President Bush has repeatedly asserted that his now month-long and daily escalating campaign in Afghanistan is not aimed at the unfortunate people of that stricken land. But not only is the fact of our carpet bombing from B-52s with “cluster bombs” and “daisy cutters” to the contrary, but so are telling remarks by some of those who are conducting the barrage.
On October 22nd, the farming village of Chowkar-Karez was bombed and strafed by night. Its homes were totally destroyed and dozens of its inhabitants perished. A Pentagon official, speaking to CNN on condition of anonymity, defended the raid on the basis of intelligence indicating that the hamlet harbored Taliban members and al-Qaeda sympathizers. Surviving villagers denied this, and CNN’s reporter found no evidence of military hardware in the ruins. In any case, concluded the nameless official, “We hit what we wanted to hit: those people are dead because we wanted them dead.”
A few days later, an officer involved in deliberate bombardments of inhabited Red Cross facilities in Kabul justified the attacks by saying, “If the Red Cross thought those supplies were going to anywhere else than the Taliban murderers they are just plain foolish.”
These are only two of many such examples. Hospitals, schools, bridges, roads, electric plants and dams have been and are being targeted. And with the ensuing disruptions an estimated 7 million people, more than a third of Afghanistan’s population, face death by starvation this winter. With surprising candor, Admiral Michael Boyce, Defense Chief of Staff for our government’s British ally, has remarked that the bombing “will continue until the people of the country themselves recognize that this is going to go on until they get the leadership changed.”
The recent USA PATRIOT anti-terrorism act defines the crime of terrorism (in part) as any act dangerous to human life and appearing to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. Would it not seem that the acts and purposes remarked above fit Congress’ definition precisely?
Good ends can NEVER be achieved by evil means. It is ALWAYS evil to target civilians, no matter their sympathies. If we justify bombing civilians of other lands because of their sympathies or to goad them into altering their governments, on what basis shall we condemn those who target our civilians for similar cause? The distinction between combatants and non-combatants is indispensable to any possible claim to the moral conduct of war. (Unfortunately for us, President Bush recently blurred this distinction in our own regard with his ill-considered and hyperbolic metaphor that in the War on Terrorism, “Every American is a soldier…”. We can only hope that our enemies do not actually believe that our babies and grandmas are now conscripted, so mollifying any qualms our foes may yet have about their own policies and deeds.)
No doubt the suicide hijackers who outraged us on September 11th justified their crimes by rationalizations similar to those being expressed by at least some of the conductors of this strange war. But if we want to be better than the criminals of September 11th, if we truly desire to be decent and brave and free, we must begin by resolving to hate, not our enemies (let alone those who sympathize with them or merely have the misfortune to be ruled by them) but falsehood and not only when those who hate us act on lies, but most especially when its poison is whispered in our own souls.
November 18, 2001