Follies of the Americana

| July 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

Follies of the Americana. Pushpa M. Bhargava, The Hindu, Oct. 9, 2001.

Follies of Americana

IT IS strange that the country which is the scientific and technological leader of the world — the United States — is politically amongst the most naive.

What happened in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11 was extremely tragic. It made us all shed tears for that wanton loss of innocent lives and destruction of one of the architectural wonders of modern times. But an even greater tragedy has been that we were all aware and fearful that something like what happened on September 11 was bound to happen sooner or later, for on increasing number of occasions, the powerful government-business nexus in the U.S. has steamrolled the voices of reason in the not-so-powerful quarters outside of the U.S. The WTO and TRIPS agreements that are weighted heavily in favour of the developed countries led by the U.S. are examples. The unjustified decades-old suppression of the Palestinians is another.

The American fiasco in Vietnam, which created guerilla warfare and demonstrated that superiority in terms of weapons cannot always win wars today, would be yet another example. In 1982, in Hanoi I had a two-hour-long meeting with General Giap, the legendary Vietnamese hero who defeated the French, the Americans and the Chinese, when he gave me a copy of his autobiography. The last page of this book states: “Responding to his (Ho Chi Minh’s) call, the entire nation rose up with great determination, high fighting spirit, superb heroism and noble sacrifices and achieved resounding military exploits from the very first winter days of the resistance war. Our people overcame untold hardships during the three thousand days and nights of combat, continuously increasing in strength, winning ever bigger victories — and ceaselessly advancing on the road to the spring of the nation, the historic victory of Dien Bien Phu.”

Vietnam won because of the justifiability of its cause and the determination of its people.

It is strange that the U.S. has only now woken up to international terrorism. What about Kashmir? Why did the U.S. and its allies not stop all aid and supply of arms to Pakistan to prevent terrorism in Kashmir? In fact, it is perfectly possible that if we all had collectively nipped the terrorism in Kashmir in the bud, there would have been no black September 11. Whose arms have the terrorists around the world been using anyway?

Biological weapons

In 1992, I was part of an eight-member high-power international group set up by the U.N. to draft a document for the Third Review Conference on the Biological Weapons Convention held in September of that year in Geneva. Even at that time, I had pointed out that the wars of tomorrow will be wars of wits, and that a nuclear arsenal or conventional defence system against traditional, nuclear and chemical weapons would be of no help. I had specifically pointed out that biological weapons were going to be the weapons of the poor countries. They are far more dangerous than any other weapon, cheap and easy to produce, easy to deliver, and extremely potent.

A few kilograms of botulin added to water supplies around the world could wipe out the entire world population, and one can easily make the above quantity through a genetically engineered strain of Clostridium botulinicum in one’s backyard. In fact, at least one country has such strains available. Further, biological weapons would only kill people and not damage property. In the case of botulin, with further dilution as time passes by, and the decay of the activity of botulin with time, the water will be potable again for the survivors. In fact, when during the Iraq- Kuwait war Saddam Hussein talked about the final weapon he had in his armoury, our prediction was that he was referring either to anthrax spores or to botulin, both of which could be easily put on Scud missile warheads.

In the summer of 1992, Mathew Meselson, the distinguished American scientist, and I were invited to address the Ambassadors of various countries in Geneva, at a lake-side resort in Switzerland, where I mentioned the possible plans of Saddam Hussein. After the meeting was over, the organisers introduced me to two German scientists, saying that they were the persons who had actually set up the biological weapons factories in Iraq. These were the factories that were later unearthed by the CIA. I later on learnt that there was a scramble for anthrax vaccine for the American troops and Israeli citizens. But there wasn’t enough of the vaccine available around the world. Thus, the American defence services were aware of this possibility. It was providential that Saddam Hussein didn’t use his biological weapons against Israel.

The U.S. has played a major role in creating and sustaining the international terrorism and, sooner or later, the country was going to pay for it. It is sad — very sad — that it all happened this way, but it should have been even sadder if biological weapons were used.

That the U.S. deserves sympathy of the entire civilised world for the September 11 incident has never been in doubt, and it has had this sympathy and concern in abundance from every civilised quarter of the world. But hasn’t been India deserving of similar sympathy for Kashmir where more people have been the victim of international terrorism than in the U.S.? We have never had that sympathy from the U.S. or its allies.

Sane course of action

Therefore, for any sane policy decision in respect of a course of action, the U.S. should take into account the following:

(1) It must recognise that something like what happened on September 11 was inevitable for reasons I have given above.

(2) It must recognise that the defences of the U.S. have never been impregnable. The wars of tomorrow — if they take place (and let us hope they would not) — would be more battles of wits than battles of weapons. And as far as wits are concerned, Africa, Asia and Latin America might even have an edge over the U.S.

(3) The U.S. must also recognise that it has not been the only country that has been a victim of international terrorism which has existed in plenty before September 11 and has caused much greater harm to humanity than what was caused on that black day.

In view of this, the sane course of action for the U.S. would imply the following:

(a) Taking positive steps to ease out tensions around the world by ensuring that justice is done — for example, with respect to Palestinians.

(b) Taking steps to prevent exploitation of the developing and the under-developed countries, for example, through modification of the WTO and TRIPS agreements. An example of such exploitation would be the “gift” of unlabelled genetically engineered soya bean flour by the U.S. for the victims of the Orissa famine.

(c) Bringing together all truly democratic countries to fight against international terrorism — be it in Kashmir or on the east coast of the United States or in Central Europe.

(d) Devising a new arms sale policy along with the participation of all the major arms-producing countries of the world, which would ensure that no arms fall in the hands of terrorists or countries that harbour or aid terrorists.

(e) Helping, with the cooperation of other countries, to create a climate that will ensure that chemical and biological weapons will never be used.

(f) Ensuring that all decisions with respect to the above are taken collectively.

(g) Remembering that till 1970, there were no security checks, no hijacking and no terrorism and asking the question, why was that so.

Alternatively, if America decides, in haste and unilaterally, to wage a war somewhere to satisfy its ego and its hurt, ignoring how and to what extent other countries have been hurt in various ways over the last five decades, it shouldn’t expect unqualified support of other countries, including India.


In the wake of the unsettled airline schedules following the September 11 terrorist attack, I cancelled a 17-day visit to the U.S., beginning September 19. To my faxes cancelling the visit, I received numerous responses, all stating on their own the first of the above two alternatives. I quote below two of these responses.

Dr. Maxine Singer, president of the Carnegie Institute, Washington and a Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, wrote: “The world has really been turned inside-out by last week’s events. The magnitude of the acts and the use of innocent people as weapons is something that will take a long time getting used to. We are fearful that our government will act too quickly and without sufficient deep thought. Those of us who have travelled more than our President see the world differently from the way he does, and we are more aware of what has been burdening other countries for so long. We can only wait and hope for intelligent actions.”

Dr. Bill Rutter, also a Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and Chairman of the Chiron Corporation in California — a leading biotech company of the U.S. — said, “This is not just a tragedy for the U.S., but for all of humanity. Extremism, especially when it becomes destructive of persons, is indeed the scourge of the world we collectively must somehow restrict or eliminate. How do we take on this task as a community of countries? No one country should or could take this on unilaterally. I only hope our country’s leadership understands the complexity of this situation and has the wisdom to tackle the fundamental issues involved.”

There is a hierarchy between data, information, knowledge and wisdom. One needs knowledge for wisdom but wisdom is not just knowledge, just as knowledge is not just information and information not just data. Let us hope that in the U.S., which is without doubt a great country committed to democracy, wisdom will prevail over bravado in this crucial moment in human history.



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Follies of the Americana. Pushpa M. Bhargava, The Hindu, Oct. 9, 2001.

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