The Enduring Reign of the Shruggers

by Antony C. Black

October 1, 2001

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It is often said that the first casualty of any war is the truth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the new War on Terrorism initiated by the United States and supported now by a whole host of countries either sympathetic to the cause, prudent as to their economic interests, or simply frightened out of their wits at being blown to smithereens.

For make no mistake about it, buried under the rubble of the Trade Center in New York, lies more than the 5,000 or so hapless victims of that horrific crime. Also buried there lies any sense of historical context, any sense of causality, any sense of moral honesty, any sense of political maturity - quite literally, any sense at all.

Transparently symbolic of this sad state of affairs was the ludicrous moniker that Washington first concocted for its holy crusade against the Moslem hordes: Operation Infinite Justice. Now, if you care to dust off your Theology 1O1, 'infinite justice' has traditionally been reserved for God.

Bush and Co., however, apparently thought better, deciding it was more likely lodged somewhere deep in the bowels of the US State Department, or, perhaps, locked away in some vault on a US air craft carrier steaming righteously towards the Middle East. Only upon criticism from US religious leaders did the naked emperor decide to attire itself anew.

That the main stream of journalism in North America didn't itself jump all over this semiotic embarrassment, this blatant labelling faux pas is hardly surprising. In fact, it is merely symptomatic of a long standing and continually worsening illness.

Nary an eyebrow was raised, for instance, when in 1989 the Americans waltzed into Panama under the banner of another award-winning public relations title - Operation Just Cause. It is in Panama, you will recall, that under the laughable pretext of nabbing Manuel Noriega for 'drug running', ('laughable' because, historically, that is the private preserve and secret funding source of the CIA and its 'black ops' operations) US forces killed between 2000 and 4000 civilians. A point-specific terrorist attack, whose results were first exposed, ironically, by the US investigative news program 60 Minutes - and which was then just shrugged off by, well, everyone, as just, well, one of those things.

Indeed, the clinical phenomena of 'shrugging off', of willfully blinding oneself to unsightly facts that run counter to some absurd, pre-conceived notion of national purity, has been developed by the corporate media, much as has Michael Jordan's slam dunk - to a high point of unconscious reflex.

So while the dissidents of our enemies (like those of the former Soviet Union) are wooed and cosseted, while they are adorned with laurel leaves and given liberal access to the media and cushy academic posts at prestigious universities, the dissidents of our own society are treated like uncouth boors attempting to crash a tea party for the Queen.

No matter the strength of their case, the simple logic of their narrative, no matter even the profound, earth-shattering significance of their tragic findings, they are dismissed, out of hand; sometimes as cranks, malcontents, or godless communists, but mostly just as dour party-poopers striving (fruitlessly) to bring everyone down from a rollicking good patriotic inebriation. A rollicking good sanctimonious high.

But as the party continues, the bodies continue to mount. And mount and mount. Death, it seems, won't be deluded so easily.

In Iraq, the bodies are mounting quite nicely. According to UNICEF and Red Cross figures, over 1,000,000 Iraqis have died as a direct result of our economic sanctions and the virtual total destruction of the countries infrastructure during the Gulf War. The majority of these victims are children, who have the rather unfortunate need for things like clean water and Oral Rehydration tablets, and such luxuries. Five thousand are dying every month. A World Trade Center disaster - every month. But then, of course, we can shrug this one off too because, after all, - and let's be totally honest about this just for once - they're not our children, are they?

The 'shruggers' will naturally object that the Gulf War was an unfortunate necessity to save the world from a monster beyond reckoning, one Saddam Hussein. Except that this won't wash. The monster beyond reckoning was one of America's favorite sons for twenty years as he prosecuted US strategic policy against the likes of Iran (where another million were killed in the Iran/Iraq War). The hero was only recast as a villain when he ran afoul of Washington's hegemony by pursuing nationalist economic policies.

Thwarting the economic penetration of your economy by Western capital, by the way, if you haven't figured it out yet, is the surest way (besides an attack on US soil) to invite American military obliteration. It is no accident, for example, that Serbia, as the last socialist redoubt in Eastern Europe, was targeted (under cover of a patently bogus 'humanitarian mission') for destruction. They wouldn't let the IMF and the World Bank in. Naughty boys.

The bodies have been piling up elsewhere, of course. In Central America the figures accruing over the past few decades are simply staggering: 140,000 in Guatemala; 100,000 in Nicaragua; 70,000 in El Salvador, etc. These victims have been mostly civilians mind you. Men, women, children, people like you and I. The guerrilla forces have never represented more than a small fraction of the death toll and have often arisen merely as a response to the US sponsored state pogroms (called 'civil wars' by apologists).

In Colombia Uncle Sam has just poured in another $1.3 billion to prop up a murderous regime that has killed 40,000 people in the last decade alone. Similar horror stories abound for almost the whole of the rest of Latin America, many of whose upper echelon military officer corps have been trained by the US in the US. Indeed, based on this one factor alone, any rational person would rightly judge the United States to be, by far, the greatest terrorist training base anywhere on Earth. Under the strictures of its new terrorist manifesto, the Pentagon should, then, send out orders to scuttle the fleets, decommission the jets and complete its own demolition.

But this is not the only factor. In Vietnam the Americans attacked a virtually helpless peasant society and slaughtered 3,000,000 of its people under the pretext of saving them from themselves. Another 600,000 or so in Laos and Cambodia met death from B-52's carpet bombing at 50,000 ft. In Indonesia (1965), in the space of two weeks alone somewhere in the order of a half to one million 'communists' were slaughtered in an American engineered coup, that brought another favourite son to power. Suharto later went on to win infamy in the murder of 200,000 East Timorese. This with the immediately prior pre-invasion blessing of Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford.

The big figures don't stop there. We've yet to traverse the tragic terrain of Palestine, Angola, Mozambique or the Sudan etc, but the space is wanting to go on page after wearying page. The shoulders of the shruggers must be getting fatigued by now in any case.

Still, we should briefly touch on Afghanistan for it is there that the CIA really outdid itself with its biggest covert operation ever. Principally to embarrass the Soviets it spent $5 - $6 billion to help arm and train tens of thousands of mujihadeen extremists (remember our lovable 'freedom fighters'?) who objected to the Soviets' attempts to institute land reform, educate women and suppress the heroin trade. A million people were killed. The Taliban eventually took control and instituted a gender-discriminatory fundamentalist nightmare. And so it came to pass that a CIA creation one day arose as the chief suspect in an infamous attack on US soil.

So this is where we stand today. Now any prosecutor worth his salt, just for the Trade Center attack alone, would have the CIA and a suite of American leaders in the dock faster than you could say 'Osama bin Laden'. But complicity, apparently, has a very selective range of application in the heart of Empire. Instead, the shruggers rule. And the air waves and the printed page are agog with a unanimity of righteous thought and feeling that is the hallmark of a totalitarian mindscape. (In the land of the free, the Truth has been found. But, of course, it is the same truth, found by everyone.)

Indeed, that the present outpouring of patriotic mass hysteria is doing grave harm to the social fabric is, it seems, of no concern to rulers or ruled alike. No worries that, under cover of the new 'war', civil liberties will be eroded, fascism ignited, environmental and anti-'globalization' movements threatened or snuffed out. No qualms about the likely cynical opportunism of American military expansionism. No sense that the complete destabilization of world security in a nuclear age is anything more than just, 'one of those things'.

And finally, no vision that the only fitting monument to the victims of Sept. 11's attack would be to address its causes at source, for a new page to be turned: a total about-face of American imperial design and of Western corporate hegemony. No, no sense of that.

Just shrugs all around.


       Antony C. Black is a Canadian teacher and political activist who contributes his columns to Swans.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Antony C. Black 2001. All rights reserved.

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Published October 1, 2001
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