STATEMENT ON SEPTEMBER
On cynicism, indeference, and naivete.
I happened to be in the United States, teaching in the South,
during the attacks of September 11. I was still here when the
war against Afghanistan was cooked, decided and started. Among
all the impressions I retain of the days immediately following
September 11 there are two that to me complement each other
as elements of that internal, private puzzle that is ones
opinion, ones feeling about an event that has been regarded,
interpreted and also manipulated in so many different ways.
The first of those impressions was a little talk about the attacks
I had with a secretary at my university. She was, and I am sure
still is, a charming, well-educated lady, wonderfully helpful.
She asked me very cautiously about my opinion on the attacks,
and when I said that I was, of course, I was as horrified as
anyone would have to be, she seemed to be relieved that we were
both on the same side, and went on:
I dont understand why this is happening to us; you
can see that we are good and simple people. We love our families,
we go to church, we always give money to poor countries. I just
dont understand all this hatred. At this point she sighed
and concluded: I think that there are a lot of envious people
out there in the world.
The second impression was something that came from a man not
nearly as nice as this secretary, but very clever in a cynical
way, from something he said as a proud confession during a TV
interview. This man was Zbigniew Brzeszinski, a defense advisor
during the war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. With
a glimmer of triumph in his eyes he was remembering the invasion
of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. As soon as he saw the Soviet
soldiers marching in, he explained, he knew that this was the
opportunity, the golden chance for the United States to give
to the Soviet Union its own Vietnam. He had been the mastermind
behind the resistance plan that came to its conclusion ten years
later, with the falling of the Berlin. Wall. He explained the
different ways in which the US government armed and trained
the Afghan people, and how during those ten years they converted
the country in a nightmare of guerrillas for the Soviet soldiers.
Osama bin Laden, as I learned with surprise, was fighting there
as a freshman soldier, an eccentric millionaire with a private
army, a good friend of the Bush family, learning all the military
skills, and yes, trained and armed by the United States. Our
only mistake there, said Brzeszinski, was to leave the weapons
in the country after the war was over. With no economy left
at all, and with a generation of young people that only knew
how to kill other people, the whole country turned into a training
camp for terrorist from all over the world. At this point I
remembered an interesting confusion that people in my country
frequently commit with respect to the monster of the novel Frankenstein--
maybe the same mishap happens here as well. They tend to give
to the monster the name of the creator, thinking Frankenstein
is the name of the monster. And indeed, very often creator and
creature can be called by the same name.
Anyway, I just wanted to point out these two poles, these two
extremes, that work together so well in the American society,
this gap that strikes anyone who arrives in the US and comes
in contact with all the really nice people who are anywhere
one goes. A cynical, deliberate, aggressive external policy
is combined with the good cheer, the naivete, the indifference
and sometimes even the ignorance of most of the population with
regard as to what goes on out there.
But naivete is not always innocent, and cynicism not always
When I left the US last year, and as retaliation for September
11, a major war, supported by ninety per cent of Americans,
was being carried on-- a war that from the very beginning was
condemned to fail in its stated main goal. Instead of going
for the one man that they suspected, two million innocent people
were pushed to the border lines in panic, two million people
had to leave their houses and everything behind them to escape
the bombings. All of us remember those pathetic images of planes
dropping bombs and food almost at the same time. One year later
Osama Bin Laden has not been caught. However, this doesnt
seem that important now. I was astonished to see, when I returned
this year, that the really important thing now... is to start
Yes, another war is being cooked and decided, and the arguments
couldnt be stranger. There is no connection whatsoever
between Iraq and the attacks of September 11. It has been said
that Iraq could achieve the capacity to develop nuclear weapons.
There is no proof of this at all, but suppose for a moment that
this is the case. So what? Is that what could make it such an
obvious target? North Korea, India, Russia, many countries in
the world, have nuclear weapons. There is just one nation in
human history that has so far proved itself capable of dropping
nuclear bombs on cities full of innocent people, without any
clear remorse. That nation is not Iraq. And no-one out there
in the world is considering starting a preventive war against
that nation. But apart from all this outcry about nuclear weapons,
has it already been forgotten that the only weapons the terrorists
needed on September 11 were some plastic knives, and loose change
for plane flying lessons?
It is being said that Saddam Hussein is a dictator. And so what?
We all know that the United States sometimes loves dictators.
For decades, after the Cuban revolution, the official foreign
policy of the United States for Latin America was to place and
support dictatorships in each of our countries.
There is no real threat, there are no real arguments. The hidden
reasoning for this war is not totally clear, but what is clear
is the hidden cynicism. It is built on the belief, that after
Serbia, after Afghanistan, the planes of the United States can
go anywhere to drop bombs without any American deaths. It is
built on the belief that from now on wars can all be like that,
an easy business for the United States, a thing that you can
repeat again and again against any country. The cynicism of
power is what is fueling this new war. But cynicism is not always
clever. The most perfect page, wrote Borges once, is at the
same time the most fragile. The most perfect war machinery has
created these new warriors with plastic knives. Maybe they cannot
fight the American planes but they are going to fight back,
one way or another.
A famous Machiavellian line says that war is the continuation
of politics by other means. This is exactly what you feel when
you hear the American politicians speaking in the media as if
going to war were a natural step at some point in the discussion.
Here again, cynicism proves to not always have been clever.
War is not a continuation of anything, war is a gap and an abyss,
war is a jump into the worst of the humans being, war
is the very end of life for thousands of people. War, as Michael
Zeller said here last week, is the breakdown of all values.
And yet, as we can see, a second war in less than a year is
being cooked and prepared in a country of two hundred and fifty
million people without any visible resistance.
Another old statement, from the old times of rebellion, says
that a revolution is possible if you can count on the fierce
resolution of a few, the silent consent of many and the indifference
of the rest. I guess that the same is true for the call to war.
And this is when naivete is no longer innocent, and when indifference
and ignorance can be deeply criminal.
Henry James has written some of his best pieces of narrative
by addressing the issue of naivete and enthusiasm of the young
American nation, and contrasting it with the wickedness and
deceitful sophistication of the old Europe. But he says as a
warning in one of his novels: naivete is like the zero in mathematics,
its importance depends on the amount it goes with, and the place
where you put it.
A hundred years after Henry James, the United States is no longer
a young nation, and has a long history of cynical interventions.
The naivete of the people is still there, but more and more
it seems a convenient way of not paying attention to the dirty
work that is carried on around the world to keep up the standard
of living, including cheap oil, for the entire US population.
If you dont know, you dont have to worry about any
uncomfortable dilemmas of your conscience. If you dont
know, you dont need to act, to defy, to challenge, to
do all the tiring and often risky things that are involved in
political opposition. Naivete and cynicism go together well.
The fierce resolution of a few, the silent consent of many,
and the indifference of the rest. The war against Iraq already
has the fierce resolution of the government and of the media.
The war against Iraq already has the silent consent of half
of the American population. The question is open as to whether
or not it will, as well, receive our indifference.