to World: "Kick Me"
June 19, 2002
By David Swanson
grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and live here now, and
I no longer feel safe. In addition, I'm angry, because our
government seems to be doing everything it can to make this
place as widely and fiercely hated as possible. The debate
over global politics, the environment, and the bombing of
other countries is not just about others' misery, owl species,
or the world of our great-grandchildren anymore. It's about
the safety of this country today or next week, and about whether
magnanimity or machismo is the best course to ensure that
For certain war- and cold-war-promoters every country we've
attacked for decades has been attacked to protect this country,
but I never believed that justification or felt that threat.
Now the Pentagon has been attacked, and the people left inside
it seem intent on amplifying the policies that seem most likely
to lead to more attacks. Now I feel the threat, but believe
that the justification for attacking other countries is more
misguided than ever.
Ask the six participants in three current wars or near-wars
what motivates them and you'll get little variety in the responses.
Indian and Pakistani "leaders" will each say that the other
started it, that their side is defending the better way of
life, that God agees with them, and that they are -- through
their flirtation with mutual self-destruction -- standing
up to U.S. nuclear power. The Israeli and Palestinian "leaders"
will each say that the other started it, that their side is
defending the better way of life, that God agrees with them,
and that they are the true victim of a broad conspiracy.
The "evil terrorists" around the world, against whom the
White House and newspaper columnists have declared the United
States to be indefinitely at war, will say that the United
States started it, that they are defending a better way of
life, that God agrees with them, and that they are standing
up to an imperial power of great evil. US "leaders" will say
pretty much the same.
Don't expect the President to necessarily articulate a clear
rationale for bombing Iraq. On the other hand, isn't not having
to be bothered just another way of declaring your own way
of life so far superior that its "defense" (that is, the bombing
of other countries) does not require explanation? Certainly
the motivations for US action that can be pieced together
from the media's statements and the President's attempts at
speech fit the same general pattern as those of all our other
brothers in arms.
We bombed Afghanistan because the associates of certain Saudi
criminals were thought to be hiding there (and because Saudi
Arabia has oil), and therefore Afghanistan started it. If
we bomb Iraq it will be because Iraq invaded Kuwait and therefore,
from here on out (which may not take as long as we suppose)
will have always started it - unless we can plausibly claim
that some associate of the September 11 criminals once visited
Iraq, in which case Iraq will, in a different way, have started
The United States also must have the better way of life -
after all, that's why other people hate us. And God must be
on our side, because otherwise he would be with the terrorists.
I'm simplifying tremendously. If you ask an Indian who supports
her country's behavior toward Pakistan why, she may give you
some unique variations on the themes listed above, interspersed
with all sorts of hesitations, regrets, ideals, and noble
intentions. The one motivation for war that has almost always
been used by warriors around the globe throughout history,
at least when pressed, is that war makes peace.
It is fairly easy for an American to see through such claims
when they are made by an Indian. We don't know as much about
that situation and so it doesn't seem as complex. But more
importantly, we do not operate on the assumption that whatever
India does must be good for the world, that machismo can only
be foolish if any country other than India engages in it.
I don't know to what extent US militarism is driven by oil
or by weapons makers. I don't know how big a place racism
takes in determining US actions. I don't know how much of
a difference in US public opinion could be made by widely
communicating comparisons between the financial costs of bombing
a country and the cost of, say, providing every US citizen
with a free college education. But I have a pretty good idea
why the portion of the US public that supports wars does so.
These fellow citizens of mine believe that the route to safety
and honor is to search out any slight, take great offense
at it, and react with overwhelming fury and power. It's the
same evidenceless theory of deterrence that -- together with
various profit motives, racism, etc. -- drives our world-leading
Most of us have laughed at our President's attempts to construct
a sentence in ordinary American English. Can there be much
doubt that at a young age little Georgie ran around the playground
with a "Kick-me" sign taped to his back? If he did suffer
this or similar humiliations, he is likely to have learned
that the quickest way to fix things was to fight back, to
punch some other kid in the nose (something I believe our
last president, for that matter, was widely praised for suggesting
he'd like to do to a newspaper columnist who'd called his
wife a liar). If Georgie couldn't solve the problem by fighting
back, or if doing so landed him in deeper trouble, no doubt
he learned that the way to fix things once and for all was
to call his daddy.
The problem is that what sometimes works on the playground
may not work in the field of global politics. Acting as if
someone has put a "Kick-me" sign on you, and spouting tough-guy
lines from Westerns, may actually have the result of hanging
a giant "Kick-me" sign on the Washington Monument.
As I said, I grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and live
here now and no longer feel safe. It seems like our government
is doing everything it can to make this place a target. And
I don't mean to suggest that we're being given more freedom.
According to the President people hate America because we're
free. But what sense can be made of that? As Barbara Kingsolver
has concisely put it, people in Canada are every bit as free,
and no one hates Canada.
But what was the last country Canada bombed? The last treaty
aimed at saving the environment or promoting international
justice or banning weapons that Canada was the hold-out on?
Is Canada the leading polluter? The leading consumer of energy?
The biggest military? The biggest stockpiler of nukes? Does
Canada have military bases spread around the world? Does Canada
enrich a small portion of its population beyond all semblance
of decency and then advertise that lifestyle to the world
through television and cinema? Does Canada try to export junk-food,
fast-food, and genetically modified food to every corner of
the earth? Is Canada intent on putting weapons in space? Does
Canada drive the corporate-profit, third-world-debt, anti-labor,
anti-environment agenda emanating from Washington, D.C.?
If you are a fan of "free-trade" treaties, George W. Bush,
and carrying a big stick, and you haven't already stopped
reading, I'd like to share this thought especially with you:
Our own safety finally really is at stake, but acting out
the same fear-driven panic and chest-pounding as usual will
make us part of the problem, not the solution. Weapons in
space won't stop box-cutters. Bombs won't scare off suicide
killers. Now that we're all scared, let's talk a little about
what course of action might actually make us safer.
David Swanson's website is www.davidswanson.org