A Column By
Native American Studies
University of California, Davis
The combined power of government and media are calling for "getting behind the president" at a time when we have good cause to question why the billions of dollars spent on "defense" and spying resulted in a complete failure to halt the horrible events of September 11. Many in government seem to be promising revenge without analyzing why the US Air Force and the Department of Defense, CIA, and the FBI were all caught napping, and why our president continued to read to Florida elementary children after he had been given the word about the first assault on the World Trade Center. Are these big and obvious questions not to be asked?
Mainland USA has not seen an attack of this type since 1861 when South Carolina launched a bloody assault on the US flag and military at Fort Sumter. That started the Civil War which resulted in the death of several million people. Civilians also suffered massive "collateral damage" in that bloody, "modern" war. After 1865 the US Army turned to fighting Comanches, Kiowas, Cheyennes, Arapahos, Apaches, Sioux, and countless other Native Nations in order to open lands up for white capitalists and settlers. So we have known our share of bloodshed and sacrifice on US soil, including the bombing and burning of Black Tulsa in 1921 and Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the innocent in Oklahoma City (blamed on our currently favored enemies, the Arabs, initially).
Supposedly, we, as a people, are now thirsting for revenge. But we must remember the experience of our Native American Nations, because all too often our peoples cried out for revenge when one of ours was killed and we sent our young men out to kill the first of the enemy people that they came upon, guilty or innocent. We practiced "collective guilt" sometimes and what was the result? Why, we were killing each other off while the Europeans got stronger and stronger and helped to play us off against each other! The doctrine of revenge did not make us any stronger. On the contrary, it made us sitting ducks for white conquest. And did revenge bring back any of our departed ones? I wonder.
"Collective guilt" is something that the Nazis practiced in World War II, when they would line up twenty Frenchmen or twenty Poles and kill them for the death of one German, or when an entire village would be wiped out for some attack by guerrillas. This is what the Israeli government has been charged with, retaliating against an entire people for the actions of individuals. Terrorism almost always practices collective guilt.
And we remember this well, since during the US War of Independence white militiamen from western Pennsylvania murdered an entire community of peaceful Christian Delawares at Gnadenhutten simply for being Indians: "collective guilt" and revenge!
But I want to return to Bush and to the strange behavior of the US Armed Forces on September 11. It is my understanding that Bush was told about the first attack on New York and yet he returned to reading to the children. Wow!! If true, that is not only incredible but it raises all kinds of questions, such as: is Bush really in charge; did he expect the attack and so was not surprised; did he expect Cheney to handle the thing; or is he really so unintelligent as to not know what a president should do in a crisis? My thought is that any other president would have immediately said goodbye to the children, would have ordered the Air Force into the air over the entire eastern seaboard, with the highest level of alert of all defense units immediately. I am guessing that if he had scrambled the Air Force immediately, that the attacks on the second tower and the D.C.-Pentagon area might have been avoided, with a tremendous saving in human life and property.
I am also puzzled about how three or four airliners could have radically deviated from their flight paths without causing a "red alert" with the Air Force. The New York and especially the D.C.-Pentagon areas are certainly among the most sensitive areas of the USA. One would expect an elaborate defense response system in place, with jet fighters ready to scramble at a moment's notice. Am I wrong? Why then were these hijacked planes able to behave erratically without arousing suspicion? Why was an airliner able to fly around the White House and Pentagon, and then come in low to the ground, without causing an instant air defense response?
There are only two answers, it seems to me in my current ignorance: (1) the air defense system is lousy, with incompetent leadership; or (2) they were prevented from scrambling to do their job--but why? In any case, Bush must take ultimate responsibility for his apparent failure to act promptly.
A commander does not continue to read to children when his country is under attack, or does he? What do you think?
And before we go after those easily-targeted Afghans and Middle Easterners, let us remember that there was a time when American Indians were the "dirty, treacherous redskins" targeted on the frontier. We were often blamed when actually the US government or white settlers were at fault.
Revenge is not justice. Justice requires that we know who committed a wrong and why. It requires that we not act precipitously in the midst of our pain, sorrow and anger. Justice has to be even-handed and not one-sided. Revenge, however, may cause us to become evil-doers ourselves, harming persons as innocent as those killed by the terrorists. What then is the difference between us and them? Are we terrorists to others?
[Jack Forbes, Powhatan-Delaware, is a historian, social critic, poet and writer. His web site is <://cougar.ucdavis.edu/nas/faculty/forbes/jfhome.html>