Monday, May 14, 2007

Class of ’71 reads the news

In the late nineteen-sixties, there was an unpopular war being conducted by a corrupt president.

Opposition was so strong to the war, that colleges conducted moratoria and there were mass protest marches on Washington, D.C. Protest marches on campuses and elsewhere were common, too, and violence was not unheard of. Police rioted in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention, and in May of 1970, National Guard Troops shot and killed 4 protesters at Kent State University in Ohio.

I was a political science major at the State University of New York at Binghamton, which was also known as Harpur College. It was a very liberal campus in those days, and damn proud of it.

Yes, the hippie ethic was fully embraced. Drug use was common, although in those days hashish was more common than marijuana. (These drugs have the same active ingredient, and the same potential for abuse.)

Someone noticed that whenever there was a scheduled moratorium there seemed also to be a surfeit of opium-laced hash on campus. Hash came to the U.S. from the mid-East, mostly Lebanon. Opium came from the Far East. The theory at the time was that only the CIA had contacts in both areas and that only they were capable of importing sufficient amounts of opium-laced hashish to influence the market. The theorized motive was to make the campuses too stoned to protest. So widespread was acceptance of this conspiracy theory that the ethic of the time disapproved of getting high during a moratorium.

Was the CIA involved? I don’t know. What I do know is that distrust of the government was so strong, that a conspiracy theory like that was widely accepted, and belief in it shaped our actions.

Also in those days, there was a government agency called the ICC – the Interstate Commerce Commission. It was their duty to regulate, among other things, trucking and transportation on the interstate highway system.

In 1968, there was a moratorium scheduled and a march on Washington. Students from Harpur College had hired several buses to transport protesters to the nation’s capital. The night before the protest the ICC pulled the licenses of the bus companies. The plan backfired for the government. Before the ICC actions, there were several apathetic or apolitical students who had no intention of participating in the protest. Afterwards, nearly 100% of our college community traveled to Washington, where the protest devolved into a riot.

It is against this backdrop that I read today’s news. I am not a conspiracy nut, but I think that it is the duty of a citizen to maintain a healthy skepticism about anything that the government tells us. And the current administration has been so deceptive that skepticism serves us well.

Take today’s news. A Reuters headline tells us: “U.S. military believes al Qaeda has missing soldiers.” Oh, really?

The article begins by stating, “The U.S. military said on Monday it believed that three U.S. soldiers missing after an attack south of Baghdad on Saturday had been taken by al Qaeda or others associated with the militant group.” Now which is it—al Qaeda or others associated with it?

It’s not merely a rhetorical question, because a different group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The group, Islamic State of Iraq, is described by AP as “a coalition of eight insurgent groups, including al-Qaida in Iraq.” The same article informs us that, “Late last month, the group named a 10-member “Cabinet” complete with a “war minister,” an apparent attempt to present the Sunni coalition as an alternative to the U.S.-backed Shiite-led administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.”

Let’s accept for the moment that one of the eight insurgent organizations under the mantle of Islamic State of Iraq is an insurgent organization called “al Qaeda in Iraq.” What evidence is there that it was al Qaeda in Iraq that kidnapped our soldiers? If there were any at all, I would expect that the government and its stenographers would be less mealy-mouthed in its description of the perpetrators than “al Qaeda or others associated with the militant group.”

I want to know what is the relationship of al Qaeda in Iraq to the group of Saudis that attacked our country on September 11, 2001. Do they take their orders from Osama Bin Laden? Do they have ambitions beyond the establishment of a Sunni Islamic government in Iraq? How do we know?

We have a duty to be skeptical. The administration’s protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, it has conflated our mission against Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda with our war in Iraq at every turn.

If I distrust the latest pronouncements of the government, it’s only because I was paying attention in the ‘60s. I guess some good did come from putting down that hash pipe.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

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