Three weeks later, how should Yalies respond to what happened on September 11th? For a people in shock, there are no easy answers. In the past, we have felt solidarity for others when tragedy struck, for the people of Nicaragua, when they were devastated by hurricanes and torrential rains two years ago. Now, as a community struggling with our own horror, the future seems daunting.
Looking for solace, I attended a meeting of Yale Students for Peace last week, and I want to express my oneness with so many of those in attendance: people whose intentions are noble. But as much as I hate war, I cannot bring myself to take the pacifist road advocated by many member groups of Dwight Hall.
I cannot applaud the protests in Washington last week. Nor do I agree with those who, condemning any potential military action in Afghanistan, warn of another Vietnam. Times have changed, and that old paradigm does not work.
We all know Vietnam was wrong. Our country backed a government hated by the Vietnamese people, and fought an enemy who had not once bombarded our shores. The American people did not support the war, and the international community roundly condemned it. Ho Chi Minh might have been a ruthless dictator, but he was no more brutal than US-backed tyrants like Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, or Suharto in Indonesia. Originally an admirer of America’s Declaration of Independence, he never sought war. His one-party state may have been repugnant, but Ho was no Bin Laden.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was equally wrong, but also should not be exploited to dissuade American military action — apart from warnings of the dangers of a ground war. The Russians, who have always sought a stepping stone to Middle Eastern oil, intervened in the late 1970s to install a more pliant communist government. Brezhnev’s actions were expansionist: he had no legitimate reason to invade.
But the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington were unprecedented. Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban satrapy that harbors him directly attacked the United States. America had done nothing to provoke Mullah Mohammed Omar or his radical cadres; indeed, Omar cared not that this generous country is Afghanistan’s primary emergency food donor.
Bin Laden and Omar, whose regime is currently holding US citizens for “preaching Christianity,” acted of pure hatred. They must be overthrown, and the terrorist camps closed. Mass murderers have no moral authority; they cannot be allowed to topple our free and democratic nation.
I disagree strongly with those on this campus who, while saddened by the hijackings, seek to excuse or justify Bin Laden’s actions. I concede that America’s Middle Eastern foreign policy has not always been just.
We have supported corrupt regimes like the Saudi monarchy, because it safeguards our interests. But in a region with few good governments, who can blame the US for backing King Fahd, especially when the alternative is often a tyrant like Saddam Hussein?
Indeed, there is a certain triteness to the rehashed “anti-imperialist” arguments now making the rounds. Let us not forget that when Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, he justified his adventure by accusing the Czechs of violating the human rights of Sudeten Germans. Some in the West bought the lie. No one should this time.
Of course, America must proceed with caution. Military action against Bin Laden, which I support, could destabilize Pakistan, where the majority of the people, and even some in the reigning military junta, now oppose the pro-US General Pervez Musharraff.
Musharraff himself took power two years ago in a coup that ousted the democratically elected Sharif government. Should fundamentalists take power in Islamabad, a nuclear war on the Indian subcontinent could erupt. What’s more, other countries in the Middle East may have difficulty pacifying their people. We need to let them know their loyalty to the cause of liberty will be rewarded in the future with credits for development.
And what can Yale students do to promote peace? I think that, while we should reject complete pacifism, Dwight Hall must remain active, and we need to keep talking. “Blessed are the peacemakers” are Christ’s words, and the world’s great problems can ultimately only be solved when human beings, acting in good faith, agree to peace. Negotiations are the only way to further the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and our country must do everything it can to encourage a just settlement to that conflict.
But it’s wrong to think that men like Mullah Omar, who has imposed feudal misery on his people, will ever negotiate in good faith. He has destroyed Afghanistan; he would level our country next. And that, in the famous words of President George HW Bush, cannot stand.
Matthew Nickson is a junior in Berkeley College. He is the President of the Yale Political Union.