Twin Towers anniversary
When New Zealand awoke on the morning of September 12th last year, the news we found awaiting us was devastating, overwhelming.
I found myself remembering how my parents had spoken, years later, of the bombing of Pearl Harbour. They spoke of what an engulfing shock it had been, but how it had been the catalyst for the United States' entry into the war in both Europe and the East.
When the Twin Towers were bombed last year, there was an almost universal feeling that the world would never be the same again. But, in reality, has anything much changed? There was a real sense that this was a wakeup call, that the people of the United States had been unaware, whether intentionally or not was not clear, that their dominance, economically, culturally and militarily had blocked their ears to the reality of the situation of other poorer nations.
"Will you please hear us?" was the call, that those with an ear for the call of the disadvantaged heard, as those planes crashed into the towers. And for a while, albeit for a very brief moment, there was the hope that the United States would be able to say "We forgive". And, too, the suggestion that the sudden awareness that there was considerable distrust abroad of their actions and motives, would prompt openness and concern for the needs of the rest of the world. Such change would be of enormous benefit to the whole world. I wrote about that hope in this column.
We hoped that things would change. Certainly we have seen changes in the United States. But the fear that the attacks of September 11 generated has raised the barricades. To suggest seeking the cause of the discontent became to support the terrorists, and a fullscale attack on Afghanistan was launched. The cracks in that victory and the "peace process" that followed are already becoming apparent.
And now the drums are beating in both Washington and London. The Iraqis, another desperately poor people, who have suffered from tyrannical and cruel leadership, will be not only starved as they have been for the past ten years, but also bombed.
Is it a coincidence that in the case of both these countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, the regimes that have attracted the wrath of the United States, the Taleban and Saddam Hussein, are both regimes that rose to power on the backs of a United States programme of "regime change", masterminded by the CIA?
And racism has risen. In the United States the laws that protect civil liberties have been cruelly overridden, especially for those who happen to have a brown skin. Patriotism has risen to a national artform, eclipsing and putting out of mind all the internal struggles that a large and complex society like the States has long experienced long established racial tension, huge inequalities of wealth, and some very significant ideological differences.
All patriotic upsurges run the risk of degenerating into a coercive drawing of boundaries between "loyal" Americans and those stigmatised as aliens and traitors. Yet there is, it takes little to remember, a wellestablished American tradition of home grown terrorists, from the Ku Klux Klan period following the abolition of slavery to the bombing of Oklahoma City in more recent times.
But what of the relationship between the United States and the wider world? Immediately following the bombing, sympathy levels and support for the country which had so unexpectedly suffered so much were high. That was a basic and humane response. The world, certainly the Western world, and some other countries, came to their aid. But now the gap has widened and there is wide recognition of the economic and military rapacity of the US.
The current determination to enforce "regime change" on Iraq might be understandable given the horrors of Saddam Hussein's regime, but there is widespread fear the world over that the war on terrorism is motivated by the desire, albeit not clearly articulated or understood by those driving it, to impose a Pax Americana in a grossly unequal world.
Has America learnt anything? Public opinion polls reveal that few Americans have any knowledge of other peoples' grievances against the United States. Such ignorance is both the disadvantage and the danger of such power.
Closer to home, we are aware of the despair and disbelief in the Pacific countries at the refusal of the United States to sign the Kyoto agreement. Our own county also smoulders, not always quietly, at the ability of the United States to advocate the ideology of free trade while blatantly protecting its own industry and agriculture.
In 44BC, just a month after he had declared himself the sole ruler of the Roman world, which was the "known" world, Julius Caesar was assassinated. It is the tendency of the powerful to seek more power, but power holds the seeds of its own destruction.
This warmongering may seem to be the loudest voice around, but, be assured, in the long span of history, it neither can, nor will, last.
The Right Rev Dr Penny Jamieson is the Anglican
Bishop of Dunedin. This article was published in the
Otago Daily Times of September 10, 2002.