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Life and Death - The Tank Man and Rachel Corrie

Life and Death - The Tank Man and Rachel Corrie

By Dan Lieberman
September 10, 2012

The court decision in Israel, which exonerated the driver of a huge bulldozer in the death of activist Rachel Corrie, recalls a previous confrontation between man and machine - the 1989 stance of a Chinese citizen before a tank squadron moving toward Tiananmen Square.

Chronologically and physically displaced, these two events have similar characteristics - one person preventing mayhem by standing firm before those who are prepared to cause violence against others - identical beginnings, different endings - one ending with a smile and relief; the other ending with declamation and grief.

Comparing the two events demonstrates how conjecture becomes a historical fact and then is periodically resurrected to direct thoughts in a specific direction and how history, which should educate, is purposely ignored.

Start with the famous "tank man." What do we know about him?
The answer is nothing, absolutely nothing. The well dressed hero, holding a bag in his hands, never disclosed his identity or intentions. No posters, reference to any cause or any form of identification accompanied his short act. If he had a special purpose, it can be assumed that somewhere in time, he would have clandestinely revealed his agenda. Although clever investigation of videos could have probably identified him, the Chinese did not bother and apparently regarded him as a crank, which he could be. There is no evidence to conclude he was either defiantly demonstrating against the government, was a daredevil, was tempting fate or was a plant by the Chinese to prove the Peoples Army's restraint. Any of the above could have been true. Most likely, he was a demonstrator, and if so, a spontaneous one - demonstrators don't usually carry their groceries with them or get dressed as if going to work.

That is what we don't know. What do we know?
(1) The "Tank Man's" defiant act occurred after the clashes in the streets close to Tiananmen had ended and the students had vacated Tiananmen Square. Because the battles were over, there wasn’t much he could accomplish,
(2) The Peoples Army showed restraint and regard for life. No harm was done to the man.
(3) Videos of the entire event definitely show that ordinary civilians tugged him away; he was not detained by undercover agents.

How has this event been treated?
The perpetrator (Tank Man) has been given a special place as a symbol of the Tiananmen student movement. It is not his story but an embellished story, which is transformed from histrionic to historical. Every June 5, the famous photographs are circulated throughout U.S. media and used, together with slogans, to impress citizenry with the defiance and heroism of the Tiananmen encampment and with ugly violence committed by the Chinese authorities. All of this makes interesting reading, but is opposite to the actual occurrence shown in the photographs and the video of the bold, likable and adventurous 'Tank man." (

As mentioned previously, this is only an interesting story and a collection of award winning photographs. This is not history.

History succeeds from established facts and not rumors or assumptions. Occurring on June 5, after Chinese troops had already emptied Tiananmen Square is not an inspiration to all those who have died or gone home. The only historically know fact from the video is that the Peoples Army showed restraint and regard for human life. It’s well known that newspapers receive photographs and caption the images as they please. From what was known, the caption under the photograph could use the words Chinese restraint and more accurately describe the episode.

Note the manner by which the conventional media is able to reinforce to the public that the "Tank Man," who has no violence committed against him, is made to appear to be a victim and the Peoples Army deserves condemnation – a perfect example of conditioning, of constantly impressing upon minds who is 'good' and who is 'bad,' until the mind automatically reacts to any image that displays the 'good' and 'bad.

What do we know about Rachel Corrie's fatal day?
Rachel Corrie expressed sympathy with the plight of the Palestinian people. The American activist specifically demonstrated against the bulldozing of a Palestinian house in the Gaza strip in 2003 and confronted the machine, driven by an Israeli military who prepared to demolish the home. The bulldozer ran against her and killed the woman. The history of this event is well defined.

Not well defined is the exact role of the IDF driver in Rachel Corrie's death. Israeli military replied to a lawsuit brought by the parents of Rachel Corrie by clearing the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of any wrongdoing. The IDF investigation validated the bulldozer driver's claim that he had not seen the 23-year-old nonviolent activist from Olympia, Washington, who wore a fluorescent vest, before his vehicle crushed her. Published images and cockpit transmission from the D-9 bulldozer driver to the watch tower, ( cast doubt on the Israeli court decision.

The driver exclaims, "I hit an object.
The tower responds, "I think the object got hit by the dobby and he is in severe condition."
The driver answers, "What about him? You saw him? Did you see the object."
The tower says, "Yes, I saw him. I think he is dead."

Both the driver and tower knew that Rachel Corrie was somewhere in front of the bulldozer. It is possible that the driver could not see her at times or was not looking in her direction. It is not possible that the tower could not see her. After all, they saw her silent body laying in front of the bulldozer. Why did not the tower signal the driver to stop?

Bulldozers hit objects all the time. That is what they are designed to do. This "object" did not stop the bulldozer from performing its operations. So, why was it important for the driver to inform the tower that he had "hit an object?" It's obvious he knew he had hit a person. If so, why didn't he stop and get out?

The tower "think(s) the object got hit by the dobby," as if it was a rock, and then concludes "he is in severe condition." Why did the tower ‘think’ when the tower knew? And why use the word 'object' when the object was clearly identified as a person (he)? The supposed "most humane military in the world" identifies a deceased human being as an object.

The driver shows his inhumanity by also designating 'him' as an 'object.'
The tower confirms complicity by replying "Yes, I saw him. I think he is dead." Neither Israeli personnel showed interest in approaching the body hit by the IDF machine or caring to confirm Rachel Corrie’s condition.

The two events expose the molding of minds, predominantly in America.
Although the Tiananmen uprising occurred in 1989, and China has progressed in socio-economics, a small band of neocons and China bashers continue to promote an annual exposition of the incident, preventing reconciliation and encouraging hatred. Although almost all the world, from Tierra del Fuego to Murmansk, rails at Israel's oppressive treatment of the Palestinian people, a small band of from the religious right and Israel supporters determine America's Middle East attitudes and polices.

The Tank Man lives in spectacle, with some political significance, similar to those who confronted police during last years of the Vietnam war. Random viewing of his courageous and defiant deed is warranted. Rachel Corrie lives in history, as an international and eternal symbol of protest against injustice. She cannot be allowed to die in vain. A monument to her sacrifice and an annual tribute for her bravery will serve as a reminder to the criminal behavior of those who commit injustice . Where to place the monument? How about the White House lawn?


Dan Lieberman is editor of Alternative Insight,, a commentary on foreign policy and politics. He is author of the book A Third Party Can Succeed in America and a Kindle: The Artistry of a Dog.

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