Twin Terrors / WORLD OPINION
That first morning, facts led fluid and unconfined lives. The television news reported bombing on Capitol Hill, fire on the Washington Mall, eight separate planes hijacked. These assertions would stand for some time, then fade away without proper correction or disavowal. The accepted version of events that emerged from this confusion simply asserted itself by strength of repetition, and not by contrasting itself with previous reports.
Some confusion results naturally in trying to make sense of bewildering events. Other confusion is political.
During the earliest speculation as to who and why, television commentators mentioned the demonstrations against the IMF and World Bank, scheduled for the end of the month in Washington, DC. In doing so, they insinuated that protesters might be responsible for the terrorism. This infuriated me: the warped security mythology about violent protestors in places like Seattle had fully reversed reality. It was as if the police officers had been the ones who dressed up like butterflies and choked through clouds of tear gas. As if the protesters had been shooting the rubber bullets and pepper spraying riot troops who were locked together and seated cross-legged in the middle of the street. As if the Italian protester, 23-year-old Carlo Giuliani, had delivered a bullet, rather than taking one in the face.
As I calmed down, I realized that perhaps I over-reacted to the passing implication of global justice protesters. Nevertheless, this served as my first inkling that now, amidst the bipartisan declarations of war, words would bear a different relation to the truth.
As on TV, information goes missing and specifics shift. The point that holds steady is the war.
Friday’s New York Times featured a biographical profile of Osama bin Laden. Astonishingly, while it described his Cold War guerrilla efforts against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, it all but excised any ties to the United States – erasing past CIA support for bin Laden’s activities. A story on the same page talked of President Bush making diplomatic calls in preparation for his own potential attack on Afghanistan.
These items recall Orwell’s descriptions of the shifting alliances between Eurasia, Oceania, and Eastasia; in the states of 1984, whom one counts as friend or foe may reverse abruptly, but officials eliminate any inconvenient history by never making ‘mention of any other alignment than the existing one’.
According to the Times, whose ‘deep knowledge’ of Afghanistan will President Bush consult in his invasion? Russia’s, of course.
My partner Rosslyn organizes for the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 100. Members of the Union include the employees of Windows on the World, the restaurant that sat atop Tower One of World Trade Center, famous for its majestic views of the city.
On Wednesday, when much of the city was shut down, Rosslyn went in to work. Throughout the day, people filled the union hall. Workers from Windows who had not been scheduled to work Tuesday wept alongside families who were missing a loved one. After a few hours, everyone came together to begin a painful reckoning.
Members worked slowly through a list of employees on the disastrous morning’s shift. As they read each name, they shared any information they had about their co-workers: who had called in sick that day; who had been running late to work; who might be in the hospital. Eighty workers are still missing.
One among the missing had acted as a key leader in the struggle to organize a restaurant elsewhere in the financial district. As the fight wore on, he had been fired – some say because of absences, others say as punishment for his union activism. The local branch was able to help him find another job shortly after his dismissal: he was hired at Windows.
‘None of our members who was working that day walked out of the building,’ organizer Juan Galán said to a New York Daily News reporter present at the Wednesday meeting. At the time, Galán thought that three or four of them might have been dug from the rubble and taken to the hospital. ‘But no-one got out on their own two feet.’
A few years ago I served as a speechwriter for Oscar Arias, the former President of Costa Rica and 1987 Nobel Peace Laureate, who toured regularly to lecture on issues of demilitarization, arms control and globalization.
At one point, I was working on a speech for an upcoming event at a college with a conservative reputation, where faculty members migrated between the campus and the Department of Defense. We knew that, even in the best of circumstances, there would be some unsympathetic listeners in the audience. But to compound the problem, the event came on the heels of one of our frequent bombings of Iraq.
I remember that the environment felt hostile, filled with clamorings of war. I wrote into the speech a quote by Martin Luther King, which I had recently read in his 1967 work, Where Do We Go From Here?
‘The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate... Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’
When Don Oscar and I sat down to read over the material, he quietly reviewed the quotation. To my surprise, he grew angry and turned toward me accusingly. ‘That passage is very important,’ he scolded. ‘Why haven’t we been using it before?’
Mark Engler is a writer and activist living in Brooklyn. [email protected]
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