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Bush to World: "Kick Me"
June 19, 2002
By David Swanson

I 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 safety.

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 it.

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 prison industry.

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

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