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Symbols

by Eduardo Galeano  (October 2001)


Business. "This war will be long", announced the president of the planet. Bad news for the civilians who have died and will die. Good news for arms manufacturers, though.

The usefulness of going to war is irrelevant. What is relevant is the profitability of war. Since September 11 business has been in a steady boom for General Dynamics, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and other companies in the war industry. The market loves them.

Television rarely shows the victims. Like it did in the bombings of Iraq and Yugoslavia, TV is focused instead on showing the shopping cart of the latest models of weapons. In the world of the market, war isn't a tragedy-- it's an international trade fair. Arms manufacturers need war like coat manufacturers need winter.

Hollywood. Reality imitates film. Kids get missiles from the film 'Atlantis' in their McDonald's Happy Meals and it gets harder and harder to tell blood from ketchup.

The Pentagon has invited a number of screenwriters and special effects experts to help guess at new terrorist threats and ways of defending America. According to Variety magazine, one of these was the screenwriter of the action movie 'Die Hard'.

Wardrobe. In one of he most widely seen images, the Hard to Kill Osama bin Laden wears a turban over his head, but he's also sporting US-military issue gear and wearing a Timex Watch -- made in the USA.

He too is made in the USA, like the other Muslim fundamentalists the CIA recruited and armed and brought to Afghanistan from 40 countries to fight Communism there. When the US celebrated their victory in that war, the president of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, warned Bush Senior: 'You have created a Frankenstein's Monster'. Her warning was in vain.

Two weeks before the towers fell, the world economy was falling. The Economist suggested to its readers that they 'find a parachute'. In the event, those who didn't have a parachute had at least, a ready villain to strike at.

Panic. Humanity is feeling the symptoms of antrhax: headaches, skin rashes, shakes. We're all afraid to open our mail, and not because it's a huge elecricity bill or the letter that says 'we regret to inform you that we are forced to cut off your services...'

Ukraine's military was still in service when an SA-5 missile struck a passenger plane and killed 78 people. Was it a mistake or did those 'smart bombs' know that passenger planes can be weapons? Will smart bombs next be attacking post offices?

Weapons. A US aircraft carrier, the Nimitz, spent a day in Uruguayan waters. The visit worried me. In my neighbourhood there is a building that looks a lot like a mosque. With smart bombs, you never know.

Luckily, nothing happened. Well, almost nothing: some Uruguayan politicians were invited to visit the carrier, the floating city of death, and it almost killed them. The plane that took them there landed badly and ended up with a wing in the water.

Thanks to the visit, we learned that the carrier costs $4.5 billion dollars. According to UNICEF and other UN agencies, for the cost of three carriers like the Nimitz they could provide food and medicine for a year to every single hungry and sick child in the worldóchildren who are dying at a pace of 36 thousand a day.

Pitching in to the effort. It's not just Islamic terrorism that uses 'sleepers', but also state terrorism. One of the protagonists of Plan Condor in the years of South American military dictatorships, the Uruguayan colonel Manuel Cordero, has declared that the 'dirty war' is 'the only way' to fight terrorism, and that kidnappings, torture, assassination and disappearance are necessary. He has experience and is offering to pitch in to the effort.

The colonel says he listened to the speeches of President Bush and that he sees the speeches as the announcement of the Third World War. Unfortunately, he listened well.

Precedents. Like the colonel, the ambassador also has experience. John Negroponte, the US representative in the UN, threatens to take the war 'to other countries', and he knows what he's talking about.

A few years ago he took war to Central America. Negroponte was the patron of the terrorism of the Contras in Nicaragua and of the paramilitaries in Honduras. Reagan, the president at the time, said the same thing that today is said by Bush and his enemy bin Laden: it is all worth it.

Victims. This new waróis it against the Taliban dictatorship or the people who suffer it? How many civilians will die in the bombings?

Four Afghanis, who worked for the United Nations, were some of the first 'collateral damage' we received news of. All so symbolic: their work was deactivating landmines.

Afghanistan is the most mined country in the world. Under its earth are 10 million mines, ready to kill or mutilate whoever steps on them. Many were placed by the Russians, when they invaded. Many were placed against the Russians, by donation of the US, by the Mujahaddin.

Afghanistan has never accepted the international agreement prohibiting antipersonnel mines. Neither has the US. Today the caravans of refugees try to escape, by foot or by donkey, the missiles that are raining from the sky above and the mines that explode from the ground below.

Tears. Rigoberta Menchu, daughter of the Mayan people, a people of weavers, warns that we are poised 'with hope balancing on a needle.'

And that's how it is. On a needle. In the global insane asylum. Between a man who thinks he's Mohammad and another who thinks he's Buffalo Bill. Between the terrorism of attacks and the terrorism of war. Violence is unravelling us.


- La Jornada  (18 October 2001)
- translated by Justin Podur
- republished at Znet



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