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Why America's First Major Terrorist Attack is Forgotten, and what it Shows us

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The most vicious terrorist attack on America before 9/11 came in 1995--a huge blast that killed 168 Americans, injured 800 others, and damaged 300 buildings. It slaughtered and maimed more American children than 9/11. Yet it didn't produce a "war" on terrorism. No little nation was invaded and virtually destroyed. No religion or ethnic group was demonized. Our Constitution was not jettisoned.

The reason is simple. The perpetrator was a white, Catholic, Republican, American NRA member. None of his allegiances could be demonized. There was no pretext for going to war, or for throwing the Bill of Rights out the window. No white supremacists were rounded up and held for years without cause, without being charged, without a trial or access to a lawyer. No NRA members were sent to Syria to be tortured. No Catholics were automatically called terrorists. No Republicans were strip-searched at airports. Our American freedoms remained intact. Clinton did not become a dictator.

So what happened instead? The perpetrator, a white supremacist, neo-Nazi, gun fanatic, was discovered through conventional police work, arrested, tried--with all the rights denied to even the most unlikely and implausible Arab suspects--convicted by a jury and executed. End of case.

Nothing could make it clearer how phony the "war" on terror is. Terrorists, as I and many others have pointed out repeatedly, are not nations. The 9/11 terrorists did not come from, nor did they have anything to do with, Iraq. Bush relied on the ignorance and timidity of the American people to whip up war hysteria when there was no war, merely a crime, albeit a horrendous one. He used Goebbel's technique of the Big Lie to grab dictatorial power and abrogate much of the Constitution. His assumption of "war powers" has enabled him to stifle dissent, by intimidating and punishing loyal Americans who didn't fall for his propaganda.

Americans need to wake up to the fact that right-wing Republicans don't believe in democracy and never have. They have always admired military dictatorships and seem to be working hard to set up the equivalent here in the United States. Their goal is to create an authoritarian government, with control of the media and the judiciary; to weaken all restraints on executive power and eliminate democratic freedoms; to undermine the public education system through fiscal starvation and rote learning, so that the poor will learn only enough to follow orders; and to create the kind of economic inequality so many Third World countries enjoy--by filling the pockets of a tiny group of extremely rich individuals and impoverishing the rest, thereby providing a mass of cheap labor. This policy began under Ronald Reagan and has made huge leaps under the Bush regime. We don't have too much further to go to achieve this right-wing "ideal".

The "war" on terror was a pretext to help achieve this goal. By defining the crime of 9/11 as a 'war', and invading Iraq--though the perpetrators of that crime, and its leader, were all Saudis--Bush could dress up in an unearned uniform and declare himself a 'war president' with near-dictatorial powers, treating all who disagreed with him as enemies and traitors. As a 'wartime President', Bush has declared that our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, international treaties, and international law, don't apply to him.

If our country's increasing disaffection with this Pinochet wannabe reaches serious proportions what will he do? Declare martial law, like his South American idols? And will Americans lie down docilely, content with their TiVos and ipods?

One of the many ironies of modern American life is that our military establishment--never the first group that comes to mind when we think of democratic institutions--is so disgusted with the irrationality of the neo-cons that it may turn out to be our best protection against becoming a full-fledged dictatorship.