As of Sept. 11, terror has entered our lives.
Now we have to live like the rest of the world, within the grasp of absolute evil, and nothing will ever be quite the same. Insecurity, fear and a sense of helplessness have become part of the air we breathe. Our leaders, with rare and alarming unanimity, are directing our feelings toward anger and the seeking of revenge.
War is presented to us as the only possible solution and the nation is urged to prepare for a long and costly conflict with uncertain outcome.
Yes, terrorism must be fought with tenacity, endurance and a variety of economic and social policies. Swift and relentless police action against terrorists must be pursued and the guilty must be brought to justice.
But in the process, we must be mindful of the danger of becoming terrorists ourselves. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," was the doctrine of incessantly warring tribes prior to the existence of states. It was superseded once the reign of laws was instituted in human society. Evoking it now is both futile and dangerous. If there is one thing to be learned from the contemporary Arab/Israeli conflict, it is that terror countered by terror only leads to more terror.
The United States has used force, overwhelming military power, international sanctions and years of targeted bombing missions, but Saddam Hussein is as firmly in power in Iraq as ever he was.
This is the time for peaceful alternatives to military responses. Let me propose a beginning:
President Bush's call for a worldwide coalition against terrorism will have a far better chance of success if it is combined with strong efforts to enhance and strengthen the United Nations. Our credibility as leaders of the world community has been deeply compromised by our disregard of the United Nations, our abrogation of or failure to sign international treaties and our announced willingness to go it alone. Therefore we should at once:
Pay our long-overdue dues of $2.3 billion to the United Nations.
Sign the U.N. treaties against genocide, the treaty banning land mines, the treaties banning nuclear and biological weapons.
Strengthen the International Court and pledge to bring all terrorists we can capture under its jurisdiction.
Unless we attack the causes of worldwide terrorism, our capture of a few of its leaders will be an empty victory. One of the major breeding grounds for terrorism has been the existence of refugee camps in which whole populations linger for one or more generations, without outlet, without education, without hope.
We must launch a worldwide campaign under U.N. auspices for the resettlement of refugee populations, with special emphasis on the education and training and the eventual useful employment of young men.
After World War II, the Marshall Plan and U.S.-supported peaceful economic reconstruction turned our fierce enemies, Germany and Japan, into reliable friends within one generation. Allocating some of the vast resources of the U.S. government and of private corporations to the creation of targeted projects for the relief of poverty, droughts and illiteracy in areas which are now breeding grounds for hatred of the United States will bring better long-range results than military action.
The strength of our democracy lies in our Constitution, its Bill of Rights and the long tradition of governmental checks and balances. Let us keep democracy alive by vigorous debate and discourse, by the careful weighing of various alternatives, rather than by a blind and automatic rallying around the president. The decisions made by politicians in the next few weeks and months may affect the lives and resources of the American people for years to come. Let us all be part of the process of decision-making, and let those who claim leadership show it by coming up with alternatives to war.
Gerda Lerner is emerita professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Copyright 2001 The Capital Times