I don’t read Glenn Greenwald every day, I quote Glenn Greenwald every day. He is a great writer who really gets to the core of political issues in a way that is rare indeed. Yesterday, he asked a question, “Which of these two stories is causing more controversy and outrage in the US?” And then he offered two quotes. The first was from the New York Daily News about anti-American lyrics written by Korean rapper PSY. The second was from The Guardian about American troops in Afghanistan targeting children with “hostile intent.” His point that there is an uproar about the lyrics and silence about killing children in a foreign land.
His broader point is that Americans accept this myth that our government just goes around minding its own business and then people attack us for no reason at all! Now, Greenwald is not making the case that America is evil and we deserve to be attacked. Rather it is that these attacks don’t come out of a vacuum. And until we grow up as a people and understand that, there will be ever more people angry at our policies of, for example, targeting Islamic children with our military. He makes the case better than I can:
The reaction to this story about PSY’s lyrics is quite redolent of the reaction of Americans to the 9/11 attack. Prior to the 9/11 attack, the US had spent decades propping up and arming the most repressive dictators in the Muslim world with the clear intent to suppress the views of the populations and ensure subservience to US interests. It overthrew or blocked their democratically supported leaders. Its decade-long sanctions regime against Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of people while strengthening Saddam, its former ally, and a top US official coldly told the world when asked about dead Iraqi children that it was “worth it.” Its steadfast support of Israel shielded the civilian-killing aggression of that nation from all forms of challenge or accountability. It bombed and destroyed a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan that kept large numbers of people alive.
All of these facts are, and long have been, widely discussed in most of the world, where they have generated simmering, intense fury. As one small example: the Sudanese pharmaceutical factory destroyed in the Clinton years is now a shrine, accompanied by what the Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson this year described as enduring “bitterness and anger at what is widely seen as an unjustified strike.”
But most of these facts are largely suppressed, at the very least steadfastly ignored, in establishment US media discourse. That was why the 9/11 attack produced that truly bizarre though understandable reaction on the part of the US public: why do they hate us? The premise of that question, of course, was that the US is a country that simply minds its own business, doesn’t harm or bother anyone, simply wants peace for the world, and it’s thus inconceivable that anyone would ever want to harm it.
For someone who believes that, who sees the world that way, that post-9/11 bewilderment was natural: why would anyone possibly have such animosity toward the US, of all countries? When an answer to that question was needed, the US government and its media – rather than tell its population the truth about what the actual, well-known, long-standing grievances were—manufactured the self-flattering “They-Hate-Us-For-Our-Freedom” mythology and fed it to them. And many have been eating it up ever since.
The potency of this propaganda is what causes even federal judges who preside over terrorism cases to express genuine shock and confusion as to how someone could possibly be willing to plot to bomb American cities when they know that the bomb will likely even kill children. These federal judges have to have it slowly explained to them by the defendants that the US has been doing exactly that in their country and many other countries for years, and they resorted to similar violence out of a desperate inability to see any other alternatives for stopping US violence.
Obviously, artistic license or not, what is advocated by the lyrics sung by PSY (attacking and torturing the family members of US soldiers) cannot be justified, just as the targeting of innocent civilians on 9/11 cannot be. Still, singing about killing innocent people is not in the same universe as doing it, yet many Americans infuriated about the former express little if any condemnation of the latter when done by their own government. More to the point, to react to expressions of extreme anti-American sentiments—including the desire to harm US soldiers—as though they’re the slightest bit surprising or irrational is itself warped and irrational.
The acts of the US government that generate this hostility are rarely discussed in US political discourse, though they are widely discussed in most of the rest of the world. Americans would benefit from spending much less time and energy expressing outrage and offense at anti-American sentiment, and far more time and energy trying to understand why it’s so widespread and intense.
This is exactly the kind of writing that Americans need to be exposed to. Unfortunately, most of the people I know who need to hear this will only see an apologia for terrorist acts, which this certainly is not.
Update (10 December 2012 11:00 pm)
Liberal Viewer posted an excellent article about how Fox News is dealing with the issue: