In the aftermath of the recent attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, I think we all agree that there should be some sort of response to the situation. Exactly how we should respond, however, is the pivotal decision in need of further debate. The mainstream media and US military are narrowly focussing on a war reaction to the attacks, meanwhile leaving diplomatic options largely outside of the perimeter of discussion on the issue. It is therefore imperative that we take it upon ourselves to react thoughtfully and explore the alternatives. Doing so may not only encourage the wisest decision in responding to these attacks, but may also make us better for it in the long run.
Before we can address how best to respond to the attacks, we must first discuss how best not to respond and why. The role of the US media has been to provide one option: war. But that is not our only option, and, in fact, it’s a very bad one. This is not going to be an ordinary war; the consequences here are enormous. President Bush has declared our response not to be a series of quick air strikes, but a long, ongoing sustained attack; allowing himself an open-ended justification for universal massive military violence and funding (with slashed domestic social spending and increased domestic repression) for years to come. In a recent interview with Noam Chomksy, he fears ” we are considering the possibility of a war that may destroy much of human society,” causing mass destruction of inner civilian cities, and killing “unknown numbers of people who have not the remotest connection to terrorism,” resulting in the death of “possibly millions” (Radio B92, Belgrade). If history serves as a lesson, it should be clear that a US military retaliation will do harm mainly to innocent people. Seldom do the despots themselves face the consequences of US military attacks. Iraq illustrates a good example; Saddam Hussein remains healthy and in power, yet the women, men and children of the country suffer and die horribly due to US bombings and relentless sanctions. This time around we’re talking about a much more severe attack. The press has discussed employing the draft and, worse, using nuclear weapons.
There is nothing lending support to the credence that a US military retaliation will result in greater national safety or put an end to terrorism. On the contrary, we’ll be fueling the fire of hatred and war, worldwide, increasing popular opposition to the United States. Terrorism may rise larger than ever before, with a backlash of widespread support for militant fundamentalism, endangering not just the rest of the world, but our own country as well. Our current mode of military retaliation will only make things far worse. If we actually want to put an end to this sort of violence and terrorism we need to respond in a way that will not provoke further terrorism, by our own government or any others.
Ideally, we should respond to the attack on America by following the law and utilizing our pre-existing international judicial system. We have the World Court, the United Nations, the Security Council and international laws designed to solve these sorts of problems, diplomatically. Terrorists can be brought to justice, and violators of international law abated, without killing millions of other innocent people in the process. But the US ignores these laws, they always do. Diplomacy could be a possibility, it always can be, but it is never explored. And since the US will not abide by international laws or even acknowledge the possibility of an alternative to a worldwide military response, the ideal, diplomatic and legal method of responding to the attacks is unfortunately not presently an option.
Considering the horrible long term consequences of a US military retaliation, both at home & abroad, and the fact that the US is ignoring the appropriate legal and diplomatic options available, our response to the attack on America needs to be a fundamentally different one. I believe our primary concern at this point should be to stop the war. Congresswoman Barbara Lee of Oakland was the only congressperson to oppose the war before the House of Representatives. “Women, children and other non-combatants, ” she said, “will be caught in the crossfire” of our war (09.14.01). She is a brave example of the kind of stance the rest of us should be taking in response to our current situation. In fact the only sane approach to the US military response is to do everything we can to stop the war. No other options make sense at this point. If we ever want to explore diplomatic options, or encourage a future of relative peace instead of transnational violence, our first response needs to be to stop the war.
Fortunately, in what may be a record-breaking response, anti-war activists have already begun mobilizing against the war. Several protests have sprung up across the country and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Sunday, September 16, a rally with over 1,000 people opposing the war and racial hostility in San Francisco emerged. Other protests have followed, resulting in a nation-wide series of anti-war/anti-racism protests and rallies on University campuses across the country. On September 20, about 3,000 people marched through the streets of Berkeley alone. Other demonstrations have happened and are being planned. The Berkeley fire department has ordered all of their vehicles to remove any American flags because it’s encouraging pro-war hysteria, and the Dalai Lama has stepped forward against the war as well. The scheduled September 29 protests against the IMF/World Bank meeting in Washington DC have been transformed into an anti-war/anti-racism protest instead.
Our anti-war activity needs to increase. Everything possible should be done to halt the war, starting with the basics: articles, phone calls and petitions, as well as more overt protests and dissident anti-war resistance and non-violent action. The immense organization and momentum fueling the growing anti-globalization protests should continue being harnessed to rally against the new US war, and further build a movement based on solidarity, peace and democracy. Community, student, and labor organizing should increase. The anti-war protests we’ve already seen should serve as examples and inspiration for the immediate response we should be taking to the attack on America and the current US military retaliation.
Both the pro-war campaign of the US corporate press and military, and the quick anti-war response by concerned people and organizations, may effect the growing popular support for social justice and activist movements. The pro-war media have been working overtime, and everything is being done to craft public consent to support war retaliation. But their efforts may backfire; their propaganda is becoming absurd; President Bush is looking for unilateral unlimited military power. This whole affair has forced people to pay attention to the activities of the US corporate military and US foreign policy. In spite of the immense pro-war state propaganda campaign, people are questioning the role of the US military, their motives and actions. The result of all of this may well be a stronger, larger & more diverse movement of people working for social justice and change. The anti-war response is a first step toward ending international terrorism, both on our own soil as well as abroad, and the rest of the world depends on us.