The World Trade Center monument of the New York business community, towering over downtown Manhattan like twin silver phalli pointed at heaven is but a pile of smoldering rubble. Crashing down along with this symbol of capitalism, modernity, and civilization is the overweening hubris of a government and a people who thought themselves immune. It is the doctrine of "American exceptionalism," the theory that the US blessed by Providence and released from the travails faced by other nations is exempt not only from the rules that govern and limit the powers of other nations, but also from history itself. For history and not only history but physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. No one is immune, and this is the meaning of the horrific events unfolding before our eyes.
Let’s reiterate what has happened: in a coordinated operation that involved hijacking four planes, two aircraft dove into the World Trade Center, leveling both buildings and (probably) killing and injuring thousands. Not only that, but in Washington, D.C., the Pentagon itself was reportedly under attack, with at least one explosion in the area: also the US State Department was the scene of yet more high drama, as it too is rocked by explosions in the area and evacuated. It was a strange sight indeed to see an F-16 jet fighter plane patrolling the skies above New York City and the announcer’s voice intoning in a sepulchral voice that the primary election scheduled for this morning in New York has been canceled.
Suddenly, Americans wake up one day to find that they are living in a Third World country. Would anybody be surprised to learn that all civil liberties have been suspended, and martial law declared? What is going on?
What’s going on is this: the war is coming home. The war fought by America and its chief Middle East ally against the Palestinian uprising has moved from the streets of Gaza to the boulevards of the imperial metropolis. What Americans are facing, now, is what the Israelis face on a daily basis. For us, these attacks are a horror of monumental proportions, something so out of the ordinary that to call it "unusual" would be something of an understatement: for the Israelis, this is a way of life.
The Israelis recently had an election in which they made a decision: they would rather live this way than give in to the Palestinians’ demands. They elected Ariel Sharon, an Israeli hawk, who vowed to take a tough line against the Intifada. The Palestinian response has been relentless: a vicious all-out war fought by suicide-bombers targeting civilians. Israelis voted for it, they knew what they were getting into, and they have steeled themselves to endure it. The question that poses itself almost automatically is: when did we vote for it?
“This is the second Pearl Harbor. I don’t think that I overstate it,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a major congressional war hawk. The reappearance of kamikaze planes diving into American targets just a few days after V-J ("Victory over Japan") Day should give us pause: the last time we faced down and beat such fanaticism was the occasion for a world war in which the entire nation was mobilized and militarized, and there was talk of canceling a presidential election. Are we willing to do that again? And here is a sobering thought .
The US mainland was completely unaffected by the last world war: millions were killed, but not on our shores. The closest they ever came was when the Japanese dropped some hot air balloons over the state of Washington. But not this time. In the age of globalization, a world war means that everybody’s back yard is a potential battlefield.
A common word we hear in foreign policy circles is "hegemonism." We stand at the apex of power, and the French have even invented a special term for the hubristic heights of the American Imperium: they call us the hyperpower. It was coined to describe a power outside human history, outside the ordinary rules and conditions attached to human existence, a power without parallel or precedent. We were all about actions, and not about consequences: unlike the empires of the past, America was thought to be exempt from any possible reaction to its imperial edicts. Now we know it isn’t true: too bad we had to learn the hard way.