When I lived in China in the early 1990s, there were things that you could not discuss. One was Tibet. Another was Taiwan, "referred to in my daughter's public elementary school in Shanghai as "China's largest island." Another was the 1989 massacre of students and workers in Beijing. I used to be grateful at the time that I was an American and that back home, we could talk about anything.
Except that in a way we can't. Not in public discourse, anyhow.
Take the silly broughhaha on the Right, in the media, and in the Democratic primary campaign, over the statements of Obama's "spiritual mentor" the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Wright's "crime"? He dared to point out that the US is a racist nation. He dared to suggest that the US is a terror state.
In fact, what Wright said is absolutely correct. If you look at the incarceration rate for African Americans, at the fact that half of the astonishing two million Americans who are in prison at this moment (one-percent of the adult population!) are black, at the fact that half the approximately 4000 people on death row are black, at the appalling education that is offered to most of the nation's black children (my daughter teaches math at a "magnet" high school in Brooklyn, NY that is billed as a college preparatory institution, where there are 35 kids per classroom and where there's no teacher offering calculus or even pre-calc even though some students are ready for it), if you look at who the main victims are of the sub-prime loan scandal, if you look at how the Republican Party has deliberately worked in state after state to keep blacks from voting, it's clear that this is a racist nation.
But you're not allowed to say that and be a candidate, or work for a candidate, for public office, much less for the office of president.
Rev. Wright said that 9-11 was a case of "the chickens coming home to roost." He cited America's use of nuclear bombs on civilian targets--the non-military cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He might as well have mentioned the equally catastrophic US bombing of the cultural city of Dresden. These were terror bombings pure and simple, on a scale never seen before in the history of war.
He might also have mentioned the sacking and leveling of Fallujah in 2004--an act of "collective punishment" by the US for the killing and subsequent mutilation of four mercenaries captured by militants in that city.
But in America you're not allowed to say that the US is a terrorist nation, even though objectively, it is at the top of the list. (Look what happened to tenured professor Ward Churchill for saying the same thing at Colorado State University: He was fired.) Nor are you allowed to suggest that 9-11 was in any way a predictable result of US behavior towards third world nations or towards the people of the Islamic world, although it is patently obvious that it was US behavior in the Middle East--propping up dictatorial regimes (including Saddam Hussein's), backing Israeli policies towards Palestinians, etc.) that made us a target of Al Qaeda.
Wright said that the response of the US to the 9-11 attacks was to "pay back and kill," and if you think back, he is totally correct. All the expressions like " it's payback time" and "let's roll!", the American flags everywhere, the lust for getting Osama "dead or alive", and finally, the cheerleading for an attack on Iraq (which had nothing to do with (9-11), were based upon a blind and ill-thought-out lust for revenge, encouraged by a president and vice president who had been angling to attack Iraq at least nine months before the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
But you're not supposed to say that American wars are based on blood lust.
Wright crossed another line when he said that the US had "supported state terrorism" against Palestinians and the African population of South Africa. And yet he is absolutely correct on both counts. The US has unquestioningly and aggressively supported 60 years of Israeli attacks on and abuse of Palestinians, and continues to do so, with money, arms and votes in the United Nations. It also overtly and covertly backed the white Apartheid government of South Africa in its policy of apartheit and suppression of the legitimate rights of the majority black population of that nation.
But you are not allowed to criticize Israel in American politics, or to suggest that the US backed apartheid in South Africa.
Wright also said that the US had contributed to the drug crisis among blacks in America's cities by smuggling cocaine into the US in return for money to back anti-government rebels in Nicaragua (the Contras). There is solid evidence that this was in fact the case, including a crashed CIA plane in Central America loaded with guns that was tied to drug flights in the other direction. Several well-documented investigative books have been written on this topic. (There is evidence that the US backed the production and sale of opium and heroin by its anti-communist allies in Southeast Asia in the '60s and '70s, too.)
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