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Two Useful Questions

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Message Thomas Ellis
A colleague of mine who teaches philosophy recently told me something very useful. "Critical thinking begins," he said, "with two questions: (1) What do you mean by that? And (2) Why should I believe what you say about it?"

Hampton Roads, Virginia, the megalopolis at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay surrounding Norfolk and its huge naval base, is a very "red" area in a very "red" state. Accordingly, our local papers are filled with letters from ardent Bush supporters, including many affiliated with, or retired from, some branch of the military, which is the dominant economic influence in our region. These letters are quite predictable in content; they generally consist of some combination of the following claims:

" Congressional and public opposition to the war in Iraq "emboldens our enemies," and is therefore tantamount to treason.
" We can't afford to "lose" in Iraq; therefore we must send more troops in order to "win."
" We are in a "global war on terror," a "clash of civilizations," and if we do not stop the terrorists "there," we will have to fight them "here." This last claim is inevitably accompanied by a dire reference to 9/11, when "they" attacked our country.

In response to these claims, we first need to apply the first of the two questions my friend suggested: What do you mean by "enemies?" What do you mean by "win" and "lose"? And finally "Whom do you mean by "the terrorists"?

Let's start with "enemies." If we define an "enemy" to mean some entity, national or otherwise, who has the power to threaten, invade, or take over the United States, then the short answer is that we have no enemies at all. Our military budget is ten times larger than the next largest, and our nuclear arsenal dwarfs that of any other nation. So it is folly to call anyone, much less scattered groups of mutually hostile insurgents in a nation we invaded and destroyed, an "enemy" of the United States in any real sense.

But if you mean by "enemies," people who hate the United States and wish us ill, then we have billions of enemies throughout the world, and the number has swollen steadily since the Bush regime took power. In fact every time our soldiers kill another "enemy," whether combatant or noncombatant, we create many more--particularly in a Muslim culture like Iraq, where family loyalties are strong, and a pervasive code of honor mandates retribution for wrongs done. So the more "enemies" we kill, the more enemies we create throughout the Muslim world, for one strong characteristic of Islamic culture is that people tend to take very personally any wrong done to any member of the Umma, the worldwide Muslim community, by an "infidel" or non-Muslim. So continuing to kill people in Iraq and elsewhere will only cause the exponential expansion of "enemies" in the sense of people with a deep and festering resentment of the United States.

Next, we need to interrogate what we mean by "win" and "lose." A war, and particularly a nasty civil war such as we have created now in Iraq, is not a soccer game. If "winning" means, as it traditionally did, military conquest of an adversary, than we "won" in Iraq within two weeks after the soldiers invaded, after the collapse of Saddam's regime. We may recall that Bush thought so too; that was about the time he posed for the infamous photo op in a flight suit on an aircraft carrier, with a banner behind reading "Mission Accomplished." Because to the degree we had any mission at all, it was accomplished. And why shouldn't it be? Our army was far superior to the Iraqi army, and the invasion was a cakewalk, by military standards.

But what does it mean to "win" today? Bush supporters will respond, of course, that it means setting up a stable, functional, US-friendly democracy in Iraq, and suppressing or defeating all insurgents. Here also, we also "won," in that there were already (US-sponsored) "free elections" in Iraq. The problem is that the warring factions, Sunni and Shiite alike, refused to accept "democracy" on the terms dictated by the US. And since that time, the killing and turmoil in Iraq has spiraled completely out of control: Shiites hate and kill Sunnis, and vice versa, while all of them hate and kill "the infidel" who has invaded, occupied, and devastated their country. In this context, what does it mean for us to "win"? Nobody inside or outside the Bush regime has a clue. "Winning" and "Losing" is the wrong kind of language to use for this kind of bitter, internecine conflict, fueled by past repressions, resentment of the invaders, and ancient mutual hostilities. And the longer we stay, the worse it will get, no matter how many more troops we "surge" into the line of fire. An occupied, humilated people will never simply lay down their arms and cry "uncle" to an invading "infidel" power.

Finally, we are told, ad infinitum and ad nauseam, that we are in a "Global War on Terror," that "they" seek to destroy the United States, and that if we don't fight "the terrorists" on the streets of Baghdad, we will have to fight "them" on the streets of New York, as we all discovered on 9/11. These claims beg a host of questions simultaneously: What exactly is a "war on terror"? Who are "the terrorists" and how could they destroy the United States? And then of course we have the biggest unasked question of all, "What really happened on 9/11?"

Let's start with this frequently abused word "terrorist." In its normal (past) usage, there was a generally agreed-upon definition of this word: a person, usually part of a vindictive secret society, who was willing to risk or even lose his or her life in order to perpetrate acts of indiscriminate violence (most often bombing) against innocent people, in order to achieve a political objective, or simply in order to protest a perceived massive injustice against his or her people. By this definition, people like the Baeder-Meinhof Gang, the IRA, the murderers at the Munich Olympics, the perpetrators of the bomb under the Twin Towers in 1993 and against the USS Cole, Timothy McVeigh, and others obviously qualify. So would the box-cutter-wielding Al Qaeda fanatics who purportedly hijacked four planes and flew them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, if we still believe the official story of 9/11 (even though none of their names appeared on the original passenger manifolds for the flights in question).

But since the invasion of Iraq, the term "terrorist" has expanded indiscriminately to mean any insurgent, Iraqi or otherwise, who shoots back at US soldiers in combat. This is how it comes about that "they" caused 9/11, even though no Iraqi was involved. "The terrorists" have thus become a huge amorphous bogey-man, meaning that anyone who is of Arabic descent is at risk of being labeled a "terrorist," and anyone who strongly opposes the policies of the Bush regime, becomes, de facto, a "terrorist sympathizer." Our news media, following the Bush regime as usual, now routinely divides the population of Iraq into "the Iraqis" (i.e. those who support the US) and "the Terrorists" (those who don't). Hence the undefinable "War on Terror" (how can you declare war against a tactic?) becomes an all-purpose rationalization for the use of military power, anywhere or at any time, forever (since the "terrorists" will obviously never sue for surrender terms.)

This, of course, leads to the default rationalization for all this nonthinking: "Look what THEY did to us on 9/11." Here we must kick in the second of my friend's two questions: "Why should I believe what you say?" Why, indeed, should we believe-
" That NORAD standard procedures, which were designed to intercept nuclear weapons, and which routinely intercepted errant aircraft within minutes, could not stop four airliners, in the course of an hour, from flying into three of the most important and well-protected buildings in the US?
" That two airliners crashing into steel-frame skyscrapers specifically designed to withstand such impacts would trigger, after an hour, the catastrophic, free-fall-rate collapse, without resistance, not of two, but of THREE skyscrapers, the latter of which (Building 7) was not hit at all. This sequence violates the First Law of Thermodynamics-that energy input must equal energy output. For there is no way that the combination of an airline crash, an open office fire turned mostly to smoke, and the force of gravity from the top fifth of a building, could possibly generate enough energy to pulverize these steel-frame buildings, without any resistance from the lower floors. A collateral form of energy, in the form of demolition charges, is absolutely essential to explain these collapses.
" That an hour later, an airliner could fly without interception into the ground floor of the Pentagon-the best defended building in the nation-squeeze through a hole far smaller than the span of its wings, penetrate three fortified layers with nothing but a hollow aluminum tube, and leave no trace of its own wreckage inside or on the lawn in front.

In short, anyone who is not entirely credulous, looking into the facts of 9/11 without bias, will quickly conclude that the official story is a fraud, and that the entire catastrophe was set up in advance as an inside job, in order to galvanize the public into supporting an aggressive, invasive policy in the Middle East.

Thus, rigorously applying these two questions, "What do you mean?" and "Why should I believe this" can be very effective tools in penetrating and discrediting the web of delusions with which the Bush regime has ensnared large portions of the US population.
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Occupation: Professor of English at a community college in Norfolk, Virginia. Religious affiliation: Buddhist. Ideological Affiliation: Gaian Humanist. Gaian--a citizen of the only living planet (Gaia) we will ever know, whose allegiance (more...)
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