The Periphery

War and Peace

BEIJING - I was trying to clean up my USB drive last night, and I came across a powerpoint presentation about September 11th, 2001 that a co-worker gave me to use in class. I completely forgot about it. Being here in Beijing on the 10th anniversary, September 11th 2011, was not much different than July 4th, 2011 for me, another day on the calendar. For me September 11th, 2001 is the day my roommates went to donate blood, security guards asked for Ids to enter campus and LAX went silent, sans the blood plane at midnight. Several thousand people died that day, but in the days since, millions of people have died, both related, like the civilians and soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also unrelated, like those that die in car accidents and from cancer.

In the United States there are efforts to save lives, be it Ralph Nader and his campaign for seat belts or a doctor who ran for 24 hours to demonstrate cancer doesn’t sleep. As the late night press conference with President Obama on May 1st about Osama bin Laden showed, the military battles also do not sleep. But in general it seems there is much less effort to stop the deaths from military battles. I think in part this is why I have trouble with the recent blog posts and commentaries calling for us to forget September 11th, 2001 or rather to see it as just another day again (see America's 9/11 FetishForgetting 9/11). I already see it as just another day, but I’m not sure its how the pundits want me to see it.

My advisor and the editor of the blog Deliberately Considered, invited past bloggers including myself to share our thoughts about the celebrations after the killing of bin Laden. I was in Beijing, and I remember the text message in the morning, and the newspaper covers in the evening. I know that I no more would have celebrated or changed my daily step if I was in the United States than I did here in Beijing. For two perhaps simple reasons, one, our Nobel Peace Prize winning President once again used the practice of killing people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong, a wording death penalty opponents like to use, and the police presence was beefed up in following days.

The day I landed back in Beijing last month, a couple guys were watching what I would label a conspiracy video about September 11th, 2001 in the hostel I was staying at. The random exploding windows, the bomb materials found in the Trade Center wreckage and the fact that nothing survived from the plane crash in Pennsylvania are intriguing. If indeed terrorists did not have any link with the deaths on September 11th, 2001, than perhaps the narrative I tell myself about how September 11, 2001 was just another day is more flawed, but still with some merit.

The narrative I tell myself comes from trying to answer the simple question: why was the United States attacked? There are many explanations that center around the United States foreign policy or the fact that it is the largest economy in the world. I remember asking myself, well, why not Japan or Germany, the second and third largest economies? (Not that I condone violence in any way.) It's quite easy for me to accept that the attacks were related to our foreign policy and protection of national interests. National interests quite often meaning our economy.

In one move-on from September 11th blog by fellow Mantlest Ed Hancox, he reminds us that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were much more removed from Americans lives than World War II. I think it was Baudrillard, the social theorist who said that the first Iraq war did not exist either, because it also did not have any relationship to our lives. Yet, it is not only wars that have become removed from our lives since the 1940s but also economic activity. The United States has moved from a a Fordist economy of factories to a Post-Fordist economy of information where significant numbers of goods are produced outside the United States in periphery and semi-periphery countries. I love Immanuel Wallerstein and his world-systems theory construction of core, semi-periphery, and periphery countries. The iPhone is one example, designed in a core country (California), assembled in a semi-periphery country (China) and using materials extracted in a way we rather not know about in a periphery country (Demoractic Republic of Congo).

I brought this up to my language partner as I told her that I have stopped buying new computers and mobile phones as a means to reduce my environental impact on China. We might sometimes learn abou the conditions in a semi-periphery country like China where some manufacturing is done, but the periphery countries, the sources of raw materials and limited manufacturing, are more remote. For countries like the United States, one role of foreign policy is to secure and align access to resources in periphery countries to keep the economy going (in some ways it is similar to colonialism before it) that left much of the periphery world in political instability to this day. For many, these parts of the world are even more absent than contemporary war, unless a figure like bin Laden surfaces and reminds us of these places. The United States military killed the violent messenger, but his supporters continue to move. In earlier times it was Sudan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and now its Yemen.

The movement of bin Laden’s supporters mimics in some ways the movements around the world to keep the US economy moving. In my last post, All Tied Up, I wrote about how environmentalists have gone to China in part because they face obstacles at home, and sense there might be a greater flexibility to address environmental issues. Yet there is also an urgency of now as these activists know that the world cannot support a second country that uses resources in such a disporportiante manner as the United States.

The narrative I tell myself about why the September 11, 2001 attacks took place is quite likely flawed, but I figure there is some worth in continuing to try to ask these questions, and so I continue to ask questions everyday just as I would of on September 11, 2001. My concern, is that if we do successfully begin to see September 11th every year as just another day, we will stop asking why the attacks happened and why it is that as the US kills more people, the threat levels stay up and police numbers on the streets go up, not down.

Follow Chris on Twitter @enviroeberhardt

Osama bin Laden, US Foreign Policy