Opposing the President's
Call for 'Relentless War'
by David Krieger, September 12, 2002
In an article reflecting on the anniversary of
September 11, President Bush wrote, in an instant, America was
transformed from a nation at peace to a country at war. We were
called to defend liberty against tyranny and terror. And we have
answered that call with the might of our military and the spirit
of a nation inspired by acts of heroism.
I am in complete accord on two issues. Yes, there
was a horrendous attack on two major structures that symbolize
our country s economic and military power, the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon, costing thousands of innocent lives. And yes,
there was genuine heroism shown by those who resisted the terrorist
attacks and by the emergency workers who sacrificed selflessly
for the victims of September 11.
But was America, as Bush claims, instantly transformed
from a nation at peace to a country at war? If it was transformed
in this way, it is because this is the direction in which Bush
and his advisors transformed it. Becoming a country at war meant
to the Bush administration an opportunity to expand US military
forces while constricting civil liberties for ordinary Americans.
Starting with his candidacy, Bush has pressed for increasing funding
for the military. The September 11 attacks, along with a frightened
and compliant Congress and American public, provided the opportunity
to do so.
We responded to September 11 with the might of
our military, which pummeled Afghanistan and attacked al Qaeda
training camps, leading to a regime change in Afghanistan. But
all of this military might has failed to apprehend Osama bin Laden,
the individual purported to be responsible for the attacks. Has
the use of this military might against Afghanistan truly made
us any more secure?
There are few signs that Americans are more secure
now than they were before the terrorist attacks. Our airports
and other potential targets remain penetratable by terrorists,
and virtually nothing has been done to address the root causes
of terrorism. Our policies on the Middle East have become less
even-handed, and we no longer seem to have sufficient respect
in the region to play the role of honest broker in a peace process.
Our dependence on foreign oil has not diminished. We have been
an obstacle to upholding and strengthening international law in
virtually all areas.
Bush and his military team have not spent much
time addressing the reasons that the terrorists chose to attack
symbols of American economic and military power. They have simply
used the blunt instrument of military force to strike out at a
regime viewed as dangerous. The United States under the Bush administration
appears more like a helpless flailing giant than a country basing
its responses on reason, law and morality. The Bush administration
seems oblivious to the decent respect for the opinions of Mankind
referred to by the founders of our nation in the Declaration of
Our attacks against Afghanistan have resulted in
the deaths and injuries of thousands of innocent Afghanis due
to our high-altitude bombing. Our response to September 11 has
probably killed more innocent Afghanis than the number of innocent
persons who died in the terrorist attacks. But our President tells
us we are a country at war, and dismisses the deaths of the innocent
people we kill as collateral damage.
This will be a long war, Mr. Bush tells the American
people, and unprecedented challenges await us. It will be a long
war because we are failing to take necessary steps to achieve
peace. It will be a long war because we are led by an administration
that has no vision of peace or of a better world for others. It
has no vision and few resources for alleviating poverty, or for
building schools instead of tanks. It has no vision of preserving
the environment and natural resources for future generations because
it is intently focused on goals that merely serve corporate interests.
It has no vision of halting arms sales, an area where the US remains
indisputably number one in the world. Nor does it have a vision
of bringing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction under
control. We are an empire and empires require double standards.
Thus, this will be a long war.
The concepts of war and defense have often been
confused in the minds of Americans, and appear particularly confused
in the minds of Bush and his advisors. Through most of our nation
s history, we had a War Department, but in 1947 the name of this
department was changed to the Department of Defense, one suspects
largely for purposes of public relations. Commenting on this change,
novelist Joseph Heller astutely observed that since switching
the name to Department of Defense, we have never again been in
danger of war, only of defense.
Now we are in danger of perpetual war. The United
States under the Bush administration is leading the world in exactly
the wrong direction, away from international law and toward increasing
reliance on military force. Although no connection has been found
between Iraq and the terrorist acts of September 11, Bush and
Cheney are eager to wage war against Iraq to overthrow Saddam
Hussein because Hussein may have weapons of mass destruction.
But other countries, including dictatorships, actually have weapons
of mass destruction. Possession of weapons of mass destruction
has never been the litmus test for launching a pre-emptive and
aggressive war. If we considered the elimination of nuclear weapons
truly important, perhaps we would model the behavior we seek for
It is highly unlikely that Saddam Hussein would
attempt to inflict injury on citizens of the United States even
if he had weapons of mass destruction unless, of course, he was
attacked by the United States. Such an attack would put American
soldiers in harm s way of Hussein s arsenal, and give Hussein
the right under international law to act in self-defense. This
right would still not include using weapons of mass destruction,
although he might still choose to use them illegally when confronted
by overwhelming US force.
Bush has called for our government to wage an effective
and relentless war against terrorists. Perhaps we should think
instead of waging peace against the terrorists, acting with such
justice and decency in the world that we would again be viewed
as a positive model.
How does a country wage peace? There are some seeds
of an answer in Bush’s advice to the American people: Overcome
evil with acts of goodness. Love a neighbor. Reach out to somebody
in need. Feed someone who is hungry, teach a child to read&.
These were Bush s suggestions for what Americans can do to help
in the war on terror. But imagine if these suggestions were followed
by our country in our policies toward the rest of the world. What
if America sought to overcome evil with acts of goodness, rather
than military might? What if America reached out to people everywhere
who were in need of food, shelter, health care and education?
Americans must choose the direction they wish to
take. If left to make the choice itself, the Bush administration
will lead the United States into a potentially devastating war
against Iraq, which will undoubtedly increase the already simmering
hatred toward the United States in most of the poorer areas of
the world. The only way that Mr. Bush can be derailed from the
perpetual war he seeks to wage is if the American people make
their voices heard so clearly and persistently that Congress will
have no alternative but to stand up to the President and say No!
If the American people choose to docilely follow Mr. Bush into
war against Iraq, we should not be surprised when the next front
of the war returns to America in the form of increased terrorism.
*David Krieger is president
of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.