Sunday, May 22, 2005



Litmus tests in politics have a bad reputation, but I'm going to propose one anyway because if we American radicals don't apply it to ourselves quickly we will surely self-destruct.

The 9/11 Litmus Test

Here is the 9/11 litmus test: "Was the 9/11 attack morally wrong or morally justifiable?

If we answer "morally justifiable" we fail the test; if we answer "morally wrong" we pass it. If we answer with "We need to understand why they hate us" then we haven't yet answered the question. If we believe 9/11 was an inside job (as I do) the litmus test still works. (God help us, however, if any of us think 9/11 was both an inside job and morally justifiable!)

Why is this litmus test so important? It's important because if one's political activity in any way reflects the logic that is implied by the premise that 9/11 was morally justifiable, then it will unavoidably do tremendous harm to the otherwise positive political activity of radicals, even sabotage it. I give an illustration of this below in the last section, but first we need to look closely at the pro-9/11 ideology that fails the litmus test.

Nearly the entire American population believes the 9/11 attack was morally wrong, from those who oppose to those who support U.S. foreign policy and its numerous wars.

But there are some, who call themselves radical or anti-imperialist or anti-colonialist, who believe the 9/11 attack was morally justifiable.[1] I'll call them "pro-9/11ers." Those with this view argue (privately, of course) that the crimes of the U.S. government make ordinary Americans legitimate targets for reprisals by the victims of U.S. imperialism around the world. They defend this view with comments like, "How many millions did the U.S. kill in Vietnam alone? How can you compare that to the mere 3,000 killed on 9/11?" Or, "North Americans of European descent are the guilty inheritors of a genocidal project against native Americans." Or, "North Americans are colonial settlers who have no right to live on stolen land." Or, "Working class, shmorking class, most Americans benefit from U.S. imperialism and fight to maintain it. They deserved 9/11."

Hysterical Liberalism

This pro-9/11 view is hysterical liberalism.

It is liberalism because it is based on the same capitalist view of society that the most mainstream liberal politicians advocate, namely the idea that society consists of competing interest groups based on race, gender, ethnicity, nation or individual against individual. This is the premise of capitalism. Liberal politicians implicitly push this view every time they call for making our society "a level playing field" to make the competition "fair." Liberalism denies the truth, that ordinary people, no matter what their race or gender or nationality or religion or ethnicity, have far more in common with each other than with their own elites; they share a working class culture that values equality and solidarity and democracy in contrast to the elite culture that values competition and inequality to pit people against each other so elites can rule undemocratically.

This class conflict in values is why elites can't ever tell the truth about their wars. For example, if Bush told Americans his true imperialistic reasons (oil? Israeli expansion? Orwellian social control?) for waging war, most Americans would say "Hell no!" But according to the pro-9/11ers' liberal outlook, Americans are a bunch of selfish imperialists; Bush should have just come right out and said, "We're going to plunder Iraq's oil so we can have cheap gas for our SUVs" and he would have gotten enormous public support. Obviously Bush knows something about Americans that the pro-9/11ers haven't grasped. He knows that they approach these kinds of questions by trying to figure out what is morally right. Americans believe self defense is morally right, so Bush screamed about WMD. Americans believe democracy and freedom are good things, so he gives us a war for "freedom and democracy" to "liberate Iraqis from tyranny." Americans believe in coming to the aid of the underdog so Bush (and the U.S. ruling class) make sure Americans think of Israel as the haven for victims of the Holocaust.

But the pro-9/11ers don't believe there is a class conflict over the values that should shape society. They believe that ordinary Americans share the same values of racism, inequality and dog-eat-dog competition as the American ruling class. They see the great divide in the world as being between those who are not descended from Europeans versus those who are. They prefer to use non-class, even racial terms, to describe conflict in the world: "people of color" versus "whites" or indigenous versus settler. In this absolutely liberal view, the working class Britons who in the 1600s and 1700s were forcibly brought to North America against their will in chains (typically, a man who got drunk in an English pub would be "spirited away" to wake up the next morning in the hold of a ship bound for the New World), sold as virtual slaves and even prohibited from marrying (we're talking about a number probably greater than the number of Africans brought to the Colonies as slaves, by the way) were all a bunch of racist "European colonizers." In this distorted view, working class Britons in the Colonies had "interests" aligned with the wealthy Britons who virtually owned them, and their "interests" conflicted with enslaved Africans and native Americans being driven off of their land.

In the mythological world of the pro-9/11ers' mental universe, when working class Europeans found themselves in the New World they just naturally set to work exterminating the indigenous population. After all, what else can you expect of the racist European riff raff? But a very different picture emerges when one looks more closely at that period, particularly when one looks at what ordinary Europeans did when left to themselves and not strictly controlled by ruling class Europeans:

"Probably the earliest group of English to have simply melted into a native society were the inhabitants of Raleigh's 'lost colony' of Roanoak in 1590. A century later, there were literally thousands of 'white Indians'--mostly English and French, but Swedes, Scots, Irish, Dutch and others as well--who, diseased with aspects of their own cultures, had either married into, been adopted by, or petitioned for naturalization as member/citizens of indigenous nations. By then, the phenomenon had become pronounced enough that it had long-since precipitated a crisis among the Puritans of Plymouth Colony and figured in their waging of a war of extermination against the Pequots in 1637.

"The attraction of 'going native' remained so strong, and the willingness of indigenous peoples to accept Europeans into their societies so apparent, that it prevailed even among those captured in Indian/white warfare. During the 1770s, George Croghan and Guy Johnson, both acknowledged authorities on the native peoples of the mid-Atlantic region, estimated that the great bulk of the several hundred English prisoners of all ages and both genders taken by the Indians had been adopted by them rather than being put to death.

"The literature of the period is literally filled with observations. Virginia's Lieutenant Governor Francis Fauquier, for example, noted that whites 'recovered' from Indians had to be 'closely watched [lest] they will certainly return to the Barbarians.' Colonel Henry Bouquet, who headed a 1764 expedition to take charge of 'captives' returned under terms of a treaty with England by the Shawnees, Miamis and other peoples of the Ohio River Valley, issued orders that 'they are to be closely watched and well Secured [as] most of them, particularly those who have been a long time among the Indians, will take the first Opportunity to run away.' The Reverend William Smith, chaplain and chronicler of Bouquet's foray, noted that most younger whites seemed to view their 'liberators' as captors and 'parted from the savages with tears.'" [2]

The pro-9/11ers' contemptuous understanding of working class Americans of European descent is wrong because the racial categories, like "European colonists," which they use to understand history cannot make sense of it. Let's look at some examples of this.

When white working class Americans rose up in rebellions against the new American ruling class soon after the American revolution (for example the famous Shay's rebellion, a six month long armed uprising of 2000 small farmers in western Massachusetts in 1786-7 and the Whiskey rebellion of farmers in western Pennsylvania in 1794 which forced George Washington to mobilize an army of 13,000 troops to suppress) they were fighting for equality versus privilege, and for real democracy versus the fake kind. But according to the pro-9/11ers, the right way to characterize these rebels is simply as "European colonizers" who were "carrying out a genocidal project."

Despite the fact that descendants of these white and supposedly racist-to-the-core European working class "colonizers" joined with blacks to create the Southern Tenant Farmers Union [3] in Arkansas in 1934, despite the fact that they refused to yield to Klan pressure to keep their union separate from black tenant farmers, and despite the fact that they joined with blacks to stage mass strikes against the big landowners all across the Jim Crow south for better wages and working conditions, despite all of this the pro-9/11 reasoning says, "So what, they were still just a bunch of racist European colonizers."

The pro-9/11ers lump the working class descendants of Europeans in America together with America's ruling class and say they all share the same evil values and interests. They talk about the genocide that America's rulers committed against the native Americans as if the genocidal U.S. Cavalry was the pure expression of the values of ordinary people of European descent. But real historical events don't support this wrong notion. Here is how "European colonists" demonstrated their "common interest" with America's rulers in the 1920s and 30s, and how they ended up being attacked by the modern equivalent of that very same U.S. Cavalry.

In May 1920 a coal strike in Matewan, West Virginia spread throughout the state leading to a three hour gun battle between strikers and guards brought in "to prevent infiltration of union men." The strike continued to August 1921 when the workers decided to use force to get through the guards, deputies and troopers who were preventing them from entering and spreading the strike to other counties. The workers formed a "citizens army" march of 4,000 led by war veterans, accompanied by nurses in uniform, and armed with every weapon they could obtain, and they battled deputies defending the non-union counties. President Warren G. Harding sent "2,100 troops of the 19th Infantry, together with machine guns and airplanes," to defeat the "citizens army." The airplanes were armed with gas bombs and machine guns, and although the strikers backed down before the planes were used, the federal government was forced to reveal to these West Virginia coal miners that, if necessary for the protection of capitalist power, it would bomb American citizens just as it had bombed foreigners in the First World War (and as it would bomb civilians on an unimaginable scale in a future World War.)

On July 28, 1932 in the nation's capital, twenty thousand veterans of WWI, many unemployed and homeless, camped out in the Capital to demand payment of bonuses they had been promised. On that day, the future military "heroes" of WWII made their debut in history. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, with Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower and one of his officers, George S. Patton Jr., following orders from Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley, led four troops of cavalry, four companies of infantry, a mounted machine gun squadron and six whippet tanks, lined up on Pennsylvania Avenue near 12th Street in Washington DC, in an attack on thousands of Americans who had become known as "Bonus Marchers." Veterans who raised their arms against soldiers on horseback had their arms cut by sabers. Others were hit by the flat of the sword. In some instances ears were cut off. Two were killed and many wounded. As horses pounded toward the veterans, reporters at the White House were told the Secret Service had learned that those resisting eviction were "entirely of the Communist element." "Thank God," said President Herbert Hoover, "we still have a government that knows how to deal with a mob."

When a longshoremen's strike in 1934 led to a general strike in San Francisco of 130,000 workers, which spread to Oakland and then up the Pacific Coast, the Los Angeles Times wrote: "The situation in San Francisco is not correctly described by the phrase 'general strike.' What is actually in progress there is an insurrection, a Communist-inspired and led revolt against organized government. There is but one thing to be done -- put down the revolt with any force necessary." FDR's National Recovery Administration chief, General Hugh S. Johnson, went to San Francisco and declared the general strike a "menace to the government" and a "civil war."

In the same year 325,000 textile workers, many of them women, used "flying squadrons" to spread their strike throughout the South from mill to mill, often battling guards, entering the mills, unbelting machinery and fighting non-strikers. So alarmed was The New York Times that it warned, "The grave danger of the situation is that it will get completely out of the hands of the leaders...The growing mass character of the picketing operations is rapidly assuming the appearance of military efficiency and precision and is something entirely new in the history of American labor struggles. Observers...declared that if the mass drive continued to gain momentum at the speed at which it was moving today, it will be well nigh impossible to stop it without a similarly organized opposition with all the implications such an attempt would entail." Declaring martial law, South Carolina's governor said that a "state of insurrection" existed. When the strike spread to New England, Governor Green, of Rhode Island, declared that, "there is a Communist uprising and not a textile strike in Rhode Island," and then declared a state of insurrection. Georgia Governor Eugene Talmadge declared martial law. National Guardsmen began mass arrests of flying squadrons and held them without charge in a concentration camp where Germans had been held during WWI..." By September 19 the death toll in the South had reached thirteen." [4]

Unruly "European colonists" frightened the real rulers of America so much that the real rulers instigated a war with Japan in order to be able to control militant workers by charging them with being unpatriotic during a war with a foreign enemy.

The descendants of these white European working class "colonizers" who today are working longer hours for less pay and seeing their health benefits and pensions vanish, are, by the bizarre pro-9/11ers' reasoning, legitimate targets of 9/11-style terrorism. (Oh, excuse me, I said the word "terrorism." The pro-9/11ers don't like to use that word to describe the 9/11 attack because it is such a derogatory word. Too bad, the word fits perfectly. It means simply violence against civilians intended to scare the hell out of them for some political purpose.)

North American European settlers, "inheritors of a genocidal project," deserved 9/11, say the pro-9/11ers, because they want to exploit and plunder the rest of the world's population. How, then, can pro-9/11ers explain the following poll result?

An opinion poll conducted by the University of Maryland Program on International Policy Attitudes, and reported in the Chicago Tribune February 6, 2001, showed that 83% of Americans polled favored the United States joining an international program to cut world hunger in half and 75% said they would be willing to pay extra taxes to achieve this. Americans favor foreign aid for humanitarian reasons: 81% wanted either to maintain or increase aid to Africa, 77% wanted to reduce hunger and disease in poor countries, 76% to pay for child survival programs, 65% to fund the Peace Corps, and 61% to help women and girls in poor countries. In contrast, only 27% backed aid to Israel and Egypt and only 27% backed military aid in general. (Israel and Egypt each currently receive more US aid than any other countries.)

One striking fact about these numbers is that, when asked how much of the federal budget actually did go to foreign aid, half of those polled guessed it was more than 10%, when in fact it is only 1%. Also, 81% favored channeling aid through private charitable organizations or other direct means rather than through governments, apparently, according to the Tribune, "because they believe corrupt officials steal most of the money."

The pro-9/11ers' outlook, in which ordinary Americans are legitimate targets of terrorist violence because they are no different than their truly criminal rulers, is thus nothing but regurgitated capitalist, elitist, racist liberalism.

But it isn't just liberalism; it's hysterical liberalism. In its hysteria it is so disoriented and divorced from reality that it leads to actions which impede rather than advance its supposed aims. Thus, if the pro-9/11ers were not suffering from hysteria they would perceive that the only way to stop the American ruling class from committing its crimes is to organize a popular, mass movement with the revolutionary aims of not only stopping those crimes temporarily, but of removing from power the elite class that commits the crimes, and making a truly democratic and equal society shaped by the values of the vast majority of Americans and others all over the world. Hysterically supporting 9/11-style terrorist violence against ordinary Americans because one is out-of-control furious at U.S. rulers makes it impossible, obviously, to organize a popular mass movement, not only because virtually all Americans naturally disagree with this immoral stance but because most people around the world do too.

The problem with the pro-9/11ers isn't that they endorse violence. A popular mass movement very likely will need to use violence to win or to hold onto its victory. The question isn't violence, but violence against whom? When pro-9/11ers go through the motions of organizing a mass movement (by writing articles for a mass audience, showing films, holding demonstrations, waging campaigns for divestment from Israel, or whatever) they don't really expect or intend to persuade large numbers of people to go along with their (usually secretly held) pro-9/11 world view; their actual aim is to find and recruit other nuts who, like themselves, either because of guilt or elitism, are contemptuous of their fellow Americans.

But after the nuts have all been gathered up, what next? Well, the logic of the pro-9/11ers is obvious -- create more 9/11s. Call it "resistance." Go underground. Make and explode bombs to scare the hell out of Americans. This is of course exactly what the 1960s version of the pro-9/11ers did -- the "Weathermen" with their "Weather Underground." What an absolute gift the Weathermen were to LBJ and Nixon who were desperately trying to convince the American public that the only people who opposed the Vietnam War were nuts who hated ordinary Americans. What a stab in the back of the anti-war movement it was every time these so-called "radicals" exploded a bomb and their followers used the "Amerikkka" spelling to make white Americans believe they were viewed as the enemy by the entire anti-war movement. No wonder the mass media played the Weathermen up so much. The Weathermen were hysterical and delusional. They thought they were a threat to the American ruling class. But by rejecting the strategy of relying on ordinary Americans, they became objectively allies of America's rulers. We radicals today need a modern version of the Weathermen like we need a hole in the head!

Publicly Break With Pro-9/11 Hysterical Liberalism

Most radicals are not pro-911ers. But unless we make a clean and public break with the pro-9/11ers' ideology of hysterical liberalism we will be in danger of following their dangerous logic. They claim to be the "true" radicals and they try to guilt-trip the rest of us into adopting their crazy outlook. If we don't explicitly reject their logic, it's easy to be swept along by it, especially if one feels at all guilty for being better off than others who suffer even more at the hands of our rulers. (The pro-9/11ers, by the way, wouldn't express it this way; instead they would say that white Americans have a "white skin privilege" and actually benefit from living in our anti-democratic plutocracy! Guilt tripping is their stock in trade.)

If we yield to pro-9/11er logic, we're doomed. We will never build a mass democratic movement capable of winning anything. The pro-9/11ers undermine the very idea of building a democratic movement. For a movement to be democratic its leaders must have no hidden agenda and be open and honest about their goals and beliefs. Pro-9/11ers on the contrary do have a hidden agenda -- they support 9/11-style terror attacks on Americans. They cannot possibly be open and honest about this with the American public. They refuse to disclose their beliefs to the public. Worse, they want the rest of us to cover up for them, too! This is the opposite of building a democratic movement.

How pro-9/11 Hysterical Liberalism Sabotages Anti-Zionist Organizing in the U.S.

Lastly, the pro-9/11ers not only support 9/11-style terror against ordinary Americans; they also support that kind of terror (i.e. the suicide bombings) against ordinary people in Palestine/Israel who are not indigenous, based on the same wrong-headed ideology. The pro-9/11ers view ordinary Israelis through the same wrong lens through which they view ordinary Americans -- as people having the same values and interests as their ruling elite. Just as they make no distinction between ordinary Americans and U.S. rulers, pro-9/11ers make no distinction between ordinary Israelis and the Israeli rulers.

The Weathermen gave LBJ and Nixon a golden political gift, and likewise the suicide bombings give Zionist leaders like Sharon an equally golden gift -- the opportunity to pose as the protectors of Israelis against Palestinians aiming to kill any and all Israeli civilians. Zionist leaders love the way suicide bombings enable them to manipulate Israelis (and Americans) to fear Arabs, just as they love the way Hitler's Nazis made it possible for them to manipulate Jews to fear all Gentiles, and they love the way Stalin made it possible for them to manipulate Jews to think all talk of "equality and solidarity" is deceitful. Instead of being critical of the suicide bombings, however, the pro-9/11ers use the fact that many Israelis fear Arabs as an excuse for endorsing the suicide bombings. Thus they point to the anti-Arab racist views of many ordinary Israelis as if such views were innate to Europeans and immutable (the flip side of the Zionist lie that all Gentiles are innately and permanently anti-Semitic.) Pro-9/11ers fail to appreciate that populations of millions of people who have been won to racist views by lies and fears orchestrated by ruling elites do not like being lied to and made fearful, and can become allies with us against their ruling elites if we don't fall for the trap of helping their elites keep them under control. Were this not true, it would be impossible to explain how Jim Crow and other forms of racial discrimination in the United States which were once accepted as normal by many whites came to be seen by them as morally wrong.

If Martin Luther King, Jr., however, had advocated terror killings of random whites, of course, none of this progress would have happened. Even Malcolm X, for all his justified disagreements with King about non-violence, appreciated the wisdom of trying to win over whites; he spoke to an assembly of my college class (almost entirely white) just a few months before his death and the speech was memorable for the respectful and persuasive tone with which he addressed us, and the way he appealed to us on the basis of our sense of right and wrong. Sure, he advocated the right of blacks to meet violence with violence, and he was right on that score. But he wasn't crazy like the pro-9/11ers who are completely wrong about people. According to their ideas of innate and immutable racism, white Americans always have and always will want to kill native Americans and support Jim Crow, and ordinary Israeli Jews will always hate Palestinians. That is why pro-9/11ers frame the conflict in Palestine/Israel as an ethnic/racial war, and why they define resistance to Zionist oppression to mean waging a war against all people in Palestine/Israel who are not indigenous.

This is hysterical liberalism again. It can only lead to a future of perpetual ethnic war which will continue to strengthen the power of the anti-democratic elites (like Sharon and the Arab dictators) who use this war to control "their own" people. It can never lead to the kind of popular mass movement in the Middle East or the United States which, alone, has any chance of defeating the Israeli and American elites or of abolishing elite rule and creating of a society based on equality and solidarity and democracy across all racial and ethnic lines.

For radicals in the United States trying to build public opposition to U.S. support for Israel, the need for a democratic movement is crucial because Americans, to their credit, will not respect, never mind be persuaded by, people whom they perceive to be anti-democratic. The minimal requirement for a movement to be democratic is that its leaders are open and candid about their agenda, especially about key questions like who they believe is the enemy. But, since most Americans (again, to their credit) think the suicide bombing of random Israelis at bus stops and restaurants etc. is wrong, radicals who think the bombings are justified cannot be candid about their beliefs and thus cannot build a democratic movement among Americans against our government's support for Israel.

Any anti-Zionist organization that tries to accommodate pro-9/11 or pro-suicide bombing views can only end up committing political suicide by its failure to assure the public that it doesn't support terrorism. Pro-Israel forces tell Americans that the only realistic choices are either supporting Israel or supporting the suicide bombers. They use the suicide bombers as their chief argument. Failure to respond convincingly to the Zionist accusation that anti-Israel equals pro-terrorist cripples any anti-Zionist organization in the U.S. The natural, direct and persuasive response to this accusation is to say something like this: "The suicide bombings are wrong because it is wrong to kill civilians for the crimes of their government; but it is also wrong to use the suicide bombings as an excuse to support apartheid Israel, just as it would have been wrong in 1831 for people to have used the fact that Nat Turner's slave rebellion killed innocent white children as an excuse for supporting slavery." Failure to make such a reply or claiming to have no position on suicide bombings pro or con, can only make the public conclude that the organization must be sympathetic to terrorism because otherwise why doesn't it just come out and say it is not.

But until radicals thoroughly reject the pro-9/11ers' ideology, we cannot give this direct, honest and compelling answer to the Zionist accusation that we are pro-terrorist. The reason is that the pro-9/11ers don't agree that the suicide bombings are wrong and by their logic anyone who publicly says the bombings are wrong is giving aid and comfort to the enemy. The pro-9/11ers of course cannot admit publicly what they really believe without discrediting themselves and all who are associated with them, so they typically refuse to give a direct answer publicly when questioned about suicide bombings, and they insist that nobody else give a compelling answer (like the one illustrated above) either. Pro-9/11ers thus help the pro-Israel propagandists just as the 1960s Weathermen helped LBJ and Nixon. We can either let the pro-9/11ers guilt trip us into accommodating their views and thereby let the pro-Israel propaganda succeed in painting us as terrorists and isolating us from public support, or we can reject the crazy logic of terrorism and build a democratic and mass movement against our government's support of Israel. Either we fight to win, or we shoot ourselves in the foot. The choice is ours.

The pro-9/11 outlook is an albatross hanging around the necks of genuine radicals. We need to discard this poisonous ideology and, when possible, persuade its misguided adherents to reject it because it is morally repugnant and, for that very reason, politically counter-productive in the extreme -- in fact suicidal.


1. For example, see the email exchange between me and "Mark" at in which we did not discuss 9/11 per se but we did discuss the parallel question of how anti-Zionists should respond to the Palestinian suicide bombings. Mark simply refuses to say anything critical about the killing of random unarmed Israeli civilians, despite my painstaking arguments against all of his excuses.
Ward Churchill,
3. see 4. from The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda in World War II, by John Spritzler, which cites quotations from Strike! by Jeremy Brecher

[This article is posted at ]


At 10:46 PM, February 23, 2011, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for this tips


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