America’s New War


Following is a speech given by Hedy Epstein at “Resisting the War, a Forum for a Just Peace” held in St. Louis, Missouri on October 7, 2001.

“America’s New War” is what officially started earlier today, Sunday, October 7, 2001. But it’s really an old war, a horrible routine that we’ve seen employed around the world for the past several decades. In Vietnam, the United States wanted to avoid further casualties, so they armed and retrained the South Vietnamese army to be our foot soldiers. In Lebanon, the Israelis used their Lebanese militia thugs to combat the Palestinians and Hizbollah. The Phalange and the so-called “Southern Lebanese Army” were supposed to be Israel’s foot-soldiers. They failed. In Kosovo, we kept our well-armed NATO troops safely out of harm’s way while the KLA acted as our foot soldiers.

And now, without a blush or a swallow of embarrassment, we’ve signed up the so-called “Northern Alliance” in Afghanistan. America’s newspapers are saying – without a hint of irony – that they, too, will be our “foot soldiers” in our war to hunt down/bring to justice/smoke out/eradicate/liquidate Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Our government officials know full well the whole bloody record of the killers in the Northern Alliance – they are suggesting that these are the men who will help us bring democracy to Afghanistan and drive the Taliban and the terrorists out of the country. In fact, we’re hiring one gang of terrorists – our terrorists – to rid ourselves of another gang of terrorists.

I have a dark premonition about all this. The Northern Alliance will work for us. They’ll die for us. And, while they’re doing that, we’ll try and split the Taliban and cut a deal with their less murderous cronies, offering them a seat in a future government along side their Northern Alliance enemies. The other Taliban, the one’s who won’t take Mr. Bush’s dollars, will snipe at our soldiers from the mountainside and shoot at our jets and threaten more attacks on the West, with or without bin Laden.

And at some point, supposing we’ve installed a puppet government to our liking in Kabul, the Alliance will fall apart and turn against its ethnic enemies or, if we’re still around, against us.

Just remember what happened in 1980 when we backed the mujahedin against the former Soviet Union. We gave them money and weapons and promised them political support once the Russians left. There was much talk and even a proposal that the old, elderly king might be trucked back to Afghanistan. And now this is exactly what we’re offering once again.

And, dare I ask, how many bin Ladens are serving now among our new and willing foot soldiers?

America’s “new war” indeed. The goal of this new war has been called different names, retaliation, “Infinite Justice,” “Enduring Freedom.” Instead it is justice by tomahawk and cruise missiles, by bombs. It will not end in freedom. It will not end in peace.

It did not have to be this way! The United States could have chosen the path of sanity.

Bush has tried to galvanize the nation in a strange way. I would like to see all of us here tonight galvanized in a different way, not cynically and not in despair, but realistically. I’m still hopeful that we and others around the country, indeed, around the world, who are probably demonstrating in resistance, just like we are here tonight, that we are sowing the seeds of change, the seeds of peace. I am encouraged when I hear ordinary Americans saying that they are beginning to see we are connected more to Afghans in our shared vulnerability, than to the the people with the fingers on the triggers – the terrorists or the man in the White House and his cronies.

The administration has many reasons for this war.

The oil and natural gas of Central Asia, the next Middle East, Afghanistan’s location between the Caspian Basin and huge markets of Japan, China and the Indian subcontinent gives it critical importance. A United States controlled client state in Afghanistan presumably under the octogenarian former king, Zahir Shah, would give United States corporations great leverage over those resources. Just as in the Middle East, the United States doesn’t seek to own all those resources, but it wants to dictate the manner in which the wells and pipelines are developed and used.

Another reason: The potential to push a radical right wing domestic agenda. War makes it easier to expand police powers, restrict civil liberties, and increase the military budget. Our own former Senator Ashcroft, now United States Attorney General is hard at work on that.

This war is about the extension of United States power. It has little to do with bringing bin Laden or the terrorists to justice. The administration is trading on people’s desire for revenge. But we should not confuse the emotional reaction of the public with the motivation of the administration. Governments do not feel emotion.

This war will not make us more secure. Ever since 9/11, many in the antiwar movement and some careful commentators have been saying that military action would play right into the hands of bin Laden, who probably has been hoping for such an attack to spark the flames of anti-American feelings in the Muslim world. Bin Laden’s pre-taped speech, broadcast in Qatar’s al-Jazeera TV after the bombing started, supports that.

“Either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists,” Bush said on 9/20/2001. Bin Laden’s appeal to the Islamic world, echoed this logic when he said, “The world is divided into two sides, the side of faith and the side of the infidels.”

The American war, the American jihad, may yet be matched by a widely expanded Islamic one, something unlikely had we not started to bomb. Remember we’ve seen only the opening shots of what Bush and other government officials are calling a long–term, multi-front war in which Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has told us, there will be no “silver bullet.” The administration has clearly prepared the American people to expect an extended conflict.

Bin Laden’s world is Bush’s world, in some strange distorted mirror. A world divided as they seem to want, which would have no place in it for those of us who want peace with justice, with justice being the foundation for peace.

Lest you think I’m a pessimist, let me add that all is not lost. It’s not too late for peace loving people to send a message not just to our government, but to the whole world, saying: “This acton was not done in our name, was not done by our will. We’re against killing of innocents anywhere in the world.”

We need to tell our leaders the United States needs to become a world citizen. We need to participate in all the world conferences and not walk out like we did in Durban just recently. We need to sign on to treaties, viz. Kyoto and others. We need to sign on to the UN Protocol dealing with the Rights of Women and the Protection of Children. Instead of war, we need to build up the infrastructure of poor countries, with humanitarian aid as the first stage effort. U. S. foreign policy has to be realism, tempered by idealism.

Thus, the next step for us is to build a movement that can change our government’s barbaric and self-destructive policy. Each of us must take on some part of the responsibility to make this happen. If we don’t act, don’t act now, we may just be left with no world. So, instead, let us go out and sow the seeds of change, the seeds of peace.