[saymaListserv] A historical analysis of the current crisis

Larry Ingle lingle at bellsouth.net
Fri Oct 12 12:27:41 JEST 2001

Much of the discussion of the tragedy surrounding the September 11 attacks
has failed to put the problem in historical context.  Words like "terrorism"
and calls for justice, emanating from the president and his supporters
across the political establishments around the world, add to the confusion.
President Bush was quick to condemn the attacks as aimed at what he defined
as the central feature of the United States, "freedom."  Much of what we
have heard thus obfuscates rather than clarifies.

It's clear that those who planned and carried out the attacks chose their
targets well--they were the World Trade Center, massive symbols of American
capitalism and the culture that has grown up around it, and the Pentagon,
the central military defender of this system.  These choices were hardly

The United States, as we have so often been told in the last decade, is the
world's supreme super power and thus an heir to confronting all the problems
that were obscured by the Cold War, and earlier the struggle against German
militarism in World War I and Nazism prior to and during World War II.  It
is no surprise that both political parties in the United States have drawn
on the "universalism" that characterizes the policies of the principal
architect of American foreign policy in the 20th century.

That architect was Woodrow Wilson.  His Fourteen Points called for creation
of an "open world" that would assure open borders and open markets, both
prerequisites for the expansion of American (and capitalist) penetration and
influence around the world.  This open world, once established by the League
of Nations and subsequently the United Nations, has essentially represented
those who benefited from the status quo and who promised to maintain the
system against any group that threatened it--German militarists, Nazis,
Communists, or nationalists of various stripes in scattered countries.

Osama bin Laden is apparently the latest person to call into question this
"globalization" or universalism.  And George Bush is the latest American
president to endeavor to defend things as they are with military force, an
amazingly ineffective instrument to combat a set of ideas that oppose what
universalism has wrought.  The attacks on American symbols of power and
influence thus fit into a world-wide struggle that has been going on for
nearly a century.

It is hard to believe that Bush and his allies can find acceptable ways to
"end evil in the world" as he promised early on.  To be honest, even Jesus
was not capable of doing this, and Bush is no where near as appealing a
figure as that first century teacher.

If Friends are to be effective, we have to find ways to highlight and
challenge these sets of assumptions, without falling into knee-jerk
varieties of either the right or left wings.  One of the hardest things to
do is to refuse to use the words that defenders of the open world trumpet
around--words like "terrorism" and "freedom," used in the restricted fashion
that Bush fancies.  And we must live in ways that demonstrate our refusal to
buy into styles of life that ultmately add to the problem.

For what it's worth.

Larry Ingle
Chattanooga Meeting (SAYMA)

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