Monday, May 2, 2011


Ten reasons militarism in response to 9/11 has missed the mark. It's time for change

So, American military personnel have killed Osama bin Laden.  I watched the breaking news and hours of follow-up analysis and coverage of the spontaneous gatherings of citizens in Washington, D.C. and at Ground Zero in New York City.

Though I imagine most people (myself included) can't quite put a finger on the exact relieving emotion we feel, the eruption of emotion late Sunday night seemed more the glee of violent vengeance than the satisfaction of justice.  The more somber language of politicians and news analysts seemed predictably self-justifying and guardedly self-congratulatory. 

Sunday night's announcement, conversations and images resurfaced a range of lingering thoughts and feelings that I continue to grapple with regarding America's leaders deciding to declare war on Afghanistan and Iraq in reaction to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

It would be a tragic mistake to follow a line of thought that the death of Osama bin Laden justifies everything.  Does it justify the torture, coercion, extreme renditions, dehumanizations and loss of moral integrity?  Does it justify two continuing wars that have thus far caused more than a million military and civilian casualties?  Does it justify the cost of more than a trillion dollars to US taxpayers and a debt and deficit that has led us to the brink of fiscal disaster?  Does Osama bin Laden's death--significantly or symbolically--justify such cost?

Sifting through my thoughts and feelings--many of which you can track by reading the archives of this blog since 2001--I restate below my ongoing concerns in a fresh way.

I am no expert. I am just a concerned citizen who opposed these wars and spoke out publicly against them before they commenced.  Every warning I uttered regarding these wars has come to pass.  I thought President Barack Obama would move to reverse Bush policies and end these wars.  Though saying he is committed to ending them, his Administration has thus far followed similar lines of justifications as GWB.  I regret this and I will continue to advocate with his Administration. 

Here are ten responses to nine and a half years of American military muscle-flexing: 

1. War and militarism was the wrong, irresponsible and ineffective reaction to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.  Instead, a response of a strategic, cooperative, and unprecedented international police action would have not only prevented further attacks, but gained the understanding and support of many who now despise America. The syntax of "war" short-circuits whatever untapped, legitimate international civilian and legal possibilities that exist or could be mustered.

2. The policy of preemptive war, outlined by GWB before attacking Afghanistan and Iraq, is morally indefensible, a reversal of historic American and international standards, and continues to foment excuses and unethical justifications for one group or nation attacking another.  The policy needs to be soundly and utterly denounced and reversed.  President Obama has not yet clearly done so.

3. The oft-repeated phrase "they hate our freedoms," referring to militant Muslim extremists, was wrong, misguided, misleading and incoherent jingoism.  Instead of labeling and name-calling and misidentifying sources of Islamist frustrations with the West, America's leaders could have committed to try to deeply understand--and help all American and Western interests understand--the religious roots of militant Islam, and, understanding, to have ceased unwittingly and repeatedly and often blatantly offending basic Islamist sensibilities.  We are no further down the road to understanding a decade later. Labels persist and anti-Muslim jingoism thrives.

4. Failure to deal in a timely and fair manner with the Palestinian issue fomented militant Islamic terrorism and continues to do so.  As long as Palestinians are perceived to be treated unjustly, militant extremist Islamists will have fuel and new recruits--and well beyond the Middle East region.  But, apparently, Israel seems to be no closer to acting on its promises regarding Palestine then ever.

5. If the attack on Afghanistan was unwise, America's attack on Iraq was completely unjustifiable.  The primary justifications given for attacking Iraq have proven invalid.  In fact, it has become clear that there was a coercive misuse of information and a directive use of misinformation by the Bush Administration regarding rationales for attacking Iraq.  Still, in the face of this, in the face of hundreds of thousands of casualties on every side, and in the face of Americans committing torturous atrocities in the name of freedom, no decision-maker is held accountable, no torture-memo-writer is held responsible, no official is called to justice.  Interesting: we say "justice was done" regarding bin Laden, but there is no justice--or even a pursuit of justice--regarding American atrocities.

6. Americans' elected leaders, by their choice to commit multiple billions of taxpayer dollars to what have become the longest wars in the nation's history, are as responsible for the fragile economic situation our government's spiraling debt is causing as anyone or anything else.  As I write, more billions of taxpayer dollars are flowing to Afghanistan and Iraq and into the profit margins of hundreds of defense contractors and the military sector.  Even as it is celebrated that "combat operations" in Iraq have ended, citizen taxpayers remain indefinitely on the hook for 50,000 troops and 50,000 contracted personnel in Iraq.  Yet, some Congressional leaders have the gall to call unemployed worker compensation extensions and core domestic initiatives irresponsible? 

7. This extended period of war has produced the highest suicide rates and largest number of returning American troops experiencing PTSD on record.  As American troops are still engaged in these wars and the time-frame for PTSD to fully develop and play out is still short, we may well just be experiencing the tip of this iceberg.

8. America's leaders, once vowing never to put America in the position of another Vietnam, have, in fact, done so. We are ever-so-slowly leaving Iraq, but leaving it in a most weakened and fragile and more violent state than it was when we attacked it.  We have no valid end game in Afghanistan, no end in sight, and no way to claim even a moral victory there.  Both regions are more fragile militarily, economically, and in terms of statehood than they were when America attacked them. 

9. These wars were supposed to wipe out terrorists and also "dry up" the sources of terrorism. Neither has occurred.  In fact, these wars and the "war on terrorism" has produced untold numbers of new recruits to terrorism and seeded multiple new reasons and causes for it flourishing in another generation. The promises of rebuilding and compassionate assistance have paled in comparison to what was promised.  In the face of continued American drone air strikes killing Afghani and Pakistani civilians, assistance is hardly registering.

10. The past nine years of war have been disastrous at so many levels and for so many people, it is time and past time to end them without reference to "winning."  America has not won these wars. It is not winning these wars.  It will not win these wars.  Cut the losses, and abandon military involvement.  In the wake of Afghanistan and Iraq, America's leaders need a long period of reassessment regarding its integrity and international role.  Let there be an end to American war-making as a solution to problems.  Let other responsible interventions guide international policy as we move into a very changed future--a future that is changed, not because America is weaker, but because America is wiser.

1 comment:

  1. I, too, have mixed feelings. Can't help but be glad that this evil man is gone. So sad for all the lives that have been lost in the wake of his plots and our response. I agree that our economic woes are partly a result of excessive military spending. When does it end?

    Thanks for speaking truth again, John. Much appreciated.

    Jan Gunter


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