§1 On September 11, 2001, for my junior Plan II seminar on Stories of War and Violence, I had visiting me in Austin a noted oral historian, the late Joan Morrison, whose oral history of the 1960’s, From Camelot to Kent State, had just been reissued by Oxford University Press. There was supposed to be a book signing that evening in the UT Coop on Guadalupe just west of the UT Tower and Student Union. Despite the events of the day, we showed up at 7 PM for the book signing, but no one except the Coop employee charged with organizing book signings did. I remember talking with Joan. We both knew to expect the worst. And, looking back nineteen years, I can say now we got something close to that.
§2 Our memorial to the 100th birthday of John Chadwick contained a letter that Chadwick (December 23, 1973) had written to Emmett Bennett during the period when the Greek military junta was in power and would eventually employ a tank against student demonstrators at the Polytekkneion in Athens. Chadwick, unfathomably to me, although I admit to finding certain forms of British rhetorical stances not to my liking, complained that “the student riots followed by a coup” had “curtailed his lectures” and were “a distinct bore.” Be that as it may, Chadwick and Bennett had served in code-breaking operations during WWII. Michael Ventris served as a bomber navigator—anyone flying missions over Europe had a 50-50 chance of surviving. One revered professor who taught me Thucydides twice, ancient historian N.G.L. Hammond, told us stories of times he was with the various partisan factions in northern and northwestern Greece during the Nazi occupation. Dangers and brushes with death were routine. Noted Aegean prehistorian Spyros Iakovidis once reminisced with me about the joyous celebrations he was part of when his partisan forces joined in the liberation of Ioannina. All these men knew what war truly was and acted honorably and bravely in defense of what we consider western freedoms.
§3 What we were called on to do around 9-11 was trivial by comparison. I felt an obligation somehow to maintain an informed, historically based, but nonetheless passionate, commitment to argue against the desire for vengeance that would lead to deploying US military might against poorly chosen targets and lead to a senseless loss of lives, a waste of resources that could be used to better humanity, not debase it, and destabilize a region whose problems seem quite beyond solution at least by our historically and culturally ignorant leadership at the time. I also felt that the small part of the American public that I could reach needed to know that we had not been the nice guys or champions of democratic principles and the spirit of freedom in our foreign policy 1947 onward. (See: https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/12418)
§4 Two years before September 11, 2001, I had started writing reviews and feature pieces for the Times Higher Education (Supplement), which I still do—a forthcoming piece is tentatively scheduled for October 1, 2020. Two weeks after 9-11, my editors asked me for an American perspective on what was going on. As you may read, I gave them substantially the views that José Melena, whom I consider the greatest Mycenologist in the nearly 70 years of Mycenaean studies, shared with me—and I with him. It appeared on 28 September 2001. We reviewed past American foreign policy and the nature of terrorism and then I put forward my conclusion:
We can no longer control our past foreign policy. We can still control the future. We need to make sure that our ideals control our powerful actions.
§5 On October 26, 2001, I wrote a piece that analyzed what was playing out in what we might rightly call the hysteria of the times. It discussed public reaction to a piece my colleague Robert Jensen wrote about how American foreign policy might make people around the world hate us. I had the good fortune to be aware of a similar piece written by Carlos Fuentes. And I have always in my ears the thunderous and holy words of the Reverend Martin Luther King in his speech courageously speaking out against the Vietnam War in Riverside Church NYC April 4, 1967, describing his country, some of yours and mine as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.” Nothing the United States has done since then or post 9-11 has disproven Dr. King’s insight.
§6 Still later in 2004 a new journal of Communications Studies asked Jensen and me to write what turned out to be point and counterpoint views of what went on in Texas with public speech about 9-11 in the period leading up and into our preemptive use of military force in our undeclared war against Iraq, justified on the basis of non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction and leading to such ghastly human rights violations as Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay and the use of extraordinary rendition and enhanced interrogation.
§7 In one of life’s ironies, 9-11 is my brother’s birthday. He is today 74 years young. His name is Mike Palaima. He is a United States Air Force veteran who served in the late 60’s. He is a good man and has been a good brother and a good human being.
§8 When I think about senseless wars our country has wasted human lives and precious resources on, I think about how lucky I am that Vietnam did not take my brother from me. I also think of what Henry Kissinger said at the truly pointless Vietnam summit held at the LBJ Library at UT Austin in 2016 (see my review http://www.miwsr.com/2018-057.aspx ):
“We’ve been involved in five wars since World War II, which we in effect have lost…. So if you enter a war, you should do it for objectives you can state, and if you cannot describe objectives you can sustain, you shouldn’t enter it.”
§9 That is Henry Kissinger speaking, not a Mycenologist who most of the time these days feels like Kurt Vonnegut in his later years, “a man without a country,” at least without a country that tries to do the right thing.