Reason before retribution?

By Еvan Osentоn

What was perhaps more disturbing than Tuesday’s unprecedented terrorist attacks on the United States was the overwhelming cries for reprisal and the thunder of war drums across the country. While not surprising under the circumstances, it is indeed disappointing that cooler heads may not prevail and the ugliest of human qualities–revenge–may yet come on a scale only the United States can execute. It was particularly disturbing that George W. Bush’s speeches called for retribution and justice before the first mention of his nation’s victims and suffering.

America might well consider that you reap what you sow. While no people deserved the hellish retribution America suffered on Tuesday, make no mistake, it was retribution. The United States cannot practise an aggressively Eurocentric and economically self-interested foreign policy and not expect to bear the resistance of the North Koreas, Iraqs, Libyas or Afghanistans. Attacks on civilian populations are, of course, unacceptable retaliations to U.S. foreign policy, but Bush’s indignation at an act he’s known was coming for a long time smacks either of hypocrisy or naiveté. No credible media source has yet argued this attack was entirely unforeseen. In light of all the cries of indignation in America, several observations might be made.

Bush’s speeches since Tuesday morning were predictably chockful of references to revenge and justice. But can the United States ever truly avenge this act of terrorism? No.

It’s likely these attacks were carried out by an organization whose ties to any nation might be difficult or impossible to prove. To avenge, the U.S. will have to eradicate a highly organised movement. Not only is this extremely difficult–the perpetrators are likely spread throughout the globe and in hiding–but this can’t satisfy Joe American. Will the death of 20 or 30 terrorists ever repair the physical and psychological damage they perpetrated against the human race? Will a parent who lost their child in the World Trade Center finally sleep once the terrorist is brought to “justice?”

Another risk is that any terrorist killed for committing these atrocities becomes a martyr. Che Guevara disagreed with American foreign policy, and the U.S. killed him for his beliefs. The man’s death inspired dozens of anti-American regimes in Central and South America. The U.S. must consider that killing the terrorists responsible may prevent them from acting again, but might only exacerbate the problem of terrorism world-wide. Thus, while world opinion might even suggest these terrorists should die, this solution should only be arrived at after a reasoned and careful consideration of the ramifications. Bush and co. indeed face a difficult predicament, but so far they’re only advocating one course of action. In 1945, the U.S. launched atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, acts of terrorism committed against civilian populations. A state of war does not excuse indiscriminate mass-murder, especially since history has shown the Japanese government was approaching surrender. For the past 50 years, the U.S. has unequivocally supported a genocidal Israeli regime in their persecution of Palestine. But Americans, bless their grieving souls, have a selective memory.

In the face of this tragedy, it would be admirable to hear George W. Bush and other U.S. policy makers talk of conciliation with their enemy states, talk of understanding, talk of peace. It would be preferable to hear them profess regret that the world has again witnessed mass-violence, and acknowledge their own partial culpability. Instead, the U.S. government speaks of revenge, and their public clamours for war–as if such actions will have any consequences other than perpetuating the cycle of violence we witnessed this week on a scale none of us should be prepared to further perpetuate.

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