The Other September 11ths
On the anniversary of the 911 terrorist attacks we will be repeatedly warned to not "forget the lessons" of that day. The Republicans started early with this sort of rhetoric at their convention, during which September 11th was mentioned about every five seconds. People will argue endlessly about what exactly the lessons of September 11, 2001 are. However, it should be remembered that the events of that day were not all that unique in human history. In fact, there are even other September 11ths we can learn valuable lessons from. Instead of dwelling exclusively on 2001 because the victims were Americans, let's spend a few minutes on this anniversary thinking about these 911s as well.
September 11, 2004
September 11, 1993 - On this day Antoine Izmery, a Haitian businessman and pro-democracy activist, was murdered outside the church of St. Jean Bosco as he commemorated the fifth anniversary of a massacre that had been committed at the church by the Haitian military. The men who killed him were associates of the CIA named Jodel Chamblain and Jackson Joanis. Both were convicted in abstentia of the murder but escaped punishment in the Dominican Republic. Both men returned to Haiti and participated in the recent U.S.-backed coup. Both were recently acquitted of the Izmery murder by a kangaroo court that was universally condemned.
September 11, 1971 - On this day Attica prison in New York was in the midst of the most historic prison uprising in U.S. history. Outraged over the murder of George Jackson and subhuman prison conditions, the inmates of Attica took over the prison and held the guards hostage. The standoff between the state and the inmates ended on September 13 when the state troopers raided the prison, killed 43 inmates and hostages and tortured many of the surviving prisoners. In 2000 over a thousand plaintiffs won a lawsuit against the state of New York and received a $12 million settlement, thanks in large part to the efforts of Frank "Big Black" Smith, one of the Attica brothers who recently passed away.
September 11, 1971 - It was also on this day that the world was blessed with the Ford Pinto. Anxious to compete with import cars with low gas mileage, Ford Motor Company rushed the development and release of the Pinto, but it turned out the Pinto had a design flaw which caused the gas tank to explode during moderate rear-end collisions. Ford was aware of the flaw, but had conducted a cost-benefit analysis which concluded that it would be cheaper to simply pay off those who were injured or killed in accidents than it would be to fix the design flaw. Eventually, the Pinto was recalled and Ford was forced to pay millions of dollars in damages to its victims. The Pinto is a classic case of the cold calculus of capitalism. The lives of human beings mean nothing when the sole driving force of the economy is the accumulation of capital.
September 11, 1973 - The democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, died on this day as the Chilean military led a coup against his government and installed the dictator, Augusto Pinochet. In 1970 a CIA document stated, "As a result [of Allende's election], U.S. prestige and interests ... are being affected materially at a time when the U.S. can ill afford problems in an area that has been traditionally accepted as the U.S. 'backyard'." Thus the Nixon White House decided Allende had to go. The intellectual architect of the Chile coup was a scrappy Secretary of State named Henry Kissinger—the man whom Bush originally chose to head the 9/11 Commission. Kissinger was at great pains to whitewash the human rights abuses of the Pinochet regime, which included abduction, torture, and the execution of thousands of political opponents. To give one an idea of the depravity of the Pinochet regime, here is the testimony of a woman who was detained for forty days at the National Stadium. She was a married mother of two and a professor at the University of Chile:
"[The women] were obliged to remain all day long face down with their hands on their necks and their legs spread ... There were lines of them kneeling or standing against the walls, and at the slightest movement they were struck or kicked - and, in several cases I saw, shot ... Girls and women were harassed, obliged to disrobe, manhandled, and insulted as a preamble to the interrogations. The academics among us had been taken out of our classrooms at gunpoint. One group of schoolteachers had a typically sad experience: at the investigatory commission one of them had her hair cropped off . . then at Los Cerros de Chena, the eyes were always blindfolded. To go to the bathroom, they had to be accompanied by guards who took the opportunity to manhandle and beat them. They were interrogated naked. Electric current was applied to the mouth, hands, nipples, vagina. Water was poured over their bodies to intensify the pain The language used with them was completely degenerate: they were forced to repeat, over and over: 'I am a cunt, I am a cunt'"
September 11, 1965 - The first cavalry division arrived in Vietnam on this day, marking an escalation in the long, brutal, U.S. war against Southeast Asia that killed millions and left millions more maimed by landmines or diseased by chemical warfare—sad realities that continue to this day. The brutality of the Vietnam War was summed up pretty well by John Kerry's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he said U.S. soldiers "raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country." Of course, Kerry has done everything in his power to distance himself from that testimony, which was perhaps the only time in his life when he spoke clearly and honestly about a political issue. When Tim Russert questioned him about his charges of war crimes on Meet the Press, Kerry responded by awkwardly laughing and saying, "Where did all that dark hair go, Tim? That's a big question for me."
September 11, 1962 - The Beatles recorded their first single, "Love Me Do," on this day. There was nothing particularly electrifying about the Beatles' sound. White rock stars like the Elvis and the Beatles were simply copying what uncelebrated black artists had been doing for quite some time, but thanks in large part to their white skin, the Beatles would become one of the most insanely rich and famous groups in the history of music. The same phenomenon can be seen today, as white rapper Eminem outsells everyone else in the hip hop game. To Eminem's credit, however, he acknowledges his "21st century Elvis" status. In his song "White America," he states, "If I was black I woulda sold half." And to the Beatles' credit, they would go on to create some of the most original and innovative music of the 20th century later in their career, even though their growth as artists alienated some of their more unsophisticated fans ("They did some good records. But then they got a bit weird. I didn't like all that later stuff when they got strange." - George W. Bush).
September 11, 1959 - On this day Congress passed a bill authorizing food stamps for low-income Americans. In those days, it was generally recognized that people shouldn't be starving in the richest country in the world. In 1996, however, Bill Clinton decided that having some Americans starve isn't such a bad thing after all, and he proceeded to sign the infamous Welfare Reform legislation. The result was the evisceration of what was already a very small welfare state. One of the most vicious aspects of the legislation was the fact that it cut food stamp aid to legal immigrants. Studies were done which showed increased child hunger as a result of the decreased aid in families that included both citizens and legal immigrants. Thankfully, food stamp aid to immigrants was restored in 2002 by none other than George W. Bush, who stood up against his own party on the issue.
September 11, 1954 - The Miss America pageant made its network TV debut this year on ABC. The decades prior to the 1950s were marked by increasing independence and equality for women. Their right to vote was recognized in 1920. Employment opportunities were expanding, especially during World War II. Many women were starting to use birth control. Men found this all very unsettling, prompting an enormous backlash against the women's movement in the 1950s. It was then that we saw the rise of the image of the idealized housewife, who was content to have cooking and washing clothes be the essence of her existence. And what better way for men to celebrate the comeback of male supremacy than by watching a nationally televised beauty pageant in which numerous women were paraded before a panel of males who would judge their bodies as if they were slaves on an auction block? Of course, thanks to our racist standards of "beauty," no black women received the dubious honor of being crowned Miss America until 1984.
September 11, 1942 - One of the first internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II opened on this day in Topaz, Utah. In all, over 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were relocated and interned. Many families lost everything other than what they could carry with them to the camps, which were often surrounded by guard towers and barbed wire. In addition to being flagrantly immoral, the internment also hurt the war effort due to its enormous direct costs in millions of dollars as well as its opportunity costs (such as the lost contributions of Japanese labor to the war effort). The story of Japanese internment is a sober reminder of the sort of things governments are capable of doing during war, and it has even more meaning today as Arabs and Muslims in America see their civil rights being systematically violated in the name of the "War on Terror."
September 11, 1922 - At this time the British mandate of Palestine began. This set into motion a series of events which led to the bloody impasse in Israel and the occupied territories we see today. Here is Arundhati Roy: "September 11 has a tragic resonance in the Middle East too. On the 11th of September 1922, ignoring Arab outrage, the British government proclaimed a mandate in Palestine, a follow up to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which Imperial Britain issued, with its army massed outside the gates of the city of Gaza. The Balfour Declaration promised European Zionists a national home for Jewish people ... Two years after the declaration, Lord Balfour, the British foreign secretary said, 'In Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country. Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-old traditions, in present needs, in future hopes of far profounder import than the desires or prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit this ancient land.'"
September 11, 1920 - On this day, two Italian immigrants with radical political views were indicted for the killing of a shoe factory paymaster and his guard in Boston. After a grossly unfair trial, both Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were found guilty and executed. Whether or not they were actually guilty is still debated, but it is clear that they were executed not for anything they had done, but primarily for who they were. America in the 1920s was marked by a climate of strong racial hostility and fear of immigrants. Membership in the Ku Klux Klan soared into the millions after the release of D.W. Griffith's racist epic, "The Birth of a Nation." Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge were both hardcore white supremacists. The legacy of this case and its injustice would prompt Governor Michael Dukakis to proclaim August 23, 1977 "Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti Day" in Massachusetts.
September 11, 1919 - U.S. troops landed in Honduras on this day to protect American banana interests. In the early 20th century, bananas had become a very lucrative commodity. Companies such as United Fruit and Standard Fruit were making a killing in Honduras, in part by misusing government subsidies to create more banana lands in areas that they were supposed to be making railroads. In some areas of the country, the fruit companies were more powerful than the government itself. This arrangement was great for the companies, but wasn't so great for everyone else. The U.S. had to step in more than once to suppress revolutionary movements and domestic turmoil in the region. The lesson here is about the pervasive influence of corporate power on foreign policy. If the U.S. will invade a country over bananas, then surely it wouldn't hesitate to go to war for oil. Today Iraq is a virtual playground for corporate crooks, much in the same way Honduras was in the 1910s.
September 11, 1851 - This list ends on a happy note. On this day a slave owner named Edward Gorsuch would be killed by his own escaped slaves in what would come to be known as the "Christiana Riot"—named after the Pennsylvania town in which it happened. With the assistance of local Quakers, a former slave named William Parker and his small contingent of escaped slaves were able to fend off Gorsuch and his posse, who had come to retrieve their lost "property." After the incident, Parker fled to upstate New York where abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave him safe haven. The Christiana riot was one of the first acts of overt resistance to the new Fugitive Slave Law, and it caused a national stir. Douglass would later claim the riot was necessary "to check these aggressions and to bring the hunters of men to the sober second thought."
Justin Felux is a writer and activist based in San Antonio, Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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