As the bombs rain down on Afghanistan and our special forces hit the ground, I hope that bin Laden and his terrorist murderers are caught soon, that few innocent civilians are killed and this whole dreadful episode ends quickly without causing more hatred of the United States within the Muslim world and even more terrorist acts. Maybe it will turn out that way. But what if it doesn't?
We are all scared. How else can one explain President Bush's approval ratings? Fear makes us rally around our leader and our flag and stop thinking for ourselves. We are blind to root causes. We tolerate the killing of innocent civilians. We don't seem to realize that the war on terrorism may make terrorism worse.
While I am glad we are dropping food to Afghan refugees, I have a few questions: Are these food drops theatre or genuine humanitarian relief? Will they be enough? Is bombing Afghanistan creating a humanitarian disaster? Will we acknowledge our responsibility if the war causes thousands of people to starve in mountain passes this winter? At what point do we become terrorists? When the death count of innocent Afghans exceeds that of innocent Americans?
Many Americans are baffled by the hatred others in the world feel toward our country. Instead of dismissing that hatred, we should acknowledge it and seek to understand it. Yes, some of the hatred comes from radical fundamentalists who oppose anything modern and Western. But more than that, America is hated for its foreign policy.
Our foreign policy has not been as kind as we are as a people. It has been based on access to resources and profits for multinational corporations. In the Middle East, the United States has sought access to cheap oil (which gets pretty expensive when you add in the military costs) and support for Israel irrespective of injustices perpetrated against the Palestinians. Our steadfast pursuit of these objectives has resulted in oppression, violence and the kind of hostility toward America that motivates and inflames terrorists.
What should we make of President Bush's comment that he can see no reason why foreigners would hate us? I think Bush is playing the traditional role of President as liar and myth-maker. The last thing most corporate politicians want us to know is the truth. We didn't get to be four percent of the world's population consuming 30 percent of the world's resources by being the best of global neighbors.
Everywhere I look I see ironies. Consider the quick, overwhelming $100 billion response the federal government has made to terrorism while it has studiously ignored other equally large and threatening problems. Consider global warming, which scientists predict will have catastrophic effects on the planet this century. There has been no war on fossil fuels. In fact, just the contrary, as the Bush administration rejected the Kyoto Treaty and now promotes an energy plan based on increasing consumption of oil and other carbon-based fuels.
It does seem easier to get America to go to war than to get Americans out of their SUVs. We saw that in the Gulf War, led by George Bush Sr. It's too bad that our oil addiction not only ties us to global warming but also to corrupt, oil-rich governments like Saudi Arabia's, which tolerate or actively support anti-American terrorists.
So what's next? An anthrax explosion? Poison gas? Attacks on nuclear plants? A nuclear bomb?
That bomb could destroy an entire city. It could arrive via a rusty freighter, small plane, delivery van or terrorist suitcase. Experts on terrorism tell us this threat is real. With enough money and enough hatred, terrorists can do almost anything.
Years ago, I had nightmares about the destructiveness of nuclear weapons. Now, as we read about missing Russian nuclear weapons and wonder about the safety of Pakistani atomic bombs, those nightmares are returning. We must address the root causes of terrorism before it is too late. To do that, we will have to free our minds and find our voices. In America, dissent is patriotic.