A recent MSNBC poll says 87% of Americans support the military action against terrorism currently being waged in Afghanistan. That's a huge majority, to be sure, but it begs the question, who are these 37,131,356 dissenters and why haven't their alternative plans to save the world from both terrorism and war been released? Could it be there are no alternative plans?
There is nothing un-American about protest or dissent. Ever since the first resident of Jamestown muttered to his fellow colonists, "Perfect. Captain John Smith gets Pocahontas and I get dysentery" this land has thrived on debate and the freedoms to air views contrary to government policy are what makes this nation great. But opposition without proposition in a time of war is irresponsible. And opposition without proposition is exactly what we are hearing from the "enlightened" minority who seem to feel flag waving equates to knuckle dragging and the ignorant masses who are supporting the war have got it all wrong.
There seem to be two distinct camps of naysayers in the current Anti-war movement. The "Give Peace a Chancers" and the "Moral Equivalancers". Neither group is completely wrong in their suppositions but their conclusions are, ultimately, inconclusive.
The "Give Peace a Chancers'" chant is that war is not the answer. Apparently, no answer is the answer and those who committed the atrocities of September 11 should be shown love and not guns. Admittedly, their assertions are somewhat more complicated than that but definitely no less murky and ineffectual.
"If you can see [the terrorists] as a relative who's dangerously sick and we have to give them medicine, and the medicine is love and compassion." (Actor Richard Gere)
But is overly simplistic to be against the fighting because war is "evil". Might not war, under some circumstances, be a necessary evil?
Wars in the last century killed 19 million civilians. Genocide, tyranny, and man-made famine killed 127 million. 6 to 1? I'll take those odds, any day.
Now, as the conductors of genocide, tyranny and man-made famine do not, as a general rule, stop their genocidal, tyrannical and mass famine-producing behavior until forced to do so (by military opposition, for instance), then perhaps the greatest tool for the preservation of human life and liberty in the last century was the war.
The anti-Gulf War saying was, we all remember,É "No Blood for Oil." Overly simple, yes, but there was a cogent point behind that phrase. The anti-Terror war folks haven't been able to garner much backing with their bumper sticker- "No blood for the massacre of thousands and promises from the enemy to kill every American man, woman, and child." Kinda hard to get behind that sort of mantra.
The Give Peace a Chancers feel that negotiating with our enemies will lead to mutual understanding. But the negotiating leverage between two parties is significantly debilitated when one party swears to God he will kill the other. For example, say what you want about the formation of Israel (research the Hagannah, Irgun and Stern Gang- chilling stuff) but when the PLO promised to drive the Jews into the sea, the Government in Tel Aviv became much less inclined to offer concessions. "Ah, Chairman Arafat, if you will compromise and promise to only drive us into the low-tide surf, we will agree to pull our forces out of the West Bank."
Similarly, Bin Laden is not offering us much wiggle room when he tells us his ultimate goal is that we die. Still, some Americans want to seek common ground, basically, because the U.S.A. is not perfect either. Granted we are not, but are we really better off dead?
That is the basic precept of the Moral Equivalancers, who believe the misdeeds of the United States, both past and present, preclude us from passing judgement on those who mean to do us harm. True, the United States is guilty as sin for certain things in it's past. (Though certainly not 1/10th of what Oliver Stone would have you believe). But sacrificing all of our lives as a way to do penance seems a bit much.
Less like true believers, and more like irresolute bandwagoners, the Equivalancers have an affirming catch phrase of their own. "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." True enough, but mightn't one man be dead wrong? Some of us are able to discern a difference between the World Trade Center attacks and, say, the Boston Tea Party. Any parallels drawn between Paul Revere and Mohammed Atta are patently absurd and show a complete lack of objectivity in the part of the Equivalencer.
The current anti-Globalization movement around the world today falls into this category. The tenet of their philosophy relative to the current fighting says that U.S. and Western corporate exploitation of less advanced nations has created a festering wound of disadvantaged and angry masses that can easily be tapped into by terrorists cells. This characterization of the roots of the current problem is utterly wrong and smells of expediency by the anti-globalists. The spring of hate from which the present batch of terrorists has been drawn comes from perverted fundamentalist teachings in cloistered religious schools. These young men are not studying macroeconomic theory and then coming to the conclusion that U.S. companies are not paying a competitive wage and therefore the terrorists are justified in killing innocent civilians. No, they are being, in effect, brainwashed by a disciplined indoctrination into Islamic Fundamentalism that promises paradise for those who die in the Jihad.
The anti-war movement says they do not want us to fight. But what, exactly, do they want? Do they want us to die?
No. The fact is, they want the U.S. Government to ignore them and insodoing protect them from danger- all the while appearing enlightened and above such pedestrian pursuits as patriotism and realpolitik by damning the actions carried out on their behalf to save them from evil.
These difficult times require difficult choices. As step 1 of the war (Afghanistan) evolves into discussion of who to step on in step 2, the denunciations against U.S. Foreign policy may well increase and that, in itself, is not a bad thing. But being against something without being for something else is completely ineffectual, unless one's only goal is to appear progressive, tolerant, or open-minded, at the expense of real and healthy debate. Such self-serving behavior is an American trait that America can now ill afford.
War, by definition, is the ultimate zero sum game. A winner creates a loser. And in this war, the loser's loss is absolute. If someone knows a viable alternative to war, they should exercise their right and responsibility to be a part of the process and air their opinion. If not, then they should quietly appreciate their tax dollars at work- keeping others from killing them.
(Mark Greaney handles international transactions at Memphis-based Sofamor Danek)