A Letter from US Citizens
150 US Intellectuals
[This letter is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.ippnw.de/frieden/terroranschlag/150usintellectuelle.htm. IPPNW stands for International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.]
The greatest fallacy of apologists of US war policy is the equation of "American values" with the exercise of US economic and military power abroad. After the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, US president George W. Bush declared an unlimited "war against terrorism". This war has no spatial or temporal limits or limits of destruction. No one can know what country will be suspected of sheltering "terrorists" or counted in the "axis of evil". The Pentagon from its increasingly perfect arsenal of horrors is already dropping bombs whose effects are like earthquakes while officially considering the use of nuclear weapons.
The material destruction is boundless. This is also true for the human losses in life and the despair and hatred of millions of persons who must helplessly watch as their world is devastated by the United States, a country that regards its moral authority and military power as absolute and incontestable. As citizens of the United States, we have a special responsibility to resist the insanity of this belligerent development. A special responsibility also comes to Europeans. Most European states are military allies of the US in the framework of Nato. The United States claims that the war serves self-defense and defense of the "interests of its allies and friends". European countries will inevitably be drawn into the military adventure of the US. Your future is also in danger!
Many informed persons inside and outside European governments are conscious of the dangerous madness of the war policy advanced by the Bush administration. However few have the courage of openly expressing this. They are intimidated by possible measures of retaliation against "friends" and "allies" who refuse their unconditional support. In addition, they fear being stylized as "anti-American", a term that absurdly brands Americans criticizing the war policy whose protest is suppressed by chauvinist agitation dominating a large part of the US media.
Rational and open European criticism of the policy of the Bush administration could help Americans opposing the war become heard in their own country. The glorification of power may be the oldest vocation of the poets and writers of this world. As the strongest world power, the United States attracts many flatterers who encourage political leaders to use military methods again and again to drum virtue into the heads of an obstinate reluctant world. The theme is as old as the hills and always the same: the great kindness of the powerful should be forced on the powerless.
The greatest fallacy of the apologists of US war policy is the equation of "American values" with the exercise of US economic and military power abroad. Self-glorification is a notorious characteristic of American culture and can help assimilate new citizens in an immigration society. Unfortunately September 11 has led to unheard-of extremes. As a result, the illusion widespread among US citizens is strengthened that the whole world full of admiration or envy is fixated on the United States as the United States sees itself: wealthy, democratic, generous, hospitable and open for all races and religions, the epitome of universal human values and the last and best hope of humanity.
The question "Why do they hate us?" raised after September 11 has only one answer: "because we are so great!" or correspondingly they hate us on account of "our values". Most US citizens have no idea that the foreign policy of the US has anything to do with our celebrated "values". This policy has often withheld the possibility of enjoying these "values" in other countries. Still they should be enamored of these values.
In Latin America, Africa and Asia, the power politics of the US has usually kept the remnant of colonial rule and hated dictators in power, forced disastrous economic and financial conditions for the economies of these countries, supported repressive governments, strangled them through sanctions and as a last means sent bombs and missiles against them raining down death and ruination.
The "Right to Self-Defense"
a. Whose right?
The United States feels exposed to an attack since September 11. Then the government will reach for a "right to self-defense" and wage war according to its conditions and its selection against any country described as an enemy. This "right to self-defense" was never in effect for countries like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Libya, Sudan or Yugoslavia when those lands were bombed by the US. This is the right of the stronger, the law of the jungle. Exercising a right denied to others never serves "universal values" but in reality undermines every idea of a world order based on universal rights where everyone has equal legal claims. A "right" that can only be claimed by one of the strongest is not a right but a privilege. The rights of others become a privilege.
b. What does the United States "defend"?
The United States began a war against Afghanistan allegedly for "self-defense". This was not a specific reaction to the unprecedented events of September 11. As documents from the Pentagon reveal, the United States previously planned and initiated bombing other countries and using military forces on foreign soil to overthrow governments. The United States openly plans an all-embracing war against Iraq - reserving the use of nuclear weapons -, a country bombed for over ten years with the explicit goal of replacing the government with a leader chosen by Washington.
c. What is "defended"?
What is defended has something to do with what was attacked. "Defense" normally means defense of the national territory. An attack on and against the US territory occurred. This was not a conventional attack of a powerful state to conquer a country but an anonymous attack on certain institutions selected as targets. Since no one claimed responsibility for the attacks, the symbolic character of the targets speaks for itself. The World Trade Center symbolized the global economic power of the US and the Pentagon the military power. The attacks were not symbolically directed against "American values" celebrated in the United States. Instead the economic and military power of the US as represented abroad was the true goal of the attacks. According to reports, 15 of the identified airline hijackers were Saudi Arabians who hostilely opposed the presence of US military bases on Saudi soil. The events of September 11 suggest that the nation that lets other countries feel its power is internally vulnerable. The real question is the question of US interventions abroad. Actually Bush's wars seek to assert and strengthen power abroad. In these wars, the worldwide projection of the power of the US is defended, not the freedom of Americans and their lifestyle.
In reality, wars abroad weaken the values treasured by US citizens. These values are not defended or spread. Governments waging wars of aggression always recruit support by convincing citizens that war is necessary to defend or spread noble values. The main difference between the imperial wars of the past and the global striving for power of the United States today is the vastly greater destructive force only available to the US. The disproportion between the material destructive force and the constructive power of human wisdom was never so great and dangerous. The intellectuals could vote whether to join the choir glorifying the use of power by imputing to it "spiritual values" or accept the more difficult and important task of unmasking the arrogant folly of power and cooperating with all humanity in finding ways to a rational dialogue, just economic relations and justice for all.
The right to self-defense must be a collective human right. All humanity has the right to defend their survival against the "self-defense" of a superpower not subject to any restrictions. For a half-century, the United States has repeatedly demonstrated its indifference toward death and destruction that have always accompanied its self-willed efforts at world improvement. In our rich countries, we can only defend those universal values dear and precious to us through our solidarity with the victims of US military power.
[For the signatories, see www.ippnw.de/frieden/terroranschlag/150usintellectuelle.htm.]