America the Punisher:
The Great Spanking of George W. Bush
As a schoolteacher, writer, activist, and father I have committed myself to work against the use of violence. I was therefore shocked and angry when I first learned of the hijackers' attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on September 11. I had just flown home to Detroit from a business trip the night before, and the inevitable thought ran through my mind: I could have been on one of those planes. I'd like to think that if I had been on one of the hijacked flights, I would have fought back just as those courageous passengers on the flight that went down in Pennsylvania are purported to have done. Although I'm against violence, I don't have a problem with resorting to violence as a means of self-defense or defense of others when necessary.
That said, I cannot bring myself to support President George W. Bush's so-called "war on terrorism". The basic principle that forms the basis for my opposition to this "war" is the same principle that underlies my opposition to the corporal punishment of children here at home: punishment for the sake of punishment accomplishes only a short-lived reduction in the undesired behavior, and in the long-term actually makes further undesired behavior more likely.
Study after study has proven that the more children are beaten down, the more they retaliate against their abusers and others around them. Similarly, the history of modern warfare demonstrates that when peoples, nations or movements are confronted with military force, the ideologies that define their separation from their foes become more radical and irrational than ever before. From Korea to Vietnam and on to Iraq the United States military has discovered that in response every bullet that kills and every bomb that destroys, the resolve of the system under attack increases.
The war-mongers' rationale of national self-defense falls flat upon examination. The passengers on board the plane flying over Pennsylvania knew who their foes were: a handful of men with small knives, contained within easy reach inside the same fuselage. The attack upon those passengers was in progress, and they knew that their very existence was at stake. Their goals were clear, and so was the manner in which those goals must be achieved.
The path to an effective national defense is not clear. For one thing, the attacks are long since over, and our lives are no longer under any more direct threat than they ever have been. A similar attack may come tomorrow, or it may never come. Furthermore, such an attack could come by practically any means. Our society is too large and too complex to eliminate all possible threats without the complete elimination of all personal freedoms. The organizations and individuals behind the hijackings are also elusive. We may be able to identify some of them, but it is doubtful that those identified, captured or killed will constitute more than a small minority of those actually responsible.
Violent acts of self-defense must be undertaken when absolutely necessary, but must be avoided when they are sure to be futile. As much as Americans are afraid of coming under further attack, there is no reason to believe that a violent national reaction against any individual, group or nation will end the threat of rogue attacks upon the United States. Ultimately, the source of the September 11 attacks is not any single nation, organization or person, but fury itself -- a fury against the United States that will not perish until the policies and practices that fuel it are eliminated.
Just as a child's violent behavior is triggered through pathological relationships with adults in positions of authority, so the organization behind the September 11 hijackings has been created through America's pathological relationships with the rest of the world. When our Central Intelligence Agency trained top members of the hijackers' organization in military strategy and methods of sabotage, no one called their actions "terrorism" because the United States was not the target of their attacks. Instead of "terrorists", the American government celebrated the future masterminds of the September 11 attacks as "freedom fighters". When our national policy of support for Islamic fundamentalist extremists fell by the wayside with the end of the Cold War and the advent of an ongoing war against Iraq, a network of "freedom fighters" trained, financed and armed by the United States was provoked into fury at the United States and began to prepare a revenge against wayward patron.
As any experienced and effective educator will tell you, the best way to end schoolyard violence is to simultaneously separate the perpetrators from the rest of the student population and address the sources of tension underlying the conflict. Corporal punishment may intimidate violent students for a day or two, but it also earns them respect from other students who have similar feelings of alienation from authority, perpetuating a school-wide culture of violence that includes students and educators alike.
On the International scale, this kind of pathological, self-reinforcing relationship of violence is exemplified with Israel and Palestine. During the week after the September 11 attacks, junk-news networks like Fox News hosted former Israeli Prime Mininster Netanyahu, who smugly communicated an "I told you so" message, satisfied that the United States would now follow Israel's lead, having learned that the only way to deal with Muslims is to beat them back whenever possible. Of course, no matter how much Israel beats back the Palestinians with its superior military power, Palestinian youths continue to fight back by throwing stones and blowing themselves up in the middle of Israeli crowds. The solution to the generations-old Israeli-Palestinian is certainly not to follow the logic of corporal punishment -- Palestinians have proven time and time again that punishment encourages violent behavior. Only when either the Israelis or the Palestinians have the courage to abandon their attachment to violence and follow instead the successful example of the non-violent campaigns of the likes of Mohandas Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King will Israelis or Palestinians be truly safe.
The United States now has the opportunity to courageously embrace a non-violent campaign to undermine the organizations behind the September 11 hijackings. Some aspects of such a campaign are underway -- the seizure of funds used to support militant organizations, for example. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has placed much more emphasis on the use of punishment as a deterrent to all future attacks, as if the threat of death would frighten the planners of suicide-attacks of the sort New York City and Washington D.C. endured this month. Even now, the George W. Bush repeats the mistakes of his father, supplying radical Afghani rebels infamous for their disregard for democracy and their war crimes against fellow Afghanis with weapons and military training. At the same time, "partner" nations are being given all sorts of special favors in return for their cooperation in the American pursuit of its enemy du jour. In just one example, President Bush has agreed to look the other way while Pakistan creates a powerful arsenal of nuclear weapons that could one day threaten not only the Asian continent, but the entire world, including the United States. In this way, the single-minded pursuit of punishment is creating many new threats to the security of the American people.
As a teacher and a father, I know that the temptation to punish can be strong at times. When our anxieties are provoked and our security is threatened, it's easy to lash out at the first available target in a desperate attempt to feel better. For the good of our national security, as well as our most basic freedoms, it is essential that the American people call upon their President to take the truly courageous path: to pursue legal justice for the criminal attacks of September 11 instead of the more emotionally satisfying course of war and vengeance. Americans are called upon by this autumn's tragedy to respond to a call of conscience, to reject the logic of corporal punishment in favor of global reconciliation and lasting security.
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