Five Reasons Not to Go to War

In the wake of the horrific attacks of September
11, many people find their feelings of sadness and
shock mixed with anger and calls for war. But war
would be horribly wrong for at least five
reasons…

In the wake of the horrific attacks of September
11, many people find their feelings of sadness and
shock mixed with anger and calls for war. But war
would be horribly wrong for at least five reasons.


1. Guilt hasn’t yet been proven.


As the New York Times acknowledged, "Law
enforcement officials … appear to have little
solid evidence tying Mr. bin Laden’s group to the
attacks" (NYT, 20 Sept. 2001). If we believe
in law and justice, when crimes are committed we
don’t advocate that victims who have a strong
hunch about culprits impose punishment. We demand proof. We reject vigilantism. We reject guilt by association.


This is elementary and uncontestable, except when
fear and the drums of war cloud consciousness. In
the case of September 11, though an Islamic or
Middle Eastern connection seems clear, there are
many extremist groups that might have been
responsible. To rush to punitive judgment, much
less to war, before responsibility has been
determined violates basic principles of justice.
Guilt should be proven, not suspected.


2. War would violate International Law.


International law provides a clear recourse in
situations of this sort: present the matter to the
Security Council, which is empowered under the UN
Charter, the fundamental document of contemporary
international law, to take appropriate action.


The Security Council has met and unanimously
denounced the terrorist attacks, passing a strong
resolution. But the Security Council resolution
did not — despite what Washington might claim —
authorize the use of force, and especially not a
unilateral use of force.


To be sure, the UN Charter allows countries to act
in self-defense which would permit the United
States to shoot down a terrorist plane, for
example. But it has long been clear UN doctrine
that self-defense does not allow countries to
themselves launch massive reprisal raids —
precisely because to allow such reprisals would
lead to an endless cycle of unrestrained violence.


3. War would be unlikely to eliminate those
responsible for the September 11 attacks.


If bin Laden is indeed the evil genius responsible
for the September 11 attacks, is it credible that
he and his top aides would be so bumbling as to
wait around for the U.S. military to exterminate
them?


We know they have already abandoned their training
camps (NYT, 19 Sept. 2001). They may have
relocated themselves to some unknown caves in the
Afghan mountains, they may have moved into various Afghan villages, blending in with the population, or they may even have left the country entirely.


Are U.S. bombers and cruise-missiles really going
to find bin Laden and unknown associates? It’s
doubtful that Washington has good intelligence as
to their whereabouts; when the U.S. launched
cruise missiles at bin Laden in 1998 — with the
advantage of surprise — its information was out
of date and he was already gone.


It’s likely to be even harder to find him and his
lieutenants now. War is hardly the most effective
way to pursue the perpetrators and they are hardly
likely to be its primary victims.


4. Huge numbers of innocent people will
die.


It was precisely the fact that the September 11
attacks killed large numbers of civilians that
made the attacks terroristic and so horrific. If
it is immoral to slaughter thousands of Americans
in an effort to disrupt the U.S. economy and force
a change in U.S. policy, it is no less immoral to
slaughter thousands of Afghans in an effort to
force the Taliban to change its policy.


The United States is moving large numbers of
warplanes and missile-launching vessels into the
region, yet there are hardly any military targets
in Afghanistan for them to attack. It is
inevitable that civilians will bear the brunt of
any major campaign — civilians who, in their vast
majority, probably are ignorant not only of the
recent terrorist assault on the U.S., but probably
even of bin Laden himself.


Ground forces might be less indiscriminate, but
it’s hard to imagine that Washington’s military
plans won’t involve the massive application of
force, with horrendous human consequences.


While the image of bombers flying over Afghanistan
and bombing a people whose average lifespan is
about 45 years of age and who are suffering
terrible deprivation already — not least due to
the Taliban, which the U.S. helped create and
empower — is horrifying enough, it is important
to realize that death and deprivation come in many
forms.


Even without widespread bombing, if the threat to
attack the civilian population or outright
coercion of other countries leads to curtailment
of food aid to Afghanistan, the ensuing starvation
could kill a million or more Afghans by
mid-winter. Is this the appropriate response to
terror?


5. War will reduce the security of U.S.
citizens.


What drives people to devote — and even sacrifice
— their lives to anti-American terrorism? No
doubt the causes are complex, but surely deep
feelings of anger and frustration at the U.S. role
in the Middle East is a significant factor.


If the United States goes to war some terrorists
will probably be killed, but so too will many
innocent people. And each of these innocent
victims will have relatives and friends whose
anger and frustration at the United States will
rise to new heights, and the ranks of the
terrorists will be refilled many times over. And
the new recruits will not just come from
Afghanistan.


To many Muslims throughout the Middle East, war
will be seen as an attack on Islam — and this is
one reason that many of Washington’s Islamic
allies are urging caution.


The dynamic of terror and counter-terror is a
familiar one: it leads not to peace but to more
violence. Israel’s response to terrorism hasn’t
brought Israelis more security. Nor has
retaliatory terrorism made people more secure
elsewhere.


Indeed, it is quite likely that the perpetrators
of the terror attack on the United States would
like nothing more than to induce a massive U.S.
military response which might destabilize the
whole region, leading to the creation of millions
of holy warriors and the overthrow of governments
throughout the Islamic world.

Author: Michael Albert and Stephen R. Shalom

News Service: ZNet

URL: http://www.zmag.org/fiveargs.htm