Published in the December 2001 issue of The Progressive
A Just Cause, Not a Just War
by Howard Zinn
I believe two moral judgments can be made about the present "war": The September 11 attack constitutes a crime against humanity and cannot be justified, and the bombing of Afghanistan is also a crime, which cannot be justified. And yet, voices across the political spectrum, including many on the left, have described this as a "just war." One longtime advocate of peace, Richard Falk, wrote in The Nation that this is "the first truly just war since World War II." Robert Kuttner, another consistent supporter of social justice, declared in The American Prospect that only people on the extreme left could believe this is not a just war.
I have puzzled over this. How can a war be truly just when it involves the daily killing of civilians, when it causes hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to leave their homes to escape the bombs, when it may not find those who planned the September 11 attacks, and when it will multiply the ranks of people who are angry enough at this country to become terrorists themselves?
This war amounts to a gross violation of human rights, and it will produce the exact opposite of what is wanted: It will not end terrorism; it will proliferate terrorism.
I believe that the progressive supporters of the war have confused a "just cause" with a "just war." There are unjust causes, such as the attempt of the United States to establish its power in Vietnam, or to dominate Panama or Grenada, or to subvert the government of Nicaragua. And a cause may be just--getting North Korea to withdraw from South Korea, getting Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait, or ending terrorism--but it does not follow that going to war on behalf of that cause, with the inevitable mayhem that follows, is just.
The stories of the effects of our bombing are beginning to come through, in bits and pieces. Just eighteen days into the bombing, The New York Times reported: "American forces have mistakenly hit a residential area in Kabul." Twice, U.S. planes bombed Red Cross warehouses, and a Red Cross spokesman said: "Now we've got 55,000 people without that food or blankets, with nothing at all."
An Afghan elementary school-teacher told a Washington Post reporter at the Pakistan border: "When the bombs fell near my house and my babies started crying, I had no choice but to run away."
A New York Times report: "The Pentagon acknowledged that a Navy F/A-18 dropped a 1,000-pound bomb on Sunday near what officials called a center for the elderly. . . . The United Nations said the building was a military hospital. . . . Several hours later, a Navy F-14 dropped two 500-pound bombs on a residential area northwest of Kabul." A U.N. official told a New York Times reporter that an American bombing raid on the city of Herat had used cluster bombs, which spread deadly "bomblets" over an area of twenty football fields. This, the Times reporter wrote,"was the latest of a growing number of accounts of American bombs going astray and causing civilian casualties."
An A.P. reporter was brought to Karam, a small mountain village hit by American bombs, and saw houses reduced to rubble. "In the hospital in Jalalabad, twenty-five miles to the east, doctors treated what they said were twenty-three victims of bombing at Karam, one a child barely two months old, swathed in bloody bandages," according to the account. "Another child, neighbors said, was in the hospital because the bombing raid had killed her entire family. At least eighteen fresh graves were scattered around the village."
The city of Kandahar, attacked for seventeen straight days, was reported to be a ghost town, with more than half of its 500,000 people fleeing the bombs. The city's electrical grid had been knocked out. The city was deprived of water, since the electrical pumps could not operate. A sixty-year-old farmer told the A.P. reporter, "We left in fear...
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