (Edward Gorsuch). By the time the stand-off ended, Parker and the remaining ex-slaves prevailed, and Gorsuch paid for his attempt to re-enslave these families with his life. That day was a stark reminder of the struggle that lay ahead for those endeavoring to break the bonds of slavery in the U.S. Let’s remember Parker and those brave families who were willing to stand up for their human rights and dignity by any means necessary. The same day that was rife with tragedy at the beginning of our current century marked the sesquicentennial of what was truly a day of triumph for Parker and his crew.
4. On this day in 1945 retiring Secretary of War Henry Stimson sent a letter to then-President Harry Truman urging that the Truman administration follow a cooperative path with the USSR as the Soviet government worked to develop nuclear energy and weapons capability. Said Stimson:
“I believe that the change in attitude toward the individual in Russia will come slowly and gradually and I am satisfied that we should not delay our approach to Russia in the matter of the atomic bomb until that process has been completed…. Furthermore, I believe that this long process of change in Russia is more likely to be expedited by the closer relationship in the matter of the atomic bomb which I suggest and the trust and confidence that I believe would be inspired by the method of approach which I have outlined.”
Stimson reasoned the Russians would at once pursue obtaining such a bomb for themselves. It was not a secret, as Americans were for years led to believe, but an industrial technology being explored before the War, and which the Soviets would obtain in, say, four to twenty, years.
In a reference to the US “having this weapon rather ostentatiously on our hip,” Stimson noted, “their suspicions and their distrust of our purposes and motives will increase. It will inspire them to greater efforts in an all out effort to solve the problem.”“The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way you can make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.”
Tragically, his advice was ignored by the Truman administration, and what followed was a protracted “Cold War” that served only to inflate our elites’ Military-Industrial Complex and sense of paranoia at the expense of much more humanitarian endeavors. Let’s remember Stimson’s words, as our current White House (p)resident threatens to pursue a belligerent reaction to Iran’s efforts to become a nuclear power in its own right.
5. On this day 104 years ago Mohandas Gandhi began his famous Satyagraha in opposition to British imperial rule. Although requiring decades, Gandhi’s efforts at nonviolent resistance begun on 9-11-1906 would prove successful. Let’s remember Gandhi and those he’s inspired to follow a different, nonviolent path in the struggle for freedom and dignity.
6. On this day seven years ago, the world lost one of the truly great slapstick comedians, John Ritter, who died of a heart attack. Ritter is likely best known for his role as Jack Tripper in the late 1970s and early 1980s sitcom Three’s Company (based on the British sitcom Man About the House). Let’s remember Ritter and others like him who’ve shared the gift of humor in these troubled times.
7. Two years ago on this day, indigenous campesinos were massacred by right-wing forces in what turned out to be a failed attempt to overthrow Bolivia’s democratically elected President, Evo Morales. As several people observed as the events unfolded, the coup attempt was eerily reminiscent of the one in Chile that led to the installation of Pinochet. Let’s remember those in Bolivia who died that day, and those whose hard work prevented the coup from succeeding.
Clearly, This day marks the anniversary of numerous events – some tragic, some uplifting. But bear in mind that ultimately today is merely another day on the calendar. We need not be straight-jacketed by the events of the past, nor need we forget them. There are many lessons to be learned from the events mentioned above with regards to human freedom and dignity. Let’s spend some time today pondering those lessons.
Let’s end by going back to September 11, 2001 for a moment. For me, it will be remembered as a day when we saw the schizophrenic character of American society in sharp relief. The acts of courage and helpfulness by countless individuals, and their willingness to reach out to others was truly inspiring. On the other hand, the American tendency to engage in belligerent jingoism and to immediately blame and attack people, nations, and cultures for the bombings reared its ugly head that day and in the aftermath, which to me was truly sickening. Sadly, the latter won out in the aftermath leading to an America that has since been on the warpath, with little regard for the consequences – either at home or abroad. Although our hope of the tide turning may be faint, that hope is the one candle we do possess in these dark times. To take a line from the late Bob Marley: “light up the darkness.”