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HARD NEWS 16/09/01 - Making Sense of It II

Approved: Kiwifruit
Subject: HARD NEWS 16/09/01 - Making Sense of It II


Special edition of Hard News. See also… http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/HL0109/S00106.htm
HARD NEWS 14/9/01 - Making Sense of It


There has been a lot of email since Hard News went out on Friday. It began not long after: To quote, the people who wrote thought it was "perfect", "fantastic stuff", "a bright beacon", "one of the best thought pieces about the week", that it "ruled" and that Hard News was "the last sane voice in the media".

A little later, some very different feedback began arriving. Hard News had been "trite" and "cheap", an "attempt to excuse the inexcusable, or explain the unexplainable" and would be seen by mainstream America as "an article from a spoiled, arrogant brat from a pissy little country in the middle of nowhere."

Without exception, the praise came from people living outside America and the condemnation from within; both American citizens and New Zealanders living there.

Clearly, none of us out here can know what it's like to have something like this happen in your own country, or, as is the case for an old friend of mine who wrote an emotional letter to me, in your own city. I sometimes forget the reach Hard News has these days, and if I have hurt anyone or made their week even a fraction worse, I am genuinely sorry.

After I delivered the bulletin, I realised that perhaps I hadn't said enough about the things I love about America and the people who live there. And I do. New York City is the greatest city in the world, and America's contribution to every facet of modern human endeavour is almost beyond measure.

But I can't and won't resile from my point. Watching television here, we see a stream of vox pops from angry Americans, demanding a massive and immediate military response against an enemy whose location isn't even known. As I often do, I have dipped into forums and newsgroups to see what Americans are saying. After the shock and bewilderment, there have seemed to be two beliefs: that this came out of the blue and that ensuring a future free of terrorism is a matter of eradication by massive force.

When I mentioned others who have died, it was in no sense an attempt to excuse the evil of this week, to dismiss the suffering in America, or to tot up a body count for the other side. I was trying to put this in context. Tuesday was an escalation, not a beginning. To me, this can't be made sense of without contemplating the chilling fact that Osama bin Laden - who is almost certainly the culprit - set up his organisation with the help of the American taxpayer.

President Bush's declaration that "what our enemies hate and have attacked" was "the best that is in our country, [our] courage and concern for others" doubtless lifted the spirits of his people, but it will not go far towards explaining how or why something so hideous could happen.

Bush worries me. We see the speeches and press conferences here: you can read the pain and weariness on Rudolph Giuliani's face; Colin Powell seems to be a leader of genuine composure. But Bush? I don't know. The American foreign policy climate has become so much worse lately: Kyoto, missile defence, the blocking of the accord on biological warfare, the humiliation for America of being voted out of its seat on the UN Human Rights Commission by a dozen apparently friendly countries.

The essays I quoted in Hard News - both written by Americans, in American publications - were composed well before September 11. The fact that, in different ways, they could almost be overlaid on what has happened this week was hard to ignore.

There were ironies elsewhere, of course: Jacques Chirac's speech declaring that France had never supported terrorism - France, the country whose government committed the only act of international terrorism my own country has ever seen - stood out.

And now we wait to see what happens next. There must be a military response, of course. And the promise is that a sustained, targeted campaign will not only punish the culprits but drive terrorism from the face of the earth. Perhaps it will work, even though this war seems so profoundly different to wars past. But maybe you can't bomb an idea - even a wicked, hateful idea - out of existence. And even if you could, what proportion of the world would you need to brutalise to do so?

I worry about many more families dying because of choices others have made, about creeping bigotry in my own backyard, and about the freedoms so dear to Americans being wiped away: the FBI was granted unprecedented powers of surveillance this week. And I worry about Americans themselves. I can't really imagine how it must feel to be American at the moment, but I do know that the world depends on their confidence and dynamism of Americans, and that loss is our loss. The tears have welled up several times as I have written these two pieces. But I can only hope that we can agree that there is a lot that needs to change before things get better.

Russell Brown
russb@hardnews.co.nz

I would appreciate it if readers could forward on this follow-up to anyone they sent Friday's Hard News, and if the person who posted it to the Salon.com TableTalk forum could do the same with this.

Finally, here's a link to a piece written by Robert Fisk, the best of all the Middle Eastern correspondents, on the day following the atrocity. He says it much better than me:

http://www.zmag.org/fiskawecalam.htm

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