Residents call for end to fighting
By Myles Murphy
Ashland Daily Tidings
As the United States continues bombardment of Taliban forces in
Afghanistan, some Ashland residents question the legality,
Morality and even patriotism of supporting the "war on terrorism."
"We are patriots even though we don't agree with what the Bush
administration is doing," retired professor of philosophy Don Wells said.
Wells spoke Monday as part of a panel leading a community discussion at
the Rogue Valley Unitarian Universal Fellowship on issues which have
grown out of the aftermath of Sept. 11.
International development expert Wilma Oksendahl, civil rights attorney
Hal Jamison and United Church of Christ Pastor Caren Caldwell joined
Wells in front of nearly 200 residents concerned with current events. They
addressed the tension between fighting terrorism and sacrificing civil
liberties, whether this is a "just" war, and why the United States is disliked
by residents of many other countries.
As for why the United States is unpopular, Wells cited more than 50 armed
interventions in other countries since World War II, CIA violations of
human rights, 10 attempted assassinations of foreign leaders and 33 threats
to use atomic bombs to further U.S. goals. He also said the United States
has made more than 25 attacks on nine separate Muslim nations in the
same period, continuing a chain of retaliation and bad feelings.
"This tit-for-tat business is getting us nowhere," Wells said.
Oksendahl - who spent many years in Afghanistan in the late 1950s and
1960s working with women and women's groups - told of the conditions
she encountered there.
"The poverty is indescribable," she said. "My worry is they won't get bread
When audience member Jim Bowne asked what panelists thought about the
United States dropping Pop-tarts to aid the hungry Afghanis, Oksendahl's
response was vehement.
"It's just a propaganda move," she said. "The people out picking up the
dropped food are in real danger from landmines."
However, Oksendahl had been in Afghanistan prior to the rise of the
Taliban, at a time when women were allowed to walk unveiled and hold
jobs in the government and other areas. She is not displeased to see the end
of the Taliban's restrictions on women's freedom.
Jamison compared recent legislation intended to make it easier to deal with
suspected terrorists and terrorist sympathizers to the suspension of civil
liberties during the McCarthy era, when people's rights were abridged if
they were suspected of being communists.
"The carte blanche Bush is asking for goes beyond McCarthy," Jamison
said. "To grant these additional powers to the presidency is very
Coming from a more spiritual angle, Caldwell noted that very little has
really changed since Sept. 11.
"Was airport security less important before Sept. 11?" she said. "Are
stockpiles of biological weapons more dangerous now? Are human rights
abuses more important? Is global warming less important?"
"What is there of substance that has really changed," Caldwell said. "We
weren't paying attention. Now we are."
Caldwell cautioned people against simplifying the situation as a "war against
"Fear and anxiety have permeated our political structures," she said. "As
Americans our greatest obligation is to speak our minds."
Many blamed the media for national fear, paving the way for the Bush
administration easily to pass laws endangering civil liberties, and making
dissent synonymous with a lack of patriotism.
"How can we get our media back?" asked Wes Brain, a local union activist.
Jamison advised supporting the alternative press and criticized local
newspapers for failing to come out with opinions supporting peaceful
alternatives rather than the bombing in Afghanistan.
All discussion of the issues has been stunted in the present climate,
according to audience member Benjamin Root.
"When George Bush says you're either with us or against us, when
newspapers are afraid to print articles about peace, when you feel you can't
discuss this with a neighbor who is flying flags from his car, it stops
dialogue," Root said. "How do we make it OK to enter into dialogue with
anyone we may disagree with?"
Caldwell recognized the difficulty, and advised, "In order to communicate,
sometimes we have to be still and listen."