My Turn: There are absolute lines between good and evil

Posted: Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Ever since the Sept. 11 attacks, I find myself pondering terrorism and the nature of terror. It seems a supreme arrogance on the part of the hijackers to believe so strongly in the evils of the U.S. and the righteousness of their own values to plot, over the course of months, such an act. Our president and his cohorts in D.C. are spending a lot of time thinking about terrorism as well. In September 2002, the capital hill gang published a national security strategy in which they define terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents." My dictionary defines terrorism as "the systematic use of terror as a form of coercion." No doubt about it, those renegade pilots, driven by blind faith, engaged in an act of terrorism. While I am certain of the pilots' guilt and the victims' innocence I am less sure about the purity of our (Bush's) response and U.S. foreign policy.

Consider this: After the Gulf war, in defiance of the Geneva Convention, the U.S. destroyed over 1,400 water and sewage treatment plants in Iraq. A recently declassified 1991 document from the Defense Intelligence Agency predicted that the destruction of these systems along with embargoes against chlorine and other water sanitizers would result in widespread epidemics and death. Bush Sr. knew this before he authorized the bombings. In the mid 1990s, a team of Harvard doctors visited Iraq and verified the accuracy of those predictions. The doctors documented the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people (mostly children under 5) from diseases including diarrhea, dysentery, measles, meningitis, diphtheria, (all preventable diseases had we allowed in medications as the doctors recommended). Could our actions be anymore premeditated, politically motivated or violent? Could those children, who continue to die each day, be any more innocent?

The debate over who's evil, who's good, and the laundry list of justifications for war serve as a distraction from the almost unthinkable reality of terror itself. For those whose life choices were reduced to either burning alive or leaping from the World Trade Center it did not matter who was flying the planes or why. Likewise, the Iraqi mothers who helplessly watch their children die in their arms each day receive no comfort in hearing that our president believes he is good and Saddam evil. U.S. troops, under Bush's leadership are staging for a "shock and awe" pre-emptive strike. The plan, according to military strategist Harlan Ullman, is to drop 800 cruise missiles in the first 48 hours. "We want them to quit, not to fight," Ullman said, "so that you have this simultaneous effect - rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima - not taking days or weeks but minutes." Those Iraqis crushed and burned by our bombs, like those buried in New York's rubble, will give little thought to whose flag was painted on the 800 missiles that created yet another "ground zero." I wonder, if we were to televise, alongside the stories of American losses, the anguish of an Iraqi mother burying her child or searching the dusty rubble for her husband, whether the U.S. public would continue to tolerant such acts of violence.

I know I am not supposed to say this but our government, in Iraq (and other places) is, and has been, engaged in acts of terrorism. I know many readers will write me off as unpatriotic but in studying Bush's own definition of terrorism, along with Webster's, I cannot, unfortunately, come to any other conclusion. For the U.S. to intentionally destroy the water and sewage systems within Iraq and to meticulously plan such a massive attack is to use premeditated, politically motivated threats and acts of violence as a form of coercion.

I do not deny that Saddam poses a threat. I do not deny the world should be watching him closely. But I do not believe the Bush administration should be entrusted to engage in the massive violence it proposes without widespread consent and participation of the world community. The clean, absolute line between good and evil repeatedly drawn by our president mirrors the blind faith and arrogance of terrorists the world over.

The men who calmly waited in line to board those planes on the morning of Sept. 11 did not question the wisdom of their leaders. Let us not make the same mistake.

Hank Lentfer is a writer who lives in Gustavus.

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