Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

September 12, 2002

September 11, 2001: Perspective from abroad

Responses in Serbia, Uruguay and the United Kingdom to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks all followed the same pattern, according to Pitt professors who lived in those countries at some point during the last year.

In each nation, government officials condemned the attacks and offered condolences. Private citizens mourned and sympathized with Americans they knew — even in Belgrade, which U.S. forces bombed for 77 straight days during 1999. Traditionally taciturn Britons and Uruguayans sought out visitors from the United States, saying they hoped the Americans' families back home were safe.

But people in each country also wondered aloud (though usually behind the Americans' backs): Did Americans really think their government could unilaterally bomb civilians and support despotic regimes around the world without some of that violence rebounding against themselves?

Governments and private citizens alike in Serbia, Uruguay and the U.K. also expressed deep misgivings about America's military response to last Sept. 11's attacks, just as they currently dread a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Those composite responses emerged during a forum yesterday on "September 11 — Perspectives From Abroad," presented by Pitt's University Center for International Studies (UCIS) and Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA).

Moderating the discussion in a packed 2K56 Posvar Hall was William Keller, making his first public appearance as the inaugural holder of the Wesley W. Posvar Chair in International Security Studies and the new director of Pitt's Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, a joint program of UCIS and GSPIA.

Panelists included history professor Reid Andrews, sociology professor Patrick Doreian and Robert Hayden, professor of anthropology and director of UCIS's Center for Russian and East European Studies.

q Hayden has spent six of the last 20 years in Serbia, and was there last September to develop links between Pitt and Serbian universities. Hayden speaks Serbian, his wife is from Serbia, one of their children was born there, and the family owns a home in Belgrade. His Serbian friends pull no punches in talking with him, he said.

The Serbs' reactions to 9-11-01? "Almost everyone said it was a terrible tragedy, and they meant it," Hayden recalled. "But then a lot of people would move on to a more delicate issue: What had Americans expected, after all? Yugoslavia was not the only country bombed by the United States contrary to international law, with no sanction from the United Nations."

In the past two decades alone, he noted, the United States has bombed Yugoslavia (destroying, among other things, two oil refineries on the banks of the Danube, causing serious, ongoing pollution in Europe's largest river), the Bosnian Serbs, Afghanistan (even prior to America's war against the Taliban), Libya, Sudan (destroying one of that desperately poor nation's two drug manufacturing plants, based on "lousy," false intelligence reports of biological weapons production there)…and then there's Iraq.

"Almost every week since 1991, the United States has bombed Iraq, killing hundreds of Iraqis, all with no cover from U.N. resolutions," said Hayden. "The so-called 'no-fly zones' that the United States is enforcing in Iraq were proclaimed by the United States, not the U.N. And so, the United States has been taking unilateral aggressive action against a member state of the United Nations. In international law, it is very hard to say that that isn't aggression, but we are, in fact, doing it."

Virtually all of this U.S. military action has been done from a distance "against people who are, quite literally, defenseless," Hayden said. And so, while Serbs saw 9-11-01 as a tragedy, they also wondered "why it hadn't occurred to Americans that if America blithely bombs countries at whim, at will, the United States could trigger attacks against itself. As a patriotic American, I take that point very seriously."

Hayden accused the Bush administration of defying international law, alienating other nations and "raising cynicism to an art form" by:

* Seeking, through unilateral aggression, "to scrap the entire structure of international relations that was created after World War II" to prevent future wars.

* Refuting the Kyoto international agreements aimed at preserving the environment.

* Chipping away at U.S. citizens' constitutional rights in the name of fighting terrorism. Hayden urged audience members to download from the Web the federal American Patriot Act of 2001. "Among the act's provisions is the right of the FBI to go to Pitt's library and find out what I've been reading," Hayden said. "And if a librarian tells me that [FBI agents] have even been there, that librarian has committed a criminal act."

* Demanding that Serbia and Croatia hand over alleged war criminals to tribunals at The Hague, while pressuring other nations to sign agreements that American soldiers will not, under any circumstances, be extradited to the fledgling international court.

q History professor Andrews was in Montevideo last September and encountered what he called "amazing human solidarity and concern and sympathy from Uruguayans on the street."

Uruguay's democratically elected government, a center-right coalition, expressed "complete solidarity" with the United States and condemned the Sept. 11 attacks. But the government came out against the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, saying it opposed state violence in all forms.

Weeks after the attacks, Andrews said, Uruguayans began to express their lingering resentment of the United States' support of repressive military regimes during the 1960s, '70s and '80s in their own country and in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and other Latin American nations.

"A sizeable body of opinion was saying, 'We regret what happened [on 9-11-01] but really, when your country behaves like this, do you think you'll be immune to having the same kind of death and destruction and grief visited on your country?"

Andrews added: "No one ever said this to my face" but such opinions were widely expressed in the press and on TV and radio talk shows.

More extreme anti-American views were heard in Uruguayan universities, including the Federal University of Montevideo, where Andrews had a fellowship.

Two months after the 9-11-01 attacks, Andrews said, the assembly of the far-left Federation of Uruguayan Students approved a resolution condemning America's invasion of Afghanistan. Assembly members narrowly rejected a second resolution hailing the al-Qaida suicide bombers as heroes in the struggle against imperialism.

According to Andrews, many students were convinced to vote against this resolution by older leftists, who argued that the suicide bombers were "imbeciles" who succeeded only in strengthening U.S. imperialism, giving the Bush administration a perfect opening to take unilateral military action and trample Americans' civil liberties.

These older leftists "predicted exactly what was going to happen," Andrews quipped.

q Sociologist Doreian said his English friends and colleagues offered him their "profound sympathy" last September. But they also expressed "a bit of irritation and, perhaps puzzlement," he said, at the United States' apparent downplaying of the deaths of non-Americans (including several hundred Britons) in the terrorist attacks.

Later, Doreian said, Brits shared their misgivings about what they saw as the Bush administration's "simplistic" you're-either-with-us-or-against-us approach to the war against terrorism — also, the Bush administration's imposition of steel tariffs and its "shredding" of the Kyoto agreement.

British support for an invasion of Iraq "is diminishing very quickly," Doreian opined, as is national pride in Prime Minister Tony Blair's role in the war against terrorism.

"Once, there was considerable pride that Tony Blair was a far more articulate speaker in terms of the policies of the Bush administration" than any member of the administration itself, Doreian said. "Though the days of the 'special relationship' between the U.K. and the U.S. are fading fast, there still was a sense that it was nice that a British representative was articulating the U.S. position so well.

"I think that is changing, and it's changing quickly. Many people in Britain now think that Tony Blair is more preoccupied by being on the international stage than he is by dealing with domestic policies of his own country, and I think he's paying for it in terms of dropping political support."

An increasing number of Britons now see Blair as "something of a captive lap dog of the Bush administration," said Doreian.

q All three panelists said they opposed a U.S. invasion of Iraq, as did moderator Keller.

"My sense is that a unilateral U.S. air campaign and invasion of Iraq would be a most costly endeavor in terms of loss of life, both American and Iraqi, and possibly in terms of what the CIA calls 'blowback' — that is, retribution which might lead later to actions visited on North American cities, on the American people, in direct response to our foreign policy," said Keller.

"My personal belief is that a war in Iraq is not going to be like the last time around," he said. "It's going to involve, probably, a retreat into Baghdad and a very costly house-by-house, block-by-block military campaign" with full coverage by CNN and other news media. TV viewers throughout the world would be subjected to images of American servicemen killed and mutilated, and Iraqi children blown up by U.S. bombs, Keller said.

He noted a "real division" among conservatives and even within the Bush administration toward war against Iraq. "The administration feels it must be pro-active, fearing some new catastrophe will occur and they will be held responsible," Keller said. Other conservatives, he suggested, believe America would be playing into the terrorists' hands by invading Iraq — setting off a chain reaction that would destabilize the Middle East and damage U.S. interests.

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 35 Issue 2

Leave a Reply