excerpted from the book


the difference in world view between the United States
and everybody else

by Nicholas Von Hoffman

Nation Books, 2004, paper


Terrorism is not defined by the guilt-or lack thereof-of its victims. If it were, virtually every government in the world would be seen as using terrorism on a daily basis.

The act may be murder but once it is called terrorism, it has been placed in a political, not a criminal, category. People who support the goals of a terrorist campaign call the killing guerrilla warfare. Killing thus labeled is legit. The taxonomical game is played with countries. If Syria, for instance, is being naughty in the eyes of the speaker, Syria is a "rogue nation." If Syria is doing the exact same naughtiness but the speaker approves of it, Syria is a "valued member of the international community."

Because the only useful definitions of terrorism are political, the label is not a permanent one. Once a terrorist, war lord, or bandit, not always a terrorist, war lord, or bandit. The Mau Mau terrorists became the government of Kenya. The Irish terrorists in Belfast are on their way to taking over as the legitimate government. Nelson Mandela and Gandhi were once regarded as terrorists by the British and the South African governments. Similar examples are legion. The Maquis, the French underground resistance against the Germans in World War II, were guerrilla fighters or terrorists, depending on which side you were on. In North America, a number of Indian tribes or nations were so regarded by the United States. Some terrorists never do get their labels switched and die the death of the outsider. But you never know. The terrorist you condemn today may be the respected personage you are sitting next to at a testimonial dinner tomorrow. Winning gets you a tuxedo and a seat at the table every time.

Although when they hear the word, Americans think of Arabs, Arabs of the modern era are late-comers to terrorism. It was practiced in the latter half of the 19th and throughout the 20th century across Northern and Southern Europe, the Balkans, South America, and even by Israelis against the English and against the Arabs in the years before their nation had been established.

There is an apothegm that terrorism never pays off, but it is not so. It did not prevent the Zionists in old Palestine from gaining victory and establishing the State of Israel, the IRA did all right with it in Northern Ireland, and other instances of terrorism of one sort or another which worked out just fine for the terrorists can be found without much digging.

The underground forces at war with Israel have used terrorism for years, and after each incident they are roundly condemned and invited to condemn themselves, which Yasir Arafat sometimes does and sometimes doesn't. Terrorists are told on American television talks shows that they are "only hurting their own cause" by resorting to acts of terror. The same thing was said when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., kicked up trouble. The television personalities would say that "He is only setting his cause back" by boycotting or sitting down in the street. The members of a cause may or may not be the best judges of the efficacy of their tactics, but they are the only judges whom supporters of the cause dare trust.

Have the Palestinians hurt their cause by terror? Before you can answer that question, there is a prior one which needs addressing: Where would the Palestinians be if they had eschewed terror? Would they have been allowed to keep their olive orchards and would they have been given a nice comfy little state with schools and hospitals and its own government?

Generally, terrorism is used by the relatively powerless against the relatively powerful. The other way around is not terrorism. Powerful countries do things which, if done by a group hiding out in the jungles of Peru, would be called terrorism. France, England, the old Soviet Union, through their various secret services, have engaged in acts which, if done by others, would be denounced as terrorism. The Israeli government is famous for it (though not under the dome), and, of course, the CIA is credited with a list of vile acts in the defense of liberty.

Blowing up a cafe in Tel Aviv and killing children eating ice cream with their parents who are drinking cafe latte is terrorism. Pot-shooting a Palestinian boy walking in an olive grove is not; that is defending Israel's right to exist. Preventing ten thousand Iraqi children from getting proper nutrition is not; that is fighting for freedom.

Terrorism is against the rules and those who use it are not fighting fair. The rules are made by status quo governments at big meetings in Switzerland. By definition to fight fair you have to be fighting for a country, meaning a sovereign entity with at least enough clout to issue postage stamps. Therefore, according to dome reckoning, violence perpetrated by an Arab is, a priori, terrorism.

Outside the terrarium, terrorism is regarded as an extension of politics, not psychiatry. The war of terrorism, waged primarily against the United States and Israel, is viewed as political regardless of how mistaken, wrong-headed, or shocking the reasons and manner of waging it may be. Having had to contend with politically inspired terrorism, usually motivated by nationalist ambitions and religious differences, they know that this kind of struggle can go on for decades and is seldom suppressed by military means alone. What they look for from the United States and do not see is a political component in the war against the shadowy terrorists. No attempt is made to contact the other side, there is no negotiating position because there are no negotiations. There is not even the publication of a political program which might entice the terrorists into considering taking up a different occupation. The rest of the world, European, Muslim, whoever, watches the United States commit acts which make it the number one recruiter for a new generation of terrorists. Skeptical that the mailed fist will eradicate the danger, others continue to help the United States track down these dangerous men and women but with the fear that, if force alone is the American answer, for each terrorist who is caught before he does his deed, two more are aborning.

America is dangerously religious; Europeans regard religion as something contra-indicated unless taken in small, measured doses. Old Europe has learned from its own history that faith is an intoxicant and the ship of state should not be driven under its influence. In America the Bush administration is making faith the basis of its policies. In Europe religious war is unthinkable; in the United States many think of little else.

In America the minister/politicians running the country and the fly-blown experts from the institutes, centers and foundations fixate on Wahabbism, the throat-cutting school of Muslim theology, but on the other side of the dome, those outside looking in see the Islamic Wahabbis, subsidized by the Saudi Arabians, matched by the Christian Wahabbis, backed by American money. The Muslim Wahabbis use terrorism to exercise their hatred. The Christian Wahabbis use warplanes and cruise missiles. To each according to his capacity to kill. Any American, Christian or Jew or luckless religious neutral, and any Muslim, regardless of age or occupation, is subject to being killed or maimed without notice. Unnoticed, too, are the Muslim deaths, of which there are by every count a great deal more, thanks to superior Judeo-Christian firepower. More deaths are to come, for faith-based war spares no one, neither infants nor the infirm. Since their theologies, Christian, Jewish, and Islamic, are irreconcilable, the faithful kill whoever believes otherwise, and, as they go about their bloody work, they doxologize the god they do hold in common: the God of War.

... when it comes to hoaxes ... none compares to American neutrality in the Israeli war. The part played by Israel in deciding American policies is not discussed within the biosphere, but outside it is another story. Beginning with the Kennedy administration, the United States armed and financed the Israeli war machine, the most powerful in the region, a war machine which with its missiles and atomic bombs can defeat all the Arab nations one by one or all at the same time. So powerful is Israel that questions about Arab states' conceding Israel's "right to exist" are meaningless. Whatever Arab governments may think about Israel's right to exist, there is nothing they can do about Israel's existence except hope Israel does not bomb them.

With all its American-supplied military might, Israel is useless in maintaining Bush I's "security and stability of the Persian Gulf." It can destroy the oil fields, but it does not have enough soldiers to seize and hold them. In one of its ill-considered moves, Israel invaded Lebanon in the 1980S, ruined the place, but could not hold any of it against the never-ceasing attacks by Lebanese, Iraqi and Syrian bushwackers, guerrillas, dry gulchers, irregulars, and terrorists. Outside of its own bailiwick, Israel, a total bust at multiculturalism and diversity, is not good for much beside limited or mass destruction. The Israelis are so hated in much of the world that even if they do have a few extra soldiers they cannot be used as peace keepers and/or nation builders in many of the places where such services are needed. Although this may not have been true forty or fifty years ago, today Israel, as an ally, is more of a drag than an asset.

Until the disintegration of Communist military power at the end of the 1980S, a convincing case could be made for arming Israel even though the arms were used against the Arabs, not the Reds. Continuing to build up Israeli military power after the collapse of Communism made the United States a co-belligerent in one of history's one-sided wars. It also was one of the powder trails leading to the dreadful explosion on the lower end of Manhattan. The slow, ceaseless Israeli taking of what, outside the terrarium, is considered Palestinian land is one of the reasons for 9/ll. It is terrorism's unacknowledged predicate, the first, largest and least-spoken-of cause of Arab resentment.

Yet with each succeeding administration, regardless of which party has been in power, America has been Israel's co-belligerent. In the last half-century only the Eisenhower administration was "even-handed" in dealing with the Middle East, although presidents routinely strike the honest broker stance, which people under the dome believe while those on the other side of it simply accept because there is nothing else for them to do. Until it became too ludicrous even for the United States and Israel, American officials were under orders not to negotiate or even physically stay in the same room with anyone claiming to be a Palestinian representative. The Carter administration's ambassador to the United Nations was fired from his job for having a single, informal chat with a representative from the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Then came the peace process, a slow-motion dance by diplomatic zombies meant to convey the impression of progress toward an end to the dispute, carried out while the Israelis snipped off more little pieces of Palestinian real estate and planted them with squatters. In Israel it was called "making facts." Finally they made so many facts that the bombs started going off, killing Americans as well as Israelis.

In Tel Aviv the line has been that Israeli and American vital national interests are the same. Therefore every time an Israeli pops off a Palestinian or bulldozes his domicile this is an advantage to the United States. No two nations have identical interests, least of all when one is a small, if very strong, regional power and the other is the mightiest nation there is. After 1990 or thereabouts, the interests of the two nations diverged, but they continued to walk in belligerent lock step. Anyone murmuring that while this may serve Israeli purposes it injured the United States interests, risked having the usual epithets flung at them. How two nations with such different fish to fry cooperated to the disadvantage of the more powerful one has been a mostly unexplored topic.

... the consequence of Middle Eastern policy is that the nation [U.S.] is under lock-up, like a penitentiary. Daily life is standing on lines, searches, delays, petty humiliations, questionings, and intrusions by police forces and security organizations, notable for not getting it right, or, in the idiom of the day, never "connecting the dots." Cultivating a siege mentality may keep the Republican Party in office, but the guards, fences, police lines, and security procedures will not protect people inside the terrarium. Regardless of how much is spent stopping it, terrorist contraband will get into the country. Some of it can be stopped but not all of it, and one failure can equal a thousand deaths. Law enforcement in the United States cannot keep drugs out of penitentiaries where inhabitants live in steel cages. They cannot keep drugs and guns out of grammar schools. It follows that they are not and will not be able to keep guns and worse out of the United States. In its fear the nation is like a man who bricks up the windows and doors of his house to keep the burglars out, and they slip down the air conditioning duct. How many bombs and anthrax vials are kept out is problematic, but we know for certain the fresh ideas and the contacts between people from which springs invention, creation, amity, and prosperity are excluded. A cost-benefit analysis of what America has done to itself would show that the protection program is all cost and no benefit.

Previously, when the government asked people to sacrifice, it was explained that it was "for the duration of the emergency." People spoke of "when the war is over." In this one no American official refers to "after the war." What they say is that "9/l1 changed everything," meaning that the era of cops, body armor, orange alerts, barricades, magnetometers, national lock-downs, and muffled rumors of nocturnal arrests and disappeared persons is permanent.

Abroad America has got itself a foreign policy it does not have the heft to swing. Armed service people in dark rooms staring at computer monitors and typing orders to weapons of mass destruction will not cut it, but there is nothing else for it. America has many people but few soldier boys and soldier girls. Native born Americans will not do stoop labor in the lettuce fields, they will not do the dirty jobs in hospitals, they will not clean public toilets or join the Army and go to war. The United States cannot recruit enough soldiers to do the army's cooking, let alone endure the indefinite and dangerous duty demanded for the subjugation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the other side of the great greenhouse they see an America that is broke and in debt, borrowing ever larger sums to hire foreigners to do ever more critical work. Without enough Americans to fight its preemptive wars to a victory, the United States has been forced to canvass the globe for fighters. It rents soldiers from down-at-the-heel mini-states, begs for them from the French and the Germans, borrows from the Brits, and pays an assortment of mercenaries ... to do the fighting its own people will not do.

... America buys more from people abroad than it sells to them, and then borrows the money to pay for its purchases from the people it buys from. It is now the biggest debtor in the history of the world. Like many another debtor, it owes so much money its creditors are petrified of what might happen if they foreclosed on the mortgage. Step by step, America is losing its moral power, its cultural power, and its economic power, leaving it to depend on its military power, the crudest, the least subtle, the least dependable kind of power. Bit by bit, America leads less by example and ideals and gets its way by squeezing, by fraud, by intimidation, and by hectoring its friends.

Inside the bubble the failure of America's allies to do what they are told is seen as the ill will and envy of fair-weather friends and summer soldiers. A special scorn is reserved for the French, America's oldest friend without whose fleet George Washington could not have won the Battle of Yorktown nor the Revolutionary War. Snide remarks and curled lips are tossed in the direction of the French, who gave the United States the Statue of Liberty and who have been the most enthusiastic admirers of America for more than two hundred years. When England had no use for Benjamin Franklin, France idolized him, as Voltaire and Rousseau and the other philosophes of the French Enlightenment idolized the American Dream even before America knew it had one. It was a Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote the most influential and widely quoted study of American politics, society, and character. The French recognized jazz as an important art form before the Americans themselves did, as they recognized Jerry Lewis before the Americans, who still have not completely come to grips with that one. Of all the people of the world, none have loved America as long or as passionately as the French.

Aside from being French, the greatest error the French have made in American eyes is reining in their own touchy nationalism enough to join in the building of the European Union, Europe's greatest political accomplishment in an eon of historical time. For much of the world the EU has become a model and marker for cooperation and joint enterprise. For America, it, like other, new, laboriously established multinational institutions covering every topic from war crimes to environmental protection, is a threat to "the American Century," the phrase coined by Henry Luce during World War II.

America is not over but the American Century is, a statement of fact which sends neocons into star spangled apoplexy. The enormous preponderance of wealth technology and power which was once America's has been shrinking. Outside the dome, the fact that others have more doesn't make America less, but inside, where trade, sports, and science are a form of war without shooting, whatever is good news for somebody else is, axiomatically, bad news for Americans. Any plus for them is a minus for us; any accomplishment outside the dome is a threat, a setback, a defeat for USA! USA! USA!

The EU, which has caught up with the USA, gives Bush, Cheney, and their circle such quiet fits they stick out a surreptitious foot to trip Europe whenever the chance presents itself. Although it will be many decades yet before daily life in China is as comfortable as it is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they are alarmed that the Yellow Peril is on its way to catching up. The richer the nation, the higher the standard of living, the more there is to lose. Nothing guarantees peace like prosperity. Yet the un-realpolitik of the people who run the country has brought America into a perpetual state of bristly, under-the-surface hostility toward others and a neocon neo-isolationism. For a nation dependent on the good will of strangers to pay its bills, it is a self-defeating posture.

Inside and outside the dome America is a stand-alone, one-of-a-kind nation. The knowledge of what America has been and what it is hoped it will be again induces the outsiders to cut America a lot of slack. They take rudeness off America, insulting little asides, they take being skipped over in the making of decisions which concern them, too, and they take gratuitous cock-of-the-walk arrogance. They take a lot of crap because there is much residual respect and affection for America, because of their dependence on American power, because they sell America a lot of merchandise, and because they fear they may lose the money they have lent America.

On their side of the glass, Americans think they are God's special gift to mankind. They invented everything worth inventing and have done everything worth doing. They invented blue jeans and mass production and the atom bomb, and if they could not have done the last without the help of a university full of European refugees from Hitler's fascism, they have forgotten about it or it doesn't count.

The most important thing America invented, America believes, was freedom and democracy, and like the gift of fire they are going to pass democracy on to the rest of the world which does not have it. According to myth, after Prometheus filched fire from Zeus to give it to human beings, he was punished by being chained to the side of a cliff where, everyday, an eagle-not an American one, let us hope- came and ate his liver, which grew back so that the eagle could return the next day for another wholesome well-balanced meal.

When America, uninvited, bestows democracy on another country it gets its liver pecked. Turnkey democracies, franchised like Burger Kings and KFCs, fail. South America and the Caribbean are crawling with these mutant, teratological democracies. Yet anybody opening a fast food democracy featuring dishes on the menu not approved by the American franchisers will find themselves closed down lickety split. Should the day ever come that an Afghanistan or an Iraq gets some kind of rickety democracy up and running, and should it vote in an Islamic state or limit foreign investment or vote out Citicorp and Halliburton, what would happen? Humans might have accepted fire from Prometheus but America's pre-fabbed governments, its gift of fire, barely flickers and gives off no heat. Democracy is not given by one nation to another. Every society, every nation which adopts it does it in its own way, based on its own social customs and beliefs.

America may no longer be a model democracy, but it is a democracy. Americans have had many years to take the political steps to stop or redirect what its government has been doing in the Middle East. They have not done so, and in questions of this kind the old bromide holds true: silence is consent. Thus in the final reckoning America has itself to blame for the terrorist attacks. Long before the terrorists bombed New York, America was bombing Arabs. This is ahard idea to accept. After the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X was almost run out of public life and may have been murdered for saying that America's chickens had come home to roost. In other words, he believed that Kennedy's attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro had resulted in his own death.

The broad public did not know about the attempts on Castro's life, but what has been done in the Middle East was done with the public's knowledge and it was done over a generation or more. Americans had many years to organize politically to force a change in course, but they did not do it. They were told to back their presidents and they did. They were lied to about this and that and the other, but lies, like other forms of garbage, are biodegradable. After a while they disintegrate, leaving the truth out there for anybody to see who wants to see. If blame attaches, it is on the American people.

You are not to defame or libel the American people. We treat The People the way we once treated The King. If government did anything wrong, it was not The King's fault. It was his evil, wicked advisors. If The King only knew, The King would not let it happen. In actuality The King was a jerk who surrounded himself with flatterers and scheming miscreants who shamefully manipulated him. It would be sacrilege to say that the People ... have allowed themselves to be surrounded by flatterers who have turned their brains into a complacent jelly. They hear nothing but flattery. Their politicians, their anchor men, their corporate advertisers, their clergy, their professors, every public voice extolls them. They are praised for their standard of living, for how many cars they have per capita, for how long they can hope to live, for how many Big Macs they will enjoy over an average lifetime, for how many things they own. Flattery being irresistible, the people believe it but, as grandmother says, when you stick out your chest, your brain stops working.

Or blame the media for Americans' acquiescence to what their elected officials have brought down on them. Everybody blames everything on the media-the liberals, the reactionaries, the elites, the levelers, whoever it is and whatever it is, it's the media's fault. There is a reason. Taken as a whole the mass media seldom rises to the level of deplorable trash, but it is also true that there is no mass audience in America for anything better, and anyone who offers a higher quality will go broke trying. Hence CNN has two services, an American brain-candy service for morons and another service for viewers on the far side of the dome. Even the brain-candy service has so few viewers it scarcely qualifies as a mass medium.

Even though most of the mass media disseminates government propaganda and human interest cheerleading in place of information, Americans cannot cop a plea because the mass media kept the truth from them. It didn't.

If Americans had wanted to know they could have known. The case of the Germans in Nazi times is on point. After a certain amount of time they had to know. They weren't innocently ignorant, because the mass murders by the Nazis went on too long, for three or four years. The American government has been harvesting the Middle Eastern grapes of wrath for a generation and not making a secret of it, either. As lousy as the mass media may be, there was enough news about what was transpiring, year after year, to get the gist of what was happening. Besides, as George Bush is correct in reminding his people, America is still a democracy and there is free communication. No American can truthfully say that they could not find out what was going on, least of all now when there has never been more information, more easily obtained.

In the end the hoax is a self-hoax. What is a hoax, anyway? The word derives from hocus-pocus, the conjuror's mysterious-sounding verbal formulary for baffling, befuddling, and bemusing the suckers. Suckers are less victims than aggravating, needy-greedy, concupiscent people living the upscale life in fine new houses built on old farm land. Like most confidence schemes, the Middle East adventure depends on the cooperation of the mark. Millions allowed themselves to be gulled. The call went out to support the president and they did, one president after another, and they believed every lying, dissembling one: Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Bill Clinton, and now, the worst of the bunch, Bush II. No questions asked, no questions answered, just listen to the speech and the old red, white, and blue pumping through the veins.


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