Disarming the future

Thursday, July 14th, 2005

In the aftermath of London’s Underground bombings, the cell phones of the dead went off en masse as soon as rescue workers brought the bodies to the surface.

This is terrorism in the full flower of its madness: the sudden sounding of hundreds of voicemail messages — a cacophony of futile hope — as the cell phones, mute in their owners’ pockets 150 feet below the city’s streets, caught the signal aboveground.

“It just made the crews realize how many people are still clinging to the belief that people caught up in the explosions are still alive. It brought tears to the eyes of some,” a London police source told the Sunday Mirror, a British tabloid. “Sadly the officers couldn’t touch the phones because it’s a crime scene. They weren’t even able to let the people who made the calls know the truth.”

Here were the exposed ganglia of a community ripped open, the human ties of the mangled and dead still viable and publicly pulsing, exacerbating onlookers’ — by which I mean the whole world’s — sense of horror, and feeding their prior beliefs.

The most prominent prior belief, of course, is that this is why we’re fighting a war on terror, and any shrinking now from this arduous pursuit is to be cowed by the barbarians into cowardly surrender.

Speaking to Marines in Quantico, Va., four days after the bombings, President Bush made this point about as blatantly as anyone could, evoking the blood religion of nationalism: “Today you stand between the American people and the worst dangers in the world,” he said. “In this war, the Marines will fight, in the words of the Rifleman’s Creed, ‘Until victory is America’s, and there is no enemy.’”

Bush can only be tolerated by those for whom the wall between “us” and “them” is intact. When that wall breaks down, as I believe it must if mankind is to have a future, the president’s words — the last four in particular — ring more chillingly hollow than the cell phones of the dead.

Until there is no enemy? The love-rhapsody to a Marine’s rifle that the president quotes is about mowing down the foe on the field of battle. It’s about killing as many people as possible. Is that the game plan?

“As I mentioned before, potable water remains in short supply,” journalist Dahr Jamail testified in June at the World Tribunal for Iraq, in Istanbul. “Cholera, typhoid and other water-borne diseases are rampant even in parts of the capital city as lack of reconstruction continues to plague Iraq’s infrastructure. Raw sewage is common across not just Baghdad but other cities throughout Iraq.”

This, of course, is just a fraction of Jamail’s testimony, and his testimony was a sliver of the evidence presented at the Tribunal documenting a horrendous war crime that Bush, Blair and their legion of media supporters insist on calling the war on terror, but which is really just one more war to perpetuate terror.

The truth about the war on terror is so obvious to those who see it, and so horrific, that to hear Bush or Prime Minister Tony Blair spout their cliches about freedom and call their own barbaric slaughter of innocents a noble cause is to feel a fleeting, breath-deprived affinity with the inmates of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. When we invade a sovereign country, wreck its infrastructure, imprison and torture its people, we generate hatred and invite retaliation. We feed terrorism, in other words, and lose all hope of safety. Far worse, we become terrorists ourselves.

Read the unembedded news from Baghdad or Fallujah and you’ll learn that Iraqi blood is red like British blood and that mothers cry over dead children with equal anguish. There is one difference, however: “In London,” writes William Rivers Pitt on truthout.org, “it is a terrifying, enraging, appalling act of despicable violence that must be immediately avenged. In Iraq, they call events like this ‘Tuesday.’”

“With 70 percent unemployment, a growing resistance and an infrastructure in shambles, the future for Iraq remains bleak as long as the failed occupation persists,” Jamail testified. “While the Bush administration continues to disregard calls for a timetable for withdrawal, Iraqis continue to suffer and die with little hope for their future.”

When you tear down the wall and acknowledge the commonality of human suffering, from the World Trade Center to London and Madrid to the infested streets of Baghdad, you disable the Rifleman’s Creed and the psychology of war. You disarm the future. Only then is it possible to envision a world that has no need for terror.