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November 2001 (Volume 53, Number 6)

Notes from the Editors

MR is not a news magazine. As a monthly magazine with limited resources we are not able to keep up with headline events as they happen. Nor do we believe that this should be our role. Rather our job is to provide thoroughgoing critical analysis, which normally takes time. In the face of the events of September 11, however, we have put together this issue devoted to the terrorist attack and the war crisis in a state of great urgency; a task made more difficult by the fact that our New York location has meant that all of those who work at MR were personally affected somehow by the attack on the World Trade Center. The result of these efforts is before you. The purpose of this issue, we should add, is not so much to address the events of September 11 themselves, as to look at how the heavy hand of the U.S. imperial system is coming down in retaliation (U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan have just begun as we go to press), the need to prevent a global slaughter, and the long–term consequences.

The “Review of the Month” in this issue takes up the question of the propaganda of empire and war. An important instance of such propaganda was the code name “Infinite Justice” that the Pentagon originally gave to its war operation aimed at Afghanistan. This was “a phrase,” as Michael Valpy noted in Toronto’s Globe and Mail (September 20, 2001),

…carefully chosen by someone familiar with the rhetoric of conservative, evangelical, fire–and–brimstone Christianity. It is about heavy-duty retribution. Although the term does not appear in the Bible, it is a familiar one preachers use to talk about God collecting on the debt of original sin and punishing the fundamental wickedness of humanity. A Pentagon spokesman last night wouldn’t say why the code name was chosen….But a search of U.S. military operational names going back to the Second World War turns up nothing as remotely religious. The U.S. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, which says its purpose is “to equip Christians with good information on doctrine,” defines God’s “infinite justice” as His “terrible price” exacted for the reinstatement to sin-free purity of “all His created humanity.”

This recourse to the fundamentalist Christian doctrine of retribution was not lost on Islamic clerics who declared to the White House that “Infinite Justice” could only be dispensed by God not the U.S. military—and that the use of this term was therefore blasphemous to Muslims. The Pentagon quickly abandoned the name, which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in apparent confusion, said was thought up by “someone, somewhere,” and substituted “Enduring Freedom.”

Obviously this was more than a religious misunderstanding—or the careless mistake of some faceless Pentagon bureaucrat. From the beginning the Bush administration has openly sought to merge its war propaganda with the rhetoric of Christian retribution, despite its dependence on Islamic states for political and logistic support in its current war operation. Bush’s reference to the war on terrorism as a “crusade,” and his September 20 claim that “God is not neutral” in this war are of a piece with the original naming of the war operation. Notwithstanding their apparent confusion and embarrassment when questioned about the name first given to the current war operation, there is every reason to believe that the U.S. warlords were deliberately playing the music of the far right, with its bible toting Christian fundamentalism, in an attempt to heighten the general level of war hysteria. Moreover, the very idea of “Infinite Justice” was obviously designed to instill terror of the U.S. military in the minds of its intended victims, suggesting that the U.S. power to dispense justice by military means was the infinite power of God. The arrogance of power has seldom—if ever—been greater.

Many will have missed an Associated Press news dispatch regarding Cuba that came out shortly after the September 11 attacks—which was pushed to the back of most papers (if printed at all). After a tour of medical facilities on that island former U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders said (on September 12) that Cuba’s health care system was superior to that of the United States in keeping people healthy. “Cuba’s is better” at promoting a healthy life she remarked. “They work at keeping people healthy.” But the United States, Elders indicated, still had better health care for those who were sick. Part of the reason for this is that Cuba lacks crucial medicines and medical equipment due to the four–decade–long U.S. embargo.

2001, Volume 53, Issue 06 (November)
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