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The Theater of Good and Evil

—by Eduardo Galeano, author of the widely acclaimed Open Veins of Latin America (1971), is one of Latin America’s most recognized critical writers. The following piece was recently published in Spanish in La Jornada in Mexico.

In the struggle of good against evil, it is always the people who provide the dead.

The terrorists have killed workers from fifty countries, in New York and Washington, in the name of good against evil. And in the name of good against evil, President Bush swears vengeance: “We are going to eliminate evil from this world.”

Eliminate evil? Where would good be without evil? Not only the religious fanatics need enemies to justify their madness. Enemies are also needed, in order to justify their existence, by the weapons industry and the United States’ gigantic military apparatus. Good guys and bad guys, bad guys and good guys, the actors change their masks, the heroes turn into monsters and the monsters heroes according to the dictates of those writing the drama.

This is nothing new. German scientist Werner von Braun was a bad guy when he invented the rocket that Hitler unleashed against London, but he became a good guy the day he put his talents at the service of the United States. Stalin was a good guy during World War II, and a bad guy thereafter, when he went on to head the Empire of Evil. In the years of the Cold War, John Steinbeck wrote: “Perhaps the entire world needs Russians. I bet Russians are also needed in Russia. Maybe they call them Americans.” Afterwards the Russians turned good. Now Putin also says, “The Evil must be punished.”

Saddam Hussein was a good guy and the chemical weapons he used against the Iranians and Kurds were good. Then he turned bad. He was already known as Satan Hussein when the United States, which had just invaded Panama, invaded Iraq because Iraq had invaded Kuwait. Bush Senior was in charge of this war against evil. With the humanitarian and compassionate spirit that characterizes this family, he killed over 100,000 Iraqis, the great majority civilians.

Satan Hussein continues just where he was. But this Number One enemy of humanity has fallen to the category of Number Two enemy. The scourge of the world now is called Osama bin Laden. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has taught him everything he knows on the subject of terrorism. Bin Laden, loved and armed by the U.S. government, was one of the main “freedom fighters” against communism in Afghanistan. Bush senior occupied the post of Vice President when President Reagan said that these heroes were “the moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers.” Hollywood agreed with the White House. Rambo III was filmed during those times. The Afghan Muslims were the good guys. Now they are the worst of the worst, in times of Bush Junior, thirteen years later.

Henry Kissinger was one of the first to react to the recent tragedy. “Those who provide support, financing and inspiration are just as guilty as the terrorists,” he pronounced with words that Bush repeated just hours later.

If that’s the case, it would have to begin with bombing Kissinger. He’d turn out to be guilty of many more crimes than those committed by bin Laden and by all the terrorists that exist in the world. And in many more countries: acting at the service of various U.S. administrations, he provided “support, financing and inspiration” to state terrorism in Indonesia, Cambodia, Cyprus, Iran, South Africa, Bangladesh, and the South American countries that suffered the dirty war of Operation Condor.

On September 11, 1973, exactly 28 years before the current fires, the Presidential Palace in Chile had been set ablaze. Kissinger had anticipated the epitaph of Salvador Allende and Chilean democracy when he commented on the result of the elections that brought Allende to power: “There’s no reason we should have to stand by as a country becomes communist due to the irresponsibility of its people.”

Disdain for the popular will is one of the many things shared by state terrorism and private terrorism. For example, ETA, which kills people in the name of Basque independence, says through one of its spokesmen, “Rights have nothing to do with majorities and minorities.”

Homemade terrorism and high-tech terrorism resemble each other a great deal. That of the religious fundamentalists, and that of the fundamentalists of the marketplace, that of the desperate and that of the powerful, that of the madmen on the loose and that of the uniformed professionals. All of them share the same disdain for human life: the assassins of the 6300 ripped to shreds under the rubble of the Twin Towers, which fell like castles of dry sand, and the assassins of the 200,000 Guatemalans, most of them indigenous people, who have been exterminated without the TV’s or the newspapers of the world paying them the slightest attention. They, the Guatemalans, were not sacrificed by any Muslim fanatics, but by the military terrorists who received “support, financing and inspiration” from successive U.S. administrations.

All the lovers of death also share the same obsession for reducing to military terms the social, cultural and national contradictions. In the name of good against evil, in the name of the one single truth, all of them resolve everything by killing first and asking questions later. And by following this path they end up nourishing the enemy they are fighting. It was the atrocities of Shining Path that to a large degree incubated President Fujimori, who with considerable support imposed a regime of terror, and sold off Peru for the price of one banana. It was the atrocities of the United States in the Middle East that to a large degree incubated the holy war of terrorism in the name of Allah.

Although now the leader of civilization is calling for a New Crusade, Allah is innocent of the crimes that are committed in his name. After all, God did not order the Nazi Holocaust against the followers of Jehovah, and it wasn’t Jehovah who ordered the massacre in Sabra and Shatila, and he wasn’t the one who called for the Palestinians to be expelled from their land. And aren’t Jehovah, Allah, and God simply three names for the same divinity?

A tragedy of errors: no one knows any more who’s who. The smoke from the explosions forms part of a much more enormous curtain of smoke which keeps us from seeing. From one revenge to the next, the terrorisms oblige us to change our path. I’m looking at a recently published photograph: on a wall in New York, a hand has written.” An eye for an eye ends up leaving the whole world blind.”

The spiral of violence engenders violence and also confusion: pain, fear, intolerance, hatred, insanity. In Porto Alegre, Brazil, at the beginning of this year, the Algerian Ahmed Ben Bella warned: “This system which has already maddened cows is now maddening people.” And the insane ones, those insane with hatred, act just like the power which produces them.

A three-year old boy named Luca commented recently, “The world doesn’t know where its house is.” He was looking at a map. He could have been looking at a newscast.

—Eduardo Galeano, September 2001

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