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COLUMN SIXTY-FOUR, OCTOBER 1, 2001
(Copyright 2001 Al Aronowitz)

PLEASE, NOT VENGEANCE, BUT COMPASSION

Subject: FW: ...And Peace
Date: Wed, 26 Sep 2001 13:47:45 -0700
From: "VENIRE" <VENIRE@znet.com>
To: <VENIRE@znet.com>

.......And Peace

By HOWARD ZINN

Los Angles Times, 9-23-01

BOSTON -- How can we possibly turn from the heartbreaking images of last week's disaster, and the emotions evoked in us, to thinking calmly about terrorism and what to do about it?

Horrified and sickened as I was by what happened, I was again horrified and sickened by the statements of our national political leaders as they appeared on television and spoke of retaliation, of vengeance, of punishment. We are at war, they said. And I thought: They have learned nothing, absolutely nothing, from the history of the 20th century, from a hundred years of retaliation, vengeance, war, a hundred years of terrorism and counterterrorism, of violence met with violence in an unending cycle of stupidity.

We can all feel a terrible anger at those who killed thousands of innocent people in the insane belief it would help their cause. But what do we do with that anger? Do we react with panic, strike out violently and blindly just to show how tough we are? "We shall make no distinction," the President proclaimed, between terrorists and countries that harbor terrorists." Will we now bomb Afghanistan, and inevitably kill innocent people? It is in the nature of bombing (and I say this as a former Air Force bombardier) to be indiscriminate, to "make no distinction." Will we then be committing terrorism in order to "send a message" to terrorists?

You hear politicians and military people saying there will be regrettable but necessary "collateral damage." They used that same term in describing the deaths of civilians in U.S. bombings of various countries, whether Iraq or Panama or Yugoslavia.

When Timothy J. McVeigh defended his bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, leaving 168 people dead, he too used the term "collateral damage," remembering no doubt, how it was used in the Persian Gulf War, where he served. My "Webster's Collegiate Dictionary" defines "collateral" as "accompanying or related, but secondary or subordinate." Both McVeigh and the leaders of our government have considered the toll of human life secondary to whatever else was destroyed, and therefore acceptable.

When McVeigh was executed, the Boston Herald ran a huge headline that read "It's Over." But we know now how wrong that was. It was not over. And it will not be over until we stop concentrating on punishment and retaliation and think calmly and intelligently about what to do about terrorism.

History can be useful, and there is a history of terrorism and reactions to it. We have answered terrorist acts with force again and again. It is the old way of thinking, the old way of acting. It has never worked.

Former President Reagan bombed Libya after a terrorist action in a discotheque in Germany. The bombs were never intended to strike "the actual terrorists:" Indeed, it was never clear who the terrorists were. But the bombs did kill a number of people, including Moammar Kadafi's adopted 3-year-old daughter. Former President Clinton, after the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, sent 75 cruise missiles (each a weapon of mass destruction) to hit a presumed training camp in Afghanistan and what was described as a chemical weapons manufacturing plant in the Sudan. It turned out that the factory in the Sudan was not that at all, but a pharmaceutical plant, and that its destruction deprived huge numbers of Sudanese of medicines they needed.

The claim, in all of these bombings was that we had to "send a message" to terrorists. And then comes this horror in New York and Washington. Isn't it clear by now that sending "a message" to terrorists through violence doesn't work, that it only leads to more terrorism? And isn't it the terrorists themselves who explain their awful deeds by saying they need to send a message to the world?

Haven't we learned anything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Car bombs planted by Palestinians bring air attacks and tanks by the Israeli government. That has been going on for years. It doesn't work. And innocent people die on both sides.

We need new ways of thinking. We need to think about the resentment all over the world felt by people who have been the victims of American military action. In Vietnam, where we carried out terrorizing bombing attacks, using napalm and cluster bombs, on peasant villages. In Latin America, where we supported dictators and death squads in Chile and El Salvador and other countries. In Iraq, where a million people have died as a result of our economic sanctions. We need to pull back from our overbearing posture astride the globe, with military bases in nineteen countries, with our warships on every sea. Our presence in Saudi Arabia is a particular provocation to Osama bin Laden, but also to other Saudi nationalists. We supply Israel with high-tech weapons, while in the West Bank and Gaza over a million and more Palestinians live under a cruel military occupation.

We should remind ourselves that the awful scenes of death and suffering we are now witnessing on our television screens have been endured by people in other parts of the world for a long time, and often as a result of our nation's policies. We can now imagine their fear, because of the fear we are all experiencing for ourselves and our children. We need to understand how some of those people will go beyond fear and anger to acts of terrorism.

Our own fear will remain until we begin to think differently about what constitutes real security. A $300 billion dollar military budget has not given us security. Military bases all over the world, our warships on every ocean, have not given us security. Land mines, a "national missile defense shield," will not give us security. We need to rethink our position in the world. We need to stop sending weapons to countries that oppress other people or their own people.

We need to decide that we will not go to war, whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children. War is terrorism, magnified a hundred times.

Yes, we can tend to immediate security needs. Let's take some of the billions allocated for "missile defense," totally useless against terrorist attacks such as this one, and pay the security people at airports decent wages, give them intensive training, hire marshals to be on every flight. But ultimately, there is no certain security against the unpredictable.

True, we can find Bin Laden, if he was indeed the perpetrator of last week's tragedy, and punish him. But that will not end terrorism so long as the pent-up grievances of decades, felt in so many countries of the Third World, remain unattended.

We cannot be secure so long as we use our national wealth, for guns, planes, bombs and nuclear weapons to maintain our position as a military superpower. We should use that wealth instead to deal with poverty and sickness in other parts of the world where desperation breeds resentment. We need to become an economic and social superpower.

Here at home, our true security cannot come from putting the nation on a war footing, with the accompanying threats to civil liberties that this brings. It can only come from using our resources to make us the model of a good society, prosperous and peacemaking, with free, universal medical care, education and housing, guaranteed decent wages and a clean environment for all.

We should take our example not from our military and political leaders shouting "retaliate" and "war" but from the doctors and nurses and medical students and firemen and policemen who have been saving lives in the midst of mayhem, whose first thoughts are not vengeance but compassion, not violence but healing.  ##

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