President Bush told us that this war would be like one we’d never seen; so
far it looks a lot like all the other wars. I don’t mean just our maneuvers
and operations: send in the bombs, break the rocks up smaller and smaller,
then the special forces to slit the throats of the few goats left alive
before the infantry rolls in to manage an uneasy peace, occupation or
otherwise. I mean that the basic premise is the same as it ever was: Send in
our killers to kill their killers.
Sticks, rocks, spears, swords, bows, guns, bombs; the same military pageant
we’ve seen put on time after time, by nation after nation in book after book
and film after film. It’s not hard to imagine one of our F-18s
fighter-bombers taking off from its carrier for another sortie over the low
hills. It’s not hard to imagine because our TVs and movies have shown us,
and our newspapers are centerfolds of just what war-making technology the
enemy can expect.
Imagine the soldier or group of soldiers who eventually find bin Laden
trembling in a cave, or stuffed into a car trunk trying to flee across the
border. Would it be like nabbing Hitler (finally!)? What then? Bring him
back to the States in chains? Place him in stocks at Ground Zero and pelt
him with rotten produce? Death by a thousand cuts? No, if he’s taken alive
we should try him in open court, accord him his due process, not because he
deserves it; he doesn’t deserve any such thing. We should accord him due
process because it is part of who we are; we’ll not do it for him, we’ll do
it for ourselves.
Our president keeps throwing around the word “evil.” They are evil, he says,
we are good. Such easy distinctions are a panacea for small minds. Has the
United States ever been guilty of comparable evil to that perpetrated on
September 11? In a constitutional republic, such questions can never be
inappropriate, despite what government mouthpieces might suggest. This is
not a time to shy away from difficult issues, but to confront them head on:
Has the government of the United States ever supported, directly or
indirectly, such terror? The answer would have to be yes. It may have been
done for a variety of reasons and even with the best of intentions, but this
fact remains: innocent men, women, children have suffered and been murdered,
families have been destroyed and mothers and fathers wept because of our
Over the last weeks in my country there has been an outpouring of grief
unlike anything I’ve ever seen; in our papers, our magazines, our television
shows. It is painful to recognize that, in the past, our government has been
the cause of such grief in others. This is not to suggest, of course, that
we should forego our pursuit of the terrorists and their networks, only to
provide some much needed context as our media and politicians continue in
what seems to be permanent high dudgeon.
Do we have other options? Could Osama bin Laden have possibly expected
anything other than a military response? From what I have read and seen, bin
Laden is not a man who wants peace. Bin Laden wants war, which is exactly
what we are determined to give him. Would it disappoint him if we tried
Gandhi was once asked if non-violence could work against a man like Hitler.
He was not sure; there would be loss, he replied, there would be suffering.
But, he continued, is there not loss and suffering under the current method?
Passive resistance is an inaccurate term to describe the methods of Gandhi
and Martin Luther King, Jr. Their goal was to use nonviolence to confront
the perpetrators of violence with the perpetrator’s own inhumanity, to show
him a picture of himself that he could not bear. Could this work with bin
Laden? Perhaps not; he believes God is rooting for him. But an innovative
non-military strategy could work to win the essential support of the Islamic
world, perhaps shrink the pool of volunteers from which bin Laden draws his
willing agents. Unfortunately, with every bomb that’s dropped on
Afghanistan, that pool becomes larger. After thousands of years of human
existence, we’re still using sticks and stones to settle our disputes. It’s
time for something new.
Matthew Duss is a freelance writer living in Seattle. He is a member of the
New Style Collective, a group supporting local independent art and research.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org