KITCHENER, Ontario — (OPINION) On April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech in which he discussed the violence he saw in the streets of the United States and the violence of the Vietnam War. He described meeting with “desperate, rejected, and angry young men,” encouraging them to seek non-violent change in their communities and the country at large.
“But they asked, and rightly so, ‘What about Vietnam?’ They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”
In his speech, Dr. King didn’t use the words “terror” or “terrorist.” Although liberally present in nearly every speech made by any politician running for office today, these words were not part of the U.S. political vocabulary in 1967. And it would be another 34 years before the “war on terror” was declared.
But if, as Dr. King said, the U.S. is the “greatest purveyor of violence [read: terror] in the world,” how could the U.S. declare a war against it? This question begs two additional ones: Is the U.S., in fact, the greatest purveyor of terror in the world? And, if so, what benefit does the U.S. derive from its war on terror?
The beginnings of the war of terror
A study of the violence and terror that the U.S. has caused in its 240 year history would take volumes. We will, therefore, confine our investigation to the current millennium.
In December 2000, was appointed president by the U.S. Supreme Court after losing the popular vote to Vice President Al Gore. In September 2001, the U.S. was attacked with hijacked airplanes, and within weeks, Mr. Bush had coined the term “war on terror,” and the United States’ ongoing war of terror had a new target: terrorists.
The U.S. determined that the masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks were in Afghanistan, a nation that had been war-torn for a decade, first from the Soviet invasion and then the civil war that followed. The U.S. demanded that Afghanistan surrender Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the attack, who had been living in Afghanistan for several years. The Taliban, in control of that nation, agreed to try bin Laden in Afghanistan’s Supreme Court if the U.S. would provide evidence of his guilt. Rather than turning over any such evidence, Mr. Bush decided instead to invade just one month after the attacks had taken place.
Since then, at least 92,000 people have been killed, including more than 26,000 civilians. Close to 100,000 people have been injured, and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health reported in 2009 that two-thirds of Afghans suffer from mental health problems.
But it wasn’t just Afghanistan that bore the anger of the U.S. following the 9/11 attacks. The U.S. then set its murderous sites on oil-rich Iraq.
On Sept. 12, 2002, Mr. Bush addressed the United Nations. He dropped a bombshell that stirred the wounds in the American psyche still festering from the previous year’s attacks:
“Today, Iraq continues to withhold important information about its nuclear program — weapons design, procurement logs, experiment data, an accounting of nuclear materials and documentation of foreign assistance. Iraq employs capable nuclear scientists and technicians. It retains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon.”
Iraq responded by sending a letter to the U.N. Security Council, saying that it would accept the return of weapons inspectors without conditions. The Iraqi government said this decision was based on its “desire to complete the implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions and to remove doubts that Iraq still possesses weapons of mass destruction.” The letter also called on members of the Security Council to “respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of Iraq.”
From November 2002 to March 2003, U.N. weapons inspectors combed Iraq, looking for those illusive weapons of mass destruction. After 16 weeks, “some evidence of undeclared activities” was found, but the Security Council did not feel that military force was necessary.
Combining all the deaths from the U.S.-led war on terror in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, estimates range from 1.3 million to more than 2 million, and the carnage continues continues today, with the U.S. bombing Syria.
While U.S. bombs dropping in Syria and, again, in Iraq, sometimes warrant a news story, much less is said about the United States’ utilization of drones to spread death and terror. In 2009, President Barack Obama authorized the first of his deadly drone strikes in Yemen. This strike killed 41 people, including 22 children. A 2014 report stated that the U.S. had targeted 41 suspected terrorists in Pakistan, and, in attempting to kill them, killed 1,147 civilians. In total, at least 5,000 people, including hundreds of civilians, have been killed by U.S. drone strikes.
What other country on earth can match these horrific numbers? One country comes to mind, and although the number of deaths it has inflicted pales in comparison to that of the U.S., its horrific killing of men, women and children is all financed by the United States. Israel, which in 2015 received nearly $4 billion from the U.S. in aid, killed over 2,000 people in the summer of 2014, including over 500 children.
The world’s foremost purveyor of war, and the weapons needed to fight it
There can be little doubt about the accuracy of Dr. King’s words as applied to the present day. But why, since the U.S. is the world’s greatest purveyor of violence and terror, has it launched a war on terror? When looking at reasons for any U.S. policy, one is advised to look first at the money trail.
Last year, for example, three of the five top corporate donors to political action committees were military contractors, and members of the U.S. House and Senate are not known for biting the hands that so generously feed them.
But the constant flow of campaign contributions is not the only reason for the ongoing war on terror. In December, Time magazine reported that U.S. weapons sales the previous year had increased by 10 percent to a staggering total of $36.2 billion, ensuring the United States’ continued place as the world’s top purveyor of weaponry. Russia was a distant second, with a mere $10.2 billion in global weapons sales.
Let us summarize: The U.S. drops bombs around the world (right now, it’s focused on the Middle East) in order to destroy terrorists, some of whom it has created. Other countries assist this ignoble effort, and many of them purchase armaments from the U.S. in order to do so. The companies that manufacture these weapons lobby the U.S. government, by way of contributions to various PACs, to legislate in their favor. The governing officials of the U.S. invent new enemies (right now, it’s Islam) with which to frighten a gullible populace, allowing them to continue that most profitable of U.S. businesses, war.
Meanwhile, we all watch and listen as spokespeople for the only nation ever to have used nuclear weapons decry the “crimes” of other nations. We hear them talk about the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, but note their silence about a nuclear-armed Israel. We watch incredulous as Mr. Obama sheds tears over children who are victims of gun violence in the U.S., while he remains silent about children who are victims of U.S. bombs and materiel around the world.
The notion of U.S. exceptionalism — sure to be on prominent display this year as presidential campaigns kick fully into gear — isn’t a complete myth. The U.S. is exceptional in the violence it perpetrates upon innocent people around the world. Should its own citizens finally come to recognize that fact, perhaps there will be real change. Until then, however, it will be violent business as usual in the U.S.