Toward the Terrorist Anti-World

We watch in horror as terrorist hijackings, suicide bombings. car implosions, and  even missiles intrude into the comfortable world where we and our allies live. These events involve countless individual tragedies, including the victims themselves, their families, friends, and associates. We do not easily recover from the physical and psychological trauma.

We search for answers. Who does these things and why? What should we do about terrorism? One body of opinion suggests that World War III is upon us. According to this view, Western civilization itself is under attack. It is faced with radical evil and needs to use whatever force is required to eradicate it. The many people who die, innocent as well as guilty, civilians as well as soldiers, are the necessary cost of maintaining our way of life. The United States as leader of  the free world, to recall the words of President Kennedy, must pay any price, bear any burden, to make the world safe for democracy. These words still speak to our heroic ambitions.

The vision is clear, but the path is uncertain. United States military forces are deployed for action across the globe, but are such military actions are likely to achieve their aims? Can all of the guilty be so easily located in the distant mountains and deserts of the world? Is bombing completely innocent foreign civilians consistent with our values? While we may  help defend some of  our allies, do we encourage others or repel them? Do we persuade the billions of people in other cultures that they want to be our partners? Do we wish to follow policies that risk escalating existing losses toward the very much higher casualty levels of World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam? Though one could ask the same questions of those who undertake the attacks, we can, for the moment, only try to answer them for ourselves.

Moderation beckons.  Domestically, the United States takes steps to defend itself, while also remaining conscious of what we are defending, particularly in the area of civil liberties. Internationally, our allies continue to work with us. But many of are concerned that the strongest medicine may make the disease worse rather than eradicate or contain it. We continue to take seriously their views, connecting with them both individually and within the global web of international institutions. We remain conscious of the need to align ourselves with the consensus of world opinion.

While the United States continues to use the hard power resources of appropriate force, we try to limit this force to what is consistent with rational objectives. The use of cruise missiles and drones on innocent people in foreign countries has unsurprisingly enhanced the very enmity that underlies terrorism.

Non-military means, diplomatic consultations, economic incentives, and appeals to shared humane values are preferred means of soft power. But we also take seriously the way that our international trade, aid, and debt policies may increase popular frustrations and terrorist recruitment in poor countries.We may ask how legitimate opposition grievances in other countries might be addressed in a more democratic context. As President Reagan reminded us, one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

We place all these efforts in the frame of a larger strategic question: How will our actions produce a world in which terrorism is less likely to grow, a terrorist anti-world? We, and some of our allies, tend to focus narrowly on immediate military responses to terrorist attacks. We also need to remain true to ourselves and a long-term dream for our own society. How do we work to create a more democratic, just, and peaceful future for ourselves and for all the other people on this planet?

See also Counterpunch 10/29/2001

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Flying Bombs

On September 11, 2001, two hijacked planes hit the Twin Towers in New York; another slammed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. A fourth aircraft crashed and burned in Pennsylvania. An estimated 3,000 people died.

The flying bombs of that day had other longer lasting effects. Obviously, the lives of the victims’ families, friends, and neighbors changed permanently. The attacks led directly to President George W. Bush’s declaration of the Global War on Terror, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, drone attacks on targets in Pakistan, and much heightened domestic security. An Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a Department of Homeland Security were created. The Patriot Act authorized enhanced surveillance and intrusions into previously protected civil liberties.

Many thousands of Americans and people of other nationalities died or were wounded in the ensuing wars. It didn’t take long for the counterattack casualties to surpass the 3,000 dead of 9/11. Trillions of dollars that could have been used for other purposes were spent on military activities. Scientific research grants that might have been directed elsewhere went into research on terrorism. There were also cultural effects. Media coverage followed the maxim, if it bleeds it leads. Images of people hurling themselves from skyscrapers, Abu Ghraib, major combat operations, special forces raids, targeted assassinations, explosive demolition, extraordinary rendition, secret prisons, and waterboarding contributed to popular fear, insecurity, and callousness. Monuments, memorials, ceremonies, and commemorations, including the current 10-year anniversary, keep the flames of traumatic memory bright and hot.

The effects of the planes that flew and crashed that day in the United States have obviously been enormous. These have occurred not just in the United States but on a global scale, as America has reached abroad to find and destroy its enemies. Subsequent American military attacks outside the U.S. have had massive impacts. If the four original flying bombs had complex, long lasting consequences that we have described on American life, what have been the parallel results of many more American flying bombs that have fallen over many more days on many more people in other countries? In addition to killing thousands of individuals not associated with 9/11, they have left deep scars on the political, military, economic, scientific, cultural lives of foreign individuals and their societies. We are rightly concerned about those who suffered though 9/11. What about those abroad, who live and die under the volcano of American firepower? The flying bombs, many years later, have gone forth and multiplied, taking on a life of their own as they continue to circumnavigate the globe.

See also Daily Camera 09/11/2011

Meanings of the Right to Bear Arms

Recurrent public massacres have stimulated new calls for gun control. While the easy availability of weapons alone does not cause such mass killings, they are certainly an ingredient of the recipe for wholesale mechanical murder.

In spite of such urgent considerations, gun control efforts have run up against the prohibitions of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. As ratified by the States in 1791, it says that a” well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”.

The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment has severely restricted contemporary attempts at gun control. The Court’s rulings rely heavily on a portion of the Second Amendment text–“the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”. On its face, the Court believes, this fragment is the central, invariable meaning of the Second Amendment and justifies prohibiting most gun control.

Yet this sentence fragment does not exist in splendid isolation. Its meaning is moderated by semantic and historical context. Semantically, it is only a part of the Second Amendment text. The preceding reference to “a well regulated militia” is an anterior meaning shifter. It is not irrelevant and can not be ignored. It is an integral part of the text. It sets the tone for what comes next and affects its interpetation. Presumably, the reference to a well regulated militia, particularly after militia contributions to American victory in the Revolutionary War, was intended to modulate the meaning of the right to keep and bear arms. The semantic environment of the complete Second Amendment text thus suggests framing and limitation of  the right to bear arms–that the arms did and should  have some connection with a well regulated militia. Presumably arms that existed well outside that context–for example in the hands of terrorists, premeditating murderers, or the criminally insane–would not be covered.

The historical environment also helps shape the meaning of the right to bear arms. A concise summary occurs in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution . Without going into the full range of complexities, it may be sufficient to note that there is no evidence of original intent to establish an unlimited right: that anybody associated with the passage of the Second Amendment intended to protect the right of deranged shooters to gun down innocent men, women, and children in public places.

The historical context also shapes the meaning of the central noun, the subject of the Second Amendment, the word “arms”. A strict construction of “arms” would have to take account of the arms in the context of the time, single shot muzzle loaders for example.

The Battle of Yorktown

external image revolutionary%20war%20pic.jpg“Google Images.” Google Images. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2012. <http://www.google.com/imgres?hl=en>.

From this originalist perspective, The Second Amendment could not refer to weapons that were absent at the time of its ratification–semi-automatic or assault weapons, improvised explosive devices, shoulder-launched missiles, atomic, biological, or chemical weapons, for example. These did not exist either on the ground or in the minds of the framers. They could not, therefore, have been denoted or protected by the word “arms” in the Second Amendment. The referent of “arms”  in “the right to keep and bear arms”could only be the set of weapons that existed when the Second Amendment was adopted.

The meaning of the Second Amendment lies not in an absolute reliance on an isolated fragment of its text, but in a wider context. The meaning is modified by the semantic context of the Amendment itself. The full black letter text implies that the right to bear arms should have some relevance to the place of those arms in a system of well regulated militias.

The Second Amendment’s meaning is further modified by its placement in the context of military technology of the late 18th century. It could not refer to modern weapons simply because they didn’t exist. The Second Amendment does not, therefore, deal with many 21st century weapons, nor does it limit our efforts to control  them.

Gun Violence and Collateral Damage

Much of America grieves for the dead and wounded from the mass shooting at the Batman premiere in Aurora Colorado.

Why do we not grieve for those harmed in auto accidents on major holiday weekends? Or in US drone strikes on foreign soil? Do they not also bleed? Why do they not lead the news?

Because they are framed as collateral damage. They occur in the wider contexts of national holidays or the war on terror.

Just so, the dead of Aurora are framed in the context of our right to bear arms. They are also collateral damage. Right now they bleed and also lead the news. But not for long. They will fade from the media.

Though not from the hearts and minds of those who loved them.