Written September 30, 2001
The thousands of innocent people killed in the tragic terrorist acts of 9/11/01 will never be forgotten by those who loved them or by our nation, nor will the horrific acts of violence which took their lives. This shocking event is still so unbelievable, so extreme, so unprecedented, I cannot help but wonder in anguish, as many are wondering—what on earth could have happened to the perpetrators that they could be filled with so much hatred towards America, and be so incredibly desperate, as to take their own lives in such a vicious and deadly attack?
Upon hearing of the attack, I could not help but recall a deeply disturbing news report I witnessed in 1991. A middle-aged Iraqi civilian man, utterly grief-stricken, crying aloud, his face wet with tears, was being interviewed on CNN by Wolf Blitzer, just after discovering that his wife, children, grandchildren, and parents had been bombed to death by the United States in the Gulf War. His anguish was palpable and I began to cry at his grief—a foreshadowing of the grief I feel this week. And then I shuddered in horror when he shook his fist into the camera and swore angrily in broken English, “if it takes 5 generations we will wreak vengeance on the United States!”
I was chilled to the bone and all I could think at the time was, Oh my God, what kind of “national security” is it for the leaders of our country to tortuously bomb and wantonly take the lives of innocent people in a culture that lives by “an eye for an eye.” That man’s family did not elect Saddam Hussein to power. His wife and children were not responsible for the invasion of Kuwait. He was not even a soldier. They were innocent and it was just plain wrong for them to have been killed. I knew when I saw that news report, and with every bomb that fell on those poor people, hour after hour, week after week, that some day, at some point in the future, innocent people in our own country were going to lose their lives over this terrible and unjust bloodshed.
Back in 1991, I cried when I heard the bombing had begun, and I thought about writing my elected representatives to protest, but I did not, feeling my thoughts would be ignored. I regret now that I did nothing. I did what most Americans did: I kept my mouth shut, got busy with my life, turned off the news, and did not follow up on what has happened since the end of the war. Ours is a free country and I as a citizen have a duty to be responsible — to respond to my conscience. My conscience is grief-stricken today for the thousands of innocent American lives and their distraught families, for the children in our country whose innocence and sense of security has been forever stolen, for the end of the carefree freedom we have enjoyed for generations that will surely now be replaced with fear-driven defensive measures, and for the new wave of hate crimes that has begun in our own country against even more innocent people. I am grief-stricken that I might have done something to help prevent this terrible event.
My point of view is not very “p.c.,” and some may not understand how I could think such things at a time like this. But if I do not speak now and do what I can to try to break the cycle of violence and revenge that may lead to a third and horrific world war, if I do not express my feelings and ideas as best I can, I know I will be no better than the citizens who looked the other way while millions died in gas chambers a half century ago. My conscience compels me to speak my truth at this time to help protect us all—for the next 5 generations.
As in Marketing, Image is Everything and Perception is Reality
After World War II, the United States was perceived nearly universally as an exemplary nation, a savior to the world. Our flag stood as a beacon representing heroism, selflessness, freedom, justice, and good will towards all. Unfortunately, for many in the world, that image is no longer true. Increasingly over the past decades, Americans take their lives into their hands when traveling overseas to many areas that historically were friendly to the U.S. Today it is not uncommon to experience animosity from citizens abroad. To growing numbers of people around the world, the United States is no longer perceived as a strong, loving savior or big brother to look up to—it is seen as a big, mean gun-toting bully that cares only for its own interests.
Something has happened since the end of WWII to tarnish our good image in the eyes of many—to such an extent that our national security is now severely threatened. Many things, actually. The establishment of the Israeli state, while itself a good and noble gesture, was at the same time devastating to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were pushed out of their ancestral homelands against their will to make way for the new Jewish state and forced to become refugees. I am not saying the Israeli state does not deserve to exist—of course it does. But I am saying that what has happened to its neighbors has been terrible. Experts agree that most of today’s Middle Eastern terrorists are descendants of these refugees, some two, three and even 4 generations later, raised in war zones, disenfranchised from the world, living without even a country they can call home. Many in the media have called the terrorists responsible for Tuesday’s acts “madmen.” Are they crazy, or just desperate? At what point does despair drive people crazy? These are people who have no hope for a future for themselves or their children. Their complaints have fallen on deaf ears literally for generations. Their only hope of making a difference is to give up the only thing they have–their own lives–to rid the world of what they see as the source of their despair: an unjust bully nation that cares only for its own material well-being.
We must practice the Golden Rule and walk our ralk
One of the survivors of the attack in New York was interviewed on a special Discovery report the day after the attack. His story, like so many, was heart-wrenching, and he was perplexed as to why this could have ever happened. Angrily, his voice cracking with emotion, he looked into the camera and told the attackers to “keep your wars over there.” While our government has done many good things globally since the end of World War II, it has also made many, many enemies by failing to do just that—by intruding into the affairs of other countries and bringing war, despair, and lack of freedom to many parts of the world that did not want or ask for it.
One could rationally argue that our government has even gone so far as taking the lives of innocent children for the sake of political and economic gain. The Gulf War to liberate Kuwaiti oil and the ongoing sanctions against Iraq are a poignant and on-going example. The US military and the mainstream American media—which apparently no longer digs deeper than official press releases for the truth—would have the world believe that the bombing of Iraq consisted of highly successful “surgical strikes” against only military and non-civilian targets. However, the 42 days of continuous 27/7 bombing did in fact stray from military targets and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians. Some sources say more than 100,000 civilians died in those 42 days. (Compare that with the 58,168 American military casualties suffered in the 10 years of the Viet Nam war.) Even more appalling, since the end of the Gulf War, Iraqi civilians, particularly innocent children, have continued to die at a mind-numbing rate and under gruesome conditions—as a direct consequence of subsequent US military and political action.
The trade embargo imposed against Iraq after the end of the Gulf War by the international community for the country’s refusal to cooperate in eliminating weapons production soon led to mass starvation of its people. An “oil for food” program was then set up, in which the Iraqi government was allowed to sell some oil, provided the proceeds were to be used strictly for humanitarian relief for its people. The policy of entrusting a cruel, despot dictator to feed and care for his subjects clearly has failed—the Iraqi government has not cared for its people and the starvation and deaths continue. Over the past 6 years there have been repeated calls from the vast majority of the international community for the removal of the embargo to save the lives of innocent children. But our country, alone except for Great Britain, exercised its veto power and prevented such life-saving action.
According to a 1996 report issued by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR), “the children of Iraq are suffering unspeakable horrors as a direct result of economic sanctions against Iraq and as a result of illnesses, disabilities and deformities apparently caused by the radioactive residue from bullets and other weapons containing depleted uranium (DU) used by the United States during military operations against Iraq.” The U.S. uses depleted uranium (DU) in anti-tank ammunition. Scientists have associated DU, a radioactive toxic waste, with many adverse health effects. Since 1990, thousands of American troops and millions of Iraqi civilians have been exposed to DU. The UNCHR reported that “more than 560,000 children have already died since the war ended and that the current monthly figure of deaths of small children surpasses 5,000 with another 5,000 for persons over the age of 14.” (http://www.webcom.com/hrin/parker/c96-20.html)
A wide coalition of non-government organizations and governments around the world joined together to condemn the sanctions against Iraq because of the extreme suffering of the Iraqi children, but to no avail.
In 1998, the largest Gulf War veterans organization in the country, the National Gulf War Resource Center (NGWRC), joined in the call to repeal the sanctions. Comprising over 54 member groups from around the country, the NGWRC serves as a resource for information, support, and referrals for all concerned with the complexities of Gulf War issues, especially Gulf War illnesses. Already successful in helping pass a bill to ensure better health care for sick veterans, the NGWRC turned its attention to DU and protecting both U.S. troops and civilians from DU exposure. In a resolution passed shortly after the December 1998 air strike, the NGWRC urged that further civilian casualties in Iraq be avoided.
“As soldiers,” the resolution states, “we were trained to abide by international laws relating to the treatment and protection of civilian populations. Economic sanctions which prevent or otherwise hamper nations from maintaining the public health of their citizens, are in violation of these international laws, including Geneva Protocol 1, Article 54, which prohibits the ‘starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.’ The UN and the U.S. must work toward an immediate end to the humanitarian crisis in Iraq.
“The economic sanctions on Iraq now result in serious shortages of food, clean water, and medicine. Water and sanitation systems have collapsed, fueling an epidemic of diseases. Denis J. Halliday, the former UN head of the oil-for-food program, estimates that over 5,000 Iraqi children under five are dying each month from malnutrition and disease directly related to the sanctions. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government remains untouched and firmly entrenched.” (http://www.iacenter.org/gulfvets.htm) The policy has failed.
Despite gruesome facts of starvation, disease, cancer, birth defects including headless babies, and repeated urging by a vast majority of our allies for the repeal of the sanctions, the United States refused to lift the sanctions—effectively condemning thousands of innocent children to continuing suffering and death. A policy that blames the starvation of children on the despot ruler of the country, while denouncing that ruler as a madman deserving of assassination, but then putting that same ruler in charge of humanitarian assistance, is ludicrous if not morally bankrupt.
Think about how angry we all feel right now, after this terrible week in our history. Imagine how we might feel if 560,000 American children had died at the hands of a foreign power over whom we were powerless, and 5,000 children per month were continuing to die, year after year, with no sign of help on the horizon, and the one outside country on earth that had the power to stop it chose repeatedly to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to our plight. Might we, too, become filled with desperation and rage?
While the mainstream American media drew the nation’s collective attention to the critically important O.J. Simpson trial and later to the smut and bedroom affairs of our 42nd president—issues of dire national security—the heated discussions at the United Nations centering around the deplorable conditions in Iraq went largely ignored. An overwhelming majority of our allies called again and again for the lifting of sanctions—all to no avail. (See Press Release SC/6833 at http://www.un.org/search/) The pressure cooker of hatred that creates terrorism continued to boil.
Our leaders and most of our citizens would like the United States to be the country that it was in 1945, a beacon of light representing heroism, selflessness, freedom, justice, and good will towards all. Our country helped rebuild Europe and Japan after the war, recognizing the dignity of the people there and acknowledging the suffering their society underwent at our hands during war, and seeking, rightly, to bring the suffering to an end. It is noble to exercise power not to perpetuate death and disease, but to end needless suffering caused by war. Why have we changed and become so cruel?
The foreign policy of the 20th century served to fan the fires of terrorism; policies to achieve our new goal of eliminating terrorism must remove the fuel, not add more to it.
After nearly a decade, not only has the foreign policy of economic sanctions against Iraq failed in its goal of coercing the cooperation of the Saddam Hussein regime, the misery created by the policy has served only to fan the fire of hatred against the United States and the American people, thereby empowering such terrorist leaders as Asama Bin Laden, and creating a major threat to our national security.
To effectively fight the war on terrorism, our leaders must admit that the country’s foreign policy paradigms of at least the last half of the 20th century have failed miserably in their mission to create a safer post-Cold War world: not only do terribly cruel despots like Saddam Hussein remain in power, but now we have thousands, perhaps millions, of disenfranchised desperate people who hate us-—and hate us enough to take their own lives to kill us en masse.
Yes—go after those specifically responsible for the attack on America. Yes, bring them to justice. Yes, wage war on terrorism. But do so wisely, by recognizing the truth that acts of terrorism are merely symptoms and not the disease. The disease is decades of pent-up, unexpressed rage brought about by repeated and unaddressed injustice and abuse.
Just as a child subjected to repeated physical abuse at the hands of a powerful adult will likely grow up filled with rage and become an abuser, so have generations of disenfranchised people abused for generations by powerful governments grown up to become terrorists. If we use our country’s vast power to wage war only on the symptoms—to attack only those who cause the violence and remove them from the scene—and not address the cause of the disease itself: human rights abuses wherever they occur in the world—the cycle of violence will never end. Violence that is unjust—that touches innocent people—will only pour fuel on the rage of terrorism.
What is the cost to our economy, not to mention human lives, of perpetuating terrorism? It is clearly in our economic interest to let go of ineffectual policies and embrace new policies that genuinely strike at the heart of terrorism by reducing rage, turning down the heat of the pressure cooker, by walking our talk, running our country and conducting our foreign affairs with integrity and nobility, predicating every decision on the truth that what is in the best interest of the other is in the best interest of ourselves, taking the moral high ground and recognizing that we are all one. We must once again become a savior to the world by developing a foreign policy that holds the respectful, loving and dignified treatment of human beings as the bottom line of every decision. And we must start with the children—whose hearts and minds are still reachable and unpoisoned by hate.
Each One of Us Is Responsible
As Americans, we live in a free society and are responsible for electing our representatives—a luxury that most in the Middle East do not share. If we as individuals fail to take responsibility for our freedom to choose our representatives, and if we choose to ignore the actions that our representatives take which create a global atmosphere of hatred and fear instead of love and respect—then we will surely suffer and be responsible for the consequences. Human beings must be respected as much in other countries as they are in our own, and we must demand our representatives set policies and behave accordingly.
I do not and we must not condone violence. The attackers, the terrorists, are without a doubt hatefilled and hateful monsters, worthy of pity. We must not allow the violence done to us by them to turn us into hateful monsters, too. Instead, we must rise above the pain and suffering to see the bigger picture, and turn this tragic event into an opportunity to truly re-make ourselves and our world into a better, more moral, and truly safer place for all people. We must not become like our enemies.
I urge our leaders to proceed with reason and not in haste.Do not succumb to the temptation to strike in anger, but wait for the anger to subside. However long it takes, be effective. Study and understand the culture, heart, mind, and motivations of the enemy. Learn what are his strengths and dependencies. Develop and use the knowledge gained with intelligence, fully and wisely. Make any strike truly surgical and with no collateral damage to innocent civilians. Address the disease of the terrorism and not just the symptoms, by showing compassion for innocent children with the lifting of sanctions and feeding the hungry, by actively listening to the disenfranchised and abused and acting accordingly, by supporting the cause of human rights, and by condemning human rights abuses wherever they occur. In this way, we can become again a hero and a savior.
The only way to wage war on terrorism effectively, to truly eliminate it from the world and regain true security for all, is by going to its root. Appeal to love , not hate; seek justice for all, not revenge. Revenge is what motivated these terrorists. Let us rise above it and not become like them. It is in our economic and security interests to respond to this terrible situation wisely and morally—for the generations alive today and for those to come.
Laurel A. Kashinn is a freelance writer, graphic designer, and small business owner from Grafton, Wisconsin. She and her husband own and operate two family graphic design businesses, worship at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, and after 15 years of marriage are expecting the birth of their first child in March, 2002.
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