Terrorism is always “new”, or “unprecedented”, even if we’ve seen it before.
Our shock and anger at recent events is genuine, especially attacks such as 9/11, Oklahoma City or even the recent thwarted attempt to blow up a plane by a Nigerian malcontent. Yet the extremists, misanthropes, wackjobs, loons and gun nuts of history feel slighted.
Why can’t John Brown get much love, his broadsword still soaked in the blood of proslavery Kansans? The anarchists, the Al Qaida of early modern America, feel cheated, especially after numerous successful bombings. The Weathermen could use your support, especially after trying to extend the Peace decade through violence.
The KKK? The FALN? The Jewish Defense League? Black September? Most of these clowns have a body count to put Al Qaida to shame—and they still get second fiddle.
Today at the Neighborhood, we’re committed to correcting this problem. Let’s look at some important terrorist acts and groups of the pre-2001 United States.
Bleeding Kansas/The Pottawatomie Massacre (1856)
No Dorothy, you weren’t in Kansas, because you’d have a sword in your belly if you were. Kansas was in chaos in 1856, as both pro-slavery and abolitionist guerrilla gangs ravaged the countryside in order to convince Kansas to be admitted as a slave or free state. Pro-slavery men ransacked Lawrence in a killing spree. In response, hyper-religious maniac John Brown and his sons corner five pro-slavery settlers at Pottawatomie Creek and hack them to death with broadswords. Brown becomes a secular saint in the Union during the Civil War—and that’s as close to heaven as John got.
It was your run-of-the-mill labor rally in Chicago, and then the anarchists make it interesting. Today, it’s difficult to understand the threat of anarchism, but at the time it was right up there with “Japs” and “Commies”. We’re not sure who did it, but someone threw a bomb into the rally. The police open fire on the crowd, killing twelve people and setting the labor movement back twenty years. Thank God that in the 21st Century anarchy is relegated to a Sex Pistols song.
The Wall Street Bombing (1920)
Anarchists went hog wild in the first two decades of the 20th Century. First they assassinate a sitting President in 1901. Then came a series of mail bombings to prominent business and political leaders in 1919. The final blow came in 1920, when a horse cart, loaded with TNT and metal projectiles, parked itself in front of J.P. Morgan’s bank at the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street in New York City. As the symbol of American capitalism, Morgan was public enemy # 1 for the anarchists. The bomb would kill 38 people and injure 400, even though it exploded in the early morning. Morgan kept the damage on its façade as a battle scar—no terrorist would bring down the “House of Morgan”, only Chase Manhattan Bank.
The Ku Klux Klan (1865-1877; 1918-1933; 1950s-present)
Besides bankrolling the bedsheet industry, the KKK has the distinction of waging the longest terrorist campaign in US history—longer than the anarchists, the FALN, or Al Qaida. Their first wave followed the Civil War, and produced open conflict with US occupation forces in the South. Since hating blacks wasn’t enough, they threw in Jews, Catholics, immigrants, labor unions, you name it. By the 1920s the Klan was downright respectable. Never fear, they returned to their ugly self in the 1950s, and have stayed that way since. Although, to be honest ,the Ku Kluxes have seen better days: half the Klan are FBI informants, and the other half are applying to be informants.
George Metesky, the “Mad Bomber” (1940-1956)
Everyone who’s had a beef with the electric company can empathize with this maniac. George Metesky was injured on the job working for Consolidated Edison in Waterbury, Connecticut. He lost his job, got no compensation for his injuries, and developed a deep-seeded hatred of Con Ed. Most people would sue, but George fixed up a bomb—dozens of them. Of the 33 bombs he planted, 22 went off, injuring 15 people. No place in the city was safe: Grand Central Terminal, Pennsylvania Station, Radio City Music Hall, the New York Public Library, the Port Authority Bus Terminal, the RCA Building, the New York City Subway, movie theaters, hallways, elevators, even public toilets. Use his case when arguing for a disability claim.
The Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN, were a paramilitary group seeking the independence of Puerto Rico from the United States. A noble cause, except when it came to their methodology, which involved at least 120 bombings between 1974 and 1983. Their greatest hits include Macys Herald Square (1969), Fraunces Tavern (1975), which killed 4 and wounded more than 50, a slew of buildings in April 1975 and again in 1977, the Shubert Theatre on Broadway in 1979, and a notable assault of the campaign headquarters of both Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush in 1980. Bill Clinton decided to pardon 16 FALN members in 1999, which didn’t help their reputation at all. On top of all this, Puerto Ricans still cling to commonwealth status in referendum after referendum. Talk about futility.
The Weathermen, or the Weather Underground, was one of the more notorious of the many zany organizations that sprang from the New Left movement of the 1960s. Their violent uprising against the Vietnam war, American “oppression” and the establishment of a proletarian dictatorship would span the 1970s, culminating with the Brinks robbery fiasco of 1981. In the process, the group claimed bombings on the Pentagon, the US Capitol and the State Department, among others. Starting with the “Days of Rage” protests in Chicago in October 1969, the Weathermen focused most of their attention on Vietnam. Upon our pullout in 1973, they, like so many remnants of the flower power decade, became irrelevant. Today, many people know one of the most important Weathermen: Bill Ayers, professor and buddy to Barack Obama. Hey Mr. President: try not to piss of those old hippies—they apparently bite.
The Jewish Defense League (1970s-2002)
Those who used to watch Jerry Springer at his best may remember the JDL. They were the guys in yarmulkes that would come in fists swinging at the Klansmen on stage. The JDL was founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1968 to combat Anti-Semitism in the United States—with an emphasis on the word “combat.” These guys would take anybody on: the Klan, neo-Nazis, even the Soviet Union (their bombings of Soviet places of interest in the 1970s are what drew them attention). Yet their use of violence has branded them a terrorist group by the FBI, and the killing of Arab-American activist Alex Odeh, the attempted assassination of Arab-American Congressman Darrell Issa and attempted bombing of a mosque in Culver City, California pushed them over the edge. Their website claims that the group renounces terrorism, but the jury’s still out. Still, for a time the JDL pretty much obliterated the Woody Allen-like caricature of a wimpy Jew.
As always, I know the list isn’t exhaustive. The Black Nationalist Party, the various white supremacist groups, the Unabomber, antigovernment militias, pre-2001 Islamic fundamentalism—all worthy of study.
Let us know of other terrorist actions in the United States that I may have forgotten. More importantly, see if your students can weigh the costs and the benefits of terrorist actions–and see if violence can truly be avoided.
What Osama Bin Laden Teaches Us
Osama bin Laden in 1997. Image via Wikipedia
For once, my students united behind a common enemy. It was just too bad that it was an enemy that was already dead.
With a student body that already has violent tendencies, Monday morning brought the murderous rage of my class into full froth. Even if I could start spouting about Verdun, the Lusitania or the killing fields in the Somme, it wouldn’t make a dent in kids that had nothing but Osama bin Laden on their mind.
World War I would have to wait as class after class wanted to simply share their thoughts—or dispense their dubious knowledge—about the action that killed the elusive Al-Qaeda founder. Many had doubts as to his killing. Some were spreading neighborhood gossip that it was all an act. Others were quick to continue the path of destruction to Pakistan: after all, he was under their very noses.
Still others felt it was all just a distraction from their state tests in reading this week. It took some convincing to assure them that President Obama did want them to graduate and would not consciously disrupt their studies (at least I think so).
Yet now that we’re a few days removed from bin Laden’s demise, the rage and celebration can finally settle down to the more unpleasant task of figuring out what this all means.
In analyzing the situation, and the better answers of my students (which weren’t that many) I found some useful lessons from the death of the world’s most notorious terrorist:
Everyone eventually gets what they deserve.
It’s pretty cut and dry: the bombing of innocents in New York, the Pentagon, embassies and installations abroad. The inspiration of weak-minded ideologues to do likewise. The determination to bring down our way of life at any cost—while offering a rather crappy alternative. This balloonhead was just begging for an ass-whupping, even if it was a decade too late. Let’s just hope those 72 virgins have faces like rabid camels and raging cases of the clap (although Osama may not mind the camel-faces).
Plan twice, Cut once.
You really have to hand it to Obama here. He could’ve just sent some drones in August and smashed the place to bits. Yet he knew the world wouldn’t be convinced with a crater: he needed to produce a furry, smelly body. The operation was meticulously planned and rehearsed, with the President on hand to observe the entire process. The whole business was quick, even with a snafu with a downed chopper, with no US casualties—a feat so precise it would’ve caused a NASA mission controller to tear open his pocket protector in frustration.
Never let them see you coming.
Obama’s code of silence on this would’ve made Lucky Luciano grin. The whole operation only worked if everyone kept their mouth shut: especially in two places that always seem to blab—the CIA and the Pentagon. Few people were in the loop, and even less countries knew until the very last minute. Furthermore, Obama finally caught on to the shady dealings of a certain so-called ally, which leads to:
Don’t try to be all things to all people.
The one big loser in all this is the government of Pakistan, which wound up with serious egg on its face as Bin Laden was found within an hour’s drive of the capital. Pakistan is like the new kid in school who tries to be everyone’s friend on the first day, but usually ends up as the smelly kid on the bus who farts and blames someone else.
For twenty years now, Pakistan has cozied up to whoever was in their best interest at that particular moment, be it a Taliban who terrorized its people using Pakistani weapons and intelligence, or China in finding a new ally in the next war over Kashmir, or the United States in offering support for the Afghan conflict while whistling away the home-grown Islamic extremism and terrorist breeding happening at their doorstep.
In the end, Pakistan is left with no real friends: just a neighbor who wants to take over (Afghanistan), two bully-boys who use it in their petty schoolyard fights with other countries (China, Russia), and a snarling neighbor who just wants to obliterate Pakistan off the map (India, be it with nukes or cricket bats). Even the United States, who will tough it out with anyone no matter how useless, is re-assessing its situation. It might be better for Obama to leave Pakistan to the angry Pashtuns, ravenous Asiatic hordes and software-engineering batsmen. Then we can actually make sense of a massive clusterfuck of a region.
Just because you cut out the cancer does not mean you’re cured.
Remember guys like Black September, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, even Hezbollah and Hamas? They’ve been at the Islamic terrorism racket for a heck of a lot longer than Al-Qaeda. Even with a demoralized, rudderless Al-Qaeda, radical Islam will not go away. The terror it often breeds, likewise, will not go away. Furthermore, expect attacks from those seeking revenge for bin Laden’s death—although hopefully without his generous credit line.
By the way, you don’t have to be a radical Muslim or even a plain old everyday Muslim to engage in terror: just ask the Khmer Rouge, the Red Brigades, the Baader-Meinhof group, the IRA, the UVF, the Ku Klux Klan and various guerrilla groups around the world that on a daily basis have engaged (and continue to engage, in some respects) in acts so brutal it would make the Ayatollah soil his robes—which could be an improvement.
Make sure you’re covered on the back end.
Something very important happened while we spent billions chasing bin Laden: China became a superpower. It already produced most of our consumer goods, bought a huge hunk of our debt and is even attempting to phase out the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. Other countries, like Russia, Brazil and India, look to create a new bloc with this newly aggressive dragon.
Many Americans see no harm in this. I am not one of them.
US businesses love China, because it’s a source of cheap labor and high profits. European businesses love China as a counterbalance to the United States. Same with Russia, India and the like.
However, to truly get a sense of what it will be like under a Chinese superpower, just ask Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Indonesia: places that know all too well the ugly face of Chinese power.
Say what you will about American hegemony, it is comparatively soft compared to what potentially awaits those countries in Asia that fall under China’s orbit. The United States conquered the world with cheap cigarettes, bad movies and hydrogenated fast food.
Yet those simple pleasures were also balanced by the power of ideas, of beliefs and ethics that shape what it is to be American—even if we rarely practice what we preach. See how long conversations about democracy, human rights, the rule of law, individual opportunity and political discourse last in a Chinese satellite state that values profit and forced consensus over anything else.
What makes China terrifying is not its ideology, but its lack of ideology.
In the push to progress China to superpower status, the Chinese government has embraced capitalism better than us capitalists ever have. They will do business with anyone, no matter how loathsome, as long as they’re in the black. It’s an avarice that would make even J. P. Morgan cringe. When a money relationship is not backed by ideas or ethics, friends can become enemies in the blink of an eye.
In reconnoitering our military positions overseas, the United States should look at China for what it is: a rival that must be dealt with, not an idol that should be fawned over.
The death of bin Laden has left more questions than answers. Yet the United States has a unique opportunity to reshape itself into the superpower we all hoped it should be.
Our financial house must be put in order, and significant cuts should be shared equally, not just in the 20% of the budget deemed politically expedient.
Our commitments to Iraq and Afghanistan should be re-evaluated and, when needed, troops should be re-deployed to where they can do the most good.
Most importantly, we must realize the world that arose while the War on Terror waged. The real enemy of the United States is not in Tora Bora, nor in some madrassa in Kandahar or a mosque in Tehran. It is an ascendant rival that for all its perceived economic benefits stands in direct opposition to everything we stand for.
The United States cannot be sucked into another game as an ordinary superpower. We have to stand for something—or possibly lose everything.
Leave a comment
Filed under Uncategorized
Tagged as Al Qaeda, American History, Barack Obama, China, Comedy, Commentary, Cultural Literacy, current events, Education, Educational leadership, History, Humor, Humour, Ku Klux Klan, New York City, New York History, Obama, Opinion, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan, Pakistan Government, September 11 attacks, Social studies, Teachers, Teaching, Terrorism, U.S. History, United States, war, World History