The war chant
September 23, 2001
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe
I AM not too sure US policy makers have thought through what they are about to do or are aware of the frightening implications of their war chants. They are intent on prosecuting a war and no one shall stop them from carrying out their ignoble deeds. It seems as though the bombing of the World Trade Center (WTC) has given licence to every kind of vulgarity. President Bush says he will "rid the world of evil doers" and the Vice President calls for bin Laden's head "on a platter." In an un-Christian way, President Bush has taken us back to the US frontier days when posters proclaimed, "Wanted: Dead or Alive" and conjured memories of the savagery the white men practised against brown and black men of the world.
These are men who go to Church to ask God to grant them His mercies and to guide them in their endeavours. Next, they call for the destruction of entire societies: those who were involved; those who harboured them; and those innocent victims who happen to be in the way. President Bush declares: "They have roused a mighty giant, and make no mistake about it, we're determined [to wipe them out.]." He promised, we "will get them running, find them, [and] hunt them down." Afghanistan, he assures us, will be bombed back into the Stone Age if they do not turn over bin Laden.
These pronouncements have deep roots in American history. Describing the massacre of the Pequents at the hands of the English and the Narragansett at the birth of the English colonies in America, Governor William Bradford of Massachusetts offered a vivid description of their dependence on God as they burned the Indians to death: "It was a fearful sight to [see] them thus frying in the fyer, and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stinck and sente thereof. But the victory seemed a sweete sacrifice, and they gave the prays thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderful for them, thus inclose their enemies in their hands, and give them so speedy a victory over so proud and insulting an enemy." (Bradford's History of Plymouth Plantation). Andrew Jackson, another US president, added to the history of the white man's cruelty in the US. His policies, in the 1830s, completed the work Bradford started in eliminating the Indians from the face of the American continent.
The savageries Bradford and Jackson committed against the Indians in no way excuse the horrible barbarities committed against innocent people at the WTC. Yet, we should not reduce this matter to a clash of civilisations or a battle between values. Somewhere in this discourse there must be room for an examination of US foreign policy and how those decisions contributed to the situation with which we are faced today.
This is why we have to be circumspect about the one-sidedness of the views we have received from the US media. In this context, it is necessary to remember Huxley's warning that "Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth." Thus, while it was prudent to be silent in the immediate aftermath of this horrendous tragedy, it is important that progressive thinkers offer their perspective on these matters so that those under their charge (students, supporters, readers and members of our organisations) can benefit from their thoughts as we go through this painful experience.
Necessarily, the tragedy at the WTC cannot be reduced simply to a hatred for America or a dislike for the American way of life. We must have the courage to look at US foreign policies over the last 20 years and ask where the US went wrong conceptually and pragmatically. No serious observer of this tragedy can disregard US polices in the Middle East, its earlier support for the mujadeen in Afghanistan, its ten-year bombing of Iraq and its ancient city of Baghdad, the 200,000 children who died as a result of the UN embargo against Iraq, its uneven support of Israel and the use of its weapons to kill and maim the people of Palestine.
President Bush has asked his people to prepare for the casualties a sustained war will surely bring. When he addressed the joint houses of Congress, even the Democrats gave their unstinting support. No one was willing to say that the US is rushing into war much too quickly and unthinkingly. Yet, such unanimity should not blind us to Aleksei Arbatov's sentiments that although there is "total moral support" for the US and the struggle against terrorism, there also exists "a strong humanitarian concern not to resort to massive strikes, to nonselective actions which are unjustified from the moral point of view, to avenge the death of thousands of innocent with the deaths of tens of thousands of other innocent people."
At the dawn of the 21st century, the image of "the cowboy shooting from the hip" or Americans deliberately and systematically killing innocent, "non-civilised" people is unacceptable. We must have the courage to say a country's foreign policy cannot be governed by revenge. We must say that the savage acts of those who bombed the WTC must not be followed by savage acts of the US that can be defined also as state-terrorism. We must insist that terrorism cannot be rooted out by force alone even though reasonable and targeted force cannot be ruled out. Yet, the only lasting solution to this problems is an international policy which the weak and the strong alike can buy into, work with and participate in its construction.
The US is not entirely innocent in this crisis. The actions of US enemies were activated primarily against US policies rather than US persons. This is an important distinction as we seek to understand the essence of this international crisis. When madness inflames the world, there is need for commonsense and wisdom. May we have the clearness of mind and the courage of conviction to steer our national ship through this international sea of turbulence. In this way, we can prevent the world from falling into further barbarities.
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