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From 9/11 to 11/9 and Beyond
Recognizing “inalienable rights” is key to responding correctly as a nation
by Jerry Winzig
The shorthand phrase "9/11" is used by some to refer to the horrific attacks of September 11 in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. On the European "9/11" (November 9), a commentator on public radio pointed out that Europeans, with their different date notation, remember two other 9/11 events.
In one event in 1938, now known as "Kristalnacht" or the "night of broken class," the Nazis smashed and burned Jewish homes, shops, warehouses and 191 synagogues across Germany. That night, 30,000 Jews were hauled off to concentration camps, beginning the Holocaust. In another event in 1989, after 44 years of division, the people of Berlin tore down the Berlin Wall that the Communists had built in 1961 to keep their people imprisoned.
In each of those events, the enemy was a malevolent nation-state. In 1938 Hitler had been in power for five years and the evil designs of his dictatorship were increasingly obvious. In 1989 the Berlin Wall was a 28-year-old symbol of the bankruptcy of Communism, which needed an armed barricade topped with barbed wire to keep its citizens from fleeing to freedom in the West.
Even though the enemies were clear in 1938 and 1989, the effort to defeat them took a toll on innocent people caught up in those dictatorships, a toll that has personal connections for me. My maternal grandparents fled Germany during the Great Depression, at a time when Germany was suffering worse than most nations under the reparations exacted by the Allies after World War I. My paternal grandparents left Germany and Czechoslovakia before World War I, as the imperial struggles that led to that war were building. Before my grandfather came to the United States, he was imprisoned in a Canadian concentration camp because he spoke German. After escaping, he came to Minnesota, where he met my grandmother. They were courting when the United States entered World War I. Profiled because of her German heritage, my grandmother was prohibited from crossing bridges in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Perhaps that is why the firebombing of the entire city of Dresden in Germany during World War II stands out for me almost as much as the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. War is hellish; innocent people often die and lives are forever changed, even when the cause seems righteous.
Similarly, the Western democracies won the Cold War, defeating the Communist dictatorships of the old Soviet Union and eastern Europe. But the peoples of those nations continue to suffer from the aftermath of Communism, and their economies are in shambles. I see the economic disparity between Russia and the United States every day in the circumstances of the two Russian guys who work under contract at my current client.
Today however, after our 9/11, we have little of the clarity that existed when we struggled against the Nazi and Communist nation-states. It's true that Osama bin Laden is a profoundly evil man, Al Queda is a sinister shadow organization determined to subvert Islam in a bid for vast power, and the Taliban are perverted tyrants who kill their own people and are especially malicious towards women.
But it's also true that 15 of the 19 hijackers who commandeered those four planes were from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia. Saudi princes reputedly help fund Al Queda. The Saudis have not arrested a single person or seized any bank accounts in connection with the 9/11 attacks. Some of the remaining hijackers were from Egypt. Egypt receives billions of dollars in U.S. aid but has no democracy. Instead, strongman Hosni Mubarek has been in power for two decades, and editors he has personally appointed write vehement anti-American, pro-terrorist diatribes, feeding a climate of hate.
None of the hijackers were Afghans, yet our bombs are falling on Afghanistan, a country that was already decimated by 20 years of warfare, with millions of its citizens living as refugees in Pakistan. A part of me wonders a disturbing thought for a loyal American: Are we bombing Afghanistan because it’s the easiest target?
It seems clear there are terrorist camps in Afghanistan that send terrorists out to attack innocent people throughout the world. But the United Nations is warning that as many as 100,000 Afghan children could die this winter as a result of the war. Will the deaths of 100,000 innocent children in Afghanistan appease the deaths of 5,000 innocent Americans in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.? Is that justice?
This is a vivid question for our family. My daughter was born 35 miles from North Korea, the last truly Communist tyranny in the world. Like the Taliban, its rulers care little about the lives of their citizens. Kang Chol-hwan's book, The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in a North Korean Gulag, reviewed elsewhere in this issue, describes the atrocities of the North Korean regime. Except for its trade embargo against North Korea, the United States tends to ignore these atrocities. But the book's author, a refugee from North Korea, ends with a haunting plea: "How can we stand by while troops of orphans cross the Yalu and the Tumen Rivers seeking refuge in China; how can we stand by while parents sell their daughters for something to eat?"
In these unsettled times, we need better answers than the ones we've been offered. The United States was founded as a democracy, as a beacon of freedom for the world. But our foreign policy doesn't encourage that freedom in the Middle East, in countries like Egypt and Syria and Saudi Arabia and Palestine, while we wonder why some in those countries hate us. We are convinced of the value of free enterprise and free trade-- and its potential to empower and enrich all people. Our government imposes numerous protective trade restrictions against Africa, Latin America, and Asia, while we wonder why we have so many illegal immigrants. Our Declaration of Independence says the "pursuit of Happiness" is an unalienable right. Our government continues trade embargoes against Iraq and North Korea, while we wonder why we're blamed for the suffering and death of people in those countries. (Indeed, the suffering in North Korea rarely gets much attention in the United States.)
We have no healing yet from the events of September 11. In fact, we seem almost determined to make things worse. Members of Congress scramble all over each other proposing the biggest possible spending programs based on the mistaken premise that more money will heal the pain. They advocate extensive and expensive federalized security measures in a vain attempt to prevent further atrocities. In New York city employees bicker about how many firefighters should be assigned to cleaning up the World Trade Center debris. While our economy is declining, our government wastes several billions (billions!) of precious dollars in just a few weeks -- in a largely hysterical response to a very limited anthrax attack.
While tragic, the FBI says the anthrax attack was apparently launched by a single domestic malcontent. More importantly, it is less dangerous than the threat of being killed in a car accident every single time we drive to our local grocery store. Yet our government seriously contemplated filling the entire gigantic Senate office building with poisonous gas. If only the killings in a largely African-American neighborhood near the park where my Korean-born son works -- killings far more numerous than the anthrax attacks -- received as much attention!
We are not attacking the root causes of the events of September 11. (This is no slight against the men and women in our armed forces whose lives are on the line, just a recognition that we have only tackled the easiest targets so far.) As Americans, we need to realize that in today's world everyone is interconnected and international -- everyone, not just families like ours. We need to recognize that our colleague from Bethlehem in Palestine is just as concerned about freedom and security as we are. Instead of being fearful that our Somali neighbors are sending money to Al Queda, we should be astonished at their family commitment, which leads people who are poorer than most of us to regularly send hard-earned money to their even less fortunate family members back in Somalia.
Since September 11, racial profiling of anyone who looks Arab has quickly become acceptable. Airplanes and trains have been diverted or delayed because one or two passengers are Middle Eastern. For my family, with adult children who can easily be profiled because they are Asian, this has dangerous personal ramifications. Furthermore, it serves no honest purpose. Canada was not safer in World War I because it imprisoned my grandfather. Keeping my grandmother away from bridges in World War I did not help the U.S. war effort. (The story did become part of her family's folklore back in Germany, and eighty years later a distant cousin of mine from Germany recounted the story as it was passed down to him.) Throwing Japanese-Americans into concentration camps in World War II did not help America win the war (although it did allow some jealous white neighbors of those who were imprisoned to seize their property).
Fear-driven racial profiling will not help us. We need to recognize the whole world is inter-connected. The rest of the world doesn't need our power or our money -- or our fears -- as much as it needs the best of American values. The world needs the unshakable conviction that all people are created equal (note both words, "created" and "equal") and are endowed by their creator with unalienable rights. May our creator be with us in the coming weeks, months, and years.
Copyright © 1999-2004 Winzig Consulting Services.