Stephen Zunes asks, "Have we abandoned
our values?" in regard to human rights and international law,
and he strongly suggests that the answer is "yes," thereby
somehow contributing to the deadly terrorist attacks of September
11. I disagree. Since the end of World War II, American efforts
at mediation and involvement have been sought and welcomed by opposing
parties, by the United Nations, and by regional political alliances
in such disparate places as the Middle East, Northern Ireland, and
Bosnia. Surely we have made mistakes, big ones like Vietnam, but
on balance the U.S. has been a major player in support of human
rights and international law around the world. As the sole "superpower,"
the U.S. is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. The pictures
of joy displayed in the streets of Kabul and Kandahar when the Taliban
regime fell were worth a thousand lectures on how American military
might was used in a remote Third World country. As it should be,
the people of Afghanistan are now responsible for organizing their
society so that the worst abuses of human rights (women banned from
education, employment, freedom of movement) are not repeated. We
and other nations will provide much assistance...economic, medical,
engineering, etc. The millions of dollars from bin Laden and his
network were never put to good work to aid the people of Afghanistan.
We can all agree that terrorists like to destroy, not to improve
or to build. Even as we cope with a new sense of vulnerability,
it is important to appreciate that American values, often imperfectly
implemented, have not been abandoned.
Charles W. Jackson '54
Stephen Zunes is right in his answer but wrong in his question,
with the result being that he is more profoundly wrong than right.
He is right when he calls on us to "re-evaluate our definition
of security." We must look for better bedfellows than the Saudi
royal family, find a new relationship with the two sinning parties
who contend for Jerusalem, use our influence to bring prosperity
and freedom for people who lack traditions of opportunity and justice
to guide them, and become more effectively involved in nation building
where necessary. Zunes is wrong, however, when he says that because
of these obligations we should not have taken arms against al-Qaeda
and the Taliban. By the form of his implicit question, Zunes has
impoverished his thinking. The logical form of his proposition is
a disjunction: We can either work for justice or we can take up
arms. The true nature of the situation is a logical conjunction:
we must both work for justice and take up arms when necessary. Though
there are tensions between these duties, they are mutually dependent.
We liberals claim to be good at living with ambiguity, and yet we
rarely miss a chance to reduce the world to mutually exclusive binary
oppositions. By reducing the situation to a choice between war and
peace, Zunes predicts his answer: What decent person can prefer
war to peace? For peace is obviously better. But the peace in question
was the murderous peace of the Taliban, a condition comparable in
effect on its citizens and on the stability of the world to the
peace of Germany in 1935. While the Taliban/al-Qaeda complex threatened
its own people and our children, there could be no peace. Zunes
sees no moral value in the removal of the Taliban from power, but
without that action there could be no question of establishing liberal
democracy in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the world. It was far
from the last step, but it was the first. The liberal principle
of tolerance, if it is to be anything more than a mantra of hand
wringing, requires that we be intolerant of violent intolerance.
In the real world, good people sometimes must use force to protect
themselves and their fellows from bad people. Here at home, liberals
are willing to pay the salaries of police officers for this purpose,
because the relationship between force and peace is not a disjunction
but a conjunction. Civil rights, though liberals often oppose them
to law and order, can only flourish where there is civil peace.
International peace can only flourish in the absence, by force if
necessary, of criminal regimes. Zunes proposes a false choice where
there is no choice. We must not choose between protecting the world
from criminal regimes and working for justice; we must always do
both. To hold both ideas in our minds at once is sometimes uncomfortable,
but we liberals claim to be good at managing the discomfort of creative
ambiguity. Let us make it so.
Hollis Huston '68
White Plains, New York The publication of Stephen Zunes' essay brings
no credit to either you or to its author. By our protection of the
state of Israel--what Zunes calls "the Israeli occupation"--the
United States preserves the only democratic government in the region
and the only one that grants anything approaching equal rights to
women. These are values that most Americans and most Oberlin alums
are justly proud to maintain, despite the contrary opinions of religious
zealots and PC professors.
Russell Pittman '73
Takoma Park, Maryland
As Oberlin alumni of different generations and political opinions,
we shared a similar response to Stephen Zunes' column: disgust.
Although Zunes writes that "the transgression of U.S. foreign
policy...can never justify terrorism," he goes on to link terrorism
with what he perceives as legitimate political grievances. Zunes'
tone is all too familiar: blame the victim. Blaming terrorist acts
on U.S. foreign policy is like blaming rape on the victim's provocative
dress or lifestyle.
David A. Hart '79, Portland, Oregon
Thomas K. Elden '62, Salem, Oregon
Stephen Zunes asserts that our policies in the Near East explain,
but do not excuse, the terrorist attacks. Does Mr. Zunes really
believe that Sadaam Hussein was on course to set up a peaceful,
free, democratic "Iraq Nation of All The Near East," or
that Palestine (after dissolving Israel, of course) was about to
form a peaceful, free, democratic Jerusalem when the demon U.S.
(and her allies) stopped them? Is there in the world such a thing
as a free, democratic, Islamic nation? The first requirement is
the effective disestablishment of religion. Would changing our policies
help do that? Does Mr. Zunes really believe anything Osama bin Laden
says? What's past is past. We have made mistakes. What do we do
right now? To use deadly force against an aberrant perversion of
extreme religious doctrine is abhorrent to all good people of all
faiths, but murder cannot be allowed. The idea of freedom is so
great, so terrifying to them, that the enemies of freedom will do
anything to try to stop it. We must punish those who break the law,
while preserving and enhancing our freedom as an example to all.
John M. Townsend '47
Wantagh, New York
I find Richard Zunes' article to be intellectually glib, insulting,
and subversive. He concluded that the September 11 attack on the
WTC was our own fault, an "abandonment of our values."
As a paratrooper with the 11th Airborne Division, I was being readied
to invade Japan in the summer of 1945. In the ensuing 56 years,
the U.S. has defended democracy throughout the world and prevented
a major conflagration, largely as a result of our adherence to our
"values." Left to previous major powers between WWI and
WWII, peace lasted 20 years. Apparently our lead in defeating Hussein,
Milosevic, and the Taliban in support of Muslims, he sees as some
surrender of our values. "The U.S. military response went well
beyond what would be considered justification," he claims.
Instead, there is general agreement that the full use of military
power in Kuwait, Kosovo, and Afghanistan led to swift victories
that did not target civilians, kept military casualties to a remarkable
minimum, and earned us the right to be seen as a "beacon of
freedom" to others and ourselves.
Tom Brennan '51
Montclair, New Jersey
You gave Stephen Zunes "The Last Word."
I cannot. Zunes notes that "it is the desertion of our country's
values that made the horrific attacks of September 11 possible."
That statement is true. But what those values are, and precisely
which values have been abandoned, Zunes does not know. He knows
only what he wishes them to be. But the values that created our
country are historical fact. One cannot, as does Zunes, rename or
substitute for those values while maintaining historical accuracy.
These values were not, and are not, "human rights, international
law, and sustainable development." They were and are individualism,
and thus freedom and individual rights. It is historical fact that
these historical values were abandoned in the Mideast by Truman,
Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter (especially Carter),
Reagan, and Clinton. Only the Bushes have defended these rights
for Americans in that region of the world. Look at these values
anew. Individualism means that each person is responsible for himself
alone, accepting the consequences, whether good or ill, of his lawful
actions or inactions. Its requirements are freedom and individual
rights. Freedom is freedom from coercion, i.e., political freedom.
That requires economic freedom. The basic economic freedoms are
private property and property rights. Individual rights are the
basis of equality in our political system and, therefore, are a
political value. Because of this concept, we have (or should have)
a country in which the government defends the rights of the individual.
By contrast, Islamic theocracies routinely violate the rights of
individuals for religious purposes. This contrast, and its consequences
in economic success (we're rich and successful; they are not), are
two of the reasons they envy and hate us. What they call licentiousness,
we call freedom. Ultimately this is an ideological conflict. Next,
review the ideology at the source of these values. Each person possesses
certain rights by virtue of being a person. This is the meaning
of the adjective "unalienable" as applied to rights. Such
a right is not granted to the individual by society or government,
as liberals believe, nor is it a gift from God, as the conservatives
teach. It is unalienable, an inseparable part of you. To violate
it is to violate one's person, and thus to defend it is self-defense.
This is the philosophical/ideological basis of politics in the U.S.
The founders created our government to defend our rights, both here
and abroad. These are the values that had to be abandoned before
al-Qaeda terrorists could become sufficiently emboldened to attack
Americans in their homeland. When U.S. oilfields were nationalized
by Iran and then other Arab nations, our government, under Truman
and then Eisenhower, reneged on its fundamental mandate: to protect
the property rights of Americans. They were embarrassed and ashamed
of being Americans with American values, so they abandoned them.
That failure has not been redeemed. Today the Islamic fundamentalist
movement has noticed this failure; as a result they think we are
unwilling to defend ourselves, so some thousands of Americans lay
dead in the rubble of the WTC. Further, it is no use denying that
Islamic fundamentalist terrorists are empowered by Islamic fundamentalist
states. Some of these states, perhaps all of them, were hoping we
would abandon our values once more. Afghanistan was one that hoped,
but no longer. War has been declared upon Americanism by Islamic
fundamentalism. Upon American ideals and values by Islamic fundamentalist
ideals and values; the al-Qaeda are merely the soldiers, and merely
neutralizing the soldiers will not be enough. Imagine the absurdity
of liberating Europe in WWII, while leaving Nazi Germany intact.
Yet this is the absurdity your article suggests we pursue, Mr. Zunes,
in the interest of "human rights, international law and sustainable
development." Whose human rights shall we defend, Mr. Zunes?
Those who routinely violate individual rights and so inevitably
violate human rights? Theirs? Who rushed to enforce international
law for our sake when those oilfields created by American capital,
risk, and know-how were expropriated? Who rushed to enforce international
law on 9-11? Who will sustain world development if we, the world
developers, are destroyed? Can we be destroyed? Yes, we can be;
the barbarians are at the gate. Where have they come from, Mr. Zunes?
Nowhere? The values I have named must now be defended. Against terrorists
AND the Islamic states that create, abet, and succor them. Let others
who have a will to defend the values you have named defend them
if they can. They are not ours to defend. We have our own. They
make us who we are. Do not complain that "the U.S. did not
seriously strive for non-military solutions before dropping bombs."
Or that the U.S. response is retaliatory and that you are ashamed
and embarrassed by it. Punishing the criminal after the fact IS
retaliatory and necessary to deter him from further crimes. Besides,
there are too many terrorists in the world more than willing to
end our lives this instant. How long should we have waited to defend
ourselves, until they had struck again, and again? If you are ashamed
and embarrassed by American defense measures, Mr. Zunes, it's because
you've failed to identify the values that sustain this country,
and thus your life. I've identified them for you. Recognize this
and your pride and joy to be an American will begin to return. Fail
to recognize it, and your shame and embarrassment hold open the
gate to those who would.
Peter Alexander Ferry '72