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July 19, 2002
open letter to terry bakerRegarding the "Grand Strategy For America's War On Terror" re-published in terrapindream.
You wrote that you believed every word - I think you could believe other words as well. I am your friend, an admirer of your writing and image-making, a fellow artist, I want you to consider my point of view.
I do not agree with the strategy presented in the statement and I don't think the message is constructive, though the proposed actions have an emotional appeal and seem consistent with the Bush Administration. I don't think that the situation is viewed accurately by the author or the Administration. I follow international reports and find no reason to think that Iran's government is close to collapse, I don't see evidence of enough "pro-American" support there to overwhelm the present government. More urgently, I don't think it is desirable for the US to again invade Iraq. I think the author over estimates the ability of armed forces and misjudges the amount of support which could be expected from allied nations. The problem is, innocent civilians would be killed and war always has unintended consequences.
In the '60's, I held firm anti-war views regarding the Vietnam War. In 1990, I supported the Gulf War. I understood Saddam's threat to peace and I welcomed action to eliminate his threat. Experiencing the "hawk" side of that war I became aware of a "blood lust" in my emotions. I felt the heavy responsibility of supporting military strikes and when it was over, I felt horrible when millions of ordinary Iraqis suffered.
Looking back, I think my support for the war was misguided, I even think it is inappropriate for me to be thinking strategically, at all. To think strategically is cruel because it is abstract and dehumanizing. It is not possible for civilians, to properly assess military strategy. We don't have access to the information necessary to evaluate the military options. However, I think it is proper and important that we civilians ensure that our desires are politically expressed since the military is only supposed to act in support of the civilian representative government. I know that innocent civilians, including me, are in danger because of continued war. This, alone, is reason to be against a US attack on Iraq or any other country.
The 9/11 attack in New York, came within a block of killing me, I was within range, as a 110 story building collapsed, in a crowd of ordinary people running from the cloud of pulverized lives and enterprises. I've worked my office job in the death-dust these past months, the alkaline dripping down my throat. I've seen, up close, the fragility of our cities, our lives, and our psyches. It was only two planes used as missiles, two buildings blown up and we are still in shock months later, the city is still broken, we are still screaming inside.
When I think about the bombing raids on Kabul and remember previous US raids on Belgrade, Baghdad, Tripoli, Panama, Breuit, Hanoi, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Tokyo, Berlin, Dresden and on and on - I wonder how bad it would be here if NYC had been as intensely attacked as those cities. To say the least, I don't want that for my neighborhood or anyone's neighborhood.
All actions that harm or endanger innocent civilians are terrorism.
Religious or national identities ignore individuals. Ordinary people claimed by one religious or political entity or another, suffer death, harm, sickness, disruption, and diminished expectations from the military strikes, whether the strikes are pre-emptive or retaliatory.
Harming innocent civilians is criminal. I don't see any other way to look at it. Basic civilization requires disputes to be resolved civilly. Those who call for violence, those who act on that call, are sociologically misguided if not pathological. We're talking some basic stuff here, two crimes do not make justice - the killing of innocents is murder.
Since 9-11, anger and dismay have been common emotions. Early on, heroic leadership could have proposed relentless international police actions short of war, bringing guilty individuals to justice in world court without unilateral military action. Sadly, the unelected US executive made no appeal to the institutions of global law. The high road of international law enforcement was devalued as "nothing" and bullies yelled, "we have to do something". This sentiment constitutes an increased threat to life, a further devaluation of civilization.
In the statement you republished, the author's focus is on nations, it is about "us" and "them", therefore not considerate of "we" people of the earth, everyday citizens of the world. When he calls for "our" nation to eliminate other nations, he is calling for the sacrifice of individuals and is endangering innocent civilians everywhere. "We" means all of us around the world - I know that you know that.
Planning easy removal of bad governments does not respect the lives of everyday people. Many innocent civilians would be endangered by any violent change of government. The instability caused by a foreign occupation would encourage weak people to kill in retaliation. Those mad bombers on 9-11 killed in response to previous military strikes, people are too willing to kill, to be crazy. It is the duty of civilized people to encourage civility, never is it desirable that we encourage rage or inhumane actions.
What I want from artists, cultural leaders, friends, is expressions of compassion and support for life. Rather than proclaiming allegiance to a national government or a religion or any sub-group, I want good people to pledge allegiance to our earth and all life.
Here in North America, you and I, with our neighbors, have an opportunity to lead. We have the world's attention, we have the ability to communicate to the world, we are free to make art, to propose ideas. I expect us to use this moment to support life, respect humanity, and further civil life.
Stephen L. Harlow
Art In The Clubhouse
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