On Monday morning, as we read of crowds at baseball stadiums chanting “U.S.A., U.S.A.” at the news on Sunday of U.S. and British bombing of Afghanistan, I put a white armband on over my jacket. What I want the world to know when they see me wear this band is that not everyone is celebrating America “striking back.” The grief and fear I have felt ever since the unprovoked and unconscionable attacks on civilians in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., has not been assuaged by the bombings.
The knowledge that my country has, again, chosen to escalate violence in a spirit of vengeance, rather than to work collaboratively with the international community to bring terrorists and their supporters to justice for their crimes against humanity, simply adds to my grief and especially to my fear.
We are always told that in a war the first casualty is the truth. But I have been shocked by the amount of evidence — available not just on leftist Web sites like www.alternet.org, but in the mainstream media like the New York Times — that might lead any thinking person to question the effectiveness of these strikes.
I read admissions from our officials that, far from increasing homeland security, a bombing campaign on Afghanistan virtually guarantees more attempted acts of terrorism on our soil. I read about extremist plans to use the Sept. 11 tragedies as a pretext to settle old grudges against Iraq, along with even more lunatic calls to broaden our strikes to include such targets as the Hezbollah.
Now that war is in the air, I see a real risk that we are incorporating almost every pre-existing conflict, in a very broad region extending well beyond the Middle East, into a single, monolithic and unwinnable “war on terrorism.”
And no one even pretends to have an explanation for how the military retaliation will address the American people’s clearly articulated call for greater security at home and greater freedom abroad.
Even the most blood-thirsty have been forced to admit that the targets we are hitting in Afghanistan are to a large extent defunct, abandoned or badly damaged by the past several decades of warfare. Since we have been told that the al Qaeda network exists in 50 countries, no one can be seriously persuaded that bombing Afghan cities and training camps will shut down this terrorist network. To the degree that it succeeds in destroying transportation networks, its only certain impact will be to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in this very poor region.
We are tying our bombing campaign to airdrops of food — 37,000 meals a day in a region where 7.5 million are threatened by starvation after three years of drought — meals sprinkled at random over territory booby-trapped with landmines.
This is so cynical and self-serving a gesture that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate group Doctors without Borders has accurately denounced it as military propaganda that attempts to blur the line between humanitarian and military objectives.
We flatter ourselves in saying we are fighting for ‘democracy,’ ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom,’ although our last large-scale imperial adventure in this region reinstalled an absolutist monarchy in Kuwait. Our closest allies in the region include Saudi Arabia, the second-most fundamentalist regime in the region after the Taliban, and a regime in Pakistan that came to power through a military coup.
And who has been proposed to replace the Taliban in Afghanistan?
The New York Times suggests that the United States and Pakistan may invite Mohammad Zahir, the exiled 83-year-old shah, to return from exile in Rome. Democracy, liberty and freedom for us and despots and autocratic rule for them?
Conduct of such rank hypocrisy can bring no lasting security, not to speak of lasting pride, to America.
Tavia Nyong’o is a fifth-year graduate student in American Studies. He is a member of the Yale Coalition for Peace.