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The Spoils of War

Squall Online Webtorial  (September 2001)

The television camera's switched quickly between scenes. Three minutes silence in the House of Commons, three minutes silence in Parliament Square, three minutes silence at the BBC. MP's, pedestrians and television staff, stood stock still in remembrance. Then the picture flicked to the London Stock Exchange. Closest to the camera, a trader, standing like the others but with his head cocked at an odd angle. Remembering the dead? Praying for bereaved families? No. His head was skewed towards a computer monitor, his eyes fixed on the flickering financial information. Keen not to lose a single dollar for the dead.

Two days after the terrorist attack on the US, and shares in BAE Systems - the UK's largest arms manufacturer and the second biggest in the world - jumped 35 pence. They have risen further since. The Ryder Cup may have been postponed until next year but the brokers who populate the New York Stock Exchange - long associated with the image of rabid capitalism for their manic trading gestures - were hailed as heroes for struggling back to work within days of the tragedy.

Failure to get the US stock market up and running, opined the Financial Times, "would not only have handed the terrorists a victory, it would have been an unprecedented blow against the heart of global capitalism". A bronze statue of a business man with an open executive case survived the fall of the twin towers and was covered in flowers. Was it a shrine to the innocent lives lost...... or to capitalism? It is indicative of the hidden agenda's embroiled in the US response that the borders between human death and lost profits has been so grotesquely blurred.

There has been much talk about how anti-capitalist protestors should mind their p and q's at this time. Be careful not to make political points when the levels of grief are so high. However, the world's grief is being manipulated on a scale hitherto unseen in the west. A manipulation designed to align global sentiments in ways which have nothing to do with the loss of innocent lives. Abraham Lincoln, a man Bush's spin doctors have made every effort to compare the clown-president with, once said: "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment nothing can fail. Without it nothing can succeed." Were we not so misted with grief, we would surely be disgusted at the ways in which certain political forces have been so quick off the mark to make capital out of emotion.

In an act of gross opportunism, and protected by the smokescreen of national tragedy, global capitalism has accelerated its ambitions with an avalanche of proactive measures involving both governments and corporations. New surveillance powers in the US, carte blanche CIA assassinations without trial, new stricter immigration procedures and even stronger social control legislation under the guise of terrorism measures.

We have already forgotten that only last year we had the most draconian piece of terrorism legislation in UK history. And that political activists of all kinds were corralled in a catch-all definition of 'terrorism', which according to Louis J Freeh, director of the FBI, includes Reclaim the Streets and Carnival Against Capitalism. But now, apparently, there's room for more. Also last year we had the heavily draconian Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which allows the intelligence services to put a black box in the central servers of every Internet Service Provider in order to monitor our e-mails and web use at will. Now apparently that was not strict enough and more legislation is on the way.

Public opposition to these manoeuvres, already weakened by relentless media coverage of the pain and tears in the US, is eroded further by a hysterical panic over the potential for biological weapons and nuclear terrorism. More than one TV news has discussed whether we should all be buying gas masks. And yet these threats were always there. It is one of the reasons why a global agreement on preventing further development of biological weaponry was on the world's negotiating table. The US was the only major western power which refused to sign it. In the same way it had refused to sign the Kyoto agreement on climate change, or to ratify the international agreement preventing further development of nuclear weaponry.

It is sobering to remind ourselves that the terrorists who attacked the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre did so in a relatively focused way. If their intention had been to create mass wanton cataclysm, they would have dropped those passenger planes on the numerous radioactive waste dumps in the US. We'd have a different story on our hands were it so. And whilst international agreements on global warming and nuclear and biological proliferation languish without US support, George W Bush's Nuclear Missile Defence (NMD) programme - designed to protect just the US - has suddenly received the unconditional support of Tony Blair. Some of the bases required to operate the NMD system will be sited in the UK, inevitably rendering this country a target. Despite this, all attempts by members of the Labour Party to have NMD debated at this year's party conference (twenty motions were submitted) were scuppered when the issue was struck off the agenda as not of high enough priority. Megalomania is evidently contagious.

It is more than ironic that the biggest corporate beneficiary of the NMD will be Boeing, a corporation which has used the terrorist attacks on the US to excuse a massive downsizing programme. Did Boeing really lay off 30,000 staff within days of the terrorist attacks on the US BECAUSE of the terrorist attacks on the US? They'd obviously already done their homework as to who was expendable in order to be able to restructure on such massive scale. Likewise British Airways who announced 7000 immediate redundancies, again blamed on the terrorist attacks.

The recent bankruptcy of SwissAir amply illustrates the widespread corporate subterfuge. Their collapsed is not ascribed to the terrorist attacks but on bad business decisions in a saturated global airline market. All airline companies, with the exception of budget flight companies like EasyJet and Ryan Air, were suffering for similar reasons. Speaking to airport staff at Chicago's O'Hare airport in a style befitting a political rally, George W Bush pledged a staggering $15billion worth of US taxpayers money to the airline corporations. The US government have not been so quick to organise a redundancy package for the thousands of victims of the corporate downsizing. The corporations have won out both ways. European 'flag carriers' are angling for similar bail-out, suddenly the nanny state aint so bad. Normally when big corporations downsize they do so by staggering job losses over periods of time. However cloaked by a tragedy which temporarily protects them from public or regulatory criticism, they have seized the opportunity to carry out massive realignments of employment structure and conditions. The newly part-privatised UK National Air Traffic Services (NATS) immediately announced it is to cut support and management staff by 20 per cent. Forty six per cent of NATS was sold to a private sector consortium in July this year. The consortium had already announced planned cost cuts of 10 million in the first year and 50 million in the second year, and these would have entailed staggered redundancies. However, the whole programme has simply been accelerated with impunity. The consortium have also told the government that promises of private sector investment made in order to secure the deal in the first place cannot now be fulfilled because of the terrorist attacks. It is indicatively ironic that Britain's air traffic control system is about to lose so many staff at a time when public confidence in air travel is already so low.

Even the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, London seized on the cost cutting opportunities afforded by the terrorist attack. The cleaners and kitchen staff grafting away behind the scenes at one London's most exclusive hotels now get one egg instead of two. The Hotel argues that penny-pinching the employment conditions of menial staff is necessary to offset the expected decrease in US visitors to the hotel. It would be laughable were it not so grotesque.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, George W Bush suggested everyone should "take the kids to DisneyWorld in Florida" and carry on as normal. He asked investors and consumers to 'go buy US' in order to prevent economic rupture. And a large number of small investors and consumers heeded his edict and went out to 'buy buy buy'. SQUALL received reports from the US that people were buying hi-fi's, sofa's and kitchen units which they hadn't previously intended to purchase, just to play their part in maintaining levels of consumer spending. Even small investors, seduced away from their usual financial preoccupations by their patriotism, dabbled with stock purchases.

Of course the big investors, the kind who now populate the personally-richest government cabinet in US history, weren't so gullible. So the DOW Jones index fell by its biggest ever points drop in US history and millions of small investors got burned badly. In the week following the terrorist attacks, WalMart sold 450,000 Stars and Stripes flags. They were nearly all made in China. Meanwhile the McDonald's Corporation trucked in piles of burgers for New York fire-fighters working at the site of the former World Trade Centre, and then issued a press release trumpeting their generosity with the odious claim that they were "just doing what they always do. Helping their neighbours."

"Money is the lifeblood of terrorism," said George W Bush in explanation of the economic measures to be taken against terrorist bank accounts. Yet it is also obvious that money is the life blood of the United States. It pulses through its veins and preoccupies every facet of its social discourse, construct and foreign policy. Money is the national religion. Speaking in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, one US commentator on BBC Radio 5 had the questionable audacity to describe his country as one of the most religious in the world. "You cannot serve two masters," said Jesus. "You will love one and hate the other."

And yet as the Japanese philosopher, Sun Tzu, points out in "The Art of War", all warfare is based on deception, and rulers must cultivate the appearance of moral rightness in order to persuade their nations to fight. Hence like the phoney Pharisee in the New Testament of the Christian bible, there is much praying in public but much ungodly mischief behind the scenes.

Our exposure to the heart-rending grief suffered by those who lost members of their family in the terrorist attacks on the US cannot have failed to move us. The death of innocent people is wrong, whether the victims are Iraqi Kurds or American fire-fighters. But it is also vitally important to maintain a sense of awareness amidst the emotion. Only in this way will we ensure that in our hours of grief, we are not sold the world's most expensive funeral, by those who know an opportunity when they see one.

- from   (September 2001)

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revised 18 November 2005