I have refrained from commenting on the Boston Marathon bombings or bombers until now. Too much gets said and speculated about too quickly in such cases. But one question, the same one that emerged after 9/11 (Why Do They Hate Us?), has continued in the days after the bombings, and today, something else was added in response. Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur in the UN Human Rights Council, with special responsibility for the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine, wrote a piece in Foreign Policy Journal that has elicited howls of protest—lambasting Falk for allegedly justifying the bombings, blaming Israel, and calling for him to be sacked (and drawn and quartered) for his words. I have tried several times to access Foreign Policy Journal today, but the site seems to be blocked (I wonder who might have done such a thing?). From reports, though, it appears that Falk said several things: first, that “the American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world.” And second, that “The United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks, and these may yet happen, especially if there is no disposition to rethink U.S. relations to others in the world, starting with the Middle East.” He also seems to have cited a PBS call-in program shortly after the bombing in which some callers said the United States was responsible for “officially-sanctioned torture,” while others implied that the attack was “retribution for torture inflicted by American security forces.” Falk quoted another caller as linking the Boston bombing to our drone attacks that have killed “women and children attending weddings and funerals in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Falk himself then allegedly noted that American politicians lack “the courage to connect some of these dots,” and urged that all of us should be meditating on W.H. Auden’s line from his poem, “September 1, 1939”: “Those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return.” He then made reference to “our geopolitical fantasy of global domination,” and predicted that more such attacks would follow from our policies:
“The war drums are beating at this moment in relation to both North Korea and Iran, and as long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment, those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy.”
Predictably, Susan Rice, America’s rather belligerent UN Ambassador, tweeted her outrage about Falk’s “highly offensive Boston comments,” saying it was time for him to go. Israeli publications and groups lit up the internet demanding Falk’s termination—not surprising since he’s been one of the few officials willing and able to call attention to Israel’s illegal policies and actions against the Palestinians.
The question is: What exactly has Falk said that is objectionable or untrue? Is it not the case that the United States has attacked both Iraq and Afghanistan (and, by proxy, Libya) in the past decade, and assassinated by drone countless Pakistanis, Yemenis, and others in Muslim countries without even a declaration of hostilities? Does it not continue to beat the drums of war against Iran, North Korea, and now Syria? And when it comes to Israel, was Falk not being exceedingly muted, even kind in his criticism by saying only that “Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment?” For the truth is that U.S. presidents and the U.S. Congress might almost be mistaken for members of the Israeli Knesset themselves, usually out-shouting Israeli politicians in their defense of Israel’s violations of international law and common decency—not to mention sending billions of dollars in aid and weapons each year to Israel, one of the world’s advanced economies, and blocking with its veto in the UN sanctions against Israeli violations voted by almost all other nations.
But even beyond that, Americans and American officials have expressed outrage over the Boston bombers’ vicious use of “pressure cooker bombs” that sent nails and ball bearings blasting into the bodies of innocent bystanders. And it is true: these were vicious little bombs designed to wound and maim the flesh of innocents. But has anyone thought to wonder where the bombers might have got the idea for what, in war, are called “cluster bombs?” Weren’t there reports testifying to Israel’s use of vicious little “dime” (dense, inert, metal explosives) bombs in its 2008 invasion of Gaza against a defenseless population? And what about the United States and its use of cluster bombs? Its refusal, even today, to outlaw the use of land mines?
As it happens, I’m even now reading Nick Turse’s detailed account of war crimes during the Vietnam War, Kill Anything That Moves (Holt: 2013). And what he says about America’s murderous policy against civilians in Vietnam (leaving out the horror of napalm and white phosphorus and the constant artillery and naval bombardments) is horrifying. It was, in fact, the American military that concluded, in the early 1950s, that it had to find weapons that, without alarming too much the conscience of the world (if the U.S. had used nuclear weapons, that is), would prove effective in guerilla war by maiming, not killing, the population in which guerilla warriors “swam.” So our war geniuses came up with cluster bombs—devilish little anti-personnel weapons that spread steel pellets far and wide, and that entered flesh in various parts of the body, thus causing doctors devilish amounts of time and trouble trying to locate and remove them. According to Turse, the the BLU-3 bomblet (the military gave these fiendish toys lovely little names like the “pineapple” or the “guava”) had 250 steel pellets spring-loaded into a small container. Dropped 1000 at a time from B-52 bombers flying high above the countryside, the pineapples burst open to blast 250,000 lethal ball bearings into heavily populated areas so that they could tear through the flesh of women and children and old people (the young men routinely fled from their villages because any man found in a village was automatically assumed to be a Vietcong.) Another type, the CBU-24, was packed with 640 to 670 separate BLU-26 bomblets, each one of those loaded with 300 steel pellets. This meant that just one "guava" could send 200,000 steel fragments shooting in all directions; while a single B-52 bomber could saturate an area of about a square mile with more than 7.5 million deadly pellets. From 1964 through 1971, according to Turse, the U.S. military ordered over 300 million pineapples and guavas—“nearly seven for each man, woman and child in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.”
Did we hear the howls of all the millions of Vietnamese children whose flesh was torn apart by these diabolical devices? Do we hear them today?
Ah no. The howls we hear are howls of outrage attacking a UN official named Falk who dared to draw attention to the savagery that we have unleashed, and that our proxy Israel has unleashed throughout the Middle East.
And the howls of those who keep asking: “Why? Why do they hate us?”