I was leisurely watching the CNN on my television at about eight in the evening Manila time of that fateful day 11 September 2011 when all of a sudden I saw before me the twin towers of the New York World Trade Center being hit by an airplane. No, I did not actually see the first tower hit, but in real time I virtually saw the second plane hit the second tower.
Or did I? I asked myself in disbelief. I switched to the BBC News, another favorite station, but there too the same event was unfolding before my eyes. CNN and BBC were not showing a special feature on terrorism. What was before me was a real terrorist attack on America. The scene was surreal. No one could believe his eyes how all of a sudden, the American dream of keeping the war beyond its own sacred soil was devastated by a terrorist attack right at the very heart of the country, using its own planes and targeting two of the most important symbols of American pride. The World Trade Center is the symbol of American capitalist wealth, while the Pentagon is the symbol of American military might.
No one could comprehend what was happening, and no one will. If you and I cannot understand this event, let us blame it on the new age. We are in the postmodern age, where comprehension is beyond reach, where logic is anathema, and understanding becomes constantly elusive.
Most of us have become victims of the sudden transition to the age of globalization. The big brothers have virtually set the tone and created a grand design for the global age. The major players are the developed countries, the superior cultures, the rich nations, and the powerful religions. USA is one such major player. We have all become victims of this Americocentrism. We see things from the US point of view. The CNN is there 24 hours telling us about the latest in America. Our money is pegged to the US dollar. Very few can recall that the US has barely two hundred years of history. The US-led victory in the World War II catapulted her to the center stage of global affairs. In less than a century, USA has become the uncontested military and economic superpower. But it did not happen without offending, oppressing, manipulating, and sacrificing many people, countries and cultures.
Look, for instance, at what the USA had done:
The Filipino fought side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans in the World War II against the aggressor – Japan. After the war, USA helped rebuild Japan, assisted its economy, became its premier trade partner, shared its technology and science and secured Japan’s military arsenal. The Filipinos were given token assistance. In trade, America dictated the prices of sugar, abaca, copra, hemp, coffee and many others. And what happened to the war veterans? They are aging, humiliated, begging for their pension.
The USA divided many countries such as China, Germany, Korea, and Vietnam, leaving many innocent families in grief. Listen to some reactions after the bombing. A man from Beijing, while in a Starbucks café, said: “The civilians who died in the attack are innocent, but the government is not.” A retired teacher from Hanoi said: “The United States deserve it.” A wife of a Korean pilot said: “America says they have to get revenge, but they have killed more people around the world than the ones that were killed in these attacks.”
The US military presence in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, three of the holiest places of the Muslims, are considered by the Islamic and Arab world as a sacrilege. They also interpret it as a new Christian Crusade led by America.
In 1947, before England abandoned her colonies in the Middle East, England initiated the U.N.’s carving of a state now known as Israel in Palestine, on the ground that it was what the Bible refers to as God’s ‘promised land’ for the Jews, his ‘chosen people’. That single historical event has rendered the Palestinians homeless and set a permanent instability and volatility in the region. Now we see American financial and military assistance to Israel in the latter’s fight against the Palestinians. It is American-made missiles we see smashing into Palestinian homes. The US helped Israel in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, killing over 17,500 civilians. The US helicopters fired missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and we saw American shells crashing into a village called Quana a few days later. Then, too, the Israelis, the US ally, went on a rampage, hacking, raping and murdering their way through refugee camps.
No right thinking mind could understand why America had to support tyrants, dictators, and oppressive regimes in many countries all over the globe. Just think of the Sha of Iran, Marcos of the Philippines, Singman Rhee of Korea, Ngo Dinh Diem of Vietnam, and Sukarno of Indonesia. These dictators made their people suffer and also plundered their own countries.
Perhaps, many of you have witnessed in real time, on the CNN, the USA bombing of Iraq in the early nineties; the world saw thousands of innocent men, women, and children being blown to bits and pieces in that aggression. Then, for more than ten years, the world was made to cooperate with the USA in its initiated economic sanctions against Iraq. An estimated fifty thousand innocent Iraqi children die every year because of it. People are made to believe that all these are being done because the civilized world had to get rid of the satanic regime of Saddam Hussein. We know reasonably well that the USA was not eager to protect the rights and the safety of the little, insignificant, ‘uncivilized’ Kuwait! The USA just wanted a steady supply of oil, and, it must perhaps be added, at the US controlled price. No wonder one of the newspaper headlines in Baghdad, after the attack of the Twin Towers in New York was quoted saying: “America burns…US leaders must expect such lesson because they have shown insupportable cruelty toward people…’It is the prestige, arrogance and institution of America that burns.” It further said, “Brutal America, suffering from illusions of grandeur, has inflicted humiliations, famine and terrorism on all of the world’s countries and today it reaps the fruits of its arrogance and stupid policy.”
Perhaps not stupid, but certainly arrogant. The United States wants only a one-track friendship. You are America’s friend, but on America’s terms. Look at what it has done to the former USSR.
The USA signed the Anti-ballistic missile treaty with her rival power, then called the USSR, offered them billions in economic assistance in exchange for abandoning socialism, dismantling the union, and freezing the production and proliferation of missiles. When I went to Russia for the World Congress of Philosophy in 1993, I had a chance to see for myself how things were going after the collapse of USSR. I spoke with many Russian philosophers-scholars, who were then excitedly talking about perestroika, glasnost, etc. I would ask them basically the same question, “Do the Russian people respond better to democracy or freedom than to an authoritative regime requiring responsibility?” Their answer was basically the same: “We Russians have a long tradition of authoritarian regime and as a people we respond better to orders than to freedom, of which we have only a very vague understanding.” I was also witness to how the Russians were coping with “capitalism” and “democracy”. Capitalism, they thought to be something like “buying and selling”. Those who had no money to buy were selling their little puppies on the street and on the stairway leading to the Moscow subway. Those with some money would buy at the department stores what they could peddle on the sidewalk. Travelers would immediately discover that the peddlers were selling goods for “capitalist” profit. To one who is familiar with the side streets of Hong Kong, or the sidewalks of Quiapo, the Moscow street peddlers are a real curiosity. Ten years after American manipulation, the Russian economy remains poor. And what about the treaty with USA? Former President George W. Bush unilaterally nullified the Anti-ballistic missile treaty.
Democracy is used as a pretext to advance American interference in other sovereign states. India is the world’s biggest democracy, but America does not support India. As for the Socialist China, America would repeatedly raise the issue of freedom and democracy and that all so misused and ill-defined word ‘human rights’ to interfere with the Chinese internal problem of Tibet and Taiwan. Well, the technologically sophisticated USA also bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, ‘by accident’ while reading an “old map”. The USA also sends regular spy plane along the seacoasts of China. What other “old maps” do the Americans keep that could endanger all of us? And what if China were to send a regular spy plane along the seacoasts of, say, San Francisco?
Did the world know that the former US President Bill Clinton bombed Sudan without credible pretext, destroying half of its pharmaceutical supplies and killing an unaccountable number of innocent people? Noam Chomsky said: “No one knows the number of human casualties because the US blocked any inquiry at the United Nations, and no one really cared to find out.”
As to the rest of the civilized nations, their relationship with the USA is always a one-way street. Bush boycotted the Kyoto protocol on environment when it was the USA, which was the greatest polluter of the earth environment. The USA had no time to think about the environment because it had to protect the American economy. The US unilaterally nullified her treaty with Russia on the Anti-ballistic treaty on the ground that the USA had to pursue its military research to shield the American soil from the missile attack, leaving the rest of the world vulnerable to her own missile attack.
It was expected that the US would muscle the rest of the weaker nations in its war campaign against the Afghans and the Talibans. When then US President George W. Bush said: “You are either with America or with the terrorists”, the ‘democratcic’ world rallied behind the ‘defender of peace’. Only the Ayatollah Khameini of Iran was more discerning or perhaps more courageous to say that the two are not contradictory; he retorted: “We are neither with the Americans nor with the terrorists.”
And what about this most hunted and hated Talibans? In the 80’s USA sent massive supplies of arms and money that went to the various mujahedin in the US proxy war against the USSR. How about America’s most hated Osama Bin Laden? CIA supported him in the proxy war against the Russians. But when the Russians finally left Afghanistan, the Talibans rose to power, thanks to US big brother police state.
Now USA is faced with a new enemy in the 21st century – Terrorism. In the new millennium where there is only one superpower left, the only battle that can baffle it is terrorism. In a highly technological age of globalization, where the superpower lives in techno-urban cities, the battle will be urban guerilla warfare, or what the West would call terrorism. Like what the USA did to many countries and cultures, the US and many of us will not understand the full meaning of terrorism, unless we remember how it is like to be bombed like Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Baghdad and now Afghanistan, unless we go to the Middle East and review world history, unless the USA reassess its foreign policy.
As far as I know, wealth is not incompatible with respect for the poor countries; power is not incompatible with peace; and preeminence is not incompatible with authentic friendship. The US is the only superpower that does not know how to behave, or how to cultivate friendship, or how to lead. Terrorism is a creation of the US, so is Osama Bin Laden.
Now the self-declared international police are in the Philippines chasing the Muslims, without warrant of arrest. They are on a military ‘balikatan exercise’ with its friend, the Philippines, but they want the exercise done where the ‘enemy’ is, and they use loaded ammunitions. They promise not to hit, but they will respond when hit.
They are in the South China Sea engaging is ‘military exercise’ to show ‘solidarity’ with countries with almost no capacity to engage in any battle in high seas.
The US would pointedly identify its enemies as Rouge States and axis of evil. God knows which sovereign country the US will violate next in pursuit of their phantom enemy.
But then these are exciting moments in the age of postmodernism and globalization. The last decade saw the emergence of new economic powerhouse, and these powerhouse economies are not to follow the only superpower blindly. Each of these countries is driven by their strong ideologies and economic and political agenda.
Perhaps, it is time to a multilateral world, where the USA should not have the absolute control of the world affairs. Meanwhile, the USA must face squarely its historical past and mend its shortcoming. Otherwise, the 9/11 will just be a dry run for more devastating retaliation from the crimes the US has been doing in the past. And the incident will happen again, and again, and….again
ALFREDO P. CO, PhD, is Professor at University of Santo Thomas in Manila, Philippines. He is also President of Philippine Academy of Philosophical Research, Editor of KARUNUNGAN – A Journal of Philosophy,
Chairman of Technical Panel for Philosophy at Philippine Commission on Higher Education, and Chairman at his University Department of Philosophy.