“Today our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts (George W. Bush: September 11th, 2001).”
The attacks of September 11th, 2001 were acts of odious cowardice. The indiscriminate mass murder of innocent people is heinous regardless of the perpetrator. What drives a person to hijack a plane and fly it into a building or strap explosives around their waist and blow themselves up? If acts of terrorism were isolated incidents, one could assign insanity to the evil doers and be done with analysis. But terrorism is now a movement in the world, a movement carried out by Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians alike, although in the United States the Muslims get all the attention.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 crimes, pundits, politicians and terrorists universally acknowledged that the attacks were a direct confrontation on the American way of life, a way of living most Americans have come to view as a birthright. For right wing American Christian fundamentalists, U.S. Americans are God’s chosen people, and our affluence is a sign of His divine endorsement. Others, like myself simply accept the accident of the geography of our birth as a stroke of good luck. Most people, unfortunately, don’t give the subject much thought but still feel entitled to the lifestyle. If we are deserving of our way of life, then why do American detractors resent us so very much? Some say they are jealous, but jealousy alone is usually not enough incentive to incinerate oneself. If it is universally accepted that our lifestyle is so vehemently despised, perhaps we should ask ourselves “why?”
It’s the stuff we do that is offensive. While most Americans live a pretty comfortable lifestyle with plenty of stuff, much of what we enjoy as staples of the American way of life come at the expense of others. This has been the case since the founding of our nation. First, while most of us try not to think about it, and our history books gloss over it, we stole the American continent from its original inhabitants. We didn’t acquire it nicely and by mutual agreement. We took it with brutal force, the deliberate spread of disease and treachery. While the Founding Fathers were writing up documents exalting the values of freedom and liberty for all, they were simultaneously, if not ironically massacring the American Native population.
The American Indians were not savages to be tamed as we are brainwashed to believe. It was in fact the democratic government of the Iroquois Nation that inspired our own Constitution. The myriad tribes of the North American continent had deep cultural traditions, beautiful folklore, music, arts, crafts and an intimate knowledge of the natural history of their territory. Mothers and fathers loved their children and communities. When they were slaughtered, they felt the pain of losing their loved ones as surely as we would. They did nothing to deserve the onslaught of the white people who simply wanted land and resources and took what they wanted. As western European culture spread its plague across the continent, it justified its actions under the auspices of “saving” the savages’ souls for Christendom. In the name of a man who preached pacifism and acceptance, Jesus’ followers continue to annihilate cultures, people and the environment on a global scale.
Once America had completed its own imperialist expansion from sea to shining sea, it began to expand beyond the North American continental boundaries. The Spanish American War annexed the lucrative textile and food producing territories of Cuba (temporarily), Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico to the U.S. resource base. The two World Wars strengthened U.S. occupations across the globe and allowed the United States a new scapegoat under which to control other people’s resources, preventing the rise of communism. After WWII, the United States started dabbling in Middle Eastern affairs to secure crude oil supplies, and we haven’t looked back since.
Today America spreads its influence under the guise of global free trade, which is a euphemism for expanding American interests into new territory. Under free trade, American, heavily subsidized goods flood foreign markets. Oh by the way, another caveat of “free” trade is that foreign trading partners aren’t allowed to subsidize their goods to make them competitive. In India, for example, subsidized American grain is much cheaper than locally grown grain. Indian small farmers that have supplied their nation with foodstuffs for centuries, if not millennia, are now put out of business by massive transnational companies with the full power of the United States behind them. Farmers go bankrupt, lose generational land and frequently commit suicide in desperation. Suicide seems to be a common theme amongst America’s victims.
Who benefits from “free” trade? The national propaganda suggests we all do. By expanding markets, free trade is supposed to create jobs and bring prosperity to everyone across the globe. In India, the farmer either kills himself or goes to work in an urban slum where he can labor 12 hours a day at a poor-paying factory job. Meanwhile, the multinational corporation that bumped him off his land (with U.S. tax payer monetary support) takes over the arable land and sets up shop. Maybe our farmer can work for slave wages on what used to be his land. Back at home, benefits might be more observable. The farmer that grew the subsidized grain in the U.S. finds a market for his crop. But one might consider that if the subsidized commodity crop corporate industrial system of farming did not exist, our same American farmer would probably be growing food to supply to his own community, and probably at a greater profit without the transnational corporate middlemen.
Global “free” trade wherever it infiltrates exiles people from their cultural land base where they are self-sufficient and forces them into wage labor. Meanwhile, the natural resources of the infiltrated country become the private property of multinational corporations. Ultimately, if free trade goes according to plan, all of Earth’s resources will be held as the private property of corporate interests and all of Earth’s people will become wage slaves to corporate masters. In the wake of the spread of American “freedom,” are devastated landscapes, cultures and Earth herself.
Everybody living the American dream is complicit in the above crimes. My life is more benign than most. I grow most of my own food and try to buy what I don’t grow myself from my farmer neighbors. But there are a lot of things I enjoy that simply cannot be produced in the mountains of North Carolina. Tea, and especially chocolate are luxury foods that are most commonly grown on large, corporate owned plantations with deplorable working conditions. A recent study shows that chocolate accounts for the highest rate of child enslavement of any crop produced on the planet. My culinary indulgences contribute to plantation slave labor.
I heat my home with a woodstove with fallen trees from my property and conserve energy wherever I can, but I also have an electric heat pump and air conditioning system that I use freely. My electricity is generated by coal fired power plants and/or old TVA river-killing dams. My Toyota Highlander gets about 25 mpg. I would like to get a newer, electric car, like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt, but I know that doing so before I wear out my current car will be more costly in terms of greenhouse gasses. The manufacturing of vehicles contributes more to global warming than their use. So I wait. My actions are contributing to global climate change.
I NEVER shop at WalMart, and I even buy organic clothes when I can, but for the most part my clothes are made in China, Bangladesh, India and the Philippines and are sewn together by the hands of people who work at least 12 hours a day in horrific factory conditions and still live below the poverty level, many of them children. The cotton the clothes are made of is the most pesticide and chemical fertilizer dependant crop on Earth. Synthetic fibers are made from crude oil derivatives and their manufacture pollutes air, land and water. My clothing contributes to the miserable lives of the working poor and the toxification of the planet.
I like stuff, lots of stuff like my television, computer, iPod, cell phone, Kindle and lots and lots of books. The manufacture of each and every one of my consumer goodies has an unsustainable environmental impact. Books were once forests, and the toxic chemical brew that is necessary to create our modern technologies is an unimaginable scourge upon the planet. My toys are contributing to the unsustainable degradation of the planet.
This is the American lifestyle we all feel so entitled to. Everything we have come to feel we deserve comes at the expense of others and the environment. We are told terrorists are jealous of our way of life. Bullshit. Our way of life is ruining everyone else’s. That’s why they hate us. The heinous crimes of people who take and abuse the lives of innocents for their own objectives are never justifiable. Terrorism is never defensible, but perhaps the anger behind terrorism is not entirely undeserved.
“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it (Noam Chomsky).”