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Many of us horrified
by the events of September 11
are also watching with horror
the course now being adopted
by our government
by Barry Gan
Sept. 20, 2001

This morning the Buffalo NPR affiliate aired this short piece of mine. I believe it will also be appearing my town's daily newspaper. I would urge all of you to contact local editors and station managers, have a talk with them, and send them your stuff. The piece aired for the first time at 6:30 this morning, and I've already gotten (at 7: 30 a.m.) e-mails from strangers grateful to hear an alternative voice to the madness being orchestrated by our political leaders.

Many of us horrified by the events of September 11 are also watching with horror the course now being adopted by our government. There is a cry for revenge, a cry to forge military alliances, to unleash the C.I.A. to use terrorism, to tighten our own civil liberties. President Bush has called for a protracted war to end all terrorism. And many of us are afraid to speak out against such a policy. We have already been called traitors merely for disagreeing about the best way to secure our country's safety.

I resent those who call themselves patriots and paint the rest of us traitors. I resent being made to feel that I don't care for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks simply because I don't think that global war is a good idea. I've seen this posturing in the build-up to other wars, and I know that it doesn't make us a better nation. Every nation is patriotic; it is not patriotism that sets us apart. So please excuse me if I hesitate to support a global war against terrorism.

In the first place, a global war against terrorism is wrong-headed. Terrorists don't have military installations that we can attack. They live in neighborhoods like yours and mine in many countries around the world. Bomb Afghanistan? There is nothing there left to bomb. Afghanistan is already a country littered with active landmines, with no infrastructure of which to speak. The call for a global war against terrorism is little more than misplaced frustration and fear, attacking symptoms, not causes.

Second, our efforts to enlist the cooperation of other nations, particularly Muslim nations, plays right into the hands of Osama bin Laden and others like him. Many people in Muslim countries see a military and corporate alliance with the United States as the surrender of their religion and culture. Make no mistake about it: the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon is the legacy that we purchased for ourselves precisely because we foisted Western culture and militarism on the Muslim world during the Gulf War. If we do now what we did before, we'll reap the same harvest later.

Third, a global war against terrorism is itself terrorism, a kind of international vigilantism. Despite the size of this attack on the United States, it is the act of a band of criminals, not an act of war by one nation against another. Certainly it is a crime of monstrous proportion, and its perpetrators must be brought to justice. But we must allow the world to stand with us and for us, to find these perpetrators and to bring them to justice before a world court. We must not guilt-trip the world into a global war.

War would be a tactical and moral mistake. Despite all the smart bombs that hit targets during the Gulf War, the Pentagon's own estimates are that 93% of all bombs missed their targets. A global war against terrorism will take many more innocent lives than were destroyed on Sept. 11. Anyone proud of our country should not want their name associated with wars that kill innocent people, and this war, like others, will kill innocent people, people just like those killed on Sept. 11.

What meaning shall we give to the September 11 slaughters? Shall we imbue these deaths with the spirit of revenge? Use them as an excuse in our fear and anguish to promote similar fear and anguish in other innocent lives? Or shall we give them instead a more lasting memorial by vowing "Never again!"? Never again will we drop bombs that kill innocent people. Never again will we kill because we have been killed. Instead, we will stand up for the sanctity of ALL human life, the rights of ALL people to live without fear, without hunger, without the threat of attack, by us, by anyone. And we will pledge ourselves to relieving suffering and pain throughout the world by sharing our wealth instead of our weapons.

We become what we choose to be.

Barry L. Gan
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Director of the Center for Nonviolence
St. Bonaventure University


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