Reactions 4

Repression in the USA, hoaxes on the web, what's anti-war? More spiked readers give their views.

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After the attack on America: more spiked readers give their views.

What do you think? Email spiked letters. Please keep your letters succinct.

Jennie Bristow is right to demand that we Defend liberty – especially now (17 September 2001) – and if you need any demonstration of that fact, just look at the stifling of commentary and debate in America since 11 September.

A college professor in the south west has been threatened with disciplinary action for his comments about the World Trade Center collapse. When Tom Gutting, columnist for the Texas City Sun, criticised President Bush for his actions on the day of the crisis, ‘flying around the country like a scared child, seeking refuge in his mother’s bed after having a nightmare’, the paper received scores of complaints. Days later the publisher apologised on the front page, stating that publication of Gutting’s article was ‘not appropriate’, and Gutting was fired. Dan Guthrie wrote a similar critical article in a local Oregon newspaper, The Daily Courier, and also lost his job.

On a satirical late-night talk-show, Politically Incorrect, host Bill Maher argued that the hijackers were not cowards, compared with the USA’s launching of cruise missiles at targets thousands of miles away. Some of the show’s key advertisers pulled their sponsorship, and White House press secretary Ari Fleischer scolded Maher, going on to state that news organisations and all Americans ‘have to watch what they say and watch what they do’. Maher later apologised on the Jay Leno Show. When the White House later released the official transcript of Fleischer’s briefing, the comments urging us to watch what we say was deleted. In these times of heightened paranoia, even the White House censors its own commentary.

German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen made a bizarre analogy between the attacks and a tremendous concert, ‘that is the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos’. Stockhausen later apologised for the comments, made in Hamburg, but too late to save a performance of his work planned for The Eastman School of Music’s Ossia ensemble, which promptly cancelled the invitation.

These overtly stifling acts represent the most obvious and extreme direction of American policy in the wake of September 11, but less noticeable changes are also taking place. On Saturday 29 October, President Bush gave his usual radio address to the nation. Less usual was the supportive echoing response of Democratic opponent Richard Gephardt. The act was typical of a party that now hangs on every word of the administration it is supposed to oppose and hold in check. Prior to the attack, Democrats vowed to force the administration to balance the budget and protect social security, but within days of the attack, Democrats joined Republicans to approve $40billion of additional spending for the military and the cleanup of New York, as well as $15billion of aid to the airlines.

Previously, at least some Democrats could be relied upon to oppose the expansion of American military action, but when Bush asked for the authorisation to place troops and armaments on the border of Afghanistan, every Democrat save one supported the president. Democrats have ceased to make any arguments against the president, even on issues that are clearly separate from the attack, such as tax policy, Medicare and education. Being in opposition in the current climate, even for the most inconsequential and banal of issues, is itself seen as suspicious.

Ultimately, we are left with an attack on thought, as if being rational were an affront to the victims of the attack. All that remains is platitude, glib comments and repetitions of current prejudicial thinking. ‘Seek solace in community and family’, ‘reconnect with old friends’, ‘be tolerant’, ‘cry for the victims’, ‘support your country’, and so on.

The worst is the constant seeking of affirmation within the disaster, to celebrate what a great country we live in and to look on the bright side. But we are not a country of children, and nothing good happened on 11 September. It is an affront to those who died to turn us all into imbecilic mourners – but it is happening, and it is a situation suitable for the introduction of newly repressive measures and further stifling of commentary, opinion and debate. Stuart WG Derbyshire, USA

Josie Appleton’s somewhat irritating faux naïf style does not prevent her from making some valuable points about the incoherence of the allegedly anti-war response of many liberal/left commentators following the attack on the World Trade Center (What’s anti-war?, 25 September 2001). It does, however, prevent her from putting a straightforward case for a proper anti-war politics. She hints at the issue, but in such an oblique fashion as to be intelligible only to those who already understand and agree with her. Surely the best way to demonstrate the inadequacy of the liberal/left response is to articulate an alternative. Isn’t that what spiked is for? Philip Hammond, UK

Daniel Ben-Ami’s article is excellent overall, but it repeats a very common fallacy (The terrified economy?, 25 September 2001). Handing over $15billion to the airline industry and buying more guns ignores the hidden costs – what that money would otherwise have been spent on by the taxpayers from whom it will be taken. Yes, it will be good for airlines and munitions makers, but it cannot be said to be a stimulus because the hidden cost is unknown. Kent Rebman, USA

Christi Daugherty asks why so many people hate America (Reactions 3, 28 September 2001). Don’t worry, they are just a minority: I and many others love and respect America. The hatred mob are the types who hate anything great and good, just because it is good. Their envy and hatred of the good usually reflects a hatred of themselves. God bless America and God bless England too! Jonathan Dickson, UK

Well-observed and well-argued piece (The good, the bad and the therapy, 25 September 2001). But Brendan O’Neill author didn’t point out all the post-11 September hoaxes that came from the internet. The internet aided the spread of rumours that Nostradamus had predicted the attacks, and that Whitney Houston was on one of the planes. A photo of a Japanese tourist on top of the World Trade Center with one of the planes just behind her head was doctored and spread by the internet, as was the image of Osama bin Laden’s face in the smoke and dust of New York. In all, the internet gave us news and analysis – it also gave us bullshit, nonsense and scare stories. But wasn’t this also the general reaction across the media and across society? In many ways, surely the internet was just doing what society was doing. Andy Hart, UK

If the USA and allies are going to wage a war against terrorism, I hope our leaders first make public their operating definition. The problem is that the USA is the world’s biggest supporter of terrorism, and there are many countries around the world where terrorism is the rule. The USA could stop most terrorism with a realistic approach, based on a dictionary definition: the ‘use of force or threats to demoralise, intimidate and subjugate, especially such use as a political weapon or policy’. If we used such a definition and then listed all the instances worldwide, we could change the whole world. Andrew Augustine Kenny, USA

Read on:

spiked-issues: Attack on USA

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