September 11, 2001: Diagnosis, Prognosis, Therapy(*)


Johan Galtung – TRANSCEND Media Service




Today is September 11, 2016


The TRANSCEND Reaction to 9/11/2001

  1. Diagnosis.

Politics, like communication is seen in terms of who does what to whom, how-when-where, and why. The what-how-when-where of the September 11 attack in New York and Washington is clear; the problems are who and why. But why is at least clear up to a certain point. Like the presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, also bombed on a September 11 (1973) somebody had something against what happened inside some buildings: the capitalism of the US world trade and the militarism of the US Pentagon for year 2001/1/; the politics of the Unidad Popular for year 1973.

The text was written in building language, and like for all texts what is not written may be equally important: no museum, no cathedral, no parliament. The 19-20 hijackers hit what they wanted, just like the Chilean Air Force and its masters.

But there could also be a military motivation for these acts of criminal political violence/2/: to incapacitate, to put somebody out of action, to “take them out”. That happened to Salvador Allende and later on to more than 3,000 Chileans; and to 4,000 (or so) in New York and Washington. But democratic Chile recovered although it took some time. US-led capitalism, today called “globalization”, was in decline for other reasons, but US-led militarism is as vigorous as ever. September 11 2001 and 1973 were communicative and political rather than military.

Any thought/speech/action on these attacks has to reflect which symbols of America were targeted lest it becomes dogmatic, a priori. Someone had something against what emanated from those buildings. That gives us a cue to why. But who did it?

This is the dominant, mainstream, thriller question, not why.

  1. The dominant, mainstream discourse: “terrorism”.

Answer: terrorism, more precisely Al Qaeda, even more precisely Osama bin Laden. To explore this discourse “terrorism” has to be defined, and there seem to be two different meanings.

First, tactical: “Terrorism” is based on unpredictability in the who-whom-how-when-where, as opposed to a regular military campaign with predictable parties and most methods of killing and destruction. The where is known as the front-line, the when may move with the predictability of a Japanese sakura. There is the additional terrorist element of whom: civilians/innocents.

There are two subtypes: non-state terrorism, and state terrorism; from below (“have bombs, but no air force”), from above (“have both bombs and air force”). The 09/11/01 kamikaze attack/3/-fascist like all massive political violence-will enter military history by using airline carriers with fuel, as bombs.

Terrorism from below is directed against governments or states as persons or institutions, and of course to bring about political change. Obviously, most governments, and the United Nations as a trade union of governments, are against terrorism from below because, like secession, it affects vital government interests, including to be causa sui, game masters.

State terrorism as a military tactic also uses surprise and focuses on killing civilians to force capitulation. This is a major theme in modern warfare, indeed used by the US/UK air forces in their terror bombing of Germany and Japan 1940-45./4/

In the campaign against Yugoslavia March-June 1999 remarkably few military targets were destroyed whereas the killing of civilians and destruction of Serbian infra-structure (factories, power, transportation/communication schools and hospitals) was extensive. That brought about capitulation to avoid genocide./5/

From the circumstance that terrorism is terrorism whether from below or from above, the conclusion is not that they are organized the same way. “Above” is almost by definition hierarchical with a vertical, well protected, chain of command. “Below” has to use guerilla tactics with a loosely connected horizontal organization of small cells with low vulnerability. The connecting cement, substituting for the vertical chain, would be a deeply internalized ideology. Theoretically it is possible that 19-20 persons organized the 09/11/01 attack, got the money for tickets and flying training in a simulator, not the more difficult take-off and landing, and some box-openers. In that case there is no causal chain of command pointing to the single prime mover so dear to the US mind. There is nobody to search and punish or destroy if the cell was a closed system programmed to self-destruct like some animals upon intercourse. All that is needed is perfect solidarity and single-mindedness.

The condition for this hypothesis to be valid is a context, an ocean of hatred with the capacity for spontaneous creation of such cells. Central to terrorism as a tactic is also the idea of provocation: a terrorist attack leads to a massive state terrorist counter-attack which then, in turn, enlarges the ocean of hatred that not only produces terrorists but also feeds them; body, mind and spirit. The “people” will rise, levée en masse. The German group Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) had this theory, so did the Italian Brigate Rosse. But it did not work that way. Isolated people easily overestimate their social support.

However, to crush, pulverize etc. an ocean–rather than a concrete hierarchy with orderly chains of command–of hatred and willingness to sacrifice, even one’s own life, will not be easy. The BBC claimed that the USA had 60 candidate target countries./6/

Second, ideological. “Terrorist” is seen as a state of mind, with fundamentalism as cognitive perspective and hatred as emotional resource, an evil-doer whose only purpose is harm and hurt, violence for its own sake. The terrorist has no cause beyond this; and his tactic is chosen accordingly. He will hide in the dark, lurking, lurching, waiting for his time.

The metaphor for this within the Abrahamitic religions would be Satan himself, Lucifer, known as the leader of the angels who rebelled against God. That metaphor should be an important archetype in a country like the USA, no. 1 in the world in believing in the reality of the devil/7/ and with little difficulty seeing itself as the instrument of God’s will (thus, Colin Powell himself once declared that “America had been established by divine providence to lead the world”,/8/ George W. Bush that Jesus Christ is the political philosopher he most admires/9/). The metaphor fits bin Laden doubly as he once fought with USA the “evil empire” at the time, the Soviet Union, but like Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Aidid, Manuel Noriega and to some extent Slobodan Milosevic turned like Lucifer against the USA, defying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic.

Fundamentalism as a cognitive outlook has three pillars:

  • Dualism, the world is divided in two parts, no neutrals;
  • Manichaeism, who is not with the good, is with the evil;
  • Armageddon, evil yields to nothing else than violence.

With George Bush’s use of “you are either with us or with the terrorists”, and bin Laden’s distinction between believers and infidels/10/, both justifying violence, they can be classified as fundamentalists. The “war against terrorism” is between hard Christian (Baptist/Presbyterian?), and hard Islamic (Wahabbite?) fudamentalisms. The reinforcing dialectic between the two is obvious, as is “my terrorism is good, theirs is bad”.

  1. The alternative discourse: “retaliation”.

This discourse is found on the margin in the US, is frequent in the peoples of the West, and often even the dominant discourse in the Rest. The September 11 was a retaliation, probably above all motivated by a combination of hatred, despair and “violence is the only language they understand”, in other words blocked communication. The second reason for major political violence, to incapacitate the enemy, presupposes a naïveté unlikely with attackers at that level of sophistication. But the third reason, to provoke political change, may have been on their mind, and the fourth, to provoke a retaliation for their retaliation big enough to provoke BIG retaliation against the US possibly also.

This discourse constructs the “other side”, OS, so called because we do not know exactly who they are (could mean “Osama Side”) as at least partly rational, with causes, motives beyond just inflicting evil. Very important among these causes is OS retaliating for US violence. That would locate some of the cause for what happened to the US in the US itself, and more particularly in structural violence identified with the World Trade Center and the direct violence identified with Pentagon.

But does not that justify the attack? No. Nothing can justify crimes against peace and humanity, whether by OS or US. But we can try to understand, explain. Hitler could partly be understood in terms of the highly violent second, Versailles Treaty (similar to the first in 1871). But that does not justify his atrocities. However massive the causal mass, there is always a residue of free will. Hitler, US and OS could have decided otherwise. Understanding is a necessary condition for removing causes, both in the causal and/or the motivational sense of that word, thereby making a repeat less likely.

The US track record of violence since the Second World War, to have a cut-off point relevant for the present generation, is overwhelming. But US violence was also caused, by something; there were motives beyond inflicting the evil, the hurt and harm that is the essence of violence. Tactically very much of it, maybe most, can be characterized as state terrorism, but like terrorism from below motives may be neutral or valid even if the consequences for the victims and the bereaved are purely evil.

Right after September 11 Zoltan Grossman made available a list of “A Century of US Military Interventions from Wounded Knee to Afghanistan”, based on Congressional Records and the Library of Congress Congressional Research Service. His list of 134 small and big, global and domestic, interventions covers the 111 years 1890-2001, with an average of 1.15 interventions per year before the end of the Second World War, and an average of 1.29 after that; in other words a small increase. If we focus on the period after the end of the Cold War, however, 11 years, there are 22 interventions, in other words an average of 2.0 per year. This is compatible with the hypothesis that as empire or hegemony expands more interventions are needed for protection.

William Blum, in his Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower has much detail in the 300 pages. Some of this can be debated. But our focus is on the victims, the bereaved, the displaced, the destruction to man-made and natural environment, the damage done to social institutions and to culture by such an enormous propensity to violence. There is no denial of some valid motives. But there is a denial that violence was the only recourse. For each single case an alternative course of action could be argued, but that is not our focus here.

Blum has a list of 67 “Global Interventions from 1945” (Grossman has 56; Blum includes non-military interventions and much indirect, US-supported violence). In chronological order:

China 45-51, France 47, Marshall Islands 46-58, Italy 47-70s, Greece 47-49, Philippines 45-53, Korea 45-53, Albania 49-53, Eastern Europe 48-56, Germany 50s, Iran 53, Guatemala 53-90s, Costa Rica 50s, 70-71, Middle East 56-58, Indonesia 57-58, Haiti 59, Western Europe 50s-60s, British Guiana 53-64, Iraq 58-63, Soviet Union 40s-60s, Vietnam 45-73, Cambodia 55-73, Laos 57-73, Thailand 65-73, Ecuador 60-63, Congo-Zaire 77-78, France-Algeria 60s, Brazil 61-63, Peru 65, Dominican Republic 63-65, Cuba 59-, Indonesia 65, Ghana 66, Uruguay 69-72, Chile 64-73, Greece 67-74, South Africa 60s-80s, Bolivia 64-75, Australia 72-75, Iraq 72-75, Portugal 74-76, East Timor 75-99, Angola 75-80s, Jamaica 76, Honduras 80s, Nicaragua 78-90s, Philippines 70s, Seychelles 79-81, South Yemen 79-84, South Korea 80, Chad 81-82, Grenada 79-83, Suriname 82-84, Libya 81-89, Fiji 87, Panama 89, Afghanistan 79-92, El Salvador 80-92, Haiti 87-94, Bulgaria 90-91, Albania 91-92, Somalia 93, Iraq 90s, Peru 90s, Mexico 90s, Colombia 90s, Yugoslavia 95-99.

The interventions took the form of bombings in 25 cases:

China 45-46, Korea/China 50-53, Guatemala 54, Indonesia 58, Cuba 60-61, Guatemala 60, Vietnam 61-73, Congo 64, Peru 65, Laos 64-73, Cambodia 69-70, Guatemala 67-69, Grenada 83, Lebanon-Syria 83-84, Libya 86, El Salvador 80s, Nicaragua 80s, Iran 87, Panama 89, Iraq 91-, Kuwait 91, Somalia 93, Sudan 98, Afghanistan 98, Yugoslavia 99.

Assassinations, attempted or successful, of leaders including heads of state, were tried in 35 cases, and assistance in torture in 11 countries (Greece, Iran, Germany, Vietnam, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama). Very vehement are the actions against leaders who once worked with the USA because they had an enemy in common: Pol Pot, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Aidid and Osama bin Laden. Blum also has a list of 23 countries where US was “Perverting Elections”, interfering with a democratic process:

Italy 48-70s, Lebanon 50s, Indonesia 55, Vietnam 55, Guayana 53-64, Japan 58-70s, Nepal 59, Laos 60, Brazil 62, Dominican Republic 62, Guatemala 63, Bolivia 66, Chile 64-70, Portugal 74-5, Australia 74-5, Jamaica 76, Panama 84, 89, Nicaragua 84,90, Haiti 87-88, Bulgaria 91-92, Russia 96, Mongolia 96, Bosnia 98.

Critique details, read the book. But much naïveté is needed to believe this can pass without hatred and thirst for revenge.

There is a spatial pattern in the sense that interventions have moved, with considerable overlaps, through four regions:

Spatial patterns of US interventions: Four post-WWII regions.

  • Region I East Asia Confucian-Buddhist
  • Region II Eastern Europe Orthodox Christian
  • Region III Latin America Catholic Christian
  • Region IV West Asia Islam

The first focus of US intervention was in East Asia (Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia; but also Iran), and extremely violent.

The second was on Eastern Europe (including the Soviet Union), the Cold War that fortunately did not become hot, at least not in Europe even though the Cold War continued in East Asia. The presence of a counter-superpower had much to do with that, and when that superpower disappeared US violence has been exercised on Orthodox territory, in Serbia and Macedonia.

The third was in Latin America, starting with and prompted by Cuba, reaching all the countries, more or less. The violence was micro and meso, not the macro violence in East Asia, not to mention the mega violence feared for the European “theater”.

The fourth is in West Asia, starting with Palestine and Iran, then Libya and Lebanon/Syria, and in the 1990s with Iraq, Saudi-Arabia (for military bases) and Afghanistan./14/

This change in focus over time may explain the delay in retaliation in the American homeland. The USA sees itself as above other countries, under but near God./15/ US violence is not retaliation, but punishment, from above; hence acceptable and accepted. But in Region I a war is a sign of bad karma to be improved by mutual efforts; hence neither capitulation, nor revenge. In Region II there was no violence. In Region III many Latin Americans share the US perspective. But Region IV? Never. Allah is in no way below God, no capitulation, revenge.

The USA has taken on something they never experienced before.

Then there is the structural violence brought about by the rapid expansion of the market system all over the world. A basic aspect of that system is monetization, meaning that what is required for basic needs satisfaction is available only against money, not labor, for instance. With less than one dollar per day the basic needs for food, clothes, shelter and health care cannot be met. As a result people die, probably now to the tune of 100,000 per day, of under/mal-nutrition, -clothing and housing and the lack of health services for the diseases that follow, because they are also monetized and unsubsidized. At the same time wealth accumulates at the top. Many people hate this.

As to the motives behind this enormity of direct violence: it is practically speaking all compatible with the hypothesis that US direct violence, overt or covert-CIA-is directed against whatever can be seen as hostile to US business abroad./16/ That would include progressive countries and progressive people in any country, meaning by “progressive” policies that privilege distribution of economic assets downward in society and the satisfaction of basic needs for the most needy. If this is compatible with a favorable “climate” for US business then OK. But in less developed countries the political economy will pit these goals against each other, and the standard US reaction has been violent. We can talk of a military-industrial complex and of an international class struggle between and within countries.

A generation ago retaliation would refer to colonialism and to 200 British punishment expeditions by Rule Britannia. Today hatred centers on the USA, overshadowing former colonial powers like France, Belgium and Portugal to mention some, and- indeed – Japan as some kind of “West”. Today that military-industrial complex is clearly symbolized by Pentagon-World Trade Center.

Looking through the 35 (assassinations) + 11 (torture) + 25 (bombings) + 67 (global interventions) + 23 (perverting elections) = 161 cases of political violence the conclusion is inevitable: practically speaking all of them are compatible with the class conflict (between countries and within) hypothesis. No case is compatible with the “clash of civilizations” hypothesis in the sense that civilizational symbols (like mosques, temples) or purely religious authorities were targeted. Nor is there any evidence for classical territorial expansion.

Of course, the justifying rhetoric has been different. For regions i and ii it has been “containment of Soviet expansion”, rightly pitting freedom-democracy-human rights against bondage-dictatorship, but silent about the bondage-dictatorship inherent in foreign policy, and the horrendous “mistakes” in the theory and practice, revealed, for instance, by the former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in his In Retrospect, now a classic.

For region iii the rhetoric centered on marxism, with some containment of the Soviet Union (Cuba, Nicaragua), but more on students, peasants, workers and clerics (liberation theology). And for region iv the rhetoric has above all been “terrorism”, possibly leading to “containment of Islamic fundamentalism”, which could then slide into clash of civilizations.

As conflict formation today’s enormity of global injustice succeeds slavery and colonialism and will probably end like them through change of consciousness and demoralization at the top. Today most Americans and many in the West are ignorant about this even if they feel something disagreeable deeper down; like Germans under Nazism. They prefer communism/terrorism rhetoric.

An anti-American analysis? Not at all. But anti Washington hegemonical, exploitative foreign policy, certainly.

  1. The course of action flows from the discourse.

The choice of discourse matters. Discourse and the course of action influence each other, the discourse serving as action directive, and as rationalization of the actions taken.

The terrorism discourse leads to two possible reactions:

A: search and punish, court-ordered police action; due process
B: search and destroy: uni- or multilateral military action.

The retaliation discourse also leads to two reactions:

C: retaliation: hate-violence to hit back, an eye for an eye.
D: exit from the retaliation cycle; US and OS change policies.

As the present author believes 10% in the terrorism discourse (there are some very hard, evil people in the world) and 90% in the retaliation discourse (sad, but, however unwise, retaliation is a human inclination fueled by fundamentalism) reactions, or rather policies, A and D are preferred. US reaction so far is a mix of B (preferring military courts to due process/18/) and C; incapacitation of the presumed enemy and pure revenge; with some elements of A (UN legitimacy) and D (new Palestine policy).

There can be, and are, of course also other US motives. No human being, no power, indeed no superpower is so single-minded as to act from only one motive. When the present author was mediator for Afghan groups, organized by the Afghan University in Peshawar, in February 2001/19/ there was much talk about a coming US base between Herat and the Iranian border to protect oil pipelines from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, and for control of Central Asia in general and Afghanistan in particular.

Then come such traditional factors as reasserting world leadership, giving content to NATO’s new role, and – indeed – to maintain the world class structure led by the center of the Center of the CENTER: the elites in the United States.

What do people in general think on this issue? Fortunately there was a poll taken by Gallup International in 33 countries right after September 11, between 14 and 18 September. Differing from the US polls people were given a choice: “In your opinion, once the identity of the terrorists is known, should the American government launch a military attack on the country or countries where the terrorists are based or should the American government seek to extradite the terrorists to stand trial?” (Let us only add: the latter is the Libya model).

Only three countries were in favor of “attack”: Israel 77%, India 72% and the USA 54%. In Europe the highest in favor “attack” was France with 29%. The “stand trial” answer was in overwhelming majority, around 80% in the other 30 countries (UK 75%, in France 67%; all over Latin America well above 80%).

In other words, there is a solid basis for Rule of Law rather than Rule of Force in the world population on this issue, and also for a peace movement North-South. Governments, as mentioned, will react strongly against terrorism, maybe less to protect their people than to protect themselves and their class interests, the hard nucleus of a country. They are also afraid of US retribution by being turncoats, and they were in a state of shock after September 11, probably also since their intelligentsia had not warned them sufficiently against the obvious. This author has been expecting, with sadness, something like that to happen–like busting the bridges and blocking the tunnels to Manhattan–since 1988-91, when the US shot down a civilian Iranair plane over the Gulf, and started the massive destruction of Iraq, taking on key Muslim countries, non-Arab and Arab. The surprising thing is that some were surprised.

In short, there is a major people-government split on this. Of the four courses of action–A, B, C and D–the two chosen, B and C, are very costly/21/ and can easily spill over from B to C when the collateral damage gets very high. But they are also fairly obvious; we have seen them before, for instance in the Gulf and Yugoslavia. The other two must be spelt out.

A police action differs from a military action by being court-ordered and legitimized, and by being precisely targeted on the suspects to apprehend them and arraign them into court for possible sentencing and punishment. The court in this case will have to be international since punishment is violence from above. The USA (and some allies) may see the USA as above all other countries, but most of the world sticks to the equality of the UN Member States. The exception is the UN Security Council which takes on such roles but cannot do so in this case: of the five core, veto members, four are Christian (USA Protestant, UK Anglican, France Catholic-secular, Russia Orthodox), one is Confucian, China; and none represents the 56 countries of the world with a Muslim majority. The International Court of Justice would be better and so would the coming International Court of Justice (ICC), but it is not yet there and the USA will probably not ratify./22/ It belongs to the picture that the list of accusations against Henry Kissinger, a former Secretary of State/23/, is much longer than the list against bin Laden.

Nevertheless, there is the Libya model for the criminal violence against PanAmerican 103 over Lockerbee, Scotland; slow and easily criticized, but it worked in the end. Countries with the Rule of Law as a top value would support this and not a military action that burns down the forest and kills those who live there instead of a dragnet. The action in Afghanistan tries to combine these elements; but capture alive is unlikely.

But how is it possible to exit from the cycle of retaliation? The question has to be directed not only to the US but also to OS, whoever that is – and the answer is probably changing as US violence develops further. The point of departure would have to be reflections, not only reflexes, not so easy:

  • for the US: what have we done since they hate us so much that they do what happened on September 11?
  • for the OS: why do we so easily respond with violence?

The first question presupposes what the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget calls “reciprocity”, the ability to see the action of Other as something at least party caused by Self, by one’s own ability to elicit the good, or the evil, in Other. Obviously, the whole retaliation discourse is based on that perspective which comes earlier in girls than in boys but at the end of childhood should be fully developed. The first period of childhood is marked and marred by “absolutism”, the idea that what comes from Other of good or evil is entirely caused by Other, that Other is causa sui. Obviously, the terrorism discourse fits well within that perspective, “it has nothing to do with us, they would have done so regardless”– very prominent among boys, say, four years old.

Self-reflection requires courage, and yet there has hardly been any period with so much reflection both in the US/West and in the Rest, particularly in Muslim countries, but “only” at the people level, not among governments, for the reasons mentioned. In the Islamic countries this may ultimately lead to some changes, both toward more nonviolent politics using democratic approaches and more Gandhian approaches, and in the sense of isolating both terrorists and repressive regimes. They are often motivated by the same hard branches of Islam.

But how about the US/West? The formula, some “change of US foreign policy”, should signal willingness to change the course so as to reduce direct and structural violence, and if at all possible, some reconciliation. Such signals would have to come now, and the problems are enormous. But the signals, if clear enough, could also have an immediate impact.

Here are seven signals indicative of exit from retaliation:

Military-political, against direct violence:

[1] Willingness to recognize Palestine as a state: this has already happened and the US should be commended for that.

[2] Remove all US military presence from Arabia, recognizing that this is a sacred land for very many Muslims, with Mecca and Medina, opening the way towards democracy in that dictatorship.

[3] Lifting the sanctions on Iraq, negotiating with the regime, and apologize for Albright’s “it was worth the price” remark. More difficult, this would require real statesmanship.

[4] Accepting the invitation by President Khatami for an open, public, high level dialogue on the relation between Iran/US, and West/Christianity vs Islam in general. The US fears a dialogue of this type will be used for propaganda, and some disagreeable things will probably be said about the USA-CIA supported coup against the elected prime minister, Mossadegh and in favor the non-elected shah. But after that critique, which any mature person is able to stand, comes the constructive phase where one could only hope Iran is well prepared: “OK, OK, where do go from here” is an excellent, standard American formulation.

[5] Hands off Afghanistan. This is partly because any US presence will strengthen the argument about ulterior motives and may stimulate an anti-US coalition, partly as a sign of respect. A UN presence up to trusteeship level is a viable alternative.

Economic-political, against structural violence:

[6] Globalization-free zones, in the regions where people die from globalization because of too little money to buy from the market for their basic needs. The Kyoto protocol already had the Third World as an exemption so there is nothing new in the idea of differential approaches. The alternative would be a Marshall plan for the poorest areas of the world in the Andes region, Black Africa and South Asia. strengthening the local, informal economy with a view to basic needs satisfaction for all.

[7] Reconciliation: learn from the German approach to the 18 countries they conquered and the 2 nations they tried to exterminate, the Jews and the Sinta/Roma. Today Germany has reasonable relations to all, and a key element went beyond apologies and compensation to including rewriting of textbooks.

All together this could turn a page in history, and it would cost very little relative to the enormous expenses of courses B and C. The political gains would probably also be enormous. But the psychological costs are daunting.

To overcome them such processes would have to be initiated and strongly demanded by civil society. But will yielding to their demand/26/ not stimulate terrorism?

It might stimulate some. But it would isolate most of them by no longer giving them the ocean of hatred in which they can swim and be stimulated whereas a policy of military attack will only deepen and widen that ocean. At the same time it would generate positive processes, virtuous cycles that would very soon overshadow the vicious cycles of retaliation, capture people’s attention all over and, like the European Community did for Europe in the 1950s, constitute a quantum jump in world politics. This is indeed overdue. Now is the chance.

  1. Prognosis.

How is this going to end? Depends on the choice of “this”. Do we mean the small picture embraced by Discourse A, the “terrorism” of September 11 and the punitive action = military action + retaliation? Or the larger picture covered by Discourse B, a retaliation cycle embedded in a globalized class conflict?

For the former the answer may be US “victory” with bin Laden dead, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan “crushed”, and US oil and military interests in Central Asia secured. But bin Laden may become a martyr, Al Qaeda may change name and regroup – both processes as global as US corporations and air force – with a multiplier stimulated by higher levels of hatred. Punitive force incapacitates but does not remove the causes that produced terrorism. Terrorism has no central command that can capitulate. Afghans may also unite against the USA as proposed by some.

A major problem is whether to declare victory. The punitive approach may produce more capacity for violence, making victory declarations self-defeating, inviting attacks next day, as the Algerian government knows from bitter experience. But a non- declaration of victory means a drawn-out, never-ending alert very taxing for the USA and the “allies”, government and people. The question, what is wrong about us since we have so many enemies? emerges. Alerts relax unless adequately stimulated.

In a meeting with some State Department people in 1990 the end of terrorism was declared based on curves turning downward. This was seen as due to the bombing of Libya 1986. My warning was that terrorists may have longer time perspectives, and hail from more space than Libya. The US image tends to be a single-shot phenomenon that peaks and peters out; a better image is a wave-like phenomenon with ups and downs; depending on US policy.

We often hear “the world will never be the same again”. For President Bush America lost her innocence (three buildings being raped by jets being rammed into their wombs?). Clearly, US, and by implication West/Japan vulnerability became public knowledge. That the destructive power of the US is bigger than any other side is a truism; D(US)>D(OS). But the vulnerability is also bigger; V(US)>V(OS). If Power=Destructive power-Vulnerability, then what sign do we put between D(US)-V(US) and D(OS)-V(OS)? But this all depends on how we conceive of vulnerability. Destruction is intended for incapacitation, and vulnerability serves as a multiplier of destructive power. September 11 witnessed three flying bombs, nothing relative to the number of US “sorties”. But they had impact on an economy already on the way down, and on the polity, peeling off one democratic layer after the other, even if that polity was also on its way down with the elections November 2000 and the judicial coup d’état.

Vulnerability, social and human, has many dimensions. One formula for the social and global vulnerability is degree of connectedness. The more vertical/centralized the society, the more trade-dependent, the more vulnerable./29/ This was probably a key factor in 9-11 target selection, and is replicable. Horizontal connectedness is less vulnerable, and no connectedness spells no vulnerability. If self-sufficient villages in Viêt Nam are “taken out”, exterminated, then the spill-over effect on the rest of society is negligible. There is no doubt where nuclear arms would have more impact.

A part of the human vulnerability is short-time perspective combined with a single-peaked time cosmology, easily leading to exaggerated optimism and exaggerated pessimism. A long-time perspective and wave-like time philosophy inspires perseverance.

For the larger picture, embedded in the retaliation discourse and in the class conflict/American Empire perspective, the prognosis also becomes larger, drawn out in time. What could be a historical process that could serve as a metaphor? Very useful, also because the US was so deeply involved, is slavery.

The system was despicable, the suffering indescribable, the level of self-righteousness unbearable. There was retaliation from below, terrorism we would have said today, like Nat Turner (a Native American bondsman) and his slave revolt in 1831, with 70+ rebels killing 59 whites. The whole dogma of white superiority was at stake, and the repression was swift, enormous and effective. Assembly of slaves was forbidden, so were education and movement. But something important had nonetheless happened: the Blacks had proven themselves capable of a revolt, at the same time as their violence from below served, in the minds of many slave-owners, to justify their own violence from above. The similarity, point for point, to the post-September 11 situation is painfully clear. We can almost hear slave-owners explaining how the slaves were destroying for themselves; like terrorists harming the poor by undermining economic growth.

The colonialism metaphor works the same way. There were revolts and punitive expeditions galore; partly obscured by self-serving historiography. By and large they were unsuccessful. But the abolition of colonialism struggle opens for the role of Gandhi, and makes us ask an important question: What would have been the Gandhian alternative on September 11?

Anyhow, we know how slavery and colonialism ended: with abolition, even shortly after Turner, shortly after Gandhi. What therapy would give the same prognosis for massive exploitation, the essence of the global class conflict?

  1. Therapy.

We have already described seven policies as exits from the retaliation cycle. Had they been practiced some months before, were they practiced even some months after–. But they were not, and the killing continues. What would be the concrete circumstances under which another course of action by one side could have produced basic change in the other?

Let us this time start with OS, the other side, the Osama side. The Gandhian action September 11 would have been to organize, with the same precision and synchronization, and on a global scale, massive demonstrations around all US-Western-Japanese embassies in the world, surrounding them by the thousands, totally nonviolently, presenting the facts of global injustice, inviting dialogue. And not only the economic exploitation but all dimensions of class: the political monopolies and manipulation in Palestine and Afghanistan, the military violence in Iraq and elsewhere, the cultural domination through the media and other means, the sacrilege in Arabia.

And there would have been a massive world boycott of the goods and products from the most objectionable, least socially and ecologically conscious, global corporations that same day, combined with promotion of concrete action for an economy privileging basic needs for the most needy; all of this far beyond Seattle, Gothenburg, Genova. The demand would be for dialogue between people and government, assuming that they, democrats all, will never be scared of meeting people.

Would this have an impact on the hard, corporate US/West backed by police and military power? In the longer run yes, and it would have saved thousands of lives in New York, Washington DC and all over Afghanistan so far. Soon maybe many, many more.

What would be the steps on the road for that “longer run”? We know them already because of two excellent and recent models: the end of the Viêt Nam war, and the end of the Cold War.

In both cases two factors were operating. There was heavy resistance to US, ferocious fighting in Viêt Nam and nuclear arms race in the Cold War, both processes going on unabatedly. And there was a strong, tenacious, ever growing, worldwide movement against the war and against both the (nuclear) arms race and the repression in the post-Stalinist countries. Violent governmental action and non-violent civilian counter-action, in other words; with the latter gaining the upper hand, stopping the war and at least temporarily the arms race.

Will it be possible to mount a giant North-South peace movement, addressing both sides, like it was for the giant West-East peace movement? Building on the old and new peace movement in the North, the anti-globalization movement, and the movements critical both of terrorist and repressive tendencies in Muslim societies? Probably yes. And the second condition is already there: just like in the other two cases the USA has picked a struggle with no clear ending, very unlike the wars against Baghdad and Beograd where the capitulation metaphor made sense.

And yet it is worth noting that there was a very important intermediate step in both cases: US “allies” oscillating between the USA and the peoples’ movements, increasingly voicing, even publicly, some of the same concerns, decreasingly giving the USA a blank check to do whatever the US leadership deems right.

That leads to an important point. Washington is sensitive to its own people but works with and through governments abroad. But Washington is also sensitive to allied governments and always wants support and closed ranks. A major vulnerability.

When the chips are all down, like for the cases of slavery and colonialism, massive global injustice is not a problem of force, counterforce, and cycles of retaliation. Basically it is a moral problem, just like the other two. And here the underdog has the upper hand, low in status, but high on moral standing; and more so the more nonviolently he conducts the struggle. The top dog may win the game of force. But not the moral issue – and when that dawns upon him and his allies, change of consciousness sets in, and demoralization starts thawing the frozen heart. The game is over. And deep in the guts the better among those at the top know this already – brutally woken up by three planes raping three buildings. By the September 11 wake-up call.

But we also need some kind of mediation. At some points terrorists and state terrorists will have to meet and discuss what they have in common, not only oil, but also terrorism. A meeting on Larry King Live–a master of making people open up, the good, the bad and the ugly–between George W. Bush and bin Laden, or their second in command, is not very likely – today. But wise people could meet with both sides first, probe their goals, both those at the surface and the deeper goals, their world views, their long term philosophies, searching for overlaps, for ways of getting out of their vendetta like two Albanian families predestined to kill each other suddenly recognizing that the vendetta is the enemy, not the other family. Who could be better than three wise men like Jimmy Carter, Fredrik de Klerk and Nelson Mandela? Or the Pope?

They are profoundly decent. And decent people would reject all forms of political violence and feel compassion for all victims, not the tribal compassion only for their own. The world needs all the decent, good, men and women – right now.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. Prof. Galtung has published1669 articles and book chapters, over 400 Editorials for TRANSCEND Media Service, and over 167 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

(*) In the Second Edition of the book Searching for Peace: The Road to TRANSCEND by Johan Galtung, Carl G. Jacobsen and Kai Frithjof Brand-Jacobsen. London: Pluto Press, 2002.

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