(Op-ed for New York Times on the morning of the assassination of Osama Bin Laden)
The death of Osama Bin Laden brings it all back in vivid memory. The horrendous act that nailed us all, on the spot, in an endless instant. A tectonic rupture in the history of humankind. And all the firefighters and policemen who threw in their own lives to try to save others. And all the relatives who staunchly bore the most tragic realization of all, the loss of a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife. At this moment of crisis, the bravery and resolve of the American people was clear and present for all the world to see.
Today, Pr. Obama will be mounting the rostrum at Ground Zero to pay respect to the victims and to pay tribute to all the bravery surrounding this traumatic event. Ten years have passed, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been started in its aftermath, and the tragic event has been scrutinized and commented on from lots of different standpoints.
Amidst all the euphoria concerning the death of Osama Bin Laden, it seems to me, that today it’s a wholly other kind of bravery there is called for. The bravery to dare to consider the possibility that powerful groupings within the American society had some kind of stake in the violent act. This article is a tentative probing into this theory without, and this is crucial, without compromising the loyalty and bravery of the men and women in uniform.
As a European I am probably able to the view the tragic event with lesser emotional involvement and hence a somewhat clearer mind than many Americans. Rather than the 19 terrorists armed with cutters, the circumstantial evidence pointing to a much larger and masterly orchestrated operation are, to be honest, overwhelming. On the other hand, it seems obvious why an interpretation of the tragic event along these lines is unbearable: It seems to implicate that a lot of American men and women in uniform were ready to sacrifice lives of ordinary Americans for some obscure political or military objective, and that is simply not conceivable. Actually it would amount to treason, and this accusation should then be put forward to hundreds of men and women who has sworn allegiance to their country and who had carried out his or hers exact orders… I can’t think of anything more unjust.
Thus we are left with this unfathomable puzzle.
The euphoria following the assassination of Osama Bin Laden troubled me, or to be sincere, it scared me, and in order to get some air in this dense atmosphere, my mind engaged in seeking a kind of solution to the puzzle and this following idea dawned on me. The idea, or the chain of reasoning, is so persuasive, that it may ultimately lead one to consider hawks like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz as victims of a paradigm, victims of a certain way of conceiving the world and victims of the feelings accompanying this conception.
If you were a general in any given historical period, you would always, always, want to have an army superior to that of your potential enemy. Thus generals have always been struggling with the current head of state to make him strengthen the power of the army. No size seemed to fit, no size could guarantee safety. Your army might already be superior, but the enemy might be mentally stronger and thus more effective. So the generals have always gone to the head of state for more funding. And their argument would always be the same: We are losing out on our enemies, our enemies have gained the upper hand, we have to strengthen our defenses. Thus, power and fear have always been intertwined, like two sides of the same coin. Fear is the rationale for building up more power. This fear-mongering is likely at some point to be used deliberately, but somewhere down the road the fears infused might begin to take on a life of their own. And this infusion of fear, which was initially intended as a tactic directed upward at the ‘sponsors’, might take hold of the organization and diffuse it right down to the lowest levels. Now every member of the organization has become an agent of fear-mongering and through their interaction with the surrounding society, it diffuses into and ultimately permeates that society. Like an addiction.
This scenario might actually have developed within the American military since the days of Eisenhower and Kennedy, but in 1989 something really strange happened, when Gorbachev handed the tyranny he was heading over to the will of the people, thus dismantling the only power with a capability to threaten the US. Now, how would this affect the self-conception, the raison-d’être and the conduct of the American military force?
Within this chain of reasoning it seems obvious that without any concrete object, the fear transmuted into irrational anxiety. Had the comparison with the military power of the USSR set some kind of proportion for the American military, the limits of both power and fear dissolved to send them both spiraling beyond any reasonable constraint. It is within this climate of complete supremacy and limitless anxiety, that some especially hard hit members of the military establishment might have reasoned that an act of violence like the attack on World Trade Center would somehow be purposeful. Maybe even patriotic.
Orders were dispatched; orders were faithfully executed by lower-ranking personnel, not knowing what the combined orders added up to. Thus the lower-ranking personnel were woven into a fabric of complicity, and the guilt of this combined with the fear of retaliation has made all participants keep quiet about what they know.
Thus not only USA, but to some extent, the whole world is left traumatized. Bewildered, fearful and isolated we struggle on, incapable of acting upon the real threats to our lives. It’s about time to get it straightened out. In memory of the victims, in respect for the American people, and not least to relieve all those good men and women within the military who were lured into participation in a criminal act.