Language Matters: Understanding that the 9/11 attack was a monstrous crime but not an act of war
Language is important because it is how we understand what is real and what is a scam or a lie. This is how we share the metaphors, understandings, visions and values of our society. When it comes to crime, war and the occupations of other countries, language can mean life or death.
When George W. Bush decided to use the attacks of September 11, 2001 to make himself a “war president” and help secure his re-election, he wanted us to think about it the way our nation understood and responded to it. Japanese attack on our Pearl Harbor naval base in the United States of Hawaii in 1941.
This horrific attack, of course, led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to go on national radio and proclaim: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date that will go down in infamy – the United States of America have been suddenly and deliberately attacked by the Navy and Air Force of the Empire of Japan.
FDR went on to point out that the Japanese government also attacked, within 24 hours of December 7, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippines, Wake Island and Midway Island. It was unambiguously a war.
Accordingly, FDR’s request to Congress was straightforward: “I ask Congress to declare that since the unprovoked and vile attack on Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the United States. Japanese empire.
Congress agreed with the last declaration of war in American history and we jumped into World War II with both feet; four years later, we have achieved a total victory over Germany and Japan, thus ending this war.
George W. Bush desperately wanted to be a war president like FDR. Wars, after all, confer power, prestige and political advantages on presidents, as James Madison pointed out:
In no part of the constitution is there more wisdom than in the clause which entrusts the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive.
Besides the objection to such a mixture of heterogeneous powers: confidence and temptation would be too great for one man …
War is in fact the real nurse of executive enlargement. In war, a physical force must be created, and it is the executive will that must direct it.
In war, public treasures must be unlocked, and it is the executive who dispenses them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office must be multiplied; and this is the executive patronage under which they are to be appreciated.
It is in war, finally, that we must gather the laurels, and it is the executive front that they must surround. The strongest passions and the most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, honorable or venial love of glory, all conspire against the desire and duty of peace.
Bush wanted a war, but, as Barbara Lee pointed out, 9/11 was not Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor has been attacked by a foreign government: Japan. It was a specific act of war, and the Japanese government, the Japanese army, and the Japanese people were all ready to wage all-out war with the United States. As were their allies, the Axis Powers: the Germans, the Italians and the Spaniards.
On September 11, we were not attacked by a foreign country. The Afghan government did not even know then that 9/11 was being planned: this planning took place in Germany, Pakistan and Florida.
Bin Laden just wrote the check; Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, based in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, was the guy who organized and planned 9/11, and we’ve been holding him in Gitmo since 2003. If it really was 9/11, our mission ended that. that year.
The government of Afghanistan did not spend time, money, people or even its military on the September 11 attack. They literally had no idea. We were attacked by a small, well-funded group of men, most of the time not even in Afghanistan – and certainly not by a government. Most of the hijackers were Saudi; none were from Afghanistan.
They were international criminals, but they were scattered across half a dozen countries and funded primarily by bin Laden, who had taken millions from his billionaire family and millions more from the Reagan administration to expel the Soviets from ‘Afghanistan.
The September 11 attack on America was therefore not an act of war: it was a crime. A huge, horrible, astonishing crime, but a crime nonetheless. And normally (and legally under international law) countries react to crimes committed by criminals or organized crime groups in a totally different way from acts of war committed by sovereign states.
What Bin Laden knew. The last thing he wanted was for the world’s police and intelligence agencies to unite to find him and dismantle his second-rate terrorist organization. He was afraid of the police. What he feared most was that America would respond to 9/11 the same way we reacted to Tim McVeigh’s bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City: hunt down the criminal, then pursue him, jail him. and maybe even run it.
Bin Laden did not want America to respond to him as the Italian government reacted to the kidnapping and murder in 1978 of that nation’s prime minister, Aldo Moro, by the Red Brigades; The action of the Italian police against the Brigades destroyed this group.
Bin Laden did not want America to respond to September 11 in the same way Greece successfully responded to the November 17 terrorist group, or Germany’s response to the Red Army faction. In each case, the “terrorists” have been characterized by these governments and their media as pathetic or psychotic criminals, and not as national or international or noble leaders anyway.
Bin Laden did not want to be seen as a psychopath, an extremist or a criminal. Instead, he wanted to be seen as an international political and religious leader, a man of gravity and stature. In order to do this, Bin Laden needed Bush to overreact, play the role of the frightened tyrant, attack a Muslim nation and thus transform Bin Laden from a sad and helpless figure a la Tim McVeigh into a first figure similar to Arafat. A statesman without a state.
In this, Bush played Bin Laden’s game. Bin Laden later laughed at it, writing that Bush would follow Al Qaeda’s flag to “the other side of the earth” and bankrupt America in the process. He was right about it. And, even though no 9/11 hijackers were from Afghanistan or Iraq and bin Laden was in Pakistan at the time, Bush hired our military to wage two multibillion dollar wars that have killed or displaced millions of human beings … himself reelected.
Of course, he couldn’t get Congress to give him a constitutional declaration of war because 9/11 was a horrific crime by private actors, not an act of war by another country. He therefore obtained an “Authorization to Use Military Force” or AUMF. Which brings us to the definition of America leaving Afghanistan. This is not a war President Biden was ending; it was an occupation.
It started as a war, of course: we bombed shit from a sovereign nation that was a member of the UN and sent ambassadors all over the world. But the government of this nation fell in a matter of weeks. It was the end of the war. After that, and for the next 20 years, we were engaged not in war but in occupation. And occupations never work in the long run. Just ask the British, circa 1776. Or India, 1947.
It is the same for Iraq, moreover. Saddam’s government fell within weeks and thus ended the war in Iraq and began the occupation of Iraq. Of course, there were still people shooting at us, but that’s what happens with the occupations. This is why Bush felt comfortable declaring “Mission Accomplished”. The war was over.
The point is, September 11 was a monstrous crime, but not an act of war by a sovereign government. Bush and Cheney, however, chose to respond to it as if it were an act of war by attacking Afghanistan, which had little or nothing to do with it. We won the wars declared by Bush in Afghanistan and Iraq in about a month each, as one would expect from the world’s most powerful military machine. Then began the occupations.
And occupations – especially when they last for decades or generations – always go wrong for occupants. Bush and Cheney started two unnecessary wars under false pretenses and then, instead of ending one, turned both into long-term occupations for future presidents.
As a result, there have been many more deaths on both sides than if we had simply cooperated with the international community and arrested the conspirators – as we finally did in 2003. Reality matters and lives are at stake in it. the wars ; if we want to prevent this from happening again, we need to be clear about what exactly happened in the first place.