Seven Years After 9.11: Lessons Unlearned
Seven Years After 9.11: Lessons Unlearned
Some months before the Oklahoma City bombing, in the yet to be designated ‘homeland’ of America, I visited my native state of Michigan. It was late fall, the wind and rain had stripped the leaves from the trees, and the deer hunters/militia members were out in force.
Near the family cottage on Saginaw Bay, where I stay when I’m visiting, there is a protected wetland and wildlife refuge. It has a three-mile loop with two three-story towers for viewing the thousands of ducks and geese that migrate through the marshlands.
One morning I passed a large group of elementary age children with the teachers and aides on a school outing. The kids were having a great time, and displayed much interest in the knowledge of nature their teachers were imparting.
The next day, not far from where the children were gathered, I passed a hunter with a high power rifle, clad head to foot in camouflage gear, leaning against a tree next to the trail. Deer hunting season had begun that day. “Did you know that this is a refuge, and there’s no hunting in here?” I asked.
The man was obviously expecting such a challenge, and pointed at the tree he was leaning against ten feet from the trail. “This tree marks the boundary of the refuge,” he angrily said, adding irrelevantly, “and the Second Amendment gives me the right to keep and bear arms.”
Not wanting to rile up a gun nut holding a high power rifle, I said, “I understand, but there was a group of school kids near here yesterday, and an errant shot could kill one of them.” Then I walked away, feeling my exposed back for the hundred meters I was in his line of sight.
I wrote a strong letter to the editor of the local paper, which really brought the gun nuts and militia madmen out of the woodwork. Family and friends expressed a hushed fear regarding the atmosphere in Michigan at the time. The wife of a cousin pulled me aside and said that something strange and ominous was going on, that no one talked about it, but she was glad I did.
Less than six months later Timothy McVeigh, ex-Marine and Gulf War I vet, blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The plan was hatched at the Nichols ranch in Michigan’s ‘Thumb,’ not far from where I grew up and the confrontation with the militiaman/hunter had taken place.
Much is unknown, or has been buried about this act of “homegrown terrorism;” but however many crazies were actually co-conspirators of the mass murder, one thing is for sure: McVeigh and Nichols had a base of support in Michigan. And the ‘don’t talk about it and maybe they’ll go away’ mentality allowed them free reign.
For the first couple of days after the Oklahoma City bombing, it was believed that Islamic terrorists had committed the heinous crime. When the truth came out, America continued to roll along in its Clinton- managed economic boom, sucking the last bit of high out of Cold War triumphalist fumes.
I think of McVeigh and Nichols whenever I hear someone say, “They lived amongst us for a year before they flew those planes into the World Trade Towers.”
The line between domestic and foreign terrorism blurs in reflecting on Oklahoma City and 9.11, no matter how much fear-mongering, backward-looking ‘leaders’ such a John McCain talk about Islamist terrorism as the “transcendent” threat of our time.
It’s hard to tell whether proponents of the military reaction to terrorism by the Bush Administration are deliberately disingenuous or obstinately obtuse.
But their argument goes like this: Proof that the ‘law enforcement approach’ (their way of denigrating the rule of law) doesn’t work is in the very success in apprehending and prosecuting the terrorists involved in the first World Trade Center bombing. The FBI ‘reached all the way to Pakistan’ to capture and convict the 1993 bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef, the apologist’s intone.
Eight years later, Yousef’s uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, masterminded the attack that brought down the Twin Towers. Therefore, ipso facto, to prevent a nuclear attack on an American city, we need a ‘preemptive’ strategy led by intelligence agencies and executed by the military.
The twisting of the evidence in this specious line of reasoning would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerously dominant in US policy. First, both the Clinton and especially the Bush Administrations ignored the gathering threat, well known and often stated by CIA and other analysts, that al Qaeda was preparing to strike again. (Even Yousef, as he was being flown to prison in view of the World Trade Center, answered a mocking FBI agent’s crack that “they’re still standing,” with “we’ll get them next time.”)
Second, the policy of lawless preemption has been tried, and has failed. Rather than go after the terrorists for crimes against humanity with an international mandate, the US and its lap dog the UK invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq. At the time, the entire world was behind us, and we could have given real meaning to the term international law. The fall of the Taliban would have been a welcome byproduct, an example of what happens to governments that aid and abet terrorists.
Instead, even as they concede that Iraq was a ‘mistake,’ proponents of the Pearl Harbor/military first/beyond the rule of law mindset to terrorism, deny our responsibility for increasing instability and terrorist threats from the borderless Afghan-Pakistan region, and elsewhere.
Third, the United States has conferred almost superpower status on a network of cave-dwelling fanatics, while insulting and enraging the Muslim world with a worldview based on ‘Islamo-fascism.’ Thus America and its allies have provided an even more putrid breeding ground for terrorism, precluded comprehensive and collaborative strategies, promoted a climate of secrecy and fear, and undermined the rule of law inside and outside America.
Our values were once the standard for the world; after 9.11 they became the bane of humanity. Can America regain its soul?
The choice is not between ‘law enforcement’ and military preemption. Rather, it is between the primacy of military force beyond the rule of law, and the intent and practice of combining all tools under the rule of law, nationally and internationally.
In this globalized world, even (indeed especially) the most powerful nations must live under the rule of law, not the law of the jungle.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The author welcomes comments.