Some reckon that the provision of any sort of historical context is an outrage to the memory of those slaughtered in the Sept. 11 attacks. Here's Christopher Hitchens, writing in the current Nation: "Loose talk about chickens coming home to roost is the moral equivalent of the hateful garbage emitted by Falwell and Robertson, and exhibits about the same intellectual content."

Hitchens seems to be arguing that Osama bin Laden and his Muslim cohorts are so pure a distillation of evil that they are outside history and any system of overall accounting. So all you can tell your kids is that the guys who planned and carried out those Sept. 11 attacks are really bad guys.

This isn't very helpful, particularly since among those kids to whom we are trying to explain Sept. 11 are America's future leaders and policymakers. Don't we want them to understand history in terms more complex than those of flag-wagging at the moral level of a spaghetti western?

What moved those kamikaze Muslims, among them many middle-class graduates from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to embark some many months ago on the training that they knew would culminate in their deaths as well of those (they must have hoped) of thousands upon thousands of innocent people. Was it bin Laden's extreme Muslim fundamentalism? I doubt the suicide bombers went to their deaths in the cause of forcing women to stay home and only go shopping when clad in blue tents, or of having men never trim their beards. More likely they were moved to action by bin Laden's main political themes as expressed on at least one tape. On it he denounces Israel's occupation of Palestine and America's complicity with that occupation. He attacks the corrupt regimes of the Arab world and its leaders as bloodsuckers living off the oil, which is a "common property."

In fact, if I had to cite what steeled the homicidal and suicidal resolve of the kamikaze bombers, my list would surely include the exchange on CBS in 1996 between Madeleine Albright, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Lesley Stahl. Albright was maintaining that sanctions had yielded important concessions from Saddam Hussein.

Stahl: "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?"

Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price? We think the price is worth it."

They read that exchange in the Middle East. It was infamous all over the Arab world. So would it be unfair today to take Madeleine Albright down to the ruins of the Trade Towers, remind her of that exchange and point out that the price turned out also to include that awful mortuary. Was that price worth it, too, Mrs. Albright?

Mere nitpicking among the ruins and the dust of the 6,500? I don 't think so. America has led a charmed life amid its wars on people. The wars mostly didn't come home, and the political culture of the United States ensured that folks, including the ordinary workers in the Trade Towers, weren't really up to speed on what was being wrought in Freedom's name.

What about Afghanistan? In April of 1978, an indigenous populist coup overthrew the government of Mohammed Daoud. The new Afghan government was led by Noor Mohammed Taraki, and the Taraki administration embarked, albeit with a good deal of urban Marxist intellectual arrogance, on land reform, hence an attack on the opium-growing feudal estates. Taraki went to the UN, where he managed to raise loans for crop substitution for the poppy fields.

In the summer of 1979, the U.S. State Department produced a memo making it clear how the U.S. government saw the stakes, no matter how modern-minded Taraki might be or how feudal his enemies, the mujahideen later to be joined by bin Laden: "The United States' larger interest ... would be served by the demise of the Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan. The overthrow of the DRA (Democratic Republic of Afghanistan) would show the rest of the world, particularly the Third World, that the Soviets' view of the socialist course of history being inevitable is not accurate."

Taraki was killed by Afghan army officers in September 1979. Fearing a fundamentalist, U.S.-backed regime in Afghanistan, the Soviets invaded in force in December 1979.

Well, the typists, messenger boys and back-office staffs throughout the World Trade Center didn't know that history. There's a lot of other relevant history they probably didn't know, but which those men on the attack planes did. How could those people in the Towers have known, when U.S. political and journalistic culture is so often a conspiracy to perpetuate their ignorance? It would honor the memory of those who perished on Sept. 11 to insist that in the future our policymakers, policy executives and our press offer a better accounting of how America's wars for freedom are fought, and what the actual price might include.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.