The attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. on September 11 and
the subsequent discovery of infections from both cutaneous and inhalation
anthrax have heralded a new era of fear for American citizens. They also
mark a significant change in war-making. It is a war that deliberately
targets American civilians, uses biological weapons of mass destruction,
and in which the enemy is largely unknown and not clearly linked to a single
The fear and apprehension that is accompanying this new threat is understandable,
but it is eliciting a reaction on the part of the United States that is
not likely to produce positive results, a fact that is becoming clearer
day by day.
Consider that after nearly one month of bombing raids on Afghanistan
there have been dozens of civilian casualties, the Northern Alliance has
apparently been losing ground (and has been bombed by the U.S. on at least
two occasions thus far), and international support for the U.S. campaign
is eroding. Add to this the ignominious folly of dropping 1000 pound cluster
bombs (in violation of international law) that release 200 “bomblets” each,
which have a five percent “dud rate”, meaning that for each bomb dropped
approximately 10 bomblets are left unexploded lying on the ground, sometimes
partially buried - much like a land mine - waiting for some curious or
hungry Afghani to come along and touch it, and then exploding and shredding
the poor victim with “approximately 300 preformed ingrain fragments” of
steel. And, by coincidence of stupidity, the bomblets are painted an attractive
bright yellow, the same color (and similar in size) as the food packets
dropped by the U.S. as a token measure of humanitarian propaganda. [Photo:
A BLU-97/B "bomblet".]
The fact that this is a new type of war presents difficult challenges
for U.S. policy makers but also for peace activists. So far U.S. policy
has not adapted very well and the response from peace activists range from
the position that the war as manifested in U.S. bombing raids on Afghanistan
is a just war deserving of our support, to old-fashioned pacifism, to the
position that justice should be pursued through proper legal channels and
not through rash military response.
It is the latter of these positions that I believe is the correct one
and offers the greatest hope for lasting peace. It is a position that can
grow stronger, as the days and weeks progress, through thoughtful dialogue
with the war’s supporters and with the many distressed citizens who ought
to have our sympathies.
How do we convince people that it is important to halt the bombing and
pursue justice (not blind vengeance) through existing legal institutions
and international agreements? All of which can be strengthened to build
a lasting peace based on justice and fairness, priorities which have not
been at the top of the list for U.S. policy makers. Here is a list of what
I think are the most convincing arguments:
1. Bombing Afghanistan is an ineffective means of destroying the terrorists
cells. From all evidence this is a terrorist network that does not have
precise geographic roots. The Al Qeada network is diffuse. It and its supporters
exist in many nations, including (apparently) the United States. In fact,
most of the September 11th hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally.
Bombing Afghanistan will have little impact on these networks, even if
Bin Laden is killed.
2. During the 1900s, and especially after World War II, many international
laws and institutions designed to prevent war and bring violent international
criminals to justice have been developed or improved upon. Among these
are the United Nations, the World Court, the International Criminal Court,
and various extradition treaties such as the European Convention on Terrorism
(under which Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet was held), and agreements
such as the Geneva Convention. The U.S. is circumventing these agreements
by bombing Afghanistan rather than using the established channels of justice.
And though it might be tempting to extract an expeditious form of pseudo-justice
by attacking Afghanistan, current American actions run the risk of undermining
existing agreements and long-term global peace and security.
3. The bombing is killing, and will continue to kill, innocent civilians.
In and of itself this is wrong, but we are also making ourselves into hypocrites
and undermining our moral authority. The U.S. was the victim in the September
11 attack but our current actions run the risk of turning us into the villain.
The bombing is creating more animosity toward the U. S. and without question
is emboldening many people who sympathize with the terrorists’ causes,
or what they believe those causes to be.
4. Military action taken by the United States runs the risk of destabilizing
numerous other nations and creating a newly formed unity against the U.S.
Pakistan, a U.S. ally and nuclear power, is a nation of nearly 150 million
people, almost all Muslims, that is now being rocked by dissent and large
scale opposition to the governments’ cooperation with the U.S.
Furthermore, at least five of the republics that broke off from the Soviet
Union in 1991 and are in close proximity to Afghanistan are predominantly
Muslim. There was an unprecedented opportunity to gain the cooperation
of Muslim and Arab nations in the battle against terrorism, of which Bush
administration failed to take advantage. Certainly it would have required
some concessions on the part of the U.S. to make these advances in international
cooperation, something the Bush administration was apparently unwilling
to consider, but I believe most would have been in the interests of international
peace and security, and in many cases would have also been the just thing
to do. Specifically, I am referring to our unqualified support of Israel
v. the Palestinians, continued sanctions against Iraq, the presence of
U.S. troops in many nations in the Mid-east, and various forms of support
for corrupt or unpopular governments.
5. You don’t build a just and democratic nation by deposing one group
of thugs and replacing them with another. By all indications, the Northern
Alliance is a political rival to the Taliban with similar mujahedin roots.
They may be different in style but not enough in substance. This is an
old strategy the U.S. has followed many times before that has led to prolonged
conflict where the local thugs eventually are seen as surrogates for the
U.S. and animosity toward the U.S. builds and builds. In fact, this is
just what happened in Iran in the decades after the U.S. (and Britain)
put the Shah in power in 1953. He was a bastard and everyone knew he was
bastard. And they hated us for it.
The first war of the 21st century can become World War III. To stop
it is a difficult task but consider that never before in the history of
humanity has there been the ability that exists today to investigate, communicate
and cooperate on a global scale to bring the “evildoers” to justice. The
potential rewards are immense: an international system of cooperation for
bringing war criminals to justice, an agreed upon system for resolving
conflicts, peace. But to attain these rewards the U.S. must abandon its
hypocrisy and must allow itself to be held accountable to internationally
recognized standards. Our nation’s leaders are not capable of making this
choice on their own but they will have to get out of the way if the people
demand it. The alternative will be much greater trauma than we’ve seen
Jerry Kloby is the Coordinator of the Institute for Community Studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey. See: http://www.montclair.edu/pages/ics/ics.html