Theater of Good and Evil

by Eduardo Galeano

The Progressive magazine, November 2001


In the fight of Good against Evil, it is always the people who end up dead.

The terrorists killed workers from fifty countries in New York and Washington in the name of Good against Evil. And in the name of Good against Evil, President Bush vowed revenge: "We will eliminate Evil from this world."

Eliminate Evil? What would Good be without Evil? Religious fanatics are not the only ones who need enemies to justify their madness. The arms industry and gigantic military apparatus need enemies to justify their existence. Heroes become monsters and monsters heroes: The actors switch masks according to the script.

There's nothing new here. German scientist Wernher von Braun was evil when he invented the V-2 rocket, which Hitler used to pulverize London, but he became good the day he placed his skills in the service of the United States.

Stalin was good during World War II and bad later, when he became ruler of the Evil Empire. During the years of the Cold War, John Steinbeck wrote, "Perhaps the entire world needs Russians. I bet even Russia does. Maybe there they call them Americans."

Afterwards the Russians turned good. Now Putin says, "Evil must be punished."

Saddam Hussein was good, and so were the chemical weapons he used against the Kurds and Iranians. Later he turned bad. He was called Satan Hussein when the U.S., which had just invaded Panama, invaded Iraq because Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Bush Sr. presided over this war of Good against Evil. With the humanitarian and compassionate spirit that characterizes his family, he killed more than 100,000 Iraqis, the vast majority civilians.

Satan Hussein is the same as he always was, but now this enemy number one of humanity has slipped to second place. The scourge of the world is now called Osama bin Laden. The CIA taught him everything he knows about terrorism: Loved and armed by the U.S. government, bin Laden was one of the principal allies of the United States in the war against communism in Afghanistan. Bush Sr. was Vice President when President Reagan said these heroes were "freedom fighters." And Hollywood agreed with the White House: Ramho IIIwas being shot at the time, and the Muslim Afghans were the good guys. Not anymore: Now they are evil incarnate, a mere thirteen years later.

Henry Kissinger was one of the first to react to the recent tragedy: "Those who provide support, financing, and inspiration to the terrorists are as guilty as they are," he stated, using words that President Bush repeated just hours later.

If this is the case, the first step would be to bomb Kissinger. He would be guilty of far more crimes than bin Laden and the rest of the world's terrorists combined. And in many more countries: Acting in the service of various American Administrations, he provided "support, financing, and inspiration" to state terrorism in Indonesia, Cambodia, Cyprus, the Philippines, South Africa, Iran, Bangladesh, and the countries of South America that suffered under the dirty war of Operation Condor.

On September 11, 1973, exactly twenty-eight years before the World Trade Towers collapsed in flames, Chile's presidential palace burned. Kissinger anticipated the epitaph of Salvador Allende and Chilean democracy when, three years earlier, he said of the election that was to bring Allende to power: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country going Marxist because of the irresponsibility of its own people."

Disdain for the popular will is one of the many points in common between state terrorism and private terrorism. For example, the Basque separatist movement in Spain, ETA, which kills in the name of an independent Basque state, proclaimed through a spokesman: "Rights have nothing to do with minorities or majorities."

There are many similarities between homemade and high-tech terrorism, between that of religious fundamentalists and free-market zealots, between that of the dispossessed and the all-powerful, between the solitary madmen and the professionals in uniform. All share the same lack of respect for human life: the murderers of the more than 5,000 people killed in the demolition of the Twin Towers and the assassins of 200,000 Guatemalans, mostly Indians, exterminated without the slightest attention paid by the world media. These Guatemalans were killed not by Muslim fanatics but by military terrorists who received the "support, financing, and inspiration" of one American Administration after another.

Terrorists also share an obsession with reducing social, culturai, and national contradictions to military terms. In the name of Good against Evil, in the name of the Single Truth, they seek resolution by killing first and asking questions later. And, in this way, they end up galvanizing the very enemy they are fighting. It was the atrocities of the Shining Path that incubated Peruvian President Fujimori, who, with considerable public support, initiated a reign of terror and sold Peru for the price of a banana. It was the atrocities of the U.S. in the Middle East that largely fueled the Holy War of Islamic terrorism.

Even though the Leader of Civilization is calling for a new Crusade, Allah is innocent of the crimes committed in his name. After all, God did not order the Nazi Holocaust of the followers of Jehovah. Nor did Jehovah order the massacres of Sabra and Shatila or the expulsion of the Palestinians from their land.

Might Jehovah, Allah, and God be three names for the same divinity? A Tragedy of Errors: No one yet knows who is who. The smoke from the explosions is part of a far larger smokescreen that blocks our view. As vengeance breeds vengeance, each act of terrorism sends us stumbling deeper into darkness. In a recent photograph, someone had written on a wall in New York: "An eye for an eye has left the world blind."

The spiral of violence breeds violence and also confusion: pain, fear, intolerance, hatred, madness. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, former leader of Algeria Ahmed Ben Bella warned, "This system, which has driven cows mad, is making people mad, too." And madmen, maddened by hatred, act just like the force that unhinged them.

A three-year-old boy named Luca commented a few days ago, "The world doesn't know where its home is." He was reading a map. He may as well have been watching the news.

Eduardo Galeano, an Uruguayan journalist, is author of "Memory of Fire" and "The Open Veins of Latin America.

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