Socialist Worker

Sickness at Ground Zero

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1830

RIGHT NOW in the US it seems impossible to escape the war on terrorism. Bush and his clones in the White House are using every trick to whip up a patriotic fever. Serious news programmes run terrifying reports of so called terrorist plans to kill every US citizen. Countless shops display posters declaring their allegiance to the war against terrorism.

After your kindly airport security man advises you to take care because Al Qaida are just waiting around the corner to slit your throat, paranoia can begin to set in. On a recent visit I had a minor brush with the authorities. When US immigration officers discovered a copy of Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson in my rucksack they decided in their infinite wisdom that I was 'soft on terrorism'.

They thought that it would be a good idea to hold me in a detention cell for three hours! Just for the record, George Jackson was no terrorist. At the age of 18 he was sentenced to one year to life for stealing $70 from a petrol station. In all he spent over ten years in prison, seven and a half in solitary confinement. He was killed during a prison riot.

When I finally arrived in New York I decided to take a wander down to Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Centre. Over 3,000 people lost their lives there. Dozens of vendors line the route to the walkway. They trade in other people's misery.

They sell 'Wanted dead or alive' posters depicting Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden, and 'US Marines on tour' T-shirts - on the back they list the countries the US has invaded, ending with 'Iraq next?'

You can also buy videos of the attack on the World Trade Centre and snow globes depicting the Twin Towers. You can even buy 'genuine' GI combat knives! What I saw sickened me. I just left.

But the callousness of these Del Boy entrepreneurs is nothing compared to the greed of the politicians and the city corporations. A huge row has been raging in the city about what to do with the site. The victims' relatives and activists like Michael Moore have been arguing to turn the site into a memorial garden.

But the idea of this prime real estate being left empty is too much for the Republican Party and the city slickers. They want a small 'tasteful' memorial and huge office blocks built on the site. The Democrats are no better - they want a slightly bigger memorial, but still surrounded by the obligatory skyscrapers.

For these people making money will always come before remembrance. But those at the top aren't getting it all their own way. From small beginnings the anti-war movement is growing.

Only recently 200,000 marched in Washington and 100,000 demonstrated in San Francisco. I even saw a dog parlour with a stuffed Scooby Doo in the window wearing a peace badge. On my way home I began to wonder why the immigration officers found George Jackson's book so terrifying.

I think one little sentence written by George, when the US was fighting another imperialist war in Vietnam, gives us a clue: 'I say let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch of the ranged empire fall.' The truth is Jackson knew who the real enemy was. And even behind prison bars that was a dangerous thing.


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Sat 14 Dec 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1830
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