We use cookies for site personalization and analytics. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it

Invest in New Internationalist, become a co-owner and help  Save our stories

The theatre of good & evil

The terrorists killed workers from 50 countries in New York and Washington in the name of Good against Evil. And in the name of Good against Evil, President Bush vowed revenge: ‘We will eliminate Evil from this world.’

Eliminate Evil? What would Good be without Evil? Religious fanatics are not the only ones that need enemies to justify their madness. The arms industry and gigantic military apparatus need enemies to justify their existence. Heroes become monsters and monsters heroes: the actors switch masks according to the script.

There’s nothing new here. German scientist Werner von Braun was evil when he invented the V-2 rocket, which Hitler used to pulverize London, but he became good the day he placed his skills in the service of the United States.

In the name of Good against Evil, in the name of the Single Truth, they seek resolution by killing first and asking questions later. And in this way they end up galvanizing the very enemy they are fighting.

Stalin was good during World War Two and bad later, when he became ruler of the Evil Empire. During the years of the Cold War, John Steinbeck wrote: ‘Perhaps the entire world needs Russians. I bet even Russia does. Maybe there they call them Americans.’

Afterwards the Russians turned good. Now Putin says: ‘Evil must be punished.’

Saddam Hussein was good, and so were the chemical weapons he used against the Kurds and Iranians. Later he turned bad. He was called Satan Hussein when the US, which had just invaded Panama, invaded Iraq because Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Bush Sr. presided over this war of Good against Evil. With the humanitarian and compassionate spirit that characterizes his family, he killed more than 100,000 Iraqis, the vast majority civilians.

Satan Hussein is the same as he always was, but now this enemy-number-one of humanity has slipped to second place. The scourge of the world is now called Osama bin Laden. The CIA taught him everything he knows about terrorism: bin Laden, loved and armed by the US Government, was one of the principal ‘freedom-fighters’ in the war against communism in Afghanistan. Bush Sr. was Vice President when President Reagan said that these heroes were ‘the moral equivalent of America’s Founding Fathers’. And Hollywood agreed with the White House: Rambo III was being shot at the time, and the Muslim Afghanis were the good guys. Not any more: now they are evil incarnate, a mere 13 years later.

Henry Kissinger was one of the first to react to the recent tragedy: ‘Those who provide support, financing and inspiration to the terrorists are as guilty as they are,’ he stated, using words that President Bush repeated just hours later.

If this were the case, the first step would be to bomb Kissinger. He would be guilty of far more crimes than bin Laden and the rest of the world’s terrorists combined. And in many more countries: acting in the service of various American administrations, he provided ‘support, financing and inspiration’ to state terrorism in Indonesia, Cambodia, Cyprus, the Philippines, South Africa, Iran, Bangladesh and the countries of South America that suffered under the dirty war of Operation Condor.

On 11 September 1973, exactly 28 years before the World Trade Towers collapsed in flames, Chile’s presidential palace burned. Kissinger anticipated the epitaph of Salvador Allende and Chilean democracy when he commented on the election results: ‘We do not have to accept a country going Marxist because of the irresponsibility of its people.’

Disdain for the popular will is one of the many points in common between state terrorism and private terrorism. For example, the Basque separatist movement in Spain, ETA, which kills in the name of an independent Basque state, proclaimed through a spokesman: ‘Rights have nothing to do with minorities or majorities.’

There are many similarities between home-made and high-tech terrorism, between that of religious fundamentalists and free-market zealots, between that of the dispossessed and the all-powerful, between the solitary madmen and the professionals in uniform. All share the same lack of respect for human life: the murderers of the 6,500 people killed in the demolition of the Twin Towers and the assassins of 200,000 Guatemalans, mostly Indians, exterminated without the slightest attention paid by the world’s media. These Guatemalans were killed not by Muslim fanatics but military terrorists who received the ‘support, financing and inspiration’ of one American administration after another.

These terrorists also share an obsession with reducing social, cultural and national contradictions to military terms. In the name of Good against Evil, in the name of the Single Truth, they seek resolution by killing first and asking questions later. And in this way they end up galvanizing the very enemy they are fighting. It was the atrocities of the Shining Path that incubated Peruvian President Fujimori, who with considerable public support initiated a reign of terror and sold Peru for the price of a banana. It was the atrocities of the US in the Middle East that largely fuelled the Holy War of Islamic terrorism.

Even though the Leader of Civilization is calling for a new Crusade, Allah is innocent of the crimes committed in his name. After all, God did not order the Nazi Holocaust of the followers of Jehovah. Nor did Jehovah order the massacres at Sabra and Chatila or the expulsion of the Palestinians from their land. Might Jehovah, Allah and God be three names for the same divinity?

A Tragedy of Errors: no-one yet knows who is who. The smoke from the explosions is part of a far larger smoke screen that blocks our view. As vengeance breeds vengeance, each act of terrorism sends us stumbling deeper into darkness.

The spiral of violence breeds violence and also confusion: pain, fear, intolerance, hatred, madness. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, former leader of Algeria Ahmed Ben Bella warned: ‘This system, which has driven cows mad, is making people mad too.’ And madmen, maddened by hatred, act just like the force that unhinged them.

A three-year-old boy named Luca commented a few days ago: ‘The world doesn’t know where its home is.’ He was reading a map. He may as well have been watching the news.


*Eduardo Galeano*, who lives in Montevideo, Uruguay, is the author of many books, including _Memories of Fire, The Open Veins of Latin America_ and, most recently, _Upside Down_.

New Internationalist issue 340 magazine cover This article is from the November 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Subscribe today »


Save our stories: become a co-owner
Invest in journalism with integrity and heart. Join us as a co-owner today.

Count me in »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop