Killing Terrorists vs. Eradicating Terrorism
[Editor's Note: The author believes the United States should take its case to
the United Nations and to The World Court. The crimes committed are "crimes
against humanity", not "war crimes", and they are unlikely to be resolved by
unilateral action. The nations of the world must act together to cope with
global terrorism. It appeared in the NORTHLAND READER (27 September 2001), p.10.]
Our President has spoken to the nation, but the situation has not substantially
improved. It might have been a good thing if he had mentioned the history of terrorism
or the nations that have suffered so greatly because of its effects. He might have
discussed the reasons dedicated men are willing to sacrifice their lives for causes that
transcend them. He might have spent more time distinguishing (the vast majority) of
peaceful Muslims from (the small minority) of religious fanatics. And he might have
proposed addressing the United Nations or The World Court, institutions that could be
helpful in responding to a threat to every nation.
Instead, our President conveyed the impression that killing terrorists is the same thing
as eradicating terrorism. He even escalated his rhetoric, promoting the false dichotomy
that either you are with us or you are against us, which is bound to exacerbate friction
and instability in those countries whose governments may be most vulnerable to
destabilization. These countries, unfortunately, include Pakistan, which has to be the
bellweather of our destiny. If the present government falls and Pakistan becomes a
nation dominated by anti-American sympathies, Osama will have nuclear weapons at
his disposal, and it will not take him long to use them.
Some may think we can force Afghanistan into submission, but it has proven impossible
for the great powers of the past (including Britain, and the Soviet Union, and even
Alexander the Great) and there is no reason to suppose we are going to do any better.
It would have been so appropriate to appeal to one New York City institution (The United
Nations) to respond to an attack upon another (The World Trade Center), but it was not
to be. Almost certainly, right-wing animosity toward the UN--rooted in ideology--prompts
the administration to be UN-aversive.
Nevertheless, according to THE NEW YORK TIMES (19 September 2001), President
Jiang Zemin of China has contacted Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and President
Jacques Chirac of France, asking them to convey to President Bush that military attacks
by the United States should be meticulously planned to minimize the death of innocent
civilians. He and Russian President Vladimir Putin, moreover, have condemned terrorism
in all of its forms, while encouraging the United Nations to develop a mechanism for
fighting terrorism. Those are encouraging signs. If we can't lead the world, perhaps the
world can lead us.
We are about to discover that ideologies make a difference--for better or for worse!--and
I only wish that we could take for granted that the ideology of this administration will
prove as potent as the ideologies of our adversaries. Our President, alas, delivers
ultimatums he cannot enforce in a situation beyond our control. We act as if could carry
this off on our own and shun the help that other nations might be able to provide--if only
we appealed their desire to do what is right because IT IS RIGHT, not to do what we
want because otherwise they will confront THE SAME FATE as Osama bin Laden!
Eradicating terrorism requires far more than killing terrorists. Insofar as terrorism is
rooted in poverty, ignorance, homelessness, political impotence, and religious
convictions, perhaps we should be considering attacking poverty, ignorance,
homelessness, political impotence, and religious convictions--at least, to the extent to
which those convictions promote zealotry and fanaticism! We may not be able to do
much about all of these causes, but we should consider our alternatives, especially to
take pains to insure that short term actions do not preclude long term solutions.
According to Michael Evans, Defense Editor for THE LONDON TIMES (20 September
2001), prominent administration figures have compared the "war on terrorism" to the
"war on drugs" or the "war on poverty":
The war on terrorism could be likened, they said, to the war on drugs or poverty,
and the best way to undermine and eventually dismantle the terrorist structures
around the world was to use the method of "hearts and minds", encouraging foreign
governments and people to join in the "war" so that terrorists would be isolated and
Some of the most dramatic achievements, the sources say, might come, not from
military action, but from political pressure on foreign governments to turn their backs
on terrorism and to hand over the organisers of terrorist networks.
They point to the campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999. Although the airstrikes
fitted more closely to the "old doctrine concept" of using massed firepower to
target the enemy, which brought criticism from many parts of the world, NATO
was also seen to be working as a humanitarian agency with its operation in Albania
helping to build shelters for the thousands of refugees pouring out of Kosovo.
The most promising strategy, however, might be to treat it, not just LIKE the war on
poverty, but AS a war on poverty, ignorance, homelessness, and political impotence.
That, at least, would be worthy of the American character and have a chance of actually
leading to the reduction, if not cessation, of terrorism. Indeed, it is a fantasy to suggest
that we ever could "eradicate terrorism" or "eliminate evil", as Bush has maintained.
But we may be able to take measures other than military that contribute substantially
toward that objective.
Consider the following plan for a real and sustained "war on the causes of terrorism":
(1) RAISE TAXES: How can we imagine we can conduct wars if we are unable to pay
for them? The recent tax breaks, including new moves for capital gains cuts, are going
to do us great harm over the long run by depeting our ability to sustain our economic
health and ought to be repealed. We cannot solve problems if we cannot pay for their
(2) REIMPOSE THE DRAFT: We need large numbers of idealistic citizens to assist in
the efforts that need to be undertaken. There should be a "national service" program that
includes "civilian service" and "military service" option for draftees to choose between.
There should be no exceptions: men and women, rich and poor, regardless of family
(3) STRENGTHEN AND EXPAND THE PEACE CORPS: JFK had the right idea, but it
needs to be carried out with greater energy and vigour, especially by means of programs
that combat poverty, ignorance, and homelessness in regions such as Palestine, Egypt,
Yemen, even Afghanistan. Adequately financed and broadly pursued, this initiative could
hold the key to peace.
(4) IMPROVE AMERICAN EDUCATION: We need citizens to have a better understanding
of domestic political and international affairs, including cultual and religious differences,
than is the case today. If we do not understand other cultures and religions, how can
we cope with them? We must demand more from our students and enhance their
(5) COMMIT 10% OF CORPORATION PROFITS TO THIS WAR AGAINST THE ROOTS
OF TERRORISM: Willie Sutton said, when asked why he robbed banks, "Because that's
where the money is!" We need a substantial and ongoing commitment of funding from
the American business community. Corporations benefit from globalization and
international trade: let them help preserve the peace for commerce!
(6) PHASE OUT THE CIA AS A COVERT-ACTION AGENCY: The United States must
abandon its past reliance upon "black ops" and "wet work" involving torture, terrorism,
assassination, and the destabilization of other countries. How can "we the people"
decide whether or not we approve of our own foreign policy--including training Osama
bin Laden himself!--if we are not allowed to know what it is?
After all, if we are going to launch an attack on terrorism, it would seem appropriate that
we cease practicing it. These suggestions may come as some surprise to those who
think all of our responses to terrorism should be military. But military operations,
especially conventional, have the least probability of offering genuine, lasting solutions
to the problems that we and the world confront in coping with terrorism. We must come
to grips with the underlying causes of terrorism and not simply its overt manifestations.
Go after terrorists and bring them to justice, if we can, but also attack the causes of
terrorism, if we want to bring it to an end!
The Bush administration tends to evaluate problems from the perspective of a cost/benefit
analysis. That involves calculating the benefits (typically, in dollars and cents) compared
to the costs (in dollars and cents) to arrive at decisions about action options. Calculations
based upon dollars and cents, however, leave out everything that cannot be measured in
terms of dollars and cents, including justice, fairness, and morality. So cost/benefit
analyses are clearly incomplete, especially when applied to questions of resource
allocation and social justice.
What the administration might want to consider, however, is that, even from a cost/benefit
perspective based upon dollars and cents, it may very well be in the interests of the
American business community to cope with the roots of terrorism as well as its
manifestations. The economic consequences of these acts are only vaguely understood
right now, but they are going to be enormous. Even in terms of dollars and cents, it
could turn out that conducting a war against the roots of terrorism has even fewer costs
and more benefits than conducting a war against terrorism!