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Spitting Into the Wind
Published on Thursday, November 1, 2001
Spitting Into the Wind
by Jerry Kloby
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 nation-state.

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 our 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 so far.

Jerry Kloby is the Coordinator of the Institute for Community Studies at Montclair State University in New Jersey. See:


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