Here's a followup to the story I previously posted many many links to.
A Just Cause, Not a Just War
by Howard Zinn
I believe two moral judgments can be made about the present "war": The September 11 attack constitutes a crime against humanity and cannot be justified, and the bombing of Afghanistan is also a crime, which cannot be justified.
And yet, voices across the political spectrum, including many on the left, have described this as a "just war." One longtime advocate of peace, Richard Falk, wrote in The Nation that this is "the first truly just war since World War II." Robert Kuttner, another consistent supporter of social justice, declared in The American Prospect that only people on the extreme left could believe this is not a just war.
I have puzzled over this. How can a war be truly just when it involves the daily killing of civilians, when it causes hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to leave their homes to escape the bombs, when it may not find those who planned the September 11 attacks, and when it will multiply the ranks of people who are angry enough at this country to become terrorists themselves?
This war amounts to a gross violation of human rights, and it will produce the exact opposite of what is wanted: It will not end terrorism; it will proliferate terrorism.
I believe that the progressive supporters of the war have confused a "just cause" with a "just war." There are unjust causes, such as the attempt of the United States to establish its power in Vietnam, or to dominate Panama or Grenada, or to subvert the government of Nicaragua. And a cause may be just--getting North Korea to withdraw from South Korea, getting Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait, or ending terrorism--but it does not follow that going to war on behalf of that cause, with the inevitable mayhem that follows, is just.
The stories of the effects of our bombing are beginning to come through, in bits and pieces. Just eighteen days into the bombing, The New York Times reported: "American forces have mistakenly hit a residential area in Kabul." Twice, U.S. planes bombed Red Cross warehouses, and a Red Cross spokesman said: "Now we've got 55,000 people without that food or blankets, with nothing at all."
An Afghan elementary school-teacher told a Washington Post reporter at the Pakistan border: "When the bombs fell near my house and my babies started crying, I had no choice but to run away."
A New York Times report: "The Pentagon acknowledged that a Navy F/A-18 dropped a 1,000-pound bomb on Sunday near what officials called a center for the elderly. . . . The United Nations said the building was a military hospital. . . . Several hours later, a Navy F-14 dropped two 500-pound bombs on a residential area northwest of Kabul." A U.N. official told a New York Times reporter that an American bombing raid on the city of Herat had used cluster bombs, which spread deadly "bomblets" over an area of twenty football fields. This, the Times reporter wrote,"was the latest of a growing number of accounts of American bombs going astray and causing civilian casualties."
An A.P. reporter was brought to Karam, a small mountain village hit by American bombs, and saw houses reduced to rubble. "In the hospital in Jalalabad, twenty-five miles to the east, doctors treated what they said were twenty-three victims of bombing at Karam, one a child barely two months old, swathed in bloody bandages," according to the account. "Another child, neighbors said, was in the hospital because the bombing raid had killed her entire family. At least eighteen fresh graves were scattered around the village."
The city of Kandahar, attacked for seventeen straight days, was reported to be a ghost town, with more than half of its 500,000 people fleeing the bombs. The city's electrical grid had been knocked out. The city was deprived of water, since the electrical pumps could not operate. A sixty-year-old farmer told the A.P. reporter, "We left in fear of our lives. Every day and every night, we hear the roaring and roaring of planes, we see the smoke, the fire. . . . I curse them both--the Taliban and America."
A New York Times report from Pakistan two weeks into the bombing campaign told of wounded civilians coming across the border. "Every half-hour or so throughout the day, someone was brought across on a stretcher. . . . Most were bomb victims, missing limbs or punctured by shrapnel. . . . A young boy, his head and one leg wrapped in bloodied bandages, clung to his father's back as the old man trudged back to Afghanistan."
That was only a few weeks into the bombing, and the result had already been to frighten hundreds of thousands of Afghans into abandoning their homes and taking to the dangerous, mine-strewn roads. The "war against terrorism" has become a war against innocent men, women, and children, who are in no way responsible for the terrorist attack on New York.
And yet there are those who say this is a "just war."
Terrorism and war have something in common. They both involve the killing of innocent people to achieve what the killers believe is a good end. I can see an immediate objection to this equation: They (the terrorists) deliberately kill innocent people; we (the war makers) aim at "military targets," and civilians are killed by accident, as "collateral damage."
Is it really an accident when civilians die under our bombs? Even if you grant that the intention is not to kill civilians, if they nevertheless become victims, again and again and again, can that be called an accident? If the deaths of civilians are inevitable in bombing, it may not be deliberate, but it is not an accident, and the bombers cannot be considered innocent. They are committing murder as surely as are the terrorists.
The absurdity of claiming innocence in such cases becomes apparent when the death tolls from "collateral damage" reach figures far greater than the lists of the dead from even the most awful act of terrorism. Thus, the "collateral damage" in the Gulf War caused more people to die--hundreds of thousands, if you include the victims of our sanctions policy--than the very deliberate terrorist attack of September 11. The total of those who have died in Israel from Palestinian terrorist bombs is somewhere under 1,000. The number of dead from "collateral damage" in the bombing of Beirut during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 was roughly 6,000.
We must not match the death lists--it is an ugly exercise--as if one atrocity is worse than another. No killing of innocents, whether deliberate or "accidental," can be justified. My argument is that when children die at the hands of terrorists, or--whether intended or not--as a result of bombs dropped from airplanes, terrorism and war become equally unpardonable.
Let's talk about "military targets." The phrase is so loose that President Truman, after the nuclear bomb obliterated the population of Hiroshima, could say: "The world will note that the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, a military base. That was because we wished in this first attack to avoid, insofar as possible, the killing of civilians."
What we are hearing now from our political leaders is, "We are targeting military objectives. We are trying to avoid killing civilians. But that will happen, and we regret it." Shall the American people take moral comfort from the thought that we are bombing only "military targets"?
The reality is that the term "military" covers all sorts of targets that include civilian populations. When our bombers deliberately destroy, as they did in the war against Iraq, the electrical infrastructure, thus making water purification and sewage treatment plants inoperable and leading to epidemic waterborne diseases, the deaths of children and other civilians cannot be called accidental.
Recall that in the midst of the Gulf War, the U.S. military bombed an air raid shelter, killing 400 to 500 men, women, and children who were huddled to escape bombs. The claim was that it was a military target, housing a communications center, but reporters going through the ruins immediately afterward said there was no sign of anything like that.
I suggest that the history of bombing--and no one has bombed more than this nation--is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like "accident," "military targets," and "collateral damage."
Indeed, in both World War II and in Vietnam, the historical record shows that there was a deliberate decision to target civilians in order to destroy the morale of the enemy--hence the firebombing of Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, the B-52s over Hanoi, the jet bombers over peaceful villages in the Vietnam countryside. When some argue that we can engage in "limited military action" without "an excessive use of force," they are ignoring the history of bombing. The momentum of war rides roughshod over limits.
The moral equation in Afghanistan is clear. Civilian casualties are certain. The outcome is uncertain. No one knows what this bombing will accomplish--whether it will lead to the capture of Osama Bin Laden (perhaps), or the end of the Taliban (possibly), or a democratic Afghanistan (very unlikely), or an end to terrorism (almost certainly not).
And meanwhile, we are terrorizing the population (not the terrorists, they are not easily terrorized). Hundreds of thousands are packing their belongings and their children onto carts and leaving their homes to make dangerous journeys to places they think might be more safe.
Not one human life should be expended in this reckless violence called a "war against terrorism."
We might examine the idea of pacifism in the light of what is going on right now. I have never used the word "pacifist" to describe myself, because it suggests something absolute, and I am suspicious of absolutes. I want to leave openings for unpredictable possibilities. There might be situations (and even such strong pacifists as Gandhi and Martin Luther King believed this) when a small, focused act of violence against a monstrous, immediate evil would be justified.
In war, however, the proportion of means to ends is very, very different. War, by its nature, is unfocused, indiscriminate, and especially in our time when the technology is so murderous, inevitably involves the deaths of large numbers of people and the suffering of even more. Even in the "small wars" (Iran vs. Iraq, the Nigerian war, the Afghan war), a million people die. Even in a "tiny" war like the one we waged in Panama, a thousand or more die.
Scott Simon of NPR wrote a commentary in The Wall Street Journal on October 11 entitled, "Even Pacifists Must Support This War." He tried to use the pacifist acceptance of self-defense, which approves a focused resistance to an immediate attacker, to justify this war, which he claims is "self-defense." But the term "self-defense" does not apply when you drop bombs all over a country and kill lots of people other than your attacker. And it doesn't apply when there is no likelihood that it will achieve its desired end.
Pacifism, which I define as a rejection of war, rests on a very powerful logic. In war, the means--indiscriminate killing--are immediate and certain; the ends, however desirable, are distant and uncertain.
Pacifism does not mean "appeasement." That word is often hurled at those who condemn the present war on Afghanistan, and it is accompanied by references to Churchill, Chamberlain, Munich. World War II analogies are conveniently summoned forth when there is a need to justify a war, however irrelevant to a particular situation. At the suggestion that we withdraw from Vietnam, or not make war on Iraq, the word "appeasement" was bandied about. The glow of the "good war" has repeatedly been used to obscure the nature of all the bad wars we have fought since 1945.
Let's examine that analogy. Czechoslovakia was handed to the voracious Hitler to "appease" him. Germany was an aggressive nation expanding its power, and to help it in its expansion was not wise. But today we do not face an expansionist power that demands to be appeased. We ourselves are the expansionist power--troops in Saudi Arabia, bombings of Iraq, military bases all over the world, naval vessels on every sea--and that, along with Israel's expansion into the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has aroused anger.
It was wrong to give up Czechoslovakia to appease Hitler. It is not wrong to withdraw our military from the Middle East, or for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, because there is no right to be there. That is not appeasement. That is justice.
Opposing the bombing of Afghanistan does not constitute "giving in to terrorism" or "appeasement." It asks that other means be found than war to solve the problems that confront us. King and Gandhi both believed in action--nonviolent direct action, which is more powerful and certainly more morally defensible than war.
To reject war is not to "turn the other cheek," as pacifism has been caricatured. It is, in the present instance, to act in ways that do not imitate the terrorists.
The United States could have treated the September 11 attack as a horrific criminal act that calls for apprehending the culprits, using every device of intelligence and investigation possible. It could have gone to the United Nations to enlist the aid of other countries in the pursuit and apprehension of the terrorists.
There was also the avenue of negotiations. (And let's not hear: "What? Negotiate with those monsters?" The United States negotiated with--indeed, brought into power and kept in power--some of the most monstrous governments in the world.) Before Bush ordered in the bombers, the Taliban offered to put bin Laden on trial. This was ignored. After ten days of air attacks, when the Taliban called for a halt to the bombing and said they would be willing to talk about handing bin Laden to a third country for trial, the headline the next day in The New York Times read: "President Rejects Offer by Taliban for Negotiations," and Bush was quoted as saying: "When I said no negotiations, I meant no negotiations."
That is the behavior of someone hellbent on war. There were similar rejections of negotiating possibilities at the start of the Korean War, the war in Vietnam, the Gulf War, and the bombing of Yugoslavia. The result was an immense loss of life and incalculable human suffering.
International police work and negotiations were--still are--alternatives to war. But let's not deceive ourselves; even if we succeeded in apprehending bin Laden or, as is unlikely, destroying the entire Al Qaeda network, that would not end the threat of terrorism, which has potential recruits far beyond Al Qaeda.
To get at the roots of terrorism is complicated. Dropping bombs is simple. It is an old response to what everyone acknowledges is a very new situation. At the core of unspeakable and unjustifiable acts of terrorism are justified grievances felt by millions of people who would not themselves engage in terrorism but from whose ranks terrorists spring.
Those grievances are of two kinds: the existence of profound misery-- hunger, illness--in much of the world, contrasted to the wealth and luxury of the West, especially the United States; and the presence of American military power everywhere in the world, propping up oppressive regimes and repeatedly intervening with force to maintain U.S. hegemony.
This suggests actions that not only deal with the long-term problem of terrorism but are in themselves just.
Instead of using two planes a day to drop food on Afghanistan and 100 planes to drop bombs (which have been making it difficult for the trucks of the international agencies to bring in food), use 102 planes to bring food.
Take the money allocated for our huge military machine and use it to combat starvation and disease around the world. One-third of our military budget would annually provide clean water and sanitation facilities for the billion people in the world who have none.
Withdraw troops from Saudi Arabia, because their presence near the holy shrines of Mecca and Medina angers not just bin Laden (we need not care about angering him) but huge numbers of Arabs who are not terrorists.
Stop the cruel sanctions on Iraq, which are killing more than a thousand children every week without doing anything to weaken Saddam Hussein's tyrannical hold over the country.
Insist that Israel withdraw from the occupied territories, something that many Israelis also think is right, and which will make Israel more secure than it is now.
In short, let us pull back from being a military superpower, and become a humanitarian superpower.
Let us be a more modest nation. We will then be more secure. The modest nations of the world don't face the threat of terrorism.
Such a fundamental change in foreign policy is hardly to be expected. It would threaten too many interests: the power of political leaders, the ambitions of the military, the corporations that profit from the nation's enormous military commitments.
Change will come, as at other times in our history, only when American citizens-- becoming better informed, having second thoughts after the first instinctive support for official policy--demand it. That change in citizen opinion, especially if it coincides with a pragmatic decision by the government that its violence isn't working, could bring about a retreat from the military solution.
It might also be a first step in the rethinking of our nation's role in the world. Such a rethinking contains the promise, for Americans, of genuine security, and for people elsewhere, the beginning of hope.
Howard Zinn is a columnist for The Progressive.
We Are the War Criminals Now
By Robert Fisk
We are becoming war criminals in Afghanistan. The US Air Force bombs Mazar-i-Sharif for the Northern Alliance, and our heroic Afghan allies--who slaughtered 50,000 people in Kabul between 1992 and 1996--move into the city and execute up to 300 Taliban fighters. The report is a footnote on the television satellite channels, a "nib" in journalistic parlance. Perfectly normal, it seems. The Afghans have a "tradition" of revenge. So, with the strategic assistance of the USAF, a war crime is committed.
Now we have the Mazar-i-Sharif prison "revolt", in which Taliban inmates opened fire on their Alliance jailers. US Special Forces--and, it has emerged, British troops--helped the Alliance to overcome the uprising and, sure enough, CNN tells us some prisoners were "executed" trying to escape. It is an atrocity. British troops are now stained with war crimes. Within days, The Independent's Justin Huggler has found more executed Taliban members in Kunduz.
The Americans have even less excuse for this massacre. For the US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, stated quite specifically during the siege of the city that US air raids on the Taliban defenders would stop "if the Northern Alliance requested it". Leaving aside the revelation that the thugs and murderers of the Northern Alliance were now acting as air controllers to the USAF in its battle with the thugs and murderers of the Taliban, Mr Rumsfeld's incriminating remark places Washington in the witness box of any war-crimes trial over Kunduz. The US were acting in full military co-operation with the Northern Alliance militia.
Most television journalists, to their shame, have shown little or no interest in these disgraceful crimes. Cosying up to the Northern Alliance, chatting to the American troops, most have done little more than mention the war crimes against prisoners in the midst of their reports. What on earth has gone wrong with our moral compass since 11 September?
Perhaps I can suggest an answer. After both the First and Second World Wars, we--the "West"--grew a forest of legislation to prevent further war crimes. The very first Anglo-French-Russian attempt to formulate such laws was provoked by the Armenian Holocaust at the hands of the Turks in 1915; The Entente said it would hold personally responsible "all members of the (Turkish) Ottoman government and those of their agents who are implicated in such massacres". After the Jewish Holocaust and the collapse of Germany in 1945, article 6 (C) of the Nuremberg Charter and the Preamble of the UN Convention on genocide referred to "crimes against humanity". Each new post-1945 war produced a raft of legislation and the creation of evermore human rights groups to lobby the world on liberal, humanistic Western values.
Over the past 50 years, we sat on our moral pedestal and lectured the Chinese and the Soviets, the Arabs and the Africans, about human rights. We pronounced on the human-rights crimes of Bosnians and Croatians and Serbs. We put many of them in the dock, just as we did the Nazis at Nuremberg. Thousands of dossiers were produced, describing --in nauseous detail--the secret courts and death squads and torture and extra judicial executions carried out by rogue states and pathological dictators. Quite right too.
Yet suddenly, after 11 September, we went mad. We bombed Afghan villages into rubble, along with their inhabitants--blaming the insane Taliban and Osama bin Laden for our slaughter--and now we have allowed our gruesome militia allies to execute their prisoners. President George Bush has signed into law a set of secret military courts to try and then liquidate anyone believed to be a "terrorist murderer" in the eyes of America's awesomely inefficient intelligence services. And make no mistake about it, we are talking here about legally sanctioned American government death squads. They have been created, of course, so that Osama bin Laden and his men should they be caught rather than killed, will have no public defence; just a pseudo trial and a firing squad.
It's quite clear what has happened. When people with yellow or black or brownish skin, with Communist or Islamic or Nationalist credentials, murder their prisoners or carpet bomb villages to kill their enemies or set up death squad courts, they must be condemned by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the "civilised" world. We are the masters of human rights, the Liberals, the great and good who can preach to the impoverished masses. But when our people are murdered--when our glittering buildings are destroyed - then we tear up every piece of human rights legislation, send off the B-52s in the direction of the impoverished masses and set out to murder our enemies.
Winston Churchill took the Bush view of his enemies. In 1945, he preferred the straightforward execution of the Nazi leadership. Yet despite the fact that Hitler's monsters were responsible for at least 50 million deaths--10,000 times greater than the victims of 11 September--the Nazi murderers were given a trial at Nuremberg because US President Truman made a remarkable decision. "Undiscriminating executions or punishments," he said, "without definite findings of guilt fairly arrived at, would not fit easily on the American conscience or be remembered by our children with pride."
No one should be surprised that Mr Bush--a small-time Texas Governor-Executioner--should fail to understand the morality of a statesman in the Whitehouse. What is so shocking is that the Blairs, Schröders, Chiracs and all the television boys should have remained so gutlessly silent in the face of the Afghan executions and East European-style legislation sanctified since 11 September.
There are ghostly shadows around to remind us of the consequences of state murder. In France, a general goes on trial after admitting to torture and murder in the 1954-62 Algerian war, because he referred to his deeds as "justifiable acts of duty performed without pleasure or remorse". And in Brussels, a judge will decide if the Israeli Prime Minister, Arial Sharon, can be prosecuted for his "personal responsibility" for the 1982 massacre in Sabra and Chatila.
Yes, I know the Taliban were a cruel bunch of bastards. They committed most of their massacres outside Mazar-i-Sharif in the late 1990s. They executed women in the Kabul football stadium. And yes, lets remember that 11 September was a crime against humanity.
But I have a problem with all this. George Bush says that "you are either for us or against us" in the war for civilisation against evil. Well, I'm sure not for bin Laden. But I'm not for Bush. I'm actively against the brutal, cynical, lying "war of civilisation" that he has begun so mendaciously in our name and which has now cost as many lives as the World Trade Centre mass murder.
At this moment, I can't help remembering my dad. He was old enough to have fought in the First World War. In the third Battle of Arras. And as great age overwhelmed him near the end of the century, he raged against the waste and murder of the 1914-1918 war. When he died in 1992, I inherited the campaign medal of which he was once so proud, proof that he had survived a war he had come to hate and loathe and despise. On the back, it says: "The Great War for Civilisation." Maybe I should send it to George Bush.
This editorial came in today on a libertarian mailing list I'm on, and since the original is only online for subscribers of "Investor's Business Daily" I decided to post this here. Read it, pass it around.
An Obvious Link:
U.S. Adventurism Laid Groundwork For Sept. 11 Attack
By Steve Dasbach
For Investor's Business Daily
Here's a thought experiment for armchair political scientists:
Suppose that Switzerland were to suddenly abandon its policy of strict
neutrality and embark on an entirely different course.
Suppose Switzerland started deploying troops in dozens of
foreign nations, some of them vehemently anti-Swiss. Suppose further
that it began arming both Israel and the Arab states in the Middle
East; flying in troops to eradicate coca plantations in South America;
propping up dictatorial Third World regimes; and occasionally bombing
nations engulfed in civil war, such as Yugoslavia.
Suppose, finally, that angry fanatics from one of those nations
were to infiltrate Switzerland and launch a bloody terrorist attack on
a Zurich business district, killing thousands of innocent people.
The civilized world would be horrified, outraged, and saddened.
But would anyone be genuinely surprised?
In fact, wouldn't most sensible people point out that by
embarking on this new, interventionist foreign policy, Switzerland had
actually made itself more vulnerable to terrorism? That by taking sides
in bloody, decades-old conflicts it was courting disaster? And that by
returning to its former policy of neutrality it might return to the
peace it once enjoyed?
Sensible people would say all of those things. Unfortunately,
sensible people are badly outnumbered in the discussion of post-
September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Indeed, the common-sense position that a connection exists
between yesterday's military interventionism and today's terrorism has
been roundly denounced in some circles.
In a Nov. 5 Investor's Business Daily column, for example,
syndicated talk radio host Michael Medved ridicules Libertarians for
suggesting a link between U.S. foreign policy and the 9-11 attacks.
Medved claims that moving toward a non-interventionist policy could
never reduce terrorism because it "assumes absurdly that suicidal
killers are rational."
But declaring that all suicidal killers are irrational is,
well, irrational. Japanese kamikaze pilots were suicidal killers; but
they clearly weren't irrational. Otherwise they might have chosen their
targets at random, diving into a wayward tugboat here, taking out a
fishing boat there.
Likewise, the Palestinian suicide bombers who terrorize Israel
are not irrational. When they strap on explosives and charge into an
ice cream shop or discotheque, they know exactly what they're doing,
and to whom they're doing it: Jews.
And if the Islamic fanatics who murdered 5,000 innocent people
when they destroyed the World Trade Center and Pentagon were crazy,
precisely how did they manage to establish a sophisticated, covert
network inside the USA, steal identities, attend flight school,
commandeer four jumbo jets simultaneously and pull off the deadliest
terrorist hijacking in history?
Like it or not, bloodthirsty terrorists - like most criminals -
do act rationally. And politically. In the case of Sept. 11, their
motives aren't a mystery: They wanted to punish the United States for
aiding Israel and for a perceived foreign policy bias against Arab
nations; for stationing U.S. troops in Islamic nations; and for a host
of other foreign policy sins, real or imagined.
That's why they attacked - and pledge to continue attacking -
Americans, not people in Switzerland or the Galapagos Islands.
To acknowledge a connection between military interventionism
and terrorism isn't to condone terrorism, any more than acknowledging a
connection between walking through Central Park at midnight and getting
mugged is to condone violent crime. Recognizing that link is the first
step toward avoiding more terrorism in the future.
Of course, revising our foreign policy is not a panacea; we'll
always have enemies who loathe our culture, secular beliefs, trade
policies, or democratic ideals. But as long as U.S. politicians insist
on meddling in the affairs of dangerous, unstable nations, America will
continue to be a tempting target for terrorists.
Our leaders still can't see that, even in the wake of Sept. 11.
And they get plenty of help from myopic commentators like Medved.
It's time to move toward a non-interventionist foreign policy.
The lives we save may be our own.
(Steve Dasbach is national director of the Washington, DC-based