I simply cannot get
caught up in the war fever
This column first appeared on the editorial page of The
Standard-Times (New Bedford, MA) October 4, 2001, though it was written
a week before.
I don't know anyone who died September 11. If I did, I
might not be able to write this.
Shock, grief, and anger are all very natural reactions
to this event and many others have experienced far more shock, grief,
and anger than I. Still, my overwhelming reaction is a depth of sorrow
and despair I've never experienced before. It grows, not just from concern
for the victims of the attack, but from the unified reaction of my country
to the attack.
I don't mean, of course, those positive outpourings of
love and support. Amidst the carnage and despair there have been many
wonderful things that reveal us at our best and most noble. What bothers
me is the immediate, gut reaction of revenge that is now being forged
into a foreign policy that is likely to destabilize countless relationships
throughout the world.
The president, pundits, political leaders of both parties,
and the vast majority of Americans seem caught up in a war fever. I can't
be part of the war fever. It is against all common sense and humanity
to want to perpetuate this cycle of violence. If we had called this what
it was - a crime against humanity - and dropped the war talk, the future
could be quite different. Justice, I am for - frontier lynch mobs, guilt
by association, and wars, I am against. War might net some guilty parties,
but it is likely to result in the deaths of more innocent people - including
many American civilians. And that too plays right into the terrorists'
I love my country and am grateful to have been born here
at this particular moment in history. Had I been born instead in Afghanistan
or Iraq, I would, by all odds, be dead now and in any event, my life would
have been far more miserable. Instead, I live in America where the "greatest
generation" pulled off one of the most magnificent acts in the history
of man - not by winning World War II, but by winning the peace afterwards.
That generation helped rebuild the fallen nations of the world, friend
and foe alike. They created the United Nations, a noble, if flawed, attempt
to avoid future wars. If we could be half so bold today, we would be great
Grief, unity and hate
But I find myself unable to participate in the current
flag waving, or even the public grieving, as so much of this is to me
tinged with the same feelings of revenge - and the same terrible violence
- that has already destroyed so many innocent lives. I cannot take joy
in a unity forged in death, revenge, and violence. That is not a fit purpose
for the greatest nation on earth.
Oh, I know I am not totally alone. Quakers, and many others,
have been pointing to the root causes of this violence for years. The
causes are many. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to scan the CIA
World Fact Book online and see that taken as a whole the countries we
feel are harboring the terrorists are a sorry lot. The figures for poverty,
illiteracy, infant death rate, and life expectancy are appalling. Together,
they form a terrible swamp of human misery, and in such a swamp, terrorism
We speak of "justice," and we mean we will kill the terrorists
- wanted, "dead or alive." But if we really mean justice - and we really
want a solution - we need to drain the swamps in which terrorism breeds.
We need to bring genuine justice to the people of these lands - lands
frequently rich on natural beauty and resources, yet extremely poor in
all that makes human life worth living.
Look, for example, at the United States and Afghanistan.
These are not facts culled from some left-wing pamphlet - they are straight
from the CIA .
US Population: 278,058,881 (July 2001 est.) Afghanistan
Population: 26,813,057 (July 2001 est.)
US Infant mortality rate: 6.76 deaths/1,000 live
births (2001 est.) Afghanistan Infant mortality rate: 147.02 deaths/1,000
live births (2001 est.)
Economy - overview: The US has the largest and
most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per capita
GDP of $36,200.
Economy - overview: Afghanistan is an extremely
poor, landlocked country, highly dependent on farming and livestock
raising (sheep and goats) with a per capita GDP of $800.
These are the people we want to punish for harboring terrorists?
If it turns out to be difficult, we'll look like fools. If it turns out
to be easy, we'll look like bullies. And either way, it won't stop the
Gulf War and sanctions
The statistics for Iraq - the other "target" high on our
list - aren't much better. For most of the 80s they battled our most bitter
enemy in the region, Iran. Then, led by Saddam Hussein, they took on us.
I was one of those who reluctantly agreed that the Gulf War was a necessary
evil. I supported it because I believed George Bush (senior) and Dick
Cheney really intended to rid the world of this mid-eastern Hitler. I
felt terribly betrayed when we killed 100,000 of his draftees but left
him and his prime troops virtually unscathed.
Once again, I was suckered in when we urged the continuation
of economic sanctions against Iraq. I did not understand at the time that
what we really were doing was using the men, women, and children of Iraq
as pawns. Heedless of the pain, suffering, and death we were causing them,
we hoped that if their anguish were great enough, they would somehow rise
up and finish the job we started. But deposing a dictator is no easy task
and instead many of them have bought into the very credible argument (from
their perspective) that we are the enemy, we are the evil in the world.
I have read that 500,000 Iraqi children have died over
the past 10 years because of these sanctions. I don't know if that number
is accurate. Under such conditions I don't know how you get accurate statistics.
But organizations such as UNICEF and the American Friends Service Committee
point to a disaster there of unfathomable proportion's. And what is 500,000?
If it were just 5,000 - and one was your child or grandchild - would you
believe those who told you America was the "great Satan?" How many children
have to die to create one terrorist?
This doesn't justify the terrorist killing us. They are
perpetuating the cycle of violence and brave men, such as Mahatma Gandhi,
have shown there are better ways.
I don't think there are any silver bullets. But I do think
the world has crossed a terrible threshold. Evil is loose in the world
and we will never control it, never get our lives back, never have the
opportunity to share all that is right about America and about humanity,
unless we try to see ourselves through the eyes of those who feel oppressed
We don't need to kill terrorists, we need to change the
conditions under which terrorists thrive. We don't need to sacrifice lives.
We need to save them. We need to take the time to understand how others
suffer at our hands, even when we have no intention (or sense) that we
are doing them wrong. We need to sacrifice a modest portion of our own
wealth and energy to bring joy, and love, fairness and hope into the lives
of the people of these regions, and then no terrorists will survive. They
will have no support. If they arise, they will be regarded by their own
people as criminals, or insane, and treated accordingly. It is simple:
If you want people to be conservative, first give them something to conserve.
God bless us all, but. . .
Saddest of all, I see us calling on God*
to join us in our violence. We seem to believe he is on our side. As if
God would bless our missiles and machine guns! The irony is that the terrorists
find solace in the same thought - that God is on their side and will reward
them for fighting the evil that they believe is America .
There are a few certainties in all this that I cling to
for further guidance. I am certain that:
The God of Israel, the God of Islam, and the God
of Christianity are one.
This one God is a God of love.
And this God is on the side of humanity - not Israel,
not Islam (certainly not the Taliban nor Al Qaeda), and not the United
God does not play politics, and He cannot be enlisted
to help anyone kill another person. I find it not only futile, but blasphemous
to make such a claim.
And so I anguish over our future as a species. Except in
the silence of a Quaker Meeting, I have found little comfort these past
two weeks - and I feel that this terrible attack on the World Trade Center
has done far more than snuff out 6,000 lives, or crush two mighty buildings.
It has awakened the dogs of war and they are hungry for more blood and
I don't know when, if ever, they will sleep again.
Note: I use the word "God" reluctantly because it means
so many different things to different people. For me it is shorthand for
the inexpressible mystery of the universal Why is there something rather
than nothing? In my best moments I associate an undeniable sense of love
and unity with this mystery - something Christians call "grace." But beyond
that I can't offer a name, description, or meaning. I use the word "God"
because I have no other and it is commonly accepted. But I do so with
a deep sense of the futility of trying to apply any name to this mystery.
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Last updated October 13, 2001