September 22, 2001
The Plaid Adder
As some of you may know, I used to maintain a page called
Yalies Against Dubya's Ascension, which was devoted
to "helping find a cure for the blight that is Dubya." If
you go to that page now, here's what it says:
Forget Dubya. We've got bigger problems. On September
11, 2001... well, you know what happened. I will no longer
be maintaining the YADA page. Why? Because he's no longer
worth my time. He may be just as incompetent, unintelligent,
and unprepared for the job as we always thought he was; but
that's beside the point. He's not in charge here. The World
Trade Centers are gone, thousands of people are dead, Cheney
is rushing the country into open war before the tears are
dry on our faces, and I'm through fooling around.
Instead, I am maintaining a page with resources for those
Americans who want to stop Bush from getting us involved in
a 'war against terrorism' which is every bit as amorphous,
ill-defined, and unwinnable as his father's 'war against drugs'
was. Why? Well, here's the answer I came up with. Thanks in
advance for listening.
Because going to war, especially against Afghanistan, is
not only wrong, but also useless, and above all, dangerous.
Let me break that down:
During the past few days we've seen a number of hate crimes
committed against people living in America who are or are
perceived to be Muslim or of Arab descent. Bush and his cronies
have been telling Americans not to punish entire ethnic groups
for crimes committed by a few individuals who belong to them,
and that's nice. I'm sure things would be worse if they weren't
doing that. However, the bottom line is this: they can tell
Americans not to be racists all they want, but as long as
they continue to loudly repeat that the only appropriate response
to a crime committed by individual Muslims is to wage indiscriminate
war on half of the Muslim world, I don't think it'll work.
The state-sponsored violence currently being planned against
Afghanistan - and, the rhetoric implies, any other Arab or
Muslim state the boys in Washington can make a plausible case
against - legitimates the individual acts of violence being
committed on our streets.
Americans have already been killed over this in Arizona and
Texas. An Indian friend of ours from Austin writes that she's
considering telling her mother not to wear a sari in public
any more. At a mosque in Chicago, the imam distributed a list
of suggestions on how to avoid anti-Muslim violence, which
include not gathering in public and not going outside unless
it's absolutely necessary. What will happen to people in Muslim
dress or with 'middle-eastern-looking' faces who try to board
planes in this country in the coming months I can only imagine.
I hear a lot of debate about "whether we should agree to restrict
our civil liberties"; well, for a significant portion of the
American population, that's already a moot point.
Even if our government manages to restrain the tide of hate
crime in this country, that will do nothing to mitigate the
moral repugnance of the military action it is about to take.
By invading Afghanistan, we will be punishing its already
suffering people for crimes committed by a Saudi exile who
is being sheltered by a totalitarian regime over which they
have no control. In essence, we are planning to show the world
that killing innocent civilians is wrong by killing innocent
civilians. I would laugh at the irony, if I weren't sick to
my stomach just thinking about it.
How about we stop and ask ourselves what it is that attacking
Afghanistan will actually accomplish, before we decide to
go ahead with it? Is that too much to ask?
First of all, the example of Iraq has proved to us how effective
it is to try to get a dictatorship to do what you want by
making its subjects suffer. If the Taliban gave a shit about
the sufferings of its subjects, it wouldn't be the Taliban,
would it. So no amount of 'collateral damage' that we do will
make any difference in terms of whether we get Bin Ladin.
In order for this war to have any practical effect, we would
have to send ground troops in to kill off the entire Taliban,
prop up some oppositional regime that's friendly to us, find
Bin Ladin, put him in a sack, and mail him to the US. I'm
quite sure that the Bush adminstration is totally psyched
to kill off the Taliban. The question is, can we do it?
Again, we look into the magic 8-ball of history, and it tells
us, "Outlook Not Good." Because of its convenient central
location, Afghanistan has long been attractive to imperial
powers vying for global domination. England and Russia fought
for it in the nineteenth century; both had cause later to
regret their infatuation. The Soviet Union and the USA went
head to head over it in the 1980s, which incidentally is when
our Central Intelligence Agency used American tax dollars
to train Osama Bin Ladin, who was in Afghanistan organizing
opposition to the Soviets. As you will notice, neither the
USA or the Soviet Union really won that one. But this will
be different, see, because now the American people have the
will to support a long, brutal foreign war which will involve
massive American casualties.
Well, there's the will, and then there's the way. Vietnam
taught us something about the difficulties involved in sending
ground troops to a remote location with unfamiliar terrain
surrounded by hostile nations and expecting them to topple
a government. In Vietnam at least the opposition we were propping
up still controlled part of the country, something which is
not true in Afghanistan. Even supposing our military is better
prepared for this than they were for Vietnam, I don't think
much of our chances. Wasn't that one of Vizzini's classic
blunders? "Never get involved in a land war in Asia"?
And finally: suppose by some miracle we succeed in ousting
the Taliban. Will that stop terrorism in America? Oy vey.
Let's just go on to
I admit I'm not a Middle East expert. I do know something
about Northern Ireland, and one of the things I know is that
it wasn't until the British government started using the police
and the army against them that the IRA became a force to be
reckoned with. Israel provides an equally compelling demonstration
of what you get when you take the "you killed one of our guys,
so I'm killing fifty of yours" approach to counterterrorism.
In every location I know anything about, it's the same story:
violence used by a hostile state to quash terrorism creates
more support for terrorist organizations - which means more
civilian deaths. So from what I can tell, the harder we hit
Afghanistan and/or whoever's next on the list, the more extreme
terrorist violence against American civilians is going to
get. When Bush talks about "American casualties," folks, he's
not talking about the military. He's talking about you and
me. Our asses are on the front line as much as any of theirs
If all we want is revenge, then war makes sense. If we actually
want to stop things like the World Trade Center and Pentagon
attacks from happening again, war is the worst thing we could
possibly do. So please, don't just accept the line that Washington
is feeding us. Get out there and tell your representatives,
your neighbors, and anyone else you can find that not all
Americans are on this bandwagon. And please, do it before
we start killing civilians in Afghanistan - and before any
more Americans die at the hands of their fellow citizens.