The Working Class, Terrorism, and War
by Bill Onasch
The barbaric attacks on New York and Washington unleashed a powerful surge of the deepest emotions throughout our country. Horror and grief were quickly followed by expression of patriotism, and demands for revenge.
These were inevitable and understandable human reactions to a most inhumane crime. Such demonstrative reflexes can serve as a needed relief of the agony and fury felt by every civilized person. This can be healthy—up to a point.
But, just as an individual dealing with tragic loss of family or friend, after a respectful period of time we must collectively accept that life goes on. We need to face the challenge of the future with emotions and actions channeled by reason. If we fail to make that transition we are vulnerable.
We are susceptible not only to terrorist gangs. There are others who will try to take advantage of our disorientation to push agendas of their own. Following familiar examples from history we have already seen:
§ A racist backlash against people perceived as being of Middle Eastern background, and all who practice the faith of Islam. This is not only morally wrong; it also undermines the solidarity of the working class.
§ Attacks on civil liberties. Included in the emergency appropriation bill to provide assistance to victims in New York and Washington was authorization for extensive electronic surveillance of U.S. citizens with no need for warrants from a court. This could easily be abused to include spying on and disrupting the labor movement—as has been done covertly by government agencies in the past.
§ A blank check for war. That’s essentially what is being proposed by many on both sides of the aisle in congress. The President would be authorized to send the armed forces just about anywhere he sees fit. That makes a tempting potential for using our GIs not only for retribution against those responsible for the New York/Washington attacks but for settling other old scores and trying to secure additional areas for Corporate America’s Globalization.
Bringing those responsible for New York/Washington to justice is one thing. As this is written the central targets seem to be bin Laden and the Taliban warlords in control of Afghanistan. Unlike our government’s intelligence/security community, who once collaborated with and supported these terrorists when they were fighting the former Soviet Union, I’ve always viewed these elements as scum. They are pursuing mediaeval objectives with 21st Century weapons. I’d shed no tears if they were taken out tomorrow.
But a wide-ranging war throughout much of Asia and Africa—advocated by some—is another matter. That could lead to big loss of life of both American GIs and innocent civilians. It could also fuel yet another cycle of terrorism and retribution. Neither revenge nor expansion of corporate power justifies that.
It was appropriate for our entire nation to unite in our grief. We should respond as one people in helping the survivors recover and rebuild. We can be proud of our country in our time of need.
But, as we emerge from the shock of the terrorist atrocities, we must get our bearings once again. The issues and adversaries that faced us September 10 are still there for American workers. Similar, and even much greater problems exist for workers in other lands. If we are to defeat the true forces of darkness, if we are to have a civilization based on peace and justice, then the working class has to develop a rational response of our own, based on human solidarity, to get us through this time of crisis.
September 15, 2001