When thinking about future attacks around the world, please consider:

1. Don't believe everything you're told.

During the Cold War, U.S. military intelligence deliberately spread exaggerated stories about the Soviet war machine and the threat it posed, in order to foster U.S. military development. Prior to the 1991 Gulf War, U.S. military intelligence deliberately spread exaggerated stories about the Iraqi war machine. Our assault devastated Iraq, with minimal resistance; there was no evidence indicating that Saddam Hussein had viable nuclear or biological weapons.

We are now being told very similar stories, and these stories are appearing in the same media outlets that reported the previous stories. The New York Times is no more skeptical now than it was before the Gulf War--on the contrary. Since September 11, the media in general are more compliant with the desires of our government than ever before.

2. Actions deFIne words, not the other way around.

The goal of terrorism is to inflict harm upon a civilian population so as to force change upon a government that will not respond to your goals.

Aerial bombing, which is the cornerstone of current American military policy and goes by a number of military euphemisms, inflicts enormous civilian casualties and causes extensive property damage. Though military officials deny anything but minimal civilian casualties in Afghanistan, a recent study (carefully compiled from reports in newspapers from Britain, India, Australia, France, Pakistan, and other countries), released on December 10, 2001 by Marc Herold, a professor of International Relations at the University of New Hampshire, indicated that more than 3,500 Afghan civilians had been killed up to that point. Over 30,000 civilians were killed in the bombing of Sudan in 1998; hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed in the 1991 Gulf War; in 1989, between 2,000 and 4,000 civilians were killed in Panama (a country with a population around the same size as the Puget Sound region--imagine if 2,000 people were killed in Seattle); the list goes on, stretching out over the past 40 years or more. This is not to say we "deserved" to be attacked; the civilians of NYC are no more deserving of death than civilians anywhere else. The point is that such tactics invite a response in kind.

Aerial bombing doesn't target individuals, as the failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden has made clear. It only sows widespread terror and destruction upon a civilian population--which is an effective means of overthrowing a government, but is hardly humane or likely to help a new government establish long-term stability.

3. An idea is only as good as the people who carry it out.

Ousting Hitler and establishing a democratic government in Germany has been of long-term benefit to both Germany and the world at large. Though I doubt that Saddam Hussein is Satan embodied, he's certainly a repressive dictator, and it would most likely be beneficial in the long run if a democratic regime could be established in place of his rule.

However, our current president is not FDR or Harry Truman--he's George W. Bush. The only reason the U.S. had a high moral profile in the wake of WWII (which included the firebombing of Dresden and the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both horrific assaults upon civilian populations) was because we took responsibility for helping to reconstruct the economies and social infrastructures of these countries, by means of huge amounts of foreign aid. Mere months after we bombed Afghanistan, the new government is already shuddering from internal strife, and has had to remind us of our promises of support as our attention wanders. The Bush administration has argued that, by paying for the military destruction of Afghanistan, the U.S. has contributed its share of the cost of transforming the country into a democracy.

4. Peaceful change is slow and boring.

Making the world a safer place offers few short-term satisfactions. Some possible steps: Reducing arms sales; holding American corporations accountable for their actions around the world; upholding treaties, both environmental and political, that we're currently flouting; taking responsibility in a world court for our war crimes (the killing of civilians, the use of weapons outlawed by international law), and making reparations (which might include, as a possibility, forgiving the massive debts of the Third World); in general, behaving as a citizen of the world and respecting the rights and interests of other nations. This will not produce guaranteed results, but neither will bombing Iraq. This will not, as some people fear, destroy America as a nation or make life unbearable for its citizens; and if it did--if bringing our actions in line with our rhetoric destroyed our way of life--then something is severely wrong with how we're functioning in the world.

by Bret Fetzer