I’ve just been reading today’s New York Times article about the conviction of the New York City World Trade Center bombers. With it is a companion piece about the plot leader, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who hoped to kill 250,000 people when the towers collapsed onto the city below. Born in Kuwait to a Pakistani mother and Palestinian father, his life began as an allegory for the social displacements of the Middle East, and he grew up with anger towards the Israelis-and by extensions the Americans-who had forced his father from his homeland. Even so, Yousef came to school in the West, to Wales, where he studied engineering. But in 1989 he left it for another education, fueled by his anger and leading to the death of six in the heat and smoke of the massive underground explosion in downtown Manhattan.
Yousef traveled to Afghanistan to join the Mujahedeen rebels in their fight against Soviet occupiers, and there learned the guerrilla techniques he would later employ in New York. Who supported the Mujahedeen and paid for Yousef’s training in terrorism? The United States Central Intelligence Agency, who funneled the Afghan rebels millions of U.S. taxpayers dollars.
It would seem a simple case of U.S. militarism coming home to roost, but it is not so simple and it is not uncommon. Follow most trails of terrorism and you’ll find United States government funding somewhere in the recent past.
Timothy McVeigh was another angry young man, one who had to drop out of college, couldn’t find a steady job, and moved from trailer park to trailer park as an adult, wondering if the American Dream included him. He did what a lot of economically-disadvantaged young kids do, and enlisted in the U.S. Army (this has been described by some as “the poverty draft”).
In 1988, he met Michael Fortier and Terry Nichols at the U.S. Army base at Ft. Benning, Georgia (coincidentally home of the infamous School of the Americas). There he was taught how to turn his anger into killing and was quickly promoted, getting good reviews and being awarded with the Bronze Star and Combat Infantry Badge for his service in the Gulf War.
Later he came back to the U.S. with his Ft. Benning friends and turned his anger against the U.S. government. He used his military skills to build a bomb (allegedly with Nichols, now at trial, with the knowledge of Fortier, who turned state’s witness). On a spring day in 1995, he drove the bomb to Oklahoma City’s federal building and set it off, killing 168 people. McVeigh’s mother said, “It was like he traded one Army for another one.” (Washington Post, 7/2/95)
Another terrorist trained by the United States government.
But it doesn’t end there either. This same dynamic happens on the nation-state level as well. Today’s headlines also include stories about the standoff between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and United Nations arms inspectors, a situation which threatens to renew military fighting in the region. Who funded Hussein and gave him millions of dollars worth of weapons to fight the Iranians during the 80s? Why, it’s the U.S. government again.How come the United States is directly involved in training some of the biggest terrorists of the decade? Haven’t we learned that militarism only leads to more militarism? Would Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and Timothy McVeigh just be political unknowns if the United States hadn’t taught them to kill with their anger? Would Saddam Hussein be just another ex-dictator if the U.S. hadn’t funded his military during the 1980s?
We can never know these answers. But we can stop training the next generation of terrorists. Let’s stop funding war, let’s stop solving problems with guns and explosives. Let today’s angry twenty year olds cut people off in traffic and do no more. Let’s stop these undeclared wars.