EMAIL PAGE TEN
COLUMN SIXTY-SIX, DECEMBER 1, 2001
(Copyright © 2001 Al Aronowitz)
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IT'S NOT THE SAME AS VIETNAM
War and peace
Date: Sun, 21 Oct 2001 20:45:50 -0700 (PDT)
From: portsideMod email@example.com
5, 2001; The Nation
depressing was the October 13 peace rally in Washington Square? Well, the Bread
and Puppet Theater performed---that should give you an idea. "It's the
sixties all over again," murmured the portly graybeard standing next to me
as the funereal drum thudded and the players, holding their papier mâché body
masks, paraded glumly through the crowd of perhaps 500 people---most, by the
look of them, veterans of either the peace and justice or sectarian left. Look
on the bright side, I thought: At least we don't have to sing Down by the
Riverside, as happened at the peace rally in Union Square on October 7, a
few hours after bombs started falling on Afghanistan.
don't like to criticize the activists who put together what little resistance to
the bombing there is. But the 2000s aren't the 1960s, and whatever else
with a popular air war conducted, at least on paper, in such a way as to
minimize civilian casualties, the peace movement falls back on boilerplate: All
war everywhere is wrong, no matter what evils pertain; any use of force merely
perpetuates the "cycle of violence"; the war is "racist,"
whatever that means; it's a corporate plot. The most rousing and focused speech
at Washington Square was physicist Michio Kaku's denunciation of Star Wars---but
no one I heard (I missed the noted foreign policy experts Al Sharpton and Patti
Smith) grappled with the central question: If not war, what? Realistically, some
of the alternatives that have been proposed would also involve military action.
Osama bin Laden is not likely to mail himself to the International Criminal
Court to be tried for crimes against humanity; the disarming of both the Taliban
and the Northern Alliance by United Nations peacekeepers, followed by free and
democratic elections---the course favored by the Revolutionary Association of
the Women of Afghanistan---is not likely to happen peacefully either.
attack on the World Trade Center, an unspeakable and unjustifiable crime,
created a sense of urgency and feelings of fear and anger that do not easily
accord with calls for a deeper understanding of America's role in the Muslim
world. It's hard to care that the US government armed and bankrolled the
fundamentalist mujahedeen in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, or that it
supports clerical-fascist Islamic governments like the one in Saudi Arabia, when
you're afraid to fly in an airplane or open your mail. Say for the sake of
argument that the "chickens" of American foreign policy "are
coming home to roost": You can see why many would answer, Well, so what?
Why not just kill the chickens and be done with it? That may prove much more
difficult than today's pro-war pundits acknowledge---what if one only hatches
more chickens?---but it's not totally off the wall, like Alice Walker's
embarrassing and oft-cited proposal that bin Laden be showered with love and
"reminded of all the good, nonviolent things he has done."
now, the argument that the war will have unforeseen and disastrous consequences
may sound like handwringing, but it is doubtless true. Given the millions who
are starving in Afghanistan, the 37,500 mini-meals that have fallen from the sky
are a cruel joke. And even if the Al Qaeda network is destroyed and the Taliban
overthrown, the circumstances that created them will remain. This is the case
whether one sees the attack on the WTC as inspired by religiously motivated
hatred of modernity and Enlightenment values, like Christopher Hitchens, or as a
response to particular American policies in Israel, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as
Noam Chomsky argues. Experts can debate the precise amount of motivation this or
that factor contributes to terrorism---but unless the Muslim world is
transformed on many levels, it is hard to see how the bombing of Afghanistan
will keep Americans safe or prevent new Al Qaedas and Talibans from forming. For
that, we would have to be able to look down the road ten years and see a
peaceful, well-governed, rebuilt Afghanistan; a Pakistan in which the best
chance for a poor boy or girl is public school, not a madrassah for him and
nothing for her; a Saudi Arabia with a democratic, secular government; an Egypt
without millions living in abject poverty and a hugely frustrated middle class.
is all the more true if militant Islam is relatively independent of concrete
grievances like Israel and Iraq.
anyone who tries to talk about the WTC attack in this way---as Susan Sontag did
in her entirely reasonable but now infamous New Yorker piece---is likely to find
themselves labeled a traitor, a coward, anti-American or worse. (I found this
out myself when I made the mistake of going on the radio with mad Andrew
Sullivan, who has said the "decadent left...may well mount a fifth
column," and who accused me of objectively supporting the Taliban and
likened me to someone who refuses to help a rape victim and blames her for
wearing a short skirt.) But a war can be "just" in the sense that it
is a response to aggression---as Vietnam was not---and also be the wrong way to
solve a problem. ##
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