Benghazi is a vague memory from my youth
British fought Italians and Germans in the sand
But the waning tide of Empire hid the truth
For war is more than marching to a band
Say twelve hundred Brits beneath the dust
And even more in cotton, steel and rust
Now Empire is but a dream gone by
Though yet we plant new flags
As new players fly and die
As new fires consume new rags
More die, more cry and still more die
In my childhood memories of WW II, the struggle for the port of Benghazi and the surrounding sands came forth as I read Dave Dawson novels printed on that brittle yellow pulp paper of the 40s. Dave Dawson in Libya was the third in the long series of adventure novels by R. Sydney Bowen. I was seven or eight years old but an avid reader during an amazing time. I now look back and realize that all the dramatic action was not only part of a grand war against imperialism, but an attempt to hold back the waves of independence that crashed across that Benghazi beach and hundreds of other beaches, hills, valleys, cities and towns across an occupied region controlled only weakly by precedent and the memory of Empire. Of the1200 Brits buried near Benghazi, some were from British India, which, in 1947 gained independence through Mahatma Gandhi. Others were from Australia that gained independence in a more peaceful process. Benghazi was occupied by Italy as a colony through most of the 1930s. Italy improved the infrastructure while imprisoning about 125,000 Libyans in the process of a brief Mussolini Empire. Even in ancient times, Benghazi saw uprisings and revolution against the tyrants of the time. Recently, we have different players, but the games are still the same and death comes easily in the Cyrenaica that has never been serene. Libya has been colonized by a variety of invaders from the east, west and north for more than 3,000 years. That was my first perspective of Benghazi.
But Libya and Benghazi are not the only sources of tension and death and neither is armed revolution. On September 11-12, 2012, four Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens were killed at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi. Islamic militants have been blamed for the attack. There is nothing terribly new with that attribution. Within the past few days, Pope Francis has canonized for 813 Italians from Otranto (southern Italy) who were beheaded by Islamic militants in 1480 for failing to renounce Christianity. Had the AK-47 and rocket propelled grenade been available in 1480, religious extremists might have used them. Extremists do that. Not all revolutions succeed, either. The bloody uprising in Syria may yet be crushed and, if even they win, there is no guarantee that they will not be just as bloody in repressing non-converts to their way of thinking whether because of religious or political thought. The uprising in Egypt did succeed, but the jury is still out on the outcome being favorable to freedom. The death toll was high, but the victor was most probably Muslim religious extremism. Don’t book a vacation to Egypt yet, and remember that DENIAL is more than a river in Egypt. It could mean your life.
Let us look beyond Libya where four Americans were killed. Recently, in West, Texas, 14 were killed and hundreds injured in a fertilizer plant explosion involving ammonium nitrate. While working with anhydrous ammonia is inherently dangerous, the factory had 1,000 times the permitted volume of ammonium nitrate on site. That is the same explosive material that Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City. Safety? The fertilizer plant was last inspected in 2006 and fined $2600 for violations. Now, let me think. After being cited for safety in 2006, it took over 6 years to re-inspect? This is a state inspection requirement in a state where regulation is scoffed at because it hinders business. Explosions hinder life as well as business. An EMT had a pipe bomb and makings at his home. Was this domestic terrorism or a corporate failure to safeguard labor? Both? Where is the outrage, as FOX might say? San Bruno, CA saw a horrific explosion of a natural gas pipeline that killed 8 and injured over a hundred. PG&E was unable to demonstrate it had tested the line or that the line was at the proper pressure. Further, PG&E had been essentially taking money in rate set-asides for maintaining pipelines and had replaced a pipeline along the San Andreas fault, but had not replaced the multi-sized and poorly welded pipe in and near San Bruno. The inspection was completed in January 2011. The explosion occurred in September 2010. Shoddy materials and workmanship saved PG&E money, but cost lives and pain for scores. San Bruno 8 Benghazi 4.
The recent Patriots Day Boston Marathon bombing killed 3 and wounded over 200 men, women and children. Yes, that was terrorism. The BP Gulf explosion and oil spill killed 11 men and despoiled waters with over 200 million gallons of life snuffing crude. This ruined the ecosystem and the lives of thousands who depend on those waters for their livelihood and health and no terrorism was involved. Here, the “personhood” of corporations was able to avoid jail or full responsibility. BP, Halliburton and others were able to escape personal liability. They saved money by failing to follow safety rules. Is this simply business risk or did the 11 dead deserve more respect before an “accident?” On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 were killed by religious extremists in NYC, the Pentagon and the woods of Pennsylvania despite multiple warnings of threats from skyjackers who were in the US given to President Bush. Where is the outrage for not investigating the warnings before the deaths? If we are outraged for not being ready for the Behghazi four, should we not have been at least as outraged for failing the 3,000 killed when we had intelligence about as accurate (with more warnings) than for Benghazi? workplaces? 9/11 Skyjacking 3,000 Benghazi 4.
President Reagan for whom virtually every park and building in our nation is named, sent Marines to Beirut, Lebanon, but in 1983, 241 were killed in their barracks by a terrorist truck bomb. Nobody raced to condemn Reagan for neglect of 241 and yet we are flooded with shrill screams for the 4 in Benghazi. Is there any regard for scope or is merely this a political game? Most recently, we have witnessed the collapse of an industrial building in the Rana Plaza in Dhaka Bangladesh. Over 1,100 women were killed as a sacrifice for cheap clothing for Benetton of Italy and about 30 US retailers like Wal-Mart. Those women earned an average of 24 cents per hour, less than half the rate earned by garment workers in nearby Pakistan who earn 52 cents per hour or Vietnam at 53 cents per hour. Were these women so expendable and cheap that we risked their lives to make a few extra dollars for corporations that have no liability for their brutal demise? Where was due diligence to protect life and limb and why was it less important than profit margin? We see record profits in corporate America while simultaneously seeing a decline of wages, safety and security for ordinary persons who work for a living by their heads and hands instead of investing. Are rags worth more than life? Wal-Mart has since refused to sign a safety pact. Dhaka1127 Benghazi 4.
The critical questions are these: If we value life, then why do we ignore the failures to protect life and limb? Even for Benghazi, does the political value of an incident outweigh the value of the lives of those at risk? Is it more important to consider cost or value? Our corporations, like our politicians, know the cost of things. Corporations know the cost of making a shirt or a skirt, but do they know the value of the lives in that production and, if they do, why is life so cheap? Our politicians know the cost of sending diplomats and soldiers into harm’s way. We hear cries for smaller and cheaper government. Do they know the value of the human lives in the process? If we were to furlough everybody in government and reduce all wages, who would buy the cheaper goods we can now get by sacrificing women and men at the altar of the dollar? What’s the difference in murder by terrorist or murder by neglect for the families or the dead? Does it matter that you were the target of religious intolerance or the target of endless profit? Does it matter if you were the object of cheaper government and Sequestration or only a powerless worker? The past thirty years has seen the simultaneous decline of protective labor unions, wages, industrial safety, peace and general prosperity while seeing record wars and profits on Wall Street. Empire lives. People die. Benghazi is but a symptom of misplaced priorities. We must protect our people and yet we fail and invoke freedom. Death is not freedom except in some "next world" thought. If reasonable regulation and enforcement is tyranny, then what is the death caused by neglect of valid intelligence or by the profit motive? There must be a name for it. Benghazi has become a partisan rallying cry for political gamesmanship. We need to rally for the people. We need to rally for organizations that protect people. We need to rally for good jobs and not the exchange of human life for profit. We are smarter than that. We can sustain profits and human life. We can put politics aside long enough to set priorities that makes “rags to riches” a slogan for hope instead of hype to promote rags FOR riches. We can protect our people by being less involved in foreign entanglements and more committed to our people at home and in the workplace and in school before more die and more cry.
15 May 2013