Chile, Your Waters Run Red to the Hudson
by George White, jr. Ph.D.
On September 11th, a nation watched helplessly as its civil society was attacked, a structure of great symbolic importance destroyed, and, later, thousands of people harassed, detained, arrested, beaten, tortured, and killed as a result of their beliefs. Though I could be talking about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon a few weeks ago, actually I am referring to the American-supported military coup which toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile twenty-eight years ago. Of course, that scene has been repeated in numerous far-flung corners of the world, usually in the U.S.-led quest to "save the Free World." Despite our self-congratulatory pretensions to near omnipotence in a post-Cold War world, the events of September 11, 2001 remind us that the nation's arms are too short to box with God. Or, as one savant told us years ago, the chickens always come home to roost. Although a great hue and cry has emerged for justice, it rings hauntingly familiar. The president's emotional call for a "War on Terrorism" has focused exclusively on Muslim extremists and, in particular, Osama bin Laden. Interestingly, I have heard no direct evidence that bin Laden planned or committed the attacks which precisely targeted symbols of American military and economic hegemony. Meanwhile, bin Laden remains on the run or in hiding, depending on what accounts we read. As the president talks about
leading a crusade against terror (as if the term "crusade"had no meaning for Arabs and Muslims alike), I can almost hear the sounds of coon dogs howling as they track their prey. I can smell burning flesh and see the mutilated bodies of the thousands of victims of lynch mobs who were targeted as a result of innuendo, false accusations, or a perceived attack on White Christian morals, customs, persons, and property. I see women and men alternately cursing and laughing, confident that they got their man.I can see the parents pressing their children closer to the front to get a good look. I see the gruesome scramble for the bodyparts of the dead to keep as souvenirs. I can see the photographer taking a picture to be memorialized in postcards and the like, as a reminder of what has to be done in order to protect civilization from barbarism.
Are we to slay Osama bin Laden simply on the basis of rumor or hearsay? Is he simply guilty by association? How can we speak of eliminating Muslim extremists in a world of Christian extremists, Jewish extremists, Hindu extremists, and corporate-supported paramilitaries, just to name a few?
We do a great disservice to the memories of the dead, not to mention future potential victims, if we fail to find the real perpetrators of this crime against
humanity. Moreover, just like those members of the mobs who slaughtered untold innocents, we risk falling into the comfort of self-delusion and the inevitable shock when truth reveals itself from the ugly detritus of blind, vengeful, communal violence. Are we to believe that the world will be a safer
place when bin Laden has been killed or when armed military personnel patrol our airports? In this time of anguish and confusion, we look to our computers, TVs, and radios for guidance and solace, only to find Texas gun-slinger rhetoric, a blithering, vapid Dan Rather, or Tom Petty, as if he had been
freshly kicked from a coffin, singing "Back Down." Where is the sage wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr., cogent political analysis by Noam Chomsky, or, at least, Bobby McFerrin singing "Don't Worry, Be Happy?"
Assuming for the moment that bin Laden really is guilty as charged, what should we make of this development? Should we remain blinded by the innocence of White privilege and smugly declare our intention to murder millions of human beings (whose societies we helped to crush in the first place), thereby creating another generation of anti-American warriors? Should we send my Black sisters and brothers and the other children of the poor and oppressed to kill and to die to protect the wisp of democracy which has only left them cold, bitter, and hungry? Or should we awake from our decadent excesses and abuses to realize what has happened? The events of September 11th perhaps offer testimony to the fact that we cannot escape our national crimes. The bloody waters of Chile have followed a crimson, serpentine course
through the Potomac and into the Hudson River. The bloody waters of Chile rouse a sleeping conscience. They wash away the propaganda soil covering the still-born ideas of self-determination buried under the American way of life. They splash ruby fingers of insight on our War on Drugs and our failing system of justice. If we know where illegal drugs are, remain unable to stem their flow, and continue to arrest the wrong people by the thousands, how can we win a War on Terrorism? If we can find abortion clinic-bomber Eric Rudolph and his ilk within our own states, how can
we find enemies we cannot see across oceans? I can see the ghosts of Allende, Lumumba, Mossadegh, and a million others dragging their restless souls inexorably North. I see these ghosts, heads bowed and shoulders hunched under the weight of their distress, appearing as supplicants to some lesser god. I watch their path, trodding from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, intersecting with the strides of other ghosts, apparitions from Oakland to Birmingham, up through the Carolinas to Chicago, all heading toward Washington by way of the Statue of Liberty.
As we witness the increased militarization of our nation, I have more questions than answers. Sadly, the trampling upon the Constitution and the violations of the very freedoms which many teary-eyed Americans swore "the terrorists" could never destroy bear witness to the creation of a garrison state, a Cold Warriors wet dream. Could the architects of destruction visited on so many other countries have devised a vicious assault on their home turf simply to create their martial utopia? Why is it that the officials crying loudest for bin Laden's head are least known for their veracity? I do not know if Osama bin Laden is guilty. I do not know if the coming military conflict will spread into World War III. I do not know what lonely idea echoes in the emptiness of George Bush's head. But I do know one thing: our
government may be able to forestall justice but it cannot forestall judgement!
* with apologies to the acapella singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock for
using part of the
title from one of their best songs.