Historical ignorance forebodes bleak future

by Daren Johnson

In response to Anthony Reel’s opinion’s piece, “Counter-Americans imperil nations’ safety” (Oct. 1), I can only hope Reel learns some history before he graduates. American history, for example, would be a wonderful place to start.

He might learn of the phrase “to wave the bloody shirt,” coined after the Civil War to describe Republican campaign rhetoric of Southern collective responsibility, rhetoric used to justify the collectively punitive policies of Reconstruction.

He might learn of Sen. Joseph McCarthy from the great state of Wisconsin, after whose actions on the House Un-American Activities Committee the term “McCarthyism” was coined – defined as “the practice of publicizing accusations of political disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence.”

As a rational human, I believe NATO is the wrong tool for the job of hunting terrorists. NATO was created to fight toe to toe with the former armies of the Soviet Bloc. That foe doesn’t exist anymore. NATO was activated because the leaders of Western Europe know they’re on the same hit list as the United States.

If NATO didn’t already exist, the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.,
wouldn’t cause it to come into being. This is fundamentally because terrorism is not a military problem; it’s a law-enforcement problem and an intelligence-gathering problem.

For a constructive alternative, I offer these humble gifts from a greater man than Joe McCarthy, the identity of whom I’ll reveal later. He said, “There is nothing more dangerous than to build a society, with a large segment of people in that society who feel that they have no stake in it; who feel that they have nothing to lose. People who have a stake in their society, protect that society, but when they don’t have it, they unconsciously want to destroy it.”

Let me propose the idea terrorism is the dark side of social activism and social justice movements. War is armed conflict between nation-states, a scale of many-against-many. Terrorism, like guerilla warfare, is armed conflict between stateless groups and states, a scale of few-against-many.

Terrorism is a virus-scale problem, and there are few viruses one treats through amputation. A healthy world, a socially just world, would have little vulnerability to terrorism and perhaps little need for NATO. Make no mistake: The United States is part of a global society and will reap what it sows.

The same visionary man also stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” No one I know is happy thousands of people died Sept. 11, and yet everyone I respect is against military retaliation, and everyone I respect knows the United States is a planetary-scale Janus figure steeped in hypocrisy.

This country has been a beacon of humanity’s highest hopes for generations, but millions have died to make those hopes available to anyone other than white Christian male property-owners. And until the United States realizes we and our government cannot support governments who abuse their citizens, governments headed by the likes of Fulgencio Batista, the Duvaliers of Haiti, Augusto Pinochet, Manuel Noriega, the Somoza family of Nicaragua, the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Ariel Sharon, the former mujaheddin-turned-Taliban and the Afghani Northern Alliance (and this is far from an exhaustive list), American institutions will be hated by many people on this planet.

And that hatred comes home periodically against Americans. For instance, the Tehran embassy seizure being an episode over 20 years ago that, perhaps, Reel is too young to remember. The United States is not innocent, and has never been, in either domestic or foreign policy (ask the remaining indigenous peoples of this continent if they believe in U.S. “innocence”).

If you believe in Western philosophy or physics, please recognize effects (like terrorist bombings) have causes (like our government’s choice in international “friends”). If we remove the cause, we remove the effect. Reel is flat wrong about these being “unrelated reasons” – mass murderers don’t hate on a whim.

This visionary man also stated, “Violence as a way of achieving … justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love.”

Reel proclaims people like me “… would like (the United States) to (punish) only the actual actors…” He means to say if he were to kill someone, people like me would prefer only he be punished, rather than his entire extended family, or everyone with his skin color, or everyone of his religious denomination.

Would Reel prefer America become like Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles? Would he prefer to live in a state such as Israel, where bombings are weekly, if not daily, occurrences and collective punishment is the norm? Would he prefer to live in Bosnia? Macedonia? Chechnya? Rwanda? Kashmir? Sri Lanka? East Timor? Aceh?

I, for one, would not, and that is where returning civil violence for violence leads. The United States has done better when it felt like it (the Marshall Plan comes to mind). Being a pacifist does not mean being socially or economically passive; it means sweating one’s own blood and tears to better the planet rather than causing someone else’s to spill through one’s own omission.

And really, Reel’s claim pacifism would lead to a world “where we would now all be screaming ‘Heil’ to Hitler” and “where women must entirely cover themselves in public” is exaggeration. This is not Pearl Harbor. Basically, in terrorism there’s no “there” there against which to strike.

This visionary man also said, “… too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands.”

This and the other quotes are all from the writings and speeches of a famous American social activist from the twentieth century, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was willing and able to change and lead for change, despite being hated by many in his time.

I would like to take his cue in being able and willing to change, if not to lead; perhaps Reel is either unable or uninterested. If Reel, and those who believe as he does, wish to label me as a “counter-American,” I am honored to stand in such good company.


Daren Johnson is a regional technician with the College of Liberal Arts. Send comments to [email protected]