Sept. 11 was a terrible day for America—a day when our country was invaded by madmen who attacked not just a military target but a building occupied by thousands of innocent civilians.
As we grieve, we must do all we can to protect ourselves from further terrorism and we must do all we can to seek out and capture every person who conspired to attack us and bring them to justice.
But in my mind, Sept. 14 and Oct. 7 were also terrible days for America. Sept. 14 was the day Congress voted to give the President a blank check to wage war. Oct. 7 was the day we began bombing Afghanistan—the day our government, in our name, began killing innocent Afghan civilians in a misguided attempt to strike back at the terrorists.
The polls tell us most Americans support the war. They are outraged, and many of them want vengeance. Our President says he wants Osama bin Laden "dead or alive."
My friends support the war. It’s the only way to stop this terrorism, they say. And they fly their flags. It’s the patriotic thing to do.
Well, I respect them, but I, too, am extremely outraged. I just don’t believe someone who supports the war on Afghanistan and flies a flag is any more patriotic than I am.
Many members of my generation stopped flying the flag in the ‘60s because we were ashamed of our country’s involvement in Vietnam and our record on civil rights, and we’re reluctant to resume the practice, especially when the loudest voices for "patriotism" seem to be those of militarists and racists.
To me, Rep. Barbara Lee of California is a patriot and a hero. She’s the only member of Congress who had the courage to vote against the war. She said she does not believe military action will prevent terrorism and she opposes giving the President the sole decision on when and where to make war. She said she agonized over the vote but made her decision after hearing a clergyman say, "As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore."
My own principal reason for opposing the war is the huge number of innocent lives it will wipe out no matter how "targeted" the Defense Department claims the bombing is. But there are numerous other reasons, including that it violates international law—only the U.N. Security Council may authorize the use of force; that military action is unlikely to be successful in eliminating terrorists; and that, whether we like it or not, a military overreaction is likely to create an anti-American backlash in the Middle East, something bin Laden would welcome.
Then what should we do? First, stop the bombing. Second, make every effort to capture the conspirators (alive) and bring them to justice in the World Court. To do that, we will need the full cooperation of the intelligence services and police agencies of the Muslim countries, something that will become increasingly difficult if the bombing continues and civilian casualties mount. Third, take all reasonable steps to protect ourselves from further attacks. And fourth, reexamine our policies in the Middle East, which too often have involved alliances with repressive governments and support for military occupation.
It is understandable that most Americans, overwhelmed by the tragedy, favored a swift retaliation. Perhaps now that a month has passed, there will be a more rational appraisal of the situation. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I don’t believe President Bush does, either.
Ed McManus is an attorney in Wilmette, Illinois. He is a former editor and reporter of the Chicago Tribune and former executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.