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Howard Zinn: Our War on Terrorism

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    Unless we reexamine our policies----we will always live in fear Our War on Terrorism Howard Zinn 10/18/04 The
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2004
      Unless we reexamine our policies----we will always live in fear

      Our War on Terrorism
      Howard Zinn

      10/18/04 "The Progressive" -- I am calling it "our" war on terrorism
      because I want to distinguish it from Bush's war on terrorism, and
      from Sharon's, and from Putin's. What their wars have in common is
      that they are based on an enormous deception: persuading the people
      of their countries that you can deal with terrorism by war. These
      rulers say you can end our fear of terrorism--of sudden, deadly,
      vicious attacks, a fear new to Americans--by drawing an enormous
      circle around an area of the world where terrorists come from
      (Afghanistan, Palestine, Chechnya) or can be claimed to be connected
      with (Iraq), and by sending in tanks and planes to bomb and
      terrorize whoever lives within that circle.

      Since war is itself the most extreme form of terrorism, a war on
      terrorism is profoundly self-contradictory. Is it strange, or
      normal, that no major political figure has pointed this out?

      Even within their limited definition of terrorism, they--the
      governments of the United States, Israel, Russia--are clearly
      failing. As I write this, three years after the events of September
      11, the death toll for American servicemen has surpassed 1,000, more
      than 150 Russian children have died in a terrorist takeover of a
      school, Afghanistan is in chaos, and the number of significant
      terrorist attacks rose to a twenty-one-year high in 2003, according
      to official State Department figures. The highly respected
      International Institute for Strategic Studies in London has reported
      that "over 18,000 potential terrorists are at large with recruitment
      accelerating on account of Iraq."

      With the failure so obvious, and the President tripping over his
      words trying to pretend otherwise (August 30: "I don't think you can
      win" and the next day: "Make no mistake about it, we are winning"),
      it astonishes us that the polls show a majority of Americans
      believing the President has done "a good job" in the war on

      I can think of two reasons for this.

      First, the press and television have not played the role of
      gadflies, of whistleblowers, the role that the press should play in
      a society whose fundamental doctrine of democracy (see the
      Declaration of Independence) is that you must not give blind trust
      to the government. They have not made clear to the public--I mean
      vividly, dramatically clear--what have been the human consequences
      of the war in Iraq.

      I am speaking not only of the deaths and mutilations of American
      youth, but the deaths and mutilations of Iraqi children. (I am
      reading at this moment of an American bombing of houses in the city
      of Fallujah, leaving four children dead, with the U.S. military
      saying this was part of a "precision strike" on "a building
      frequently used by terrorists.") I believe that the American
      people's natural compassion would come to the fore if they truly
      understood that we are terrorizing other people by our "war on

      A second reason that so many people accept Bush's leadership is that
      no counterargument has come from the opposition party. John Kerry
      has not challenged Bush's definition of terrorism. He has not been
      forthright. He has dodged and feinted, saying that Bush has
      waged "the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time." Is
      there a right war, a right place, a right time? Kerry has not spoken
      clearly, boldly, in such a way as to appeal to the common sense of
      the American people, at least half of whom have turned against the
      war, with many more looking for the wise words that a true leader
      provides. He has not clearly challenged the fundamental premise of
      the Bush Administration: that the massive violence of war is the
      proper response to the kind of terrorist attack that took place on
      September 11, 2001.

      Let us begin by recognizing that terrorist acts--the killing of
      innocent people to achieve some desired goal--are morally
      unacceptable and must be repudiated and opposed by anyone claiming
      to care about human rights. The September 11 attacks, the suicide
      bombings in Israel, the taking of hostages by Chechen nationalists--
      all are outside the bounds of any ethical principles.

      This must be emphasized, because as soon as you suggest that it is
      important, to consider something other than violent retaliation, you
      are accused of sympathizing with the terrorists. It is a cheap way
      of ending a discussion without examining intelligent alternatives to
      present policy.

      Then the question becomes: What is the appropriate way to respond to
      such awful acts? The answer so far, given by Bush, Sharon, and
      Putin, is military action. We have enough evidence now to tell us
      that this does not stop terrorism, may indeed provoke more
      terrorism, and at the same time leads to the deaths of hundreds,
      even thousands, of innocent people who happen to live in the
      vicinity of suspected terrorists.

      What can account for the fact that these obviously ineffective, even
      counterproductive, responses have been supported by the people of
      Russia, Israel, the United States? It's not hard to figure that out.
      It is fear, a deep, paralyzing fear, a dread so profound that one's
      normal rational faculties are distorted, and so people rush to
      embrace policies that have only one thing in their favor: They make
      you feel that something is being done. In the absence of an
      alternative, in the presence of a policy vacuum, filling that vacuum
      with a decisive act becomes acceptable.

      And when the opposition party, the opposition Presidential
      candidate, can offer nothing to fill that policy vacuum, the public
      feels it has no choice but to go along with what is being done. It
      is emotionally satisfying, even if rational thought suggests it does
      not work and cannot work.

      If John Kerry cannot offer an alternative to war, then it is the
      responsibility of citizens, with every possible resource they can
      muster, to present such an alternative to the American public.

      Yes, we can try to guard in every possible way against future
      attacks, by trying to secure airports, seaports, railroads, other
      centers of transportation. Yes, we can try to capture known
      terrorists. But neither of those actions can bring an end to
      terrorism, which comes from the fact that millions of people in the
      Middle East and elsewhere are angered by American policies, and out
      of these millions come those who will carry their anger to fanatic

      The CIA senior terrorism analyst who has written a book
      signed "Anonymous" has said bluntly that U.S. policies--supporting
      Sharon, making war on Afghanistan and Iraq--"are completing the
      radicalization of the Islamic world."

      Unless we reexamine our policies--our quartering of soldiers in a
      hundred countries (the quartering of foreign soldiers, remember, was
      one of the grievances of the American revolutionaries), our support
      of the occupation of Palestinian lands, our insistence on
      controlling the oil of the Middle East--we will always live in fear.
      If we were to announce that we will reconsider those policies, and
      began to change them, we might start to dry up the huge reservoir of
      hatred where terrorists are hatched.

      Whoever the next President will be, it is up to the American people
      to demand that he begin a bold reconsideration of the role our
      country should play in the world. That is the only possible solution
      to a future of never-ending, pervasive fear. That would be "our" war
      on terrorism.

      Howard Zinn, the author of "A People's History of the United
      States," is a columnist for The Progressive.

      Copyright: The Progressive



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