Generally speaking, I regretfully support the military strikes in Afghanistan and many of the U.S. Justice Dept.’s flagrant violations of due process because I fear the repercussions of another major terrorist act, and because I believe that these actions will do as much as is possible to prevent and/or deter future violent acts against civilians in America.
The repercussion I fear most is a radical crystallization of blind and belligerent national pride – the kind that mucks up even the most reliable channels of information, and impedes progress in all facets of social and political life. The awesome power that the United States yields in geopolitical affairs must be tempered by rational, respectful and pragmatic discussions of the application of this power, particularly by those in the government with legislative control.
Such discussions, even during “peacetime,” have been too infrequent and too apathetically received. The nationalist fervor that was sparked with the onset of the “War on Terror” made this type of discussion even more needed and even more rare in the sensationalized cable news universe.
Case in point: last week Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle (a 2004 presidential hopeful) claimed, in the midst of assessing developments in the “War on Terror,” that “we’ve got to find Osama bin Laden and … other key leaders of the al-Qaeda network or we will have failed.” He also said that there was currently “expansion without at least a clear direction.”
Daschle’s Republican counterpart, Sen. Trent Lott, showed even less moderation in reacting to these comments. He accused Daschle of “trying to divide the country” with his statements and barked, “How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field.” This from a man who, in December 1998, announced, “I cannot support [the] military action in the Persian Gulf at this time … both the timing and the policy are subject to question” in response to Clinton’s Operation Desert Fox.
Daschle’s comments are too simplistic to be considered legitimate criticisms of the administration’s actions. I believe they were a political jab shrouded in skepticism, not backed by a single progressive suggestion regarding problems at hand. Lott’s reaction, of course, was an underhanded rebuke of the poorly initiated, but necessary, discussion of our hazy long-term military goals and our rising defense budget (up to $397 billion in 2003). Lott’s censure of all dissent of President Bush’s decision-making was crude politicking. Daschle perhaps expected this type of reaction and so purposefully went soft with his comments, but that doesn’t let him off the hook. His vague disapproval of the current circumstances begged for proactive solutions but none were advanced.
War, as a rule, is a showcase of the worst human capacities, of which blind patriotism is one. Its effects on progress are clear in the Daschle-Lott correspondence.
Already, the war in Afghanistan has claimed thousands of lives, including those of more than a dozen U.S. soldiers, hundreds of allied Afghan soldiers and untold thousands of civilians, not to mention the thousands of al-Qaeda and Taliban soldiers whose lives are not worthless to those who can value intrinsic human potential couched in a poor, ignorant and violent shell.
Still, these powerful political “leaders” devalue the sensitivity and integrity of informed public discourse by shifting the debate to the level of insignificant political attacks. Even worse, although totally devoid of information, this talk sucks up precious media coverage because of its controversial nature and greatly influences the incredulous ideologues in our society who follow these mouthpieces blindly.
I urge the reader to “Try, as far you can, to get rid of beliefs which depend solely upon the place and time of your education, and upon what your parents and schoolmasters taught you,” as philosopher Bertrand Russell advised. Moreover, I hope that you’ll react to the unreasonable behavior of our politicians by rededicating yourself to search out new, diverse sources of news on current events. Please do not take for granted the incredible wealth of information at your disposal. The discussions needed to end violent strife begin with an intellectually responsible public – and as you surely knew already, those in control are not leading the charge.
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Nico Pitney is a third-year student majoring in philosophy.