Thoughts on 9/11

Posted in Personal Anecdotes, Sino-US, Relations and Comparisons at 7:40 am by Benjamin Ross

Today is September 11, a day in which we recall the terrorist attacks which shook our nation back in 2001. For many people, 9/11 is a time to reflect…to look at the freedoms we have in America, and be thankful for what we have. When I realized that this would be my first September 11 in the United States since 2003, I was reminded of a conversation I had with an old woman in my apartment complex several months ago when I was still living in Fuzhou.

The woman was a retired teacher of philosophy who had published several of her own books. She was originally from Shandong province, but had moved in with her son in Fuzhou after retirement (as is Chinese custom). A remarkably well-educated and worldly woman who had grown up in an age when most women were illiterate, she would frequently engage me in conversations about philosophy and politics whenever we would pass each other. One day she came to me with a question.

“Do Americans love war?”

I had been asked these kinds of questions, but never so directly, and I had a stock answer.

“I don’t think anybody loves war. Wars are usually caused by large-scale governments, not by the citizens themselves.”

“I agree,” she said, interrupting me before I could finish. “But in America, you are democratic, right? You can vote for your own leaders. Here in China, we have no say in the government, but in America your leaders are chosen by the citizens. Your government likes to start wars in other countries, so I have always thought that your people must love war as well, since this is what your government does, and the government is chosen by the people.”

I am not a political scientist, nor am I sure that the transitive property necessarily applies to matters of international relations. But what I do know is that this view is not unique to my old Chinese philosopher friend.

In the wake of 911, the American public was bombarded with rhetoric from our leaders about fighting terrorism and “keeping the world safe for democracy.” However, what we did not receive was much verbage indicating any form of self-introspection. Why would any country, organization, or even a terrorist group want to attack the United States?

There is never an excuse for killing innocent civilians, and I in no way condone the events of 9/11, but that does not mean there are no reasons behind it. Yet we are often skirted away from any form of self-introspection by explanations such as “The terrorists hate freedom!”

For those of you who have spent time abroad, I do not need to tell you what the Iraq War has done to America’s reputation on an international scale. For those who have not been abroad, I suggest you call a friend from Britain, or France, or China, or Afghanistan, and ask them.

Would it not be out of line to suggest that America’s actions and reputation on the international sphere had some influence on the events of September 11, 2001? Furthermore, does our growing reputation as a nation which causes wars abroad have any impact on the future security of the United States?

When the topic of 9/11 came up, the old woman told me she had sympathy for the American people, but that she understood why terrorists would be compelled to carry out such actions.

“I don’t think it is right to attack civilians,” she said “But I also do not think it is right to mess around with another country’s internal affairs.”

As for her view that Americans “love war,” I was unable to convince her otherwise.


  1. owshawng United States said,

    September 12, 2007 at 9:38 am

    I felt the rise of anti-americanism while living in Australia. More and more dirty looks for my accent, especially when aussies discovered I was living there, not a tourist spending cash. It got so bad that when I was in Singapore and Taiwan if someone asked me if i was American, i would ask them “why do you want to know?” or “does it matter?”. I quit correcting people if they thought i was from England or Canada. Not worth the effort.

  2. Chip China said,

    September 12, 2007 at 10:34 am

    I usually think about criticism about America’s foreign policy in context of history. For one thing, yes, America has made many many mistakes in the global political field (and I believe IRAQ is one of them). But there have been numerous times when America’s “warmongering” was the only thing that prevented chaos from erupting, and we’ve saved numerous millions of people. Were it not for America’s “love of war”, All of europe would have speaking German prior to the cold war, and would be poor and speaking Russian since. South Korea would be dirt poor and mostly dead. China would possibly all be speaking japanese, Kuwait would have been blown to pieces. At the same time, there have been enormous mistakes (Vietnam war comes to mind).

    America has military might. That’s a fact, and it’s not likely to change anytime soon. As such, some would argue that America is obligated to use that might. So, we end up making one of two choices: 1 Seeing a problem, and using our might to deal with it (with the possibility of screwing it up, even making it worse). Or 2 seeing a problem, and ignoring it (and probably get blamed for ignoring it).

    I think I made a pretty good example with a coworker the other day. If China (or any other country that tends to criticize america for getting involved in other people’s affairs) and America were tenants in a building, and they heard the next door neighbor beating and assaulting his wife, China would ignore it, while America would bust in and save her (and probably accidentally breaking her leg, pull her hair, or even killing her in the process). I’d rather America err on the side of responsibility, than to make the far FAR worse mistake of being cold and uninvolved.

    On a final note, sometimes America is so “warmongering” because the rest of the world (especially the worthless UN) refuses to step up to the plate when they should. IRAQ violated numerous UN resolutions, and should have been invaded by the UN. Instead, UN sits around like a pussy and does NOTHING. Any mistake america makes in IRAQ can be blamed just as much as the pussies in the UN.

  3. Jon United States said,

    September 12, 2007 at 10:55 am

    I think most people who complain about America’s foreign policy don’t realize that American’s don’t vote for their politicians based on solely on the foreign policy decisions that those leaders will make. Most Americans frankly don’t care very much about what happens outside of America and are generally more concerned about local issues (which only makes sense). The fact that the political parties they are aligned with have particular foreign policy objectives is secondary to whether or not that party has the same views on morality, education, health care, social security, etc. I know many Republicans who bemoan Bush’s handling of the war and even question the validity of invading Iraq in the first place, yet they will NEVER vote Democratic. While the rest of the world is sometimes painfully aware of the foreign policy decisions made by the U.S., most Americans are blissfully unware and happily ignorant of those choices. This does not make Americans warmongers – but it does show a very human trait of only recognizing as important things that you have direct experience with. That’s one of the limitations with democracies in that you have to pick the candidate that on balance will hopefully represent the majority of your beliefs and hope that the decisions that they make on your behalf that you do not agree with and things you can live with. Otherwise the alternative is to choose someone who will not on balance represent your views. Of course in the case of Iraq the consequence of that is rather large on the people of Iraq.

  4. coljac Australia said,

    September 12, 2007 at 11:50 am

    I lived in the Great Satan itself for 6 years including during 2001. I know the country well and have many friends there. So I’m sad to say that even I am starting to wonder if Americans “love war”. The reelection of the self-styled wartime president, the positive explosion of jingoism and the instant silencing of war critics as terrorist sympathizers made for a very ugly atmosphere back home which has led to some pretty ugly behaviour overseas. As a result I can attest that Ben’s comments on America’s reputation abroad only scratch the surface. The statistics bear this out – in some countries, America is nominated as a bigger threat to world peace than North Korea, and this is in traditional allies like Australia and Western Europe!

    I also know that there are a great many Americans with a solid respect for the founding principles of that country, and a desire to see the truth and rational debate return to the domestic sphere. There’s definitely hope yet, and things seem to be changing. It will certainly be some time, though, before Americans abroad stop being asked questions like this.

  5. james United States said,

    September 12, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    People from other countries can generalize about Americans being this or that, however anyone who actually believes said generalizations show a lack of common sense and logic.

  6. David Stinson China said,

    September 12, 2007 at 2:50 pm

    >”Wars are usually caused by large-scale governments, not by the citizens themselves.”“I agree,” she said, interrupting me before I could finish. “But in America, you are democratic, right? ”

    You walked right into that one…

  7. Handan China said,

    September 12, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Jon has excellent point there.

    I’d like to add that views on foreign policies of the voting public are easily manipulated.

    That retired philosophy teacher talked about democracy as if it’s a simple one way street where the voters have the control . Oh, you wish! Democracy has been around long enough to have developed a highly sophisticated brainwash system. Where authoritarians use outright coercian, democracies use clever manipulation. Either way, the government gets its way. That’s what governments do, and democracy is only a partially effective check on this natural inclination, not as advertised.

    As I’ve said in previous comments here and there, democracy is not what make America a great country. It’s its judicial independence, the whole checks and balances system, which W. Bush has played down and undermined to boost the power of the administration. His unproportional highlight on and promotion for democracy is part of that undermining effort.

  8. cc Ireland said,

    September 12, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    American democracy, if ever there is, is for American interests or some Americans’ interests. It is not desgined or intended by anyone in the US to benefit other places in the world. It is a matter of fact that the US has done many good things at the world stage. However, these good things, as they should be realised by people with cool heads, are only by-products. They come after American interests or some Americans’ interests being served.

    By the way, for people who still believe that the US volunteered to save Europe from speaking German/Russian or Chinese from speaking Japanese, etc, pleast check some history texts that are not made in America, specifically on the issues of when the war(s) started, when the US joined and more importantly why?

  9. Yu China said,

    September 12, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Chip said: “Were it not for America’s “love of war”, All of europe would have speaking German prior to the cold war, and would be poor and speaking Russian since. South Korea would be dirt poor and mostly dead. China would possibly all be speaking japanese, Kuwait would have been blown to pieces. At the same time, there have been enormous mistakes (Vietnam war comes to mind).”

    I guess I just wonder why this is America’s problem. Sure there is the basic American sentiment that it is better to fight wars offshore than in your own backyard so by engaging in these conflicts, we have prevented war from coming to our own country. But in butting in to these international affairs sure does make it seem that Americans love war. I think more Americans would say they prefer peace, but if they have to fight wars in other lands to keep American peaceful, so be it.

  10. Alan United States said,

    September 13, 2007 at 2:46 am

    Just when I thought your blog was getting boring…

    >>”Why would any country, organization, or even a terrorist group want to attack the United States?”
    Answer: Because some people are pure evil! Those wonderful peace-loving Islamists happen to fall under the category of the evil people.

    >>”For those of you who have spent time abroad, I do not need to tell you what the Iraq War has done to America’s reputation on an international scale.”
    Answer: Why do we care about what people in other countries think of us? The last I checked, the U.S. isn’t anyone’s colony. We need to do what is in the best interest of our people and our country.

    >>”For those who have not been abroad, I suggest you call a friend from Britain, or France, or China, or Afghanistan, and ask them.”
    Answer: Nah, I will save on the phone bill.

    The week before 9/11/2001, a group of about 30 Chinese journalists from various TV stations in China were in the States as guests of the State Department. The original plan was for them to stay for 1 month touring the U.S.A. The morning of 9/11, this group was watching news coverage on TV with their host. It was reported that several of the Chinese journalists clapped their hands when the WTC buildings came down. They couldn’t hide their jubilee when they learned that the U.S. had been attacked. Needless to say, their little jubilee irritated some officials from the State Department. The group was sent home the next day. This story was reported in a Chinese newspaper in America published for Chinese American readers. Foxs News cable also reported this incident. A Chinese friend in Chicago absolutely refused to believe such an incident would have happened with Chinese journalists. I clipped the newspaper story and sent it to our Chinese friend. Just this year, I learned that these Chinese are the new generation of feng-qing (Angry Youth). Not everyone would wish America well, even those who are here as guests of the U.S. government.

    I don’t believe America as a nation has done anything to deserve such terrorist attacks as 9/11. We shall always fight back when we are attacked. Peace through strength is a good option for peace. We shall never pull a Clinton (i.e. fake attacks on goats and aspirin factory) when we fight back so that the world would know that we mean business.

    You are relatively young and probably don’t know the history first hand. The U.S. has been friend to many oppressed nations and their people through history. See the examples quoted by Chip.

    In my opinion, American has more urgent issues to worry about than its world image. Such urgen issues include socialized healthcare if Hillary is elected next president, unfunded Medicare benefits, unsecured border, ever expanding government entitlement programs, and Paris Hilton. We could care less about what others think of us. After all, in terms of GDP, USA (No.1) = Japan (No.2) + China (No.3) + Germany (No. 4) + UK (No. 5). Remember the Golden Rule. Those who have gold rule. It is our rightful place to give orders in the world. After all, someone has to be the leader. It might as well be the U.S.A. Let’s hope we will take care of Islamist terrorists soon and that we will be able to focus full steam on wealth building again. America should remain the envy of the world.

  11. Frank Rizzo United States said,

    September 13, 2007 at 7:36 am

    Alan said: “The U.S. has been friend to many oppressed nations and their people through history.”

    Absolutely. Look at how well US intervention turned out in Nicaragua, Haiti, Panama, Lebanon, Somalia, Bosnia, Guatemala, Chile, Iran, Iraq, and the list goes on…

    Alan also said: “Remember the Golden Rule. Those who have gold rule.”

    Haha, good one. What do those who are trillions of dollars in debt do?

  12. RedKemp United States said,

    September 13, 2007 at 8:40 am

    I think in China you don’t experience a lot of the anger towards Americans that can occur in Europe, or at least I never experienced it. But I always found it odd talking about 9/11 in China, especially since most people mimicked an airplane flying into a building with their hands.

  13. chris United States said,

    September 13, 2007 at 9:12 am

    If you think terrorists attack US because they are evil or they somehow care or hate the freedom Americans have, you will never win this “war on terror”.

    Watch this
    by the author of “What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat”, Louise Richardson.

    As for the question of whether America loves war, watch “why we fight”


    The fact is After the WWII, America has lots of unnecessary and
    unjust wars.

  14. Chip China said,

    September 13, 2007 at 9:15 am


    yeah, there were probably other selfish reasons for america to get involved in world war 2. Does that matter? We saved Europe, that’s the point. Who cares if all the good america does is just a “byproduct” of our pursuit of our own self interests? This “byproduct” has kept millions of people alive.


    Why is there so much anger towards America in Europe? Seriously! We prevent them from nuclear death, and have been buying their cheese, lamburghinis, and ikea products ever since, what’s with the hate?

  15. Handan China said,

    September 13, 2007 at 9:50 am

    Yeah, I don’t think the US deserves terrorist attacks any more than most countries in this crazy world. Its government has done awful things, but who hasn’t? Difference is, being the superpower, the US is too exposed to spotlight. It’s like an ordinary man easily goes unnoticed and unpunished for keeping a mistress, try it when you’re president!

  16. Chip China said,

    September 13, 2007 at 3:04 pm


    Good examples, although I think a few were actually good things to be involved in (Panama, although it could have been planned better, and Bosnia).

    “What do those who are trillions of dollars in debt do?”

    Simple, use that debt to get richer and richer, and then be in a better position to pay off that debt, all while enjoying a great standard of living, and still ruling.

  17. cc Ireland said,

    September 13, 2007 at 3:18 pm


    It does matter! Iraq shows why it matters. The down of Saddam is a by-product too, unfortunately so is the blood bath created this time. Well. it doesn’t matter to you Chip, who cares so long Americans interests or some Americans’ interests are served. Likely you are one of those, or one of the zealot followers of those who declared (still declare constantly) they would (will) save the world from tyranny, rogue states, terrorists, pure evils and etc.(as America did before) How? because American have something that other peoples do not master that well, i.e. WMD, weapons of mass destruction/deception.

    God bless America! (only America if it has to be)

    Think twice next time America says something glamorous

  18. American in China India said,

    September 13, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    It looks like several of my fellow Americans are learning from W’s ability to absolutely mangle a historical analogy and fit known facts to make whatever point that you’re interested in making. Really, I didn’t know that Americans were warmongering during WWII as the Axis conquered country after country. When did we get into that war, Chip? Oh yeah, it was after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

    But credit where credit is due, nothing beats your analogy on saving a woman from domestic assault, where you would prefer taking action and accidentally killing the woman, over making the far worse mistake of doing nothing. Well thought out plan… I guess if you were President during the Cold War, you would have launched all of our nukes at the Soviet Union. Fyi, I think we’re ignoring the ongoing genocide in the Sudan, so other countries don’t exactly have a monopoly on being cold and uninvolved.

    As for Alan:
    >> Why would any country, organization, or even a terrorist group want to attack the United States?
    > Answer: Because some people are pure evil! Those wonderful peace-loving Islamists happen to fall under the category of the evil people.
    So what would you call those people who armed evil people like Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden? Oh yeah, that was us.

    >> For those of you who have spent time abroad, I do not need to tell you what the Iraq War has done to America’s reputation on an international scale.
    > Answer: Why do we care about what people in other countries think of us? The last I checked, the U.S. isn’t anyone’s colony. We need to do what is in the best interest of our people and our country.

    Why do you need to care about what anyone thinks? Just disobey any American laws that inconvenience you. If your neighbor has something you need, take it. If you need to take a dump on his porch, go right on ahead. That is exactly the kind of ignorance that will get us killed, because despite what you may believe, there are a lot more of them than there are of us. Incidentally, these people that you didn’t care to understand, killed 3,000+ of your countrymen on 9/11 and have killed nearly 4,000 in Iraq. Oh, and by the way, the U.S. owes China a trillion dollars. That means that you owe them $3,000 by yourself… and growing each and every day.

  19. Matt Schiavenza China said,

    September 13, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Is this Ben’s blog or the Peking Duck?

    By the way, the best comment on this thread has to be by Alan, claiming that Paris Hilton is more important than America’s global image. Perhaps my sarcasm meter is off-kilter, but did you really write that with a straight face?

    Isn’t it just possible that the “pussies” in the UN calculated that invading and occupying Iraq might have been more trouble than it was worth?

  20. chriswaugh_bj China said,

    September 13, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    Chip wrote: “Why is there so much anger towards America in Europe? Seriously! We prevent them from nuclear death, and have been buying their cheese, lamburghinis, and ikea products ever since, what’s with the hate?”

    Well, that good old fashioned stereotypical American ignorance doesn’t help. Ikea is Swedish. Sweden is neutral, has been for a long time, and was long before WW2. America has never saved Sweden from anything.

    I could go on, and I would if there was any point. Never argue with nationalists- it’s about as productive as banging your head against a brick wall.

    Matt Schiavenza and Ben: Thanks for being two intelligent, informed Americans who understand the way things work in the big wide real world. People like you keep my faith in Americans going.

  21. Alan United States said,

    September 13, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    It’s nice that we can disagree without personal attacks.

    Folks , get over it. America will continue to be the world’s single leader in the foreseeable future. No other countries can even come close to it. America isn’t a perfect leader but neither would any other country or the U.N., which is a corrupt organization. For the sake of arguement, if not the U.S., which country could be a better leader? Name some countries.

  22. cc Ireland said,

    September 14, 2007 at 5:12 am


    How big is your ego now after repeating that self-claimed world leader thing over and over again. Sure, there are plenty of poodles around wagging their tails to make American’s ego, including yours, grow even bigger. Be careful, it will explode sooner or later, it’s getting a bit funny and shameless. hehe.

  23. Alan United States said,

    September 14, 2007 at 10:04 am

    Chip, I don’t know about you, but I am raising my white flag. These other guys are way smarter and way more objective than me. The U.S. shouldn’t act like the world’s sole superpower. The U.S. government shouldn’t give billions of dollars in foreign aid to other nations. We shouldn’t be helping a weak nation when it’s being invaded, even when their government pleads for our help, as in the case of Korea, Vietnam (even though we lost), and Taiwan. But I am a logical man. Hence, I have a question for you smartypants. Why in the world do you criticize the U.S. for not doing enough to help when a natural disaster hits, as in the case of the tsunami in S.E. Asia 2 years ago? After all, America should mind its own business. I thought you were better edukated, more sophisticated and cultured folks than Americans. Why then would you expect a bunch of warmonging rednecks to help you in your time of need? Leave us alone.

    On the other hand, I agree with the comment that the U.S. government is too much in debt. Even the emerging China has loaned us a huge amount to the tune of about $1.5 trillion. That’s why I believe we need to elect more fiscal conservatives at every level of our government. Both Republicans and Dumbercrats are big government spenders.

  24. Chip China said,

    September 14, 2007 at 10:14 am


    I’m actually AGAINST the war in Iraq, mostly because it’s being fought in such a poor and misplanned way that innocent lives are being lost, and chaos is everywhere. I’m just saying that I personally feel it would be wrong if America instead chose to sit around and did nothing.

    American in China,

    Yeah, we didn’t get involved directly until after we were hit. So? We were supplying a TON of weapons and aircraft for Britain, we just weren’t sending our troops over (we should have, I think). On the Cold war, we kept building enough nukes to match whatever USSR had, we had no need to directly attack. Also, you prove one of my points with Sudan. We are criticized for getting involved in other countries, and then get criticized for not getting involved (and yes, I DO believe we need to get involved with Sudan).


    Possibly, but that’s not the reason they gave. The UN didn’t invade a country that violated regulations that would have merited a military involvement. My point is that the UN has routinely ignored it’s own standards.


    That was just a deliberate joke, chill. Yes, I must be a nationalist because I generally agree with America’s military policy? I agree with you that there is a wide world that most American’s don’t get, but I think Alan has been pretty accurate. American’s don’t get the wide world because we don’t need to, there hasn’t been a lot of incentive for us to get the big picture. Sure, it’s kinda sad, but does it really matter?

    America is huge because the rest of the world wants it to be (all while making lip service about how they DON’T want america to be huge). Just as Alan said, can anybody say any countries fit to be leader? I can think of some, I honestly believe the United Kingdom, Germany, and France are just a few of many countries that could have the same influence and leadership that America currently has, but they haven’t stepped up. Heck, even the entire EU would be great as a leader, if it could pull itself together. Ideally, the UN would be WONDERFUL if it weren’t such a chaotic, corrupt mess, and instead chose to act on its own standards. Is Bush a war criminal? Probably, but why isn’t the international court doing anything about it?

    By the way, I’ll throw out another bone: If it weren’t for France’s pursuit of its own self interests, the american revolution would never have been won. Yep, France pretty much fought that one for us. If it weren’t for you, all americans would still be speaking English. Oh wait…

  25. Chip China said,

    September 14, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Here’s another shocker: I generaly disagree with the War on Terror. Why? Because statistically, terrorists aren’t as dangerous as bathtubs and cheeseburgers. More people have died from slipping in a bathtub in the past 10 years than from terrorist attacks. We should pull the troops out and give them all assignments to install no-slip pads on the bottom of every bathtub in America. And then obesity is killing people in the millions. But McDonald’s doesn’t seem nearly as scary as Binladin, I suppose.

  26. Chip China said,

    September 14, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Bin Laden

  27. Benjamin Ross United States said,

    September 14, 2007 at 10:49 am

    >>>I generaly disagree with the War on Terror. Why? Because statistically, terrorists aren’t as dangerous as bathtubs and cheeseburgers.< << To me, this is the real crux of the debate on the War on Terror. I've never looked up the data on bathtubs and cheeseburgers, but I have compared the statistics on terrorism related deaths with alcohol related vehicular fatalities. I've always found it disturbing that those suspected of terrorism are sent to Guantanamo Bay while those convicted of drunk driving are roaming free.

  28. American in China India said,

    September 14, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    Alan, please define what it is to “act” like the world’s sole superpower? If you’re saying that we should help the weak and defenseless, I wholeheartedly agree. Most of our fellow Americans would. But the fact of the matter is that in all those examples, America got involved mostly for our own reasons, not for truth, justice, and the American way. For Korea, Vietnam, and Taiwan, it was to stop communism. For Iraq it was oil, after all those who rely on facts know that Iraq could not actually hurt us.

    For Korea and Vietnam, we paid an extremely high price in blood and treasure and especially for Vietnam, it was terribly mismanaged. Does it still count if the “government” that is pleading for our help is corrupt and no popular support among the people? Do you really think that Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia should feel grateful to the U.S. for the millions of landmines decapitating children, Agent Orange causing cancer, and death of millions?

    I am a patriotic American, but the fact of the matter is that we’re being led astray by incredibly unpatriotic leaders who care much more about obtaining power and money than running the country. These people represent us and are doing a terrible job… and since we elected them, we’re also accountable. Yes, the world’s sole superpower should help others and protect our own interest. So… is invading a country on false pretenses, killing hundreds of thousands, creating new jihadists with every terrorist we kill, and spending trillions that we don’t have, the right way for a superpower to act? Does this type of action help us remain a superpower? I think not and you should wake up if you think that folks who lost their parents, spouses, and children to a war started by the U.S. will appreciate us. We’ll be lucky if they don’t become suicide bombers.

  29. Matt Schiavenza China said,

    September 14, 2007 at 3:45 pm


    The presence (or lack thereof) of weapons in Iraq had very little to do with the decision to invade Iraq. Consider the 90s era memo prepared by the Progress for a New American Century in which several future Bush Administration officials lobbied the Clinton Administration to remove Saddam Hussein by force. Or the fact that several members of Bush’s team called for Saddam’s removal in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and that Donald Rumsfeld ordered the Pentagon to seek evidence linking the attacks to Saddam Hussein. Only the protests by saner elements of the administration (Richard Clarke, Colin Powell, etc.) steered Bush toward attacking Afghanistan first. Or consider the credence given to the fantasy that invading Iraq would create a seismic shock throughout the Middle East, in which the spontaneous creation of a free, modern Iraq would magically transform the region into an ally of the US and Israel. Recall US troops being greeted with candy and flowers, the erection of a George W. Bush statue in central Baghdad in one year, and the notion that the occupation would be self-financing due to Iraq’s oil wealth. These were not comments left on fringe blogs by right-wing nutters, they were by high ranking officials in the Bush administration. You can look it up.

    The decision to use the UN and weapons of mass destruction as the ostensible casus belli derived only from the Administration’s fear that without such a charge, the American public (and other leaders such as Britain’s Tony Blair) wouldn’t agree to go along with the invasion. When it was becoming clear that the weapons inspections were not turning up Saddam’s supposed WMD cache the inspectors were sent home and the invasion was speedily requisitioned. The rest, as the say, is history.

    The problem with your analysis isn’t that the UN isn’t culpable (the oil-for-food scandal is particularly outrageous) but the assumption that the US got involved to do the UN’s dirty work for them as a result of a lack of will on the part of the latter. Several intelligent and experienced people were able to understand that Saddam Hussein’s regime was a problem AND that removing it by force would still be catastrophic. These voices were shut out in the run-up to the invasion, as was any criticism of the ruling party during a “time of war”.

    Look, there’s a lot of cheap anti-Americanism out there, and as a US citizen and proud American, it bothers me too. But your remarks about the war show a rather breathtaking lack of humility, and a lack of humility has been a rather large Achilles’ heel for our country for a long time.

  30. danjo China said,

    September 16, 2007 at 11:04 pm

    I am currently reading “The Future of Freedom” by Fareed Zakaria and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in thinking more about why democracy is not a catch-all solution to the world’s problems and in getting a slightly better grip on the problems of the Middle East.

  31. owshawng United States said,

    September 17, 2007 at 11:10 am

    This weekend I took the PATH train from New Jersey to the World Trade Center. It was the first time since the morning of 9/11 I have done this. It was so surreal seeeing the PATH wind through the pit of Ground Zero The train is a few stories above the foundation, but is stll a few stories below street level and open to the sky. I commuted everyday for over a year this way until the morning of 9/11. Some buildings are destroyed, but the buildings on either side were there, businesses as usual. When I walked thru the World Financial Center on the East side of Ground zero i couldn’t believe there was a tour group looking at the site, complete with a tour guide talking about 9/11.

  32. plum Taiwan; Republic of China (ROC) said,

    September 17, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    It’s always hard to articulate domestic politics to someone from outside that country, and why I think it is hard in the situation you were in, Ben, to explain the complicated feelings most Americans now have about the war in Iraq. That said, I think you were engaging in a little bit of defensive patriotism here (which is pretty natural abroad–I get patriotic myself when I’m overseas…and start dreaming of super-groceries and SUVs…j/k…kinda…). Many Americans _do_ like war. War is, for one thing, good for certain industries. And there are big swaths of the country where lots of folks feel like whupping up on…anything…isn’t exactly a bad idea (I happen to hail from one of those areas, and I know you do too). Those feelings are complicated by the contrary one that it isn’t America’s “job” to fix other country’s “problems”–a weird dynamic, but a tension that has existed in the US almost since its founding (uh, Mexican-American War, anyone?)

    I absolutely agree with the folks above who argued that many Americans do not consider foreign politics when voting. I think it’s easy for those of us who live abroad/look outward (and the many others from around the world who do the same) to forget how large the U.S. is. Many, many Americans live their lives entirely within its borders without ever feeling a crimp in their opportunities for life, travel, work. My sister-in-law just declared a couple weeks ago that her young daughter “didn’t need to learn a foreign language” because she wasn’t ever going to leave the country. It’s much easier to have that attitude in a place like the US than it is in, say, Taiwan or Belgium. I’m not excusing it–it’s arrogant and ignorant–but many Americans do feel that way.

  33. The Peking Dog China said,

    September 18, 2007 at 8:10 pm

    Echoes of “My country, right or wrong”.

    Until Americans seriously question the motives of their government’s actions around the world, and take back their democracy, Anti-Americanism will only increase.

    Henry Kissinger once remarked along the lines that if the American Public felt afraid enough, the US citizens would accept occupation armies on the streets of Los Angeles.

    The rest of the world is AFRAID of the US. Maybe if America doesn’t reverse course, Kissinger’s words will come to pass…but not as he meant.

  34. Adam United States said,

    September 20, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Hey Ben,

    Love the blog, been reading for a while now. This last post got my blood boiling when I saw the comments.

    I’m an American living at home who’s never had the luxury of going abroad. I, however, am shocked by the blatant imperialistic and very ignorant/naive attitude of some of the posters here. Alan and Chip in particular worry me. To me, they are representative of the close-minded Bible-belt hicks who are responsible for people putting Bush into office in the first place. (no offense to religious people, but your God has no place in local or national or global politics/policies).

    In this age of globalization and instant communication/information we have no choice but to vote with half a mind on the world at large. Even in a country as large as America, to say that you’re not affected by the world abroad is sheer idiocy. Who in America can say they haven’t heard of the recent scandals involving goods manufactured in China? Or the drastically fluctuating gas prices do to the Wars on Terror (give me a break, stop your whining, we have some of the lowest prices in the world). If you have the attitude that “the rest of the world doesn’t matter” you can go ahead and start manufacturing your own tools and growing your own produce and figuring out your own computer programming, weave your own clothing. There isn’t one damned thing about our country that can be said to be totally “American.” Remember, we are a nation of immigrants. (I love how people who are 3rd or 4th generation conveniently ‘forget’ that at one point we all came from somewhere else). To say that you can ignore world affairs when considering who to vote into office is akin to saying you can ignore red lights during rush hour. It’s national suicide if we continue on our current track and if you can’t recognize that, you need some serious time alone in the middle of Baghdad or Palestine or North Korea or some place else where we’ve meddled and fucked up.

    I can’t believe you are sitting there telling us on one hand you oppose the war on terror, and then on the other saying that you wholeheartedly support what is basically American Imperialism (‘sole super-power’ anyone?) The hypocrisy evident is appalling, and no little surprising, given that you HAVE apparently lived abroad and have first experience of the Anti-Americanism readily evident in other countries.

    Referencing World Wars and even the Cold Wars means nothing when talking about the current state of affairs and modern world politics. Those periods are gone, and have little or no bearing on the events of NOW. Our global society is constantly changing, and the politically stagnant views of our past aren’t going to cut it anymore.

    I agree that we need to go about protecting ourselves (when its called for!) and helping nations in need (as others have said, why are we ignoring Sudan?). But theres a big difference between that and what we’re currently doing.

    Now I’m not saying any other country is better, or the UN is this or that or some crap. I’m simply saying, we can’t have the attitude that you’re proscribing. We need to reform our ideals and set about making better relationships. We can’t simply do whatever the hell we want, and then say “oh it’s OK, at least we’re doing better than the rest of them.” Sorry but thats just a cop out and a sorry one at that. If you think we really should be the world leader, we need to grow up and (to quote a bad movie) learn that “with great power comes great responsibility.” Sure, we have the power, and the will to use; but we need to learn to use it with proper judgment (which, we currently don’t have, or are not exercising).

    You can go on all you want about ‘those pussies in the UN, France, etc’ and cite all kinds of sources that ‘we’re not doing as bad as people say.’ But by ignoring the truth and the hateful attitudes evident all around us, you’re only further propagating said troubles for us in the future. I think, as a nation, we need to grow up, get our heads out of our asses, and start acting as responsible as we are trying to hold other countries to be.

    The first step in this maturation would be to finally oust Bush and his posy (the true warmongers) and to get some real leadership voted in to office.

    I think someone like Mike Gravel’s got some interesting ideas. At the very least he speaks the truth, unlike our current batch of politicians and most of the other presidential candidates.

    Sorry for the long comment, but some of your blog’s readers are decidedly small minded and infuriating in their lack of sound judgment. When are people going to wake up that we’re not the only ones whom our decisions affect?

    (Note: By ‘us’ I mean America/Americans, by ‘them’ I’m talking about other nations/the world, unless otherwise stated.)

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