Letters to the Editor March 2003

Letters to the Editor March 2003

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Our country is now at war. It is hard to decide what to think about this issue. There are many ethical questions that need to be answered. All people bring their own biases to the table. I would like to open a dialog on this matter. To that end, I invite all the readers of Verdad to send letters so that I might post them on this page in the coming days. Also, if you are so inclined, please join the discussion on the Verdad mailing list.

A number of people in my family are natives of Baghdad, and they are very afraid. In their honor, and that of the soldiers & their families, I have placed the Arabic word for peace, salaam, at the top of the page. In all their names, I say assalaamu alaikum. Jason Haddix, March 21, 2003

Submitted Letters:

(Editor's Note: This first one is copied from the Verdad Discussion List. It was meant to spark some debate about the war.)

Ethics: if you think there is absolute normativity that applies to everyone, talk to a racist (or a sexist, or a extremely pro-war person...) for about an hour. Saying, "well they're just wrong" is merely an apology for saying "I failed to erase 28 years (or whatever the amount of years may be) of their upbringing in an hour conversation; it's going to take more than a conversation to change their mind."

Current events: Physics for no war: In order to stop the movement of the war, which has a certain momentum, a force must be applied in the opposite direction that is sufficient to stop the war momentum. Let's call that force "F."

This is what is not F: trying to appeal to the conscience of the heads of government--that's like the above case of trying to appeal to the conscience of the racist; you can appeal to it, but it is very different from your conscience, it has been formed through life experiences, you can't erase those with ease, in a short period of time, they need to be overpowered by other experiences. Thus, the only way to apply the force is to apply the force, that is, create enough of a force that they CAN'T continue the war. History provides some examples of what types of things have worked (NB: I'm not saying that if it worked, then we should do it, this is just a description): Take the Vietnam war: the force that stopped the war was very complex: (a) lots of US soldiers dying; (b) lots of US soldiers quitting and turning their guns on their commanders; (c) riots in the black working class ghettos across the country (detriot, harlem, LA--others too); thousands of students and middle class folks in the streets; (not in vietnam, but a paradigm example of the force) strikes, refusing to work.

Problem, we see none of this because there arenÂ’t enough people that are both against the war and willing to act on that opposition. Thus, those who are against the war, must, if they're serious about it, do more than express their opposition in a protest. They must also, convince a lot more people to join them. The latter is not taking place at the required level...I'm done. In short, if you are the kind of person who cares about lots of people having a meaningful life, and not just a few people, then this war isn't for you. But not everyone cares about that. It's hard to care about that when in order to do well in this country, in the paradigmatic way of doing well, what is required is to not care about lots of people living  meaningful lives...

I'm definitely done. This is too long. We need a starting point. What do you really care about? Start there and figure what it takes to actualize that...

Definitely definitely done...Marc Lispi, March 22, 2003.

There is an open letter to George Bush that sums up my feelings very well. It can be found with all kinds of other nifty things at www.michaelmoore.com. Also please take the pledge against brand america at www.adbusters.org.  If you want something to be done about the state of the nation, do something - no matter how small.  Even if you just tell your co-workers or that person standing next to you how you feel. James Singer, March 26, 2003.

Let not delude ourselves here friends. This is not a war about democracy, or for the people of Iraq or for some greater cause of ending a level of suffering or any of that flowery [b.s.]. This is a war about oil and power. It's another expression of American arrogance and muscle flexing, those of us who have lived it in the flesh (at least in some way) acknowledge this.

The excuse of democracy is just that, an excuse. This seems to be an imposition of a western ideal on a part of the world that does not even agree with some of the foundational principles for that form of government. Example: It is not as individualistic a culture as we tend to be, democracy would seem to require individuals. (Indeed, this was recently acknowledged by the LA Times as one of the reasons why the "Domino theory" in the middle east would not work.)

Secondly, who the Hell gives us the right to police the whole world as WE see fit? We tout democracy as the basic trademark of the US, but we ourselves are unwilling to abide by it. That is, instead of abiding by a decision that was made democratically in the UN, we act like spoiled children and do as we wish anyway. Democracy? Please...

So ummm... this should spark something (debate, outrage, agreement, hate of Maritza...). But let me also say about the protesting and the political action. Some of us are not able to "get off our asses and do something" because we weren't on our asses to begin with. It is very hard to find the time to do things like protest and convince people of your position when you are already working yourself blue. So let us not forget that most of those who protest have some leisure to do so, let us not look down on those of us who don't. And yes, I do realize that it is because I am in the US that I can make comments such as these, but that does not answer the questions that these comments raise. Maritza Marquina, March 27, 2003.

I'd like to focus on Marc Lispi's claim that if you're the kind of person who cares about lots of people having a meaningful life, then this war isn't for you.

I'm not clear exactly on who Marc thinks will have a less meaningful life because of this war because he didn't specify. But it seems to me that more people will have a better chance at living meaningful lives because of this war. I'd like to focus on the Iraqis since they are the some people who are against the war sometimes claim to be caring about. (Of course, this isn't the only important aspect of the anti-war argument. But I think that it deserves attention.) The issue of whether or not non-Iraqis will have a better chance at having a meaningful life is an interesting one. But I won't address that in this post.

It seems probable to me that the Iraqi people have not generally been able to live happy or meaningful lives under Saddam. By all accounts that I am aware of, he has been a vicious and brutal dictator. It has been reported that he has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people, some of them with chemical weapons. He is charged with routinely torturing and killing his people for "crimes" that were not really crimes. He has supposedly had children beaten, whipped, sexually abused, electrically shocked, and deprived of food (among other things) in order to get information from their families. Some people he dislikes disappear never to return. He is allowed to make new laws on a whim.

The fact that innocent Iraqis are dying because of this war is a sad thing. It's never good when innocents die. But it is reasonable to assume that innocent Iraqis would continue to die under Saddam if we didn't continue this war. So, war or no war, innocents will die. The questions are: How many will die if we follow through with the war? How many will die (by the hands of Saddam) if we pull out now? And, of those who survive, do they have a better chance of living meaningful lives under Saddam or some, potentially, more democratic government?

Assuming that the widely available and accepted reports about Saddam's brutality are true, is it really reasonable to think that the Iraqi people would be better off in the long-term if we stopped this war now? Luka Yovetich, March 28, 2003

As I said before, discussion through email, especially if it is supposed to be serious is rarely fruitful. So this is not my paradigm. I like discussion with a purpose, when people actually listen and even heed the arguments of other people, and then actually act on what they discussed. But in the end, a lot of this is just a combination of (a) reaction to the overwhelming isolation that pervades our society, compounded by the (b) competitiveness of academia, super-saturated by our (c) overwhelming need for some form of recognition. That being clear, I have something to say:

This is not addressed at anybody in particular; in fact, it’s nothing new; I said a lot of it in my previous “submission” (or whatever the industry term for these are nowadays). But in the end this is about two things (it might turn into more than two as I write this, so let’s think of that as a tentative “two”): values and acceptance.

First, values. Our beliefs are formed through our experiences. Some of those beliefs are our values. So, if you run into someone who has drastically different values than you, it’s most likely because they had drastically different experiences than you (so don’t think you're better than they). So, in the end, to change their mind is to change their experiences in some sort of way. It’s not an easy thing. For some people it really just is a conversation. But for others, a simple conversation is dramatically insufficient because their experiences are such that they can’t even hear the logic of your argument because they don’t share the values that logic is based on. So, like I said before, this is for those of you who care. Let me say what I mean by care: (1) you don’t place certain lives at higher value, e.g., you don’t place American lives over Iraqi lives (you could place American lives over Saddam’s life, or Iraqi lives over Bush’s life, but those are only exceptions that support the principle--aka “exceptions that prove the rule”). (2) you deeply desire, not just yourself, but other people in the world to be able to live well. Here’s what I mean by living well: eating fresh food, sleeping on a bed with shelter, wearing clothing, getting an education, working a job you care about, having a *real* say in how your society functions…these types of things. These are values that decent people have, and most people in the world are decent.

Now acceptance. Some people with those values have another sort of value: when they see things going on in the world they disagree with, they donÂ’t just sit back, theyÂ’re forced to try and do something. They canÂ’t accept it going to go on without a fight. (I guess itÂ’s similar seeing a friend of yours getting jumped--youÂ’d feel pretty forced to do something, then.) ThatÂ’s how some people feel about this war with Iraq. I think it is important to really try and get that feeling, understand it, actually understand it and then criticize it; if you want to critique, you better be damn sure you can articulate it first. I havenÂ’t seen that yet, not because itÂ’s your (again, not a specific you) fault, but because I guess it hasnÂ’t been articulated clear enough--though I think it has. Let me try, again.

When we talk about this war, we’re not just talking about the day the bombing started. It is a long history of relations with the middle east. Of course I wont go into any details, because, again, this is not a real discussion; even if you did care, this situation is not very conducive for you to do anything about it. First, the United States was a huge ally of Saddam Hussein and his ruling Ba’ath party ever since 1979 when he helped the US crush a rebellion in Iran. Good old Donald Rumsfeld was sent over to Iraq by Ronald Reagan to develop ties with Saddam and help arm his regime. Second, Saddam’s most brutal acts—using chemical gas in the Iran/Iraq war on some of his own soldiers and civilians in Iraq, and gassing thousands of Iraqis later on—were known completely by the US administration at the time. Some US corporations even sold Saddam’s regime the chemicals. The US reaction to these events was not at all the same kind of propagandistic criticism you see today; the US, instead, continued their support of Saddam, and even increased it. So, there’s a big problem here: what are the US administrations real motivations? Well, the only way we can get a glimpse of that is to look at it’s actions in the past. Again I’m not going to give you the list: just look at, for fun, some of the following: Iran, 1953--CIA overthrows democratically elected Prime Minister because he announced plans to nationalize US and British oil companies; Guatemala, 1953--CIA overthrows democratically elected President (Jacobo Arbenz) because he announced plans to nationalize a US fruit company; Chile, 1973—CIA organizes a coup, with Pinochet, head of Chilean army, to overthrow and execute Salvador Allende (the democratically elected leader at the time) and kill about 3000 people, because he announced plans to nationalize US companies. That’s enough. The list contains over two-hundred of these type and similar events since WWII.

The point of all this is it paints a nice picture of the characteristic of the US government: it represents clear interests--not the interests of what decent people care about. So, when you talk about the people of Iraq being freed by the United States (hence the term “Operation Iraqi Freedom”) you better ask yourself, is the US government made up of the kind of people who care about that? The answer is clearly no. If you bomb a country’s infrastructure and their agriculture and leave them with no ability to sustain themselves and then impose sanctions on that country that starves the people, killing over one million people (majority of which are children under 5), you definitely don’t care about those people. Yes, the US wants Saddam out of Iraq. But they don’t want Iraq in the hands of the Iraqi people. What we’ll see is, what the US is calling a “regime change.” What that means is the overthrow of the current regime and replacement of another one. Well, whose interests will be represented? Not the Iraqi people. Yes, the US will probably lift the sanctions and allow more food and medicine to get in. But to call that a humanitarian act is like calling a person who starves their children to near death and then decides to give them some pretzels a compassionate person. To really care about the Iraqi people would have been to (1) not destroyed their country in the first place; (2) to have never imposed the sanctions and allowed the Iraqi people to get rid of Saddam on their own; (3) to have allowed the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam when they had the opportunity in the last gulf war. The US has done none of these. They're going to replace Saddam with a government that runs the country corresponding to the interests of US domination, not what the Iraqi people want. The day the war’s over we’ll probably see a nice picture of food getting in and a huge weapon the US found, and Iraqis playing in the streets. But that is only because decent people can’t just be handed the truth, because they wouldn’t accept it, they couldn’t accept it. And the more people with those values I mentioned early discover what’s going on, the more they can’t accept it. And for some of them, not accepting it means trying to change it. For others not accepting it means, criticizing it but believing it can be changed, and thus being a bit demoralized (i.e., stripped of your morals) and depressed. This, again, all depends on what your experiences have been, which again are changeable, some easier to change than others.

So this is long, and I somewhat apologize, because it’s not so simple. And I think it is very difficult to discuss it in this way. Give me a break, though, “Operation Iraqi Freedom”—it makes me cringe. It should be called operation “allow the people we’ve starved to death to eat after we get rid of the regime we put into power.” Lastly, once again, what kind of person are you? If you care, how much do you care? Are you willing to act on that caring, or, perhaps not yet? I care. Marc Lispi, March 29, 2003.


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