A year ago on September 11 people in countries all over the world stood in front of American embassies to pay their respects and homage. An African tribe drove cattle to town to give to an American ambassador. We felt scared and the Africans said, in effect, you are not alone. For a brief time, last fall, we were united with the oppressed and the hungry all over the world by our own suffering and pain, even a kind of reverence for life.
Our common humanity was like capital in the bank. We stood on the brink of the possibility to unite people of good will and compassion into a common effort that might have addressed the causes of terrorism, injustice and war. People would have followed our leadership; we had, for a moment, the moral high ground.
Since then we have attacked not just the terrorist networks of Al Qaida but a whole country in Afghanistan and killed more innocent civilians than Al Qaida killed of us. We have rejected the International Criminal Court , the War Crimes Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and declared an intention to invade Iraq. We have supported the attack by Ariel Sharon on Palestinian villages, watched government-alleged terrorists be bulldozed without trial or process in Bethlehem, children dying in houses collapsed upon them in Jenin and we have continued to back the military solution to poverty and despair. We have told the Saudis that their lack of democracy is less important to us than Saddam Hussein’s lack of democracy and that we will not bomb Saudis for civil rights violations although we will bomb Saddam Hussein for his.
Preferring the Saudis to Iraqis and Israelis to Palestinians, supporting a dictator in Pakistan while planning to bomb a dictator in Baghdad, we have confused any message about democracy or the rule of law. French, German and Russian leaders have told us that they do not understand, and will not support, violating international law to make democracy stronger. From all over the globe we now hear reports of escalating distaste, even unto hatred for America. The compassionate treasure of a year ago has been squandered.
A year ago, or five years ago, or even ten years ago Saddam Hussein was not evil enough to warrant attack. Nothing new has happened to make him more evil than he was 10 years ago. But American’s economy is weak and Republicans openly speak of losing this fall’s elections. There is suspicion that the president needs a war to make Republicans look like patriots and democrats like late comers. As a result, the feud with Hussein has suddenly mushroomed. It is led intellectually and emotionally by Vice President Cheney who appears never to have seen a war he did not like, though he has not been in one himself.
The legacy of September 11 is not what we might have hoped. America is on the attack, as if attack were our hallmark, as if military action our proudest tradition. We are talking but not listening, we are preparing to bomb, but not to rebuild, we are violating international law in the name of enforcing the law.
In the wake of the President’s bravado, many Americans are recalling that our earliest mission as a country was to raise the law above the king, to establish the relevance of moral principle, the authority of the common good over privilege. Thomas Jefferson sought to create a land rich in culture, Abraham Lincoln to create a land of compassion and mercy, Woodrow Wilson to participate in an international regime of consultation and mutual respect. We are the children, in this republic, not only of war, but of social reform, mining laws, labor laws, environmental protections and protections of legal due process no one of which can possibly be achieved by military attack.
We are the country of Dwight Eisenhower, who knew war better than any American president of the last century, and who warned against that awful partnership between the corporations who sell war and the military who need propaganda champions to make it appear justified. We are children not only of the Lone Ranger, but of the sensible and the wise, the thoughtful, the caring, the decent, even the elegant. We are the children of civilization, more than of militarization and as the president rides about the country organizing his posse, there are now voices each day crying out. They are saying that not all things, Mr. President, are simple; not all evils can be strung up from a limb, not all that is quick is wise. Some problems require relationship. Some, require civility, or law, or compassion. Deliberation and discussion is our tradition, too, and that is what we are best at, even better than at bombing and killing.