Alternative Insight

Life and Death - The Tank Man and Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie\'s heroic protest, which attempted to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian home and  resulted in her murder, recalls a previous confrontation between man and machine -– the 1989 stance of a Chinese citizen before a tank squadron moving away from Tiananmen Square.

Chronologically and physically displaced, these two events have similar characteristics -– one person challenging authority and  standing firm before a massive steel machine that often causes violence to others. The protests have identical beginnings and  different endings  one ending with a smile and relief; the other ending with declamation and grief. The Tank Man was not harmed, had an unknown purpose, and accomplished nothing. Indications are that Rachel Corrie was murdered in a heedless manner, which prevented her from accomplishing a valid purpose, and the memory of her dedication will serve the cause of justice for generations.



     Unidentified man survives the blocking of a line of     Rachel Corrie stands in front of an IDF                                                                                               
    tanks leaving Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989.         bulldozer moments before the bulldozer kills                                                                                                
    (AP Photo/Jeff Widener)                                 her. Rafah,Gaza, March, 2003. 

Comparison of the two events demonstrates how conjecture becomes a historical fact and then is periodically resurrected to direct thoughts (Tank Man) in a specific direction and how history, which should educate, is purposely misdirected or ignored.(Rachel Corrie).

Start with the famous "tank man." What do we know about him?
The answer is nothing, absolutely nothing. The well dressed hero, holding a bag in his hands, never disclosed his identity or intentions. No posters, reference to any cause, or any form of identification accompanied his short act. If he had a special purpose, it can be assumed that he would have clandestinely revealed his message. Analysis of the videos made during his encounter with the tank squadron could have probably identified him, but the Chinese government did not bother and apparently regarded him as a crank, which he could be. There is no evidence to conclude he was either defiantly demonstrating against the government, was a daredevil, was tempting fate or was a plant by the Chinese to prove the Peoples Army\'s restraint. Any of the above could have been true. If he was a demonstrator, he was spontaneous -–demonstrators don\'t usually carry their groceries with them or get dressed as if going to work. 

What do we know about the Tank Man\'s Defiance?
(1) The "Tank Man\'s" defiant act occurred after the clashes had ended and the students had vacated Tiananmen Square. Because the battles were over, there wasn\'t much he could accomplish.

(2) The Peoples Army showed restraint and regard for his life. No harm was done to the man.
(3) Videos of the entire event definitely show that ordinary civilians tugged him away; he was not detained by undercover agents.

How has this event been treated?
The perpetrator (Tank Man) has been given a special place in western history, as a symbol of the Tiananmen movement. This act of devotion arises from an embellished story, which is transformed from hysterical to historical. Every June 5, the famous photographs are circulated throughout U.S. media and used, together with slogans, to impress citizenry with the defiance and heroism of the Tiananmen encampment and the ugly violence committed by the Chinese authorities. All of this makes interesting reading, but is opposite to the actual occurrence shown in the photographs and the video of the bold, likable, and adventurous "Tank Man."
As mentioned previously, this is only an interesting story and a collection of award winning photographs. This is not history.

History succeeds from established facts and not rumors or assumptions. Having occurred on June 5, after Chinese troops had already emptied Tiananmen Square, the Tank Man\\'s endeavor is not an inspiration to all those who died or went home. The only historically known fact is that the Peoples Army showed restraint and regard for the Tank Man\'s life. Newspapers receive photographs and caption the images as they please. From what was known, the caption under the photograph could have used the words Chinese restraint and that would have more accurately described the episode.

Conventional media reinforce the appearance that the "Tank Man," who had no violence committed against him, is a victim and that the Peoples Army deserves condemnation, a perfect example of conditioning, of constantly impressing upon minds who is \'good\' and who is \'bad.\'  

What do we know about Rachel Corrie\'s fatal day?
Rachel Corrie expressed sympathy with the plight of the Palestinian people. The American activist specifically demonstrated against the bulldozing of a Palestinian house in the Gaza strip in 2003 and confronted a machine driven by an Israeli military who prepared to demolish the home. The bulldozer ran against her and killed Rachel Corrie. The history of this event is well recorded and defined.

Not accurately defined is the exact role of the IDF driver in Rachel Corrie\'s death. Israeli military replied to a lawsuit brought by the parents of Rachel Corrie and blithely cleared the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of any wrongdoing. The IDF investigation validated the bulldozer driver\\'s claim that he had not seen the 23-year-old nonviolent activist from Olympia, Washington, who wore a fluorescent vest, before his vehicle crushed her. Published images and cockpit transmission from the D-9 bulldozer driver to the watchtower cast doubt on the Israeli court decision.

The driver exclaims, "I hit an object."
The tower responds, "I think the object got hit by the dobby and he is in severe condition."
The driver answers, "What about him? You saw him? Did you see the object."
The tower says, "Yes, I saw him. I think he is dead."

The driver and tower knew that Rachel Corrie was somewhere in front of the bulldozer. It is possible that the driver could not see her at times or was not looking in her direction. It is not possible that the tower could not see her. After all, they saw her silent body laying in front of the bulldozer. Why did not the tower signal the driver to stop?

Bulldozers hit objects all the time. That is what they are designed to do. This "object" did not stop the bulldozer from performing its operations. So, why was it important for the driver to inform the tower that he had "hit an object?" It is obvious he knew he had hit a person. If so, why didn\'t he stop and immediately get out to examine the "hit?"

The tower "think(s) the object got hit by the dobby," as if it was a rock, and then concludes "he is in severe condition." Why did the tower \'think\' when the tower knew? And why did the driver use the word \'object\' when the object was clearly identified as a person (he)? Israel\'s "most humane military in the world" identifies a deceased human being as an object.

The driver\'s inhumanity designates \'him\' as an \'object.\' The tower confirms complicity by replying "Yes, I saw him. I think he is dead." Neither Israeli immediately approaches the body hit by the IDF machine, cares to quickly assist Rachel Corrie, or attempts to confirm her condition, all of which indicates a willingness to let her die, all of which indicates a heedless murder.

The two events expose the molding of minds, predominantly in America.
Although the Tiananmen uprising occurred in 1989, a small band of neocons and China bashers continue to emphasize the incident, prevent reconciliation and encourage hatred. Although, almost all the world, from Tierra del Fuego to Murmansk, rails at Israel\'s oppressive treatment of the Palestinian people, a large band of the religious right and a well organized assortment of  Israel supporters determine America\'s Middle East policies and encourage Israel\'s oppression of the Palestinians. 

The Tank Man lives in spectacle, with some political significance, remembered as a daredevil who challenged authority  – Don Quixote in modern dress. He must regret that his brave episode has been used to defame his nation – making it appear that his nation was being exposed as oppressive when its military showed restraint and did no harm to him.

Rachel Corrie lives in history, as an international and eternal symbol of protest against authorities that commit injustice. She was deliberately killed by a military that showed no restraint. Ironic that the military that showed no restraint is not vilified by western governments and media and the military that showed restraint is vilified. Rachel Corrie cannot be allowed to die in vain.  A monument to her sacrifice and an annual tribute for her bravery will serve as a reminder to the criminal behavior of those who commit injustice. Where to place the monument? How about the White House lawn?

september, 2012

updated, March 20, 2023