"Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect." --Mark Twain
"We have met the enemy, and he is us."—Pogo (Walt Kelly)
Slightly more than six weeks have passed since the horrible events of September 11. Retaliation by the United States and its coalition forces (at present only Britain) has commenced, and has followed predictable patterns set since the Reagan administration (coalition building, demonization of the enemy, bombings, media control, etc.), patterns evident most recently in the Gulf War against Iraq. Government focus has remained on Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network as the likely perpetrators of the September 11 attacks, and we have been cautioned to expect a "war against terrorism" lasting months or even years. In the past few days there have been increased concerns of biological attacks in the United States, with several outbreaks of anthrax contamination in media and governmental offices. Patriotism in the United States is at a peak last seen in the Gulf War, and dissent, with few exceptions, has been absent.
In this paper I would like to explore at a somewhat deeper level than has been evidenced in the media the causes, consequences and the outcome of the attacks, and to propose some possible intermediate and long-term solution possibilities for consideration.
Immediate Consequences of the Attack
1. Clearly, the first foreign attack on mainland America in almost two hundred years has made us feel vulnerable in a way that is unprecedented. It is not only the magnitude of the assualt (some six thousand deaths), but the diabolically brilliant execution of the attack that has raised penetrating questions about our personal safety as American citizens. This is psychological terrorism at its highest level, and the fact that Americans as a whole are experiencing vulnerability for the first time will have consequences for the world that are at this point in time, unpredictable.
It is, however, clear to many of us that our technological military superiority will be of limited use in confronting this new advisary, and it is equally clear that our intelligence capabilities are not now, nor can they ever be, equal to extraordinarily difficult task of protecting American lives here or in the rest of the world. It is obvious that committed individuals who are willing to die for their beliefs can cause mammoth destruction to our individual lives and to our way of life. I will have more to say below on the specific dangers that we face.
2. The attack has significantly raised the threshold for terror, both in the United States and throughout the world. The most lethal previous terrorist attack in the United States, the Oklahoma City bombing, measured deaths in the hundreds. The thousands who were killed on 9/11 have unfortunately established a new level for prospective terrorists to factor into their thinking and planning, and I am very concerned that failure to respond intelligently to this attack will lead to further destruction too horrible to contemplate, both in the United States and among our allies elsewhere in the world.
3. The attack (and our response to it) has significantly raised the likelihood that further terrorist attacks will occur. At an October 4 press conference, Attorney General John Ashcroft indicated that there was a near certainty that other terrorist attacks will occur. One intelligence official stated that there is a "100%" chance of an attack if the US retaliates against Afghanistan. Because of the actions of the terrorists and the retaliation of the United States government, American citizens are at greater risk of terrorist attack than at any point in history. And this time of risk has an unlimited time horizon—in describing the nature of this new "war on terrorism" (10/19/01), Vice President Dick Cheney candidly said, "It is different than the Gulf War was, in the sense that it may never end. At least, not in our lifetime."
4. Our civil liberties, particularly freedom of speech, are under unprecedented attack. Perhaps the most public condemnation was toward "Politically Incorrect" host Bill Maher. Maher pointed out that those who committed the 9/11 attacks could not reasonably be called cowards, and he was roundly denounced by White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, who commented that 'people have to watch what they say and watch what they do.' Later, the official transcript of Mr. Fleisher’s comments omitted the "watch what they say" remark, and the omission was explained away as 'a transcription error.'
Attorney General John Ashcroft has requested increased electronic surveillance powers and the indefinite detention of
immigrants considered national security threats, because 'We need the tools to prevent terrorism.'
Marlin Fitzwater, press secretary to the senior President Bush during the Gulf War, stated that, 'I think this conflict is going to require a suspension of freedom and rights unlike anything we have seen, at least since World War II."
Civil liberties are also under attack in Great Britain. MP George Galloway reports that, "Throughout the second world war, Aneurin Bevan subjected the line of the Churchill coalition government to excoriating criticism and withering examination - as Churchill himself had done with Chamberlain. Both would have scorned the idea of their actions being licensed by whips, as if we were circus dogs whose duty was to perform tricks for the ringmaster. I too have now been summoned to see the chief whip. Next week, over tea and biscuits at 11 Downing Street, I will have to courteously explain to my old friend Hilary Armstrong that I, for one, will not be gagged. " It is sad indeed to see a people who have made so many major contributions to world civilization be reduced by the actions of their government into subservience to misguided American policies. (In addition, Canada has just passed legislation allowing preventive arrests and broader electronic surveillance.)
As a final irony, a friend reports that the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia is now closed to public viewing out of security concerns.
5. The American media, following precedents established during the Reagan years and heightened during the Gulf War, have virtually capitulated to government and military pressures to curtail any reasonable debate on the wisdom of government policies. It is ironic indeed that the foremost protector of the First Amendment lies not within our borders, but with Qatar's Al-Jazeera satellite channel. As Al-Jazeera chairman Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer al-Thani recently stated, "We will continue our work in a professional manner, whether it be in Afghanistan or elsewhere ... offering a margin of freedom in the Arab world." In contrast, administration spokespersons have cautioned Americans that we must not speak out or cover opposition views at this critical time, with Press Secretary Ari Fleischer making the rather preposterous suggestion that "At best, Osama bin Laden's message is propaganda, calling on people to kill Americans. At worst, he could be issuing orders to his followers to initiate such attacks." It is absurd to claim that the privilege of free speech exists at all if not in times such as these.
Perhaps we can excuse the media to some extent, as apparently they are in competition with the Pentagon for sources of information. Duncan Campbell from the Guardian (10/17/01) reports that "the Pentagon has spent millions of dollars to prevent western media from seeing highly accurate civilian satellite pictures of the effects of bombing in Afghanistan…".
"The irreducible core of all war is the slaughter of the innocent, organized by national leaders, ACCOMPANIED BY LIES." (Howard Zinn). It is the clear responsibility of the media to ferret out these lies and report the truth. But here we have Dan Rather, CBS News Anchor, saying on the David Letterman show, "George Bush is the commander in chief. If he asks me to line up in uniform, to clean latrines, to [do] KP duty or carry a rifle, he has only to tell me where to line up and I’m there." I would respectfully submit that the American public would be far better served by having Mr. Rather conduct some in-depth journalistic investigation rather than put on his cheerleader’s outfit and worry about the brand of rubber gloves he would purchase for his latrine duty.
"The hard truth is that the U.S. media left America as unprepared for these terrorist attacks as any Air Force general or CIA bureaucrat. As we dropped bombs on Iraq for 10 years running — justified or not — the U.S. media failed to report on it. Then suddenly, on Sept. 11, we think ‘We’re at war’ when in fact there hasn’t been a day since the Gulf War ended when an American aircraft hasn’t locked onto a target with a missile or bomb. We were at war, it’s just that the media didn’t think it was interesting enough to tell you about it. That’s our lesson to learn."--Michael Moran (senior producer for special projects at MSNBC.com; he worked as the BBC’s U.S. affairs analyst in London from 1993-96).
6. Mark Twain once said, "Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself."
The Senate, in an almost unparalleled rush to action, passed the "Uniting and Strengthening America Act" ("USA Act") of 2001 (S.1510). This bill was passed without any review by the Senate Judiciary Committee and with minimal debate in the Senate as a whole. With only one dissenting voice, that of Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, this bill was passed by the self-described "Greatest Deliberative Body in the World". Karen K. Narasaki, President of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, claims that the legislation is nothing more than "a prosecutor's wish list of powers that allows them unchecked discretion to curtail the civil liberties of all Americans."
Both Houses of Congress, with the lone exception of Rep. Barbara Lee, passed a War Powers Resolution essentially giving the President carte blanche in his prosecution of war and stifling dissent at home. This is nothing new for Congress. In the 73 military interventions by the United States since our last declaration of war (12/8/41), including major wars in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, Congress has consistently shirked the responsibility imposed upon it by the Constitution; to wit, "The Congress shall have the Power…To declare War." (Article I, Section 8)
It is particularly interesting to note the reaction of Congress to the recent finding of anthrax in Sen. Tom Daschle’s office. The Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, with the collaboration of Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, responded by adjourning the House for a week, thus confirming not only Twain’s observation but also the terrorists’ ability to disrupt our lives. To its credit, the Senate continued to meet under makeshift conditions.
If the ghost of JFK were writing an update of Profiles in Courage at this time, it would rival in length The Wit and Wisdom of John Ashcroft and other recent classics of congressional fortitude. As Benjamin Franklin reminds us, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
7. The President has empowered the CIA, the same CIA that had no clue of the 9/11 attack, to take unprecedented actions. As reported by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post (10/21/01): "President Bush last month signed an intelligence order directing the CIA to undertake its most sweeping and lethal covert action since the founding of the agency in 1947, explicitly calling for the destruction of Osama bin Laden and his worldwide al Qaeda network, according to senior government officials. The president also added more than $1 billion to the agency's war on terrorism, most of it for the new covert action. The operation will include what officials said is "unprecedented" coordination between the CIA and commando and other military units. Officials said that the president, operating through his "war cabinet," has pledged to dispatch military units to take advantage of the CIA's latest and best intelligence."
Woodward continues: "Though the new intelligence war presents the CIA with an opportunity to excel, several officials noted that the campaign is also fraught with risk. The agency is being assigned a monumental task for which it is not fully equipped or trained, said one CIA veteran who knows the agency from many perspectives. Human, on-the-ground sources are scarce in the region and in the Muslim world in general. Since the end of the Cold War more than a decade ago, the Directorate of Operations (DO), which runs covert activity, has been out of the business of funding and managing major lethal covert action. The CIA has a history of bungling such operations going back to the 1950s and 1960s, most notably when the agency unsuccessfully plotted to assassinate Fidel Castro. In one of the celebrated anti-Castro plots, a CIA agent code-named AM/LASH planned to use Blackleaf-40, a high-grade poison, with a ballpoint-hypodermic needle on the Cuban leader. The device was delivered on Nov. 22, 1963, and a later CIA inspector general's report noted it was likely "at the very moment President Kennedy was shot." Though no connections were ever established between the Castro plots and the Kennedy assassination, the CIA's reputation was severely tarnished. The covert war in Nicaragua in the 1980s was another source of negative publicity, as the CIA mined harbors without adequate notification to Congress and published a 90-page guerrilla-warfare manual on the "selective use of violence" against targets such as judges, police and state security officials. It became known as the "assassination manual." William J. Casey, President Ronald Reagan's CIA director from 1981 to early 1987, was mired in the disastrous outcome of the "off-the-books" operations of the Iran-contra scandal. That scandal involved secret arms sales to Iran and the illegal diversion of profits from those sales to the contra rebels supported by the CIA in Nicaragua. Reagan and Casey had trouble when they sought to punish covertly the terrorists responsible for the 1983 truck bombing of the U.S. Marine compound in Lebanon, which killed 241 American servicemen in the deadliest terrorist attack on Americans before Sept. 11. Casey worked personally and secretly with Saudi Arabia to plan the assassination of Muslim leader Sheikh Fadlallah, the head of the Party of God or Hezbollah, who was connected to the Marine bombing. The method of retaliation was a massive car bomb that was exploded 50 yards from Fadlallah's residence in Beirut, killing 80 people and wounding 200 in 1985. But Fadlallah escaped without injury. Since the Ford administration, all presidents have signed an executive order banning the CIA or any other U.S. government agency from involvement in political assassination."
In defense of the CIA, FBI and other agencies charged with protecting our borders, keep in mind the following facts. It is possible to enter the United States from 3,700 terminals in 301 points of entry. Annually there are 489 million people, 127 million cars and 211 thousand boats that enter our country. In addition, there are five million forty-foot shipping containers that enter each year (one million through Long Beach, CA). At Long Beach, each of these containers is inspected for an average of 20 seconds, because thorough inspection would take five inspectors three hours each to inspect. Could illicit materials be brought into this country under such conditions?
8. Once again we are continuing the cycle of stupidity that has led to our support of the Ayatollah Khomani , Manual Noriega, Saddam Hussian and countless other allies-turned-enemies since WW II. A description of the history of our relationship with Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban is instructive. As Arundhati Roy reported in the Guardian (9/29/01):
"In 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA and Pakistan's ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) launched the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA. Their purpose was to harness the energy of Afghan resistance to the Soviets and expand it into a holy war, an Islamic jihad, which would turn Muslim countries within the Soviet Union against the communist regime and eventually destabilize it. When it began, it was meant to be the Soviet Union's Vietnam. It turned out to be much more than that. Over the years, through the ISI, the CIA funded and recruited almost 100,000 radical mojahedin from 40 Islamic countries as soldiers for America's proxy war. The rank and file of the mojahedin were unaware that their jihad was actually being fought on behalf of Uncle Sam. (The irony is that America was equally unaware that it was financing a future war against itself.)"
Roy continues: "Civil war in Afghanistan raged on. The jihad spread to Chechnya, Kosovo and eventually to Kashmir. The CIA continued to pour in money and military equipment, but the overheads had become immense, and more money was needed. The mojahedin ordered farmers to plant opium as a "revolutionary tax". The ISI set up hundreds of heroin laboratories across Afghanistan. Within two years of the CIA's arrival, the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland had become the biggest producer of heroin in the world, and the single biggest source of the heroin on American streets. The annual profits, said to be between $100 billion and $200 billion, were ploughed back into training and arming militants."
Of course, one of the Afghan "freedom fighters" was none other that our current target, Osama Bin Laden.
To top off this story, on 5/17/01, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced a gift of $43 million to the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan, for declaring that opium growing is "against the will of God". As LA Times writer Robert Scheer so presciently noted (5/22/01), "So, too, by the Taliban's estimation, are most human activities, but it's the ban on drugs that catches this administration's attention.
Finally, a recent United Nations report indicated that 83% of the current opium crop in Afghanistan, significantly curtailed under the Taliban, is now under the control of our erstwhile allies, the Northern Alliance.
Anybody see a pattern here? Now we are studiously courting the Northern Alliance, a group with an exceedingly spotty record on humanitarian issues, particularly toward women, as well as bringing into coalition some of the most corrupt and dictatorial regimes on the planet, all in the name of a "war on terrorism". As one member of Congress related to me recently, "Our weapons always seem to outlast our relationships."Background of the Attack"
For a moment, let us look as dispassionately as possible at the carnage of September 11. First, it is clear that it was a diabolically brilliant plan, executed with an enormous degree of professional skill. It appears to be the most prominent in a series of attacks on US military and economic targets, and I believe that it would be extremely dangerous and irresponsible for us to ignore what seems to me to be a very clear message; namely, that there are serious and competent people who are upset enough with US military and economic aggression that they are willing to take some despicable steps to make their point. The recent anthrax attacks upon media and political officials suggest that these groups may also be seen as complicit in terrorists’ perceived grievances. It should clearly be noted that to make these points in no way excuses the crimes against humanity perpetrated on September 11.
Is this anger at the US understandable? Consider the following quote, made shortly after WW II: ‘We have about 60% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its’ population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about such vague and unreal objectives as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better." - George Kennan, former Head of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff, Document PPS23, 24th February 1948. I consider this statement to be the first and worst of a long series of similar sentiments by government officials:
1. Henry Kissinger was asked about the morality of a policy that encouraged the people to revolt against their central government in order to obtain a minor political gain for us--and then when we achieved other goals, we would betray the people and allowed them to be slaughtered. And Kissinger replied that covert military activity is not to be confused with missionary work.
2. On September 11 1973, exactly 28 years before the fires of 9/11, the Presidential Palace in Chile was stormed. Kissinger had written the epitaph of Allende and Chilean democracy long before when he commented on the results of the elections: "I don't see why we have to stand by and watch a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people."
3. Leslie Stahl: "We have heard that a half million children have died (as a result of economic sanctions against Iraq)--more children than died in Hiroshima. ...Is the price worth it?
Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it."
- CBS 60 Minutes Interview, May, 1996
4. "If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future."-- Madeleine Albright (3/9/99)
5. "What we say, goes." --President George Bush, in describing the New World Order during the Gulf War.
Two brief quotes on the creation of terrorists:
1. "We are creating an entire [Iraqi] generation learning to hate and that have experienced so much pain and suffering [under sanctions] that some of them may feel no other choice than to carry out terrorism and suicide bombings. We must heal [the humanitarian suffering in Iraq]. Everything we are doing is moving away from that healing process...We should consider a Marshall Plan for Iraq to end the suffering of sanctions and bring Iraq back into the family of nations." (Scott Ritter, former UNSCOM weapons inspector--the United Nations arms inspection team--2/18/99)
2. Former President Jimmy Carter stated, "We have only to go to Lebanon, to Syria, to Jordan, to witness firsthand the intense hatred among many people for the United States, because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers, women and children and farmers and housewives, in those villages around Beirut...as a result, we have become a kind of Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of hostages and that is what has precipitated some terrorist attacks." (New York Times—3/26/89)
Since 1890 the United States has been involved in 133 military interventions; 73 since WW II (courtesy of Zoltan Grossman, < email@example.com> ). Many of these interventions have been against our own American citizens, but the vast majority have been inflicted upon people elsewhere in the world. In addition, our government has been the primary sponsor of other brutal dictatorships (and occasional "democracies") in systematic "murder by proxy" for which we can be held no less responsible. As Martin Luther King said in 1967, at the height of the war in Vietnam, "'My government is the world's leading purveyor of violence." A detailed examination of our country’s activities may be found in the 8-part series, "Why America is Hated", available upon request.
It is conservatively estimated that the United States has been responsible for at least eight million deaths across the world since the end of WW II, so there would certainly be no shortage of potential terrorist candidates. In particular we could consider Asia (Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, East Timor, Afghanistan), Africa (Algeria, Congo, Sudan, Angola, Libya, Somalia), Central America (Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Panama, Grenada, El Salvador, Haiti), South America (Chile, Brazil, Argentina), the Balkans (Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia) as potential harboring grounds for those who wish us harm. However, if government reports are to be believed, the focus today is on the Middle East as the terrorist breeding ground of choice. Here again there is no shortage of candidates—the installation of the Shah of Iran and the resulting 70,000 deaths over the three decades of the Shah’s rule; the direct and proxy killing of tens of thousands in Lebanon, culminating in the massacres at Sabra and Shatila by Israeli proxies in 1982--but clearly the two most festering wounds are to be found in Palestine and Iraq.
Five days before September 11th’s tragedy I returned from two weeks of training Palestinian mental health professionals in techniques of treatment of psychological trauma. In the course of our work, I had the opportunity to visit several refugee camps and towns that had been the recent recipients of Israeli military action. In Beit Jala, adjacent to Bethlehem, we visited a Palestinian man who had been involved for several years in joint Palestinian/Israeli Boy Scout activities, at no little risk to himself as potentially being seen as a collaborator. His house has been repeatedly shelled and attacked by settlers and the Israeli Defense Forces, and while we were there, we dug a piece of shrapnel out of his living room wall which had American markings (I found similar markings on spent weaponry in Iraq.). He is a kind and gentle man, and he said, "I have worked for years for reconciliation, and is this how they repay me?" In Ramallah, a female physician approached me at a break in training to discuss more fully the possibilities of nonviolent direct action, which I had mentioned in passing. Again, we have a highly educated, compassionate Palestinian physician here. I was stunned when she said, "When I pass the checkpoints, sometimes I think that if I had a bomb, I would use it." If highly trained and humanitarian individuals such as these harbor such thoughts, one wonders what individuals who have lived their lives with their family in a 15x15 concrete block room, with marginal food and only occasional running water, with raw sewage running in the streets, with close friends and relatives having been killed by American weaponry--one wonders what must go through their minds. In Iraq I saw similar devastation—thousands of children dying for the want of simple antibiotics, with full knowledge that the cause of their distress was my own government. I would submit that we could destroy every marginal government in the world, and we still would have a major problem on our hands.
A recent report of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee provides details: "In the past year [9/29/00-9/28/01], 692 Palestinians were killed [recently updated to 898, including 698 Palestinians and 178 Israelis] and 15,833 injured by Israeli security forces and 52 were assassinated (assassinations are considered to be war crimes under the Hague Treaty of 1907). 166 of those killed and 6000 of those injured were under the age of 18. According to reports, 809 Palestinian homes were demolished, including 25 in Jerusalem. At last count, 112,900 olive trees [a primary source of income for many Palestinian families] were uprooted from Palestinian land. 1,026 people were arrested or detained, among them 170 children, ten women, and two doctors. Israel has attacked defenseless Palestinian towns with [American-made] F-16 jets and used heavy equipment, including tanks, against civilians. The daily loss to the Palestinian economy is estimated at $12.7 million. The unemployment rate is now 50-60%. Two million Palestinians (two-thirds of the total population) are now living below the poverty line [less than $3 per day]. The total economic loss is $6 billion. The Beit Jala Government Hospital, the Dibs Hospital, the Malta Hospital, and the Yamama Hospital in Bethlehem; the Beit Sahour Medical Center in Beit Sahour; the Alia Hospital in Hebron all received direct hits. In Ramallah, rockets hit the Early Childhood Center and a school for the blind. Several private clinics were fired at with live ammunition. Israeli settlers, using automatic weapons, attacked the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem, wounding the hospital security guard. The West Bank and Gaza have been cut off from the outside world. The so-called safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank has been closed for the year. Almost all cities and villages are separated from each other. Twenty-nine towns and villages are completely isolated."
Atrocities have been committed by each side, as seen in the televised deaths of 12 –yr.-old Mohammed Al-Durah, and the murder if Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. According to former Israeli parliamentarian Uri Avnery, Israeli sharpshooters are being used to target the participants in the uprisings, particularly the upper body (especially the eyes).
With the issuance of the Balfour Declaration by Britain in November of 1917, Jews were promised British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Little is said today of the second part of the famous sentence promising a Jewish homeland, but it goes on to say "…it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine…." Since that time, the Palestinian residents, through wars and other actions not of their making, have been reduced to refugee and third-class citizens on their own land.
For example, within Israel itself there is a 20% minority of Palestinians. These Israeli citizens must carry identity cards listing their religion; they are barred from service in the military (a prerequisite for advancement in Israeli society); they are forbidden to reside in the 92% of Israel that is reserved for Israeli Jews. They hold 8% of the seats in the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), 6% of government jobs, one-half percent of the senior jobs in government companies, and less than 1% of all professorships in Israeli universities. There has never been an Israeli-Arab politician in the cabinet, nor has there ever been a government ruling coalition that contained an Israeli-Arab political party.
Many Palestinians still live in refugee camps, with water available two days a week, in full view of Israeli settlements with swimming pools and irrigated lawns and gardens. Since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, gross national product in the West Bank and Gaza has dropped by 35%, with income per capita having dropped a thousand dollars to $1500. While the economy is bad, the personal humiliation that Palestinians suffer is even worse. I have witnessed myself severe harassment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers and settlers, harassment which is generally suffered in silence, a silence which covers an overpowering rage and anger. The West Bank is carved up by a series of Israeli-only expressways, making travel within the West Bank extraordinarily difficult, and army checkpoints are frequent. It is impossible for a Palestinian Christian living in Bethlehem to travel the seven miles to Jerusalem to worship at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, or for a Muslim in El Bireh to travel the ten miles to Jerusalem to worship at al-Aqsa mosque.
As Robert Fisk reported (10/9/01): "But when the terrifying details of the hijacker Mohamed Atta's will were published last week, dated April 1996, no one could think of any event that month that might have propelled Atta to his murderous behaviour. Not the Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon, nor the Qana massacre by Israeli artillery of 106 Lebanese civilians in a UN base, more than half of them children. For that's what happened in April, 1996. No, of course that slaughter is not excuse for the crimes against humanity in the United States last month. But isn't it worth just a little mention, just a tiny observation, that an Egyptian mass-murderer -to-be wrote a will of chilling suicidal finality in the month when the massacre in Lebanon enraged Arabs across the Middle East?"
Without a timely solution to this situation--Palestinians, Israelis and Americans alike are in increased danger of mutual destruction of massive proportions.
Reliable UN agencies put the figure for children’s deaths in Iraq due to the US/UK sanctions policy (do not be mislead by the fact that it masquerades as "UN" policy) at 500,000 (additional unofficial estimates go as high as 1,000,000). (For comparison purposes, the total number of American battle deaths in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnamese War were 566,000.) A child dies from malnutrition, diarrhea, leukemia or curable infectious disease every ten minutes. Thirteen percent of Iraqi infants do not live to see their first birthday. The 160% increase in mortality rate for children in just ten years exceeds that of any disease in human history in so short a time. Iraqi physicians, once the medical leaders of the Arab world, have not been able to access medical texts and journals since 1990.
The sanctions against Iraq, prior to the Gulf War one of the most advanced societies in the Middle East, have reduced the economic output of Iraq, a country of twenty-four million people, to less than one-half of the economic output of metropolitan Ann Arbor, MI, my home town of less than 1/100 the population of Iraq. In 1989 the Iraqi education budget was $2.1 billion (supporting free education through graduate school for any Iraqi citizen); ten years later it had been reduced to $229 million. Literacy has gone from 90% to 66%. Of the $20 billion (over three years) that has been provided through the Oil-for-Food Program, $7 billion has gone for UN expenses and reparations, leaving $13 billion for use by the Iraqi public. This figures out to about $190 per person annually, or about 50c a day. Even in Iraq, it is impossible to live on that sum.
The "smart sanctions" proposed by the Bush administration will have minimal positive effect, and according to former UN Humanitarian Coordinator to Iraq Denis Halliday, may even do harm. The basic problem is that Iraq has no access to their own oil reserves, and "smart sanctions" are designed to reduce what little revenue Iraq receives from minimal outside trade. It should be noted that Iraq receives NO direct funds from the current Oil-for-Food program. All funds are held in escrow by the UN and released for purchases approved by the UN "661 committee", in which, as it does in the Security Council, the US has a frequently-exercised veto.
We are bombing Iraq about every third day, at a cost of approximately one billion dollars per year. (For that figure we could put an additional teacher or social worker in every middle and high school in the United States.) The "no-fly zones", originally a US/UK/France invention (France has since withdrawn), have NO standing with the UN or in international law. Over 300 civilians have been killed by these "routine" bombings, with countless others injured.
It is clear that the United States, from the outset of the Gulf War, planned the ultimate sanctions policy which has resulted in such devastation for the Iraqi people. Col. John Warden explained our Gulf War bombing of Iraq's civilian infrastructure. "Saddam Hussein cannot restore his own electricity. ... It gives us long-term leverage." A Pentagon officer added, "People say, 'You didn't recognize that it was going to have an effect on water or sewage.' Well, what were we trying to do with sanctions --- help out the Iraqi people? No. What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of sanctions."--Washington Post (6/23/91)
The above information, readily available from UN sources, is virtually unknown to the American public because of media disinterest or incompetence, but is common knowledge in the Arab world. There is no more succinct summary of sanctions than that given by Rep. David Bonior (MI), "[Sanctions constitute] infanticide raised to the level of policy."
Nature of Future Attacks
I do not wish to be pessimistic, but I have had some chilling thoughts on the potential for future disaster. First, I think it important that we recognize what did NOT happen on 9/11. The loss of life, while in the thousands, could easily have been in the hundreds of thousands, even millions.
Any group capable of Tuesday's attack must have access to chemical and biological weapons, and probably nuclear as well. Though certainly not an expert, I believe that such weapons would, in fact, be much easier to use, and require fewer conspirators, than Tuesday's attack. They would also be virtually unstoppable. For example, a nuclear physicist here at the University of Michigan told me in 1996 that two ping-pong ball-sized pieces of refined plutonium, if touched together, would cause an explosion equivalent to two Hiroshima bombs. This could easily be done by a single individual. Such materials appeared on the black market after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and have already been intercepted in Germany. No one knows where these materials might be now. I believe this to be a very real threat, and if current trends in US policies continue, I would be surprised if we were not the victims of such an attack within the next few years.
With respect to biological/chemical weaponry, it is estimated that more than ten nations have current capability to produce weapons-grade material. Some 46 labs worldwide offer anthrax for sale. In fact, Saddam Hussein purchased his initial stock of biological agents, including anthrax, from the American Type Culture Collection in Rockville, MD. There are approximately 1500 germ banks throughout the world, providing cultures to tens of thousands of researchers. It would be extraordinarily naïve for us to assume that the security in each of these labs is sufficient to prevent potential terrorist incursion.
Origin of Future Attacks
As indicated above, terrorist possibilities may at least be found in some twenty nine countries on four continents. However, it would also be wise to remember that prior to 9/11, the most devastating terrorist attack in our history was committed by American citizens, in fact, American veterans who learned their trade during the Gulf War. There are many among us who harbor resentments, real or imagined, due to the fact that the United States leads the industrialized world (in term of rates per capita) in billionaires, children living in poverty, wealth, income inequality, population without health care, infant mortality, death of children under 5 years old, highest paid athletes, lowest paid teachers, homelessness, shortest life expectancy, executive salaries, pay inequality between executives and average workers, percentage of population who have been victim of a crime, murder rate, murder of children, firearm deaths, reported rapes, percent of population incarcerated and capital punishment. Many of these individuals might be capable of extreme violence, but in order to understand the underlying rage, it is important to understand the nature of violence in general.
The Nature of Violence
Violence consists of actions which are designed to cause physical, mental, economic or other harm to others, and/or to benefit the self at the EXPENSE OF OTHERS. It always contains an element of "I am better / more deserving / more needy / etc." than the victim of the violence. It usually:
a. involves a power differential, with most (but not all) of the violence going from the more powerful toward the less powerful,
b. violates the common religious/ethical concept of "treating others as you wish to be treated yourself", and
c. ends with feelings of "righteous justification" on the part of the perpetrator and "anger/frustration/helplessness/hopelessness" on the part of the victim.
It is critical to note that violence is not just physical, in fact, I would suggest that violence is not even primarily physical. Neil Wollman and Bradley Yoder have recently constructed a violence index for the United States in which violence is subdivided into "Personal" and "Societal" categories, where Personal contains most of the actions normally thought of as violent, such as physically violent crimes, but also containing crimes that are not physically violent, such as burglary, embezzlement, etc. Societal violence is a much broader category, and contains items such as social negligence/poverty, misapplications of criminal justice, as well as environmental, economic, racial*, gender* and medical coercion. (*Not included by Wollman/Yoder). Note that, by and large, personal violence is illegal, whereas societal violence is legal. (For a classic example of societal economic violence see the NY Times front page article "Bailout for Airlines Showed the Weight of a Mighty Lobby"—10/10/01.)
This leads to a speculation about hierarchies of violence, with types of physical violence at the bottom, and types of societal violence at the top. The lower in the hierarchy (e.g. physical), the more widely available is the form of violence. That is, physical violence is potentially available to almost everyone, and from numerous studies (e.g., Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority studies) we must reluctantly conclude that almost everyone is capable of physical violence under appropriate circumstances. Higher forms of violence (e.g., economic) are reserved for those with the resources to implement them, and usually higher forms of violence are more likely to be successful over lower forms of violence. In general, people will use the highest form of violence available to them, because:
a. it is less physically (and otherwise) dangerous,
b. the power differentials (and likelihood of success) are greater, and
c. it is more likely to be legal.
Violence of any type tends to evoke a violent response. Again, people will tend to respond with the highest form of violence available to them, which would sometimes be a form of societal violence, but would always include as an option some form of physical violence. Thus, for example, the Palestinian children who throw stones are responding not just to Israeli military actions (physical violence), but also (even more so) to social negligence, misapplications of criminal justice, harassment, and grinding poverty (societal violence). They are responding to societal violence with physical violence, the only form of violence available to them.
One other important concept is that of humiliation (Lindner, 2001). Basically Lindner has found that when humiliation is added to the violence matrix, the resulting violent response is intensified. It can certainly be argued that humiliation is present in spades through past actions of the United States and its surrogates, so the intensity of the violent reaction is hardly surprising.
Back in the early 70’s, Abraham Maslow defined a basic hierarchy of needs, ranging from the most basic (physiological—hunger, thirst), to safety, to belongingness/love, to esteem, to self-actualization (the highest). When lower needs are unsatisfied, higher needs cannot be met. And when lower needs are unsatisfied, violence is almost certain to have occurred, and a violent reaction may be anticipated. In other words, when Maslow's needs are not met, it provides a fertile ground for despair to grow, supplemented by religious fanaticism. Our task then, is to see that these lower-hierarchy needs are satisfied throughout the world, both as part of a moral and ethical duty, and as a means of protecting ourselves.
Immediate Future Actions
1. What do we do now? Certainly the perpetrators of Tuesday's act must be brought to justice. The following are a combination of suggestions of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Australian Nicholas Abbey.
a. Convene a meeting of the Security Council.
b. Request that the perpetrators of September 11 be tried in absentia in an ad hoc international court pending the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC could be a powerful institution to bring to justice those who commit crimes against humanity. This international court should have authority to seek out, extradite or arrest and try those responsible for the September 11 attack and those who commit or are conspiring to commit future attacks.
c. Establish an international military or police force under the control of UN which can effectuate the arrests of those responsible for the September 11 attacks and those who commit or are conspiring to commit future attacks. It is crucial that such force should be under control of the UN and not a mere fig leaf for the United States as was the case in the war against Iraq.
However, there is no short-term solution to terrorism. I'm convinced that the only reasonable road to take involves a close and painful examination of our role in the world. People do hate us, and even though we might disagree with the reasons, it is crucial that we understand and respond to them if we want to avoid even greater disaster in the time to come.
2. Stop the bombing of Afghanistan and start serious relief work immediately to avert a human catastrophe as winter approaches. Arundhati Roy (10/23/01) states, "Reports have begun to trickle in about civilian casualties, about cities emptying out as Afghan civilians flock to the borders which have been closed. Main arterial roads have been blown up or sealed off. Those who have experience of working in Afghanistan say that by early November, food convoys will not be able to reach the millions of Afghans (7.5m, according to the UN) who run the very real risk of starving to death during the course of this winter. They say that in the days that are left before winter sets in, there can either be a war, or an attempt to reach food to the hungry. Not both. As a gesture of humanitarian support, the US government air-dropped 37,000 packets of emergency rations into Afghanistan. It says it plans to drop a total of 500,000 packets. That will still only add up to a single meal for half a million people out of the several million in dire need of food. Aid workers have condemned it as a cynical, dangerous, public-relations exercise….After three years of unremitting drought, an air-dropped airline meal in Jalalabad! The level of cultural ineptitude, the failure to understand what months of relentless hunger and grinding poverty really mean, the US government_s attempt to use even this abject misery to boost its self-image, beggars description."
Recently Barbara Kingsolver wrote, "The word ‘intelligence’ keeps cropping up, but I feel like I'm standing on a playground where the little boys are all screaming at each other, ‘He started it!’ and throwing rocks that keep taking out another eye, another tooth. I keep looking around for somebody's mother to come on the scene saying, ‘Boys! Boys! Who started it cannot possibly be the issue here. People are getting hurt.’ I am somebody's mother, so I will say that now: The issue is, people are getting hurt. We need to take a moment's time out to review the monstrous waste of an endless cycle of retaliation. The biggest weapons don't win this one, guys. When there are people on Earth willing to give up their lives in hatred and use our own domestic airplanes as bombs, it's clear that we can't out-technologize them. You can't beat cancer by killing every cell in the body--or you could, I guess, but the point would be lost. This is a war of who can hate the most. There is no limit to that escalation. It will only end when we have the guts to say it really doesn't matter who started it, and begin to try and understand, then alter the forces that generate hatred."
3. End aid to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority
Lets not pretend here; realistically this means ending aid to Israel (the PA "only" receives aid in the millions). Derrick Jackson reports in the Boston Globe (9/21/01) that "Since World War II, and despite some ups and downs in our relationship, Israel has been the largest total recipient of American aid, between $81 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service, and $92 billion, according to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, a think tank founded by former American foreign service officers. The beginning of large-scale sales to Israel began with the selling of Hawk missiles by President John F. Kennedy. Today, Israel has 320 American-made F-16 fighter planes, more than any other nation in the world except for the United States. Israel has ordered 100 more, which will be delivered through 2009. While Palestinian children are criminalized for throwing rocks, Israel has not been seriously criticized for using its 50 American-made Apache helicopters (with orders for 29 more) to attack Palestinians with laser-guided missiles. According to Newsweek last month, US-made helicopters have been involved in nine of 29 assassination attempts by Israel. ‘We spend a lot of money buying arms in the United States,’ Shlomo Dror, an Israeli defense spokesman, told Newsweek. ‘I'm sure US companies would not want that to change.’'
Jimmy Carter, in a Washington Post article just less than a year ago (11/26/00) wrote, "An underlying reason that years of U.S. diplomacy have failed and violence in the Middle East persists is that some Israeli leaders continue to "create facts" by building settlements in occupied territory. Their deliberate placement as islands or fortresses within Palestinian areas makes the settlers vulnerable to attack without massive military protection, frustrates Israelis who seek peace and at the same time prevents any Palestinian government from enjoying effective territorial integrity. At Camp David in September 1978, President Anwar Sadat, Prime Minister Menachem Begin and I spent most of our time debating this issue before we finally agreed on terms for peace between Egypt and Israel and for the resolution of issues concerning the Palestinian people. The bilateral provisions led to a comprehensive and lasting treaty between Egypt and Israel, made possible at the last minute by Israel's agreement to remove its settlers from the Sinai. But similar constraints concerning the status of the West Bank and Gaza have not been honored, and have led to continuing confrontation and violence."
I am personally convinced that Israeli intransigence, and unquestioning American support, on the settlement issue (as well as others) has now cost significant loss of American life. While I hold American lives to be no more valuable than those of Israelis, Palestinians, or other citizens of the world, I believe that as the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict come more to the forefront of American consciousness, our continuing blind support of Israeli policies (and the resulting loss of American life) will not be acceptable to American voters.
It is clear that both Israelis and Palestinians have committed atrocities against each other for more than a half century. However, there is a vast disproportionality in the responsibility for these acts. B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, reports fatalities prior to the start of the al Aqsa intifada in an approximate eight to one ratio, Palestinian to Israeli (a ratio which I assume most Americans and many Israelis would think to be the reverse). I believe that this eight to one ratio is also a useful number to keep in mind in terms of assigning responsibility for the current situation, and also for assigning responsibility for compromise to achieve a just and lasting peace in the area. Let me speak plainly—if Israel continues its current intransigence with respect to Palestinians, there will soon be a terrible price to pay for both Israelis and the rest of the world.
I am sorry if I have offended my Israeli and Palestinian friends with the above analysis, but good friends speak the truth to each other. I am convinced that only a full understanding of the facts of the situation will lead to productive resolution. I am also painfully aware of the culpability of my own government, myself and my fellow citizens for not acting earlier to prevent the deaths that have occurred within both the Palestinian and Israeli communities, and now on American soil.
4. End the Economic Sanctions Against Iraq. Richard Butler, the controversial former head of UNSCOM (the United Nations arms inspection team), has publicly criticized the sanctions imposed on Baghdad after the Gulf War. "I deeply believe that sanctions as now applied to Iraq have been utterly counterproductive for this disarmament purpose." (6/4/00)
"One of the things we've used as a weapon, which I think is counterproductive, are sanctions. I think in every instance where we have sustained sanctions, they are counterproductive. In Iraq, Iran, Libya, Cuba, North Korea - we demonize those nations in their entirety. And the only demon in those countries, if there is one, would be the leader. But if we impose a sanction against the people who are already suffering under a despot, we tend to make a despot popular. And we give him an opportunity to say, 'All of the economic woes that you suffer are not because of my misrule, they're because of the American sanctions.' In addition to that, we hurt the people severely...And if we had full diplomatic relations with the countries that I have mentioned, there would be some restraint from that, but it's really shocking to look at the World Health Organization and the United Nation's statistics of the instance of disease and the shortened life expectancy of the children in Iraq. It's hard to talk about this because some people are afraid you're defending Saddam Hussein. I think the best way to change the government of Iraq and Cuba and others, is to abandon our sanctions and let there be free trade, free visitation, then give them the food and medicine they need and let them see the advantages of trading with us and then maybe we can open their eyes to what freedom and democracy really mean."--Former President Jimmy Carter
"But I think that the targeting of innocent civilians is the worst thing about modern conflicts today. And the extent to which more and more people seem to believe it is legitimate to target innocent civilians to reach their larger political goals, I think that's something that has to be resisted at every turn...And when people take on others, they ought to be those that have the responsibility for defending -- if somebody wants to fight, at least they ought to leave the civilians alone." President Bill Clinton (3/21/00)
Again, let me speak plainly. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark has claimed that we are committing genocide against the Iraqi people. Not only is he correct, but that view is widely held in the Arab world. Would this not make the terrorist options described above plausible to individuals and organizations living under conditions for which the United States is primarily responsible? Make no mistake, I condemn genocide and killing in all forms, but we ignore the actions of our government only at the risk of additional horrible acts against innocent American citizens.
Long Term Future Actions
As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." I believe that American citizens are at a critical choice point. One choice is to continue the status quo, which means exporting "the new world order" to the rest of the world, which I believe will inevitably led to the fall of the "American empire". It is hubris in the extreme to assume that the American empire will somehow last forever, ignoring the fate of all other empires throughout thousands of years of recorded history. Hopefully the memory of fall of the Soviet empire just over a decade ago will sound an alarm.
The second choice is to seize the opportunity to recapture our democracy and build a culture in which the valuable and productive parts of the American experience would bring benefits to ourselves and to the entire world. In order to do this, I believe there are several specific long term steps that we need to consider at this time, both political and personal.
1. We must do something about the arrogance of the United States. At the turn of the last century, US Senator Albert Beveridge (1/9/1900) said, "We are the ruling race of the world . . . We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world . . . He has marked us as his chosen people . . . He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples." While no politician today could get away with such an outrageous statement, we have failed to approve the Convention on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms, the Verification Protocol for the Biological Weapons Convention, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Land Mines Treaty, and the Kyoto Climate Protocol. In addition, we are apparently going to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and we effectively left the recent Durban Conference on Racism. For many years we have been in arrears on our dues to the United Nations. What kind of message does this send to the rest of the world? Perhaps one clue is that we were voted off UN Human-Rights panel (5/01). September 11 may have been another.
2. If we really want to reduce the terrorist threat and promote democracy in other parts of the world, we must move immediately to address worldwide the roots of terrorism—poverty, lack of education, inadequate food and water, and insufficient medical care. Hans Sponeck, former United Nations Coordinator for Iraq, wrote in a Geneva newspaper (9/13/01), "Hard and uncompromising questions about the causes of hate and terrorism, its extremest manifestation, will have to be asked with a sense of urgency, particularly among the leaders of the G8. There can be no room for excuses. Nor will high-spirited rhetoric suffice. The world has heard enough about good intentions and seen so pitifully little action in addressing poverty, improving education and providing basic health services for all. The resources are there and political commitment must make them available. "
3. Establish a true American Democracy. Politicians know that to refer to America as a democracy is a guaranteed applause line. And yet, time and time again, when there are attempts to actually increase democratic participation in our government, they suddenly come up with reasons why it won't work—"the system will be abused", "people won’t make informed choices", etc. Here’s my proposal: REQUIRE ALL CITIZENS TO VOTE—every election, every time. Reward them if they do; fine them if they don’t. Make getting a driver’s license, registering for school, buying Blizzards at Dairy Queen—well, you get the idea—make every privilege in the country conditional on a proven voting record. If people are going to live here and reap the benefits of our country, then they can sure take enough ownership in the system to vote.
4. While everybody is voting, I have a suggestion: Vote only women and minorities into office. Let’s face it, European-heritage white males (like me) have had their way for several centuries, and look where we’ve taken us. Thirty years of psychological clinical experience and fifty years of political observation suggest strongly to me that the particular skills that women and minorities have in the areas of cooperation and empathy would serve us well in the centuries ahead. Certainly there are exceptions (Margaret Thatcher, Madeline Albright and Clarence Thomas come to mind), but can you imagine that there would be starving children or indentured servitude in the United States if women and minorities were in control? Would they be discussing a missile defense shield?…or making real changes in the education of our children. I believe that women and minorities should set as a goal occupying a majority of local offices by 2006, a majority of state governments by 2010, a majority of federal offices (including the Presidency) by 2016, and a majority of the Supreme Court by 2020.
It’s really just a numbers game. There are 52,770 local governments (county-3,043, municipal-19,372, township-16,629, school district-13,726), containing some 400,000 seats. Clearly there are this many qualified women and minorities. And there are lots more women and minorities than there are white men. The math is simple--it only requires effort. I would further suggest that successful political movements never build from the top (President, House, Senate) down, but rather from the bottom up. As former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." The key to a hopeful future lies in the number of school board and council seats women and minorities are able to contest and capture.
5. Cut the defense budget by at least 50%. Consider the following facts:
a. The US is responsible for 36% of the world's military expenditures, more that the next 12 countries combined. <www.cdi.org/issues/wme/>
b. The US military budget is 22 times that of the 7 "rogue states" (Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, N. Korea, Sudan, Syria). <www.cdi.org/issues/wme/>
c. The combined military budgets of the 9 potential enemies of the US (rogue states + China and Russia) are 35% of the US military budget. <www.cdi.org/issues/wme/>
d. We are the number one arms dealer in the world, and number one in nuclear weapons.
Many would consider this as it should be, since there is an impression that the military establishment is financed out of a bottomless pit of money, but consider....
e. For the cost of a Stealth bomber (about 1 billion), we could put an additional teacher/social worker into EACH middle and high school in the country.
f. In my home town, Ann Arbor, MI, the residents and businesses through income tax payments contribute over $380,000,000 annually to the cost of present and past military-related activities (over $3500 per capita), an amount 25% GREATER THAN THE ANNUAL CITY AND SCHOOL BUDGETS COMBINED. There are priorities at work here, and I would submit, a powerful political argument to be made. It cannot be the case that Ann Arbor is unique in this respect. This argument must be made, and made at the local level!
The danger of a bloated military is that reasonable options to solving international disputes are never considered—reminiscent of the adage "if you give a man a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail". Or as Madeline Albright said to Gen. Colin Powell prior to the Gulf war: "What good is this marvelous military force, if we can never use it?"
Remember that "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."--President Dwight Eisenhower, from the Chance for Peace address delivered before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953.
6. Over the last several decades there has been a frightening concentration of power in the hands of a limited number of individuals. In particular, economic, political and media power has been thusly concentrated. In 1812, Jefferson warned us, "We must crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to bid defiance to the laws of our country." While I don’t have a rapid solution for this one, it seems clear that we need to extend democracy into economic, political and media realms. Here are a couple of ideas for doing so:
a. Have a seriously progressive income tax (95% or so upper marginal rate). Now I have nothing against Bill Gates or Warren Buffet—I assume they are very nice men—but does it really make sense for single individuals to control more wealth than many of the nations of the world? On a trip to the Soviet Union in 1974, at the height of the Cold War, I was experiencing a great deal of distress at the oppressive conditions under which the average Soviet citizen was attempting to live. However, I was delighted to learn that the highest-paid individual under that system was the head clown at the Moscow Circus. What kind of country would we have if the highest paid individual was the best teacher, the best firefighter, the best nurse, or the best mechanic?
b. Get serious about campaign finance reform: When people in this country pay money, they expect something in return. ‘Nuff said.
c. Does anybody but me miss the competition between newspapers? I don’t know how to go back to the past (maybe by having the internet replace current media sources), but the dearth of divergent views in the media is most disconcerting to me.
7. We are seriously shortchanging our children by plunking them in front of TVs while we go about the business of making money. By the time they are 13 children in America have witnessed on television 100,000 acts of violence, including 20,000 murders. They spend more time watching television than performing any other activity (including school and play) except for sleeping. A quarter century of scientific evidence closely establishes the link between violent TV and violent behavior—interestingly, information which has not been reported to the general public. We also know that active, participatory learning is much more powerful than passive (e.g., watching TV) learning, so what will we find in the next decade from a generation of children weaned on violent video/computer games, and not long after that, a generation weaned on violent virtual reality games? In addition to increasing violence, we are destroying the ability to think critically, a commodity who’s short supply should be obvious to all of us in the current crisis.
I don’t have a particular solution for TV except media responsibility and more parental involvement, but I do have a proposal for increasing the experience of our youth and sharpening their critical faculties. I am convinced that an optimal way to do this is through the requirement of one or two years of national service for all citizens upon graduating/leaving high school. This service would be composed of activities based on those carried out in the past by the Work Project Administration and presently engaged in by Vista, the Peace Corps, and similar organizations. Youth would earn credits to pay for later occupational training, college, etc., and ideally all youth would be required to perform a variety of tasks (manual labor, clerical work, teaching, and so on). Some part of the obligation would require work and travel outside the United States, so that the insular attitude so endemic among many Americans today could be addressed.
Certainly there are many other excellent possibilities for political and legislative change, but I’m certain that the adoption of the above ideas would lead to a sea change for the betterment of both Americans and citizens of the world at large.
My friend and colleague Helen Fox (9/21/01) wrote the following in response to the 9/11 tragedy: "Politicians and military brass make a strong show of their religious convictions in times like these. They call for a moment of silence. They show up at the National Cathedral. They have visited Mosques in New York and Washington, along with the news media. Yet major tenets of all the great religions are:
the love of life,
and the restraint from violence.
The Talmud states, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. That is the entire law, all the rest is commentary." Hinduism and Buddhism offer similar expressions of the Golden Rule: "This is the sum of duty; do naught to others which if done to thee would cause thee pain." says the Hindu Mahabharata. Buddhism teaches, "Hurt not others with that which pains yourself." The Koran tells Muslims that they are not allowed to kill women or children or unarmed men. It is prohibited to destroy buildings. It is prohibited to destroy a tree that has a green leaf. Christianity teaches: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to those that hate you. When someone strikes you, present to him other cheek. Resist not evil. What happens to these teachings when our emotions tell us to attack and seek revenge? Isn’t this exactly the moment those teachings were designed for?"
So let us be nonviolent and kind toward one another. For me (and most other white males) in particular, this is a difficult task, and I’m certain that my struggles with kindness are evident in various parts of this essay. If I was overly harsh toward my colleagues in politics and the media, I apologize, but I have been extraordinarily distressed by many of your actions over the last decade.
We must remember, however, that nonviolence is not passivity, as Gandhi clearly indicated when he said, "Without a direct active expression of it, nonviolence, to my mind, in meaningless." To espouse this great religious/ethical principle of nonviolence and kindness toward one another requires commitment and active participation.
In another era, Dr. Martin Luther King, in his famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail", admonished the "white moderates" who are "more devoted to `order' than to justice" on their lack of active participation in the cause of human rights. To that list I would add Black, Asian, Hispanic, Christian, Muslim and Jewish "moderates", who may recognize problems in our own country and worldwide challenges to human rights, but have not taken action. Dr. King said, "Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection." Archbishop Desmond Tutu states, "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Also remember Dante’s warning that "the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a moment of moral crisis seek to maintain their neutrality."
Can we be effective? Again, let’s look for guidance from Dr. King, who said, "...it does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds." And of course remember Margaret Mead’s guiding principle—"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.
"FEMA - 4186 - Photograph by Michael Rieger taken on 09-25-2001 in New York" by Michael Rieger - This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FEMA_-_4186_-_Photograph_by_Michael_Rieger_taken_on_09-25-2001_in_New_York.jpg#mediaviewer/File:FEMA_-_4186_-_Photograph_by_Michael_Rieger_taken_on_09-25-2001_in_New_York.jpg