For most, the college campus is a place where free thought, dialogue, inquiry, and a diversity of worldviews are supposed to thrive. Yet sometimes more deeply ingrained cultural phenomena, particularly those associated with unaccountable power, do much to undermine this stated ideal. This morning, before my geology class, I picked up the September 8th issue of Georgia Southern University’s student newspaper, the George-Anne. This issue, bearing the bold headline “A decade of remembrance” was published to commemorate the thousands of people who perished during the attacks on September 11th 2001.
While the ostensible purpose of this issue was to remember the carnage of that day, the deluge of apologetics for military aggression, imperial arrogance, and lawlessness on the many pages of this newspaper are instructive in learning what kind of culture we all inhabit. Featuring articles from September 12, 2001 the George-Anne quotes former GSU president Bruce Grube responding to the attacks by saying “it’s unimaginable that a human being could do this to others” and that if students in the military reserves be called up for active duty he would lend them his “full support.”
This was less than 24 hours after the twin towers collapsed, before the 911 commission report was published, before Colin Powell’s criminal testimony before the UN, before George W. Bush’s lies about WMDs was concocted, and here is the president of a major university publicly endorsing the “supreme crime” of aggression or international terrorism in lay terms. And this backing of international lawlessness extends beyond the former University president, as it also manifests itself in the writing staff of the college publication. On page 4, in a section titled “Our View”, the George Anne staff comments “Obama announced May 1, 2011 that the fight against terror had claimed a huge victory by killing Bin Laden” and “the pride and excitement that was felt at that announcement should be refreshed every year for the anniversary of Sept. 11.” Unquestioned is the assumption that our military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan constitute a “fight against terror”. Immaterial are the thousands of dead Pashtun farmers in Pakistan murdered by our predator drones, a weapon so renowned that it earns advertisement space in our movie theaters and warrants cowardly dinner party jokes from our “commander in chief.” Apparently, the writers of the George Anne expect college students to take pride in the fact that our contempt for international law is “refreshed”, according to Wall Street Journal writer and notorious war-criminal John Yoo, “every night of the week.”
And there is ample evidence that our extrajudicial assassination of Osama Bin Laden was a flagrant violation of international law. Evidence of this mafia complex among the powerful can be verified by a 1998 report from the UN Special Rapporteur on arbitrary executions. In explicit language the report states “extrajudicial executions can never be justified under any circumstances, not even in time of war.” In a genuinely democratic educational system irresponsible statements of the kind published in the George Anne would not go unchecked.
It’s also important to note that this principled rejection of elementary notions of law and order is accompanied by an intensely deferential belief in the purity and goodness of empire. This disturbing fact is revealed in the George-Anne’s republication of the September 12th 2001 edition of “Our View” in which they uncritically state that “America is a nation of laws, a nation of justice for all” and the attacks of 9/11 should remind us of the “’beacon of freedom and opportunity’ that we are.” How the law professors at GSU weren’t flooding the editor’s office with letters of complaint is a graphic reflection not only of the depth of imperial culture but how even its most egregious incarnations are generally accepted, among the educated and uneducated alike.
But these lofty words of praise for the global hegemon pale in comparison with an article written by the George Anne’s editor in chief, Justin Johnson, on September 12th 2001. Consistent with today’s commentary, he states that “our nation was the victim of the most horrible terrorist attack in the history of the world” and “if people think that they can take our freedom away from us, they have another thing coming.” Unfortunately, “they” in Iraq and Afghanistan did have “another thing coming” in the form of torture prisons, kill squads, decimated infrastructure, and a mass population of orphans (in April of 2008 UNICEF estimated the amount of Afghan orphans at 1.6 million children.) Indeed, those children had “another thing coming.” Furthermore, Johnson obviously was not a history major because if he was he surely would have known that 9/11 2001 was not the most “horrible terrorist attack in the history of the world.” Did he forget about the other September 11 in 1973 , the CIA’s overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected president Salvador Allende, and the bombing of the La Moneda presidential palace? And this act of terrorism continued uninterrupted under the US-backed Pinochet dictatorship that plunged the nation into a pool of blood. If Mr. Johnson subscribes to baseline moral notions of universality, the dictum from Matthew 7:12 that “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you”, he would understand that we should also have “another thing coming.” Meanwhile, parts of the student body sang along to Johnson’s imperial chorus. Take for example former GSU student, Matt Nowell, venomously remarking that he “think it’s bin Laden” who carried out the attacks and “we need to send in the Rangers and have his skin on the wall the next day.”
I could go on for hours about these bloodless pages of sincere propaganda but I think it’s important to note that the worldview reinforced by the George-Anne did not originate on a college campus or even in the editor’s office. I want to avoid the Ayn Rand maxim of decrying the savage “barbarism” of college students without ideology or respect for “reason”. Because the students of America do have an ideology and they also have reasons for these ideologies. Unfortunately, this ideology is overwhelmingly shaped by state-corporate media like CNN, Fox, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (a publication that the GSU’s business department has in ample supply.) It has much to do with an academic culture that discourages students from challenging their professors, a culture that encourages docile, obedient scholarship careful not to raise uncomfortable or “political” questions. This essay was written to illustrate that there are larger, systemic forces at work that are undermining the emancipatory potential that centers of learning should have in societies that truly value the rule of law. It is only my ardent hope that the next “decade of remembrance” is not, like this one, built upon the shattered ruins of the Afghan, Iraqi, and Pakistani people who have been forgotten.References: “ZCommunications | The Targeted Assassination of Osama Bin Laden by Marjorie Cohn | ZNet Article.” Z Communications. Web. 08 Sept. 2011. http://www.zcommunications.org/the-targeted-assassination-of-osama-bin-laden-by-marjorie-cohn. “Afghanistan’s Orphans. Nafas Art Magazine.” Universes in Universe – Welten Der Kunst. Web. 08 Sept. 2011. http://universes-in-universe.org/eng/nafas/articles/2008/afghanistans_orphans.