ALONG with hundreds of other Houstonians, I have been passing out fliers, holding signs, attending rallies and speaking out against American intervention in the Middle East and South Asia. Now that the attacks have begun, I will be joining millions of Americans in a nationwide call for the Bush administration to recognize the peril of war in those regions and to refrain from a wider commitment. While this is not a majority opinion -- yet -- it is one that needs to be heard and discussed at the outset of this conflict.
A war against Afghanistan or other neighboring states poses great risks and may not achieve the ends that the United States has proclaimed, namely ending terrorist attacks against American, Israeli, European or other targets. It may alienate allies, create new enemies and prompt a larger cycle of violence. While all of us demand that those responsible for the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., be brought to justice and we all want to effectively end terrorism, we believe, as Secretary of State Colin Powell has argued, that the United States could accomplish these goals through working with other nations according to international laws and conventions.
More specifically, there are five reasons to be deeply concerned about American military intervention in this new conflict.
·First, this intervention will inevitably lead to untold numbers of civilian deaths. This "war" is directed principally against a network of terrorists, perhaps numbering between 10,000 and 20,000 and operating in over 30 different countries. American and other troops will not be attacking military targets per se but will be trying to dislodge terrorists from hundreds of locations, many in areas that are heavily populated. With Cruise and Tomahawk missiles being used, there is no way that only terrorists will be surgically targeted. Much has been made lately about the values and behavior of civilized societies, but it must be clear that civilized nations do not indiscriminately kill innocents and then call it "collateral damage." How would we react, for instance, if the police tried to apprehend a drug trafficker by bombing the neighborhood in which he lived and caused the deaths of scores of innocent people in that area?
·Next, this intervention will almost certainly destabilize the Middle East and South Asia, leading to a wider conflict and causing many allied governments to come under siege from forces in their own lands. Already, radical Islamic elements have shown their opposition to an American role in this conflict in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Leaders in Iran and Uzbekistan have opposed or tried to temper U.S. intervention. In Pakistan, the government publicly announced that supporting the United States was the "lesser of evils" and has already had to quash street riots in Islamabad. With the United States already suspect in the region because of the continuing embargo against Iraq and support of Israel, this war will only lead to more distrust and recrimination, and will likely provoke internal movements against any government perceived to be loyal to the United States.
·Third, we must recognize that this war will be fought disproportionately by working-class whites, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and other minorities. As Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out during the Vietnam era, the United States was taking young men from underprivileged areas "and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem." In the same way, we have a racial and class divide in America today that will be exacerbated in wartime. The loyalty of poor whites, blacks and Chicanos cannot be questioned, but their patriotism cannot be exploited to make them more likely to fight and take casualties in any future war.
·Then, we must be aware that a wide war will cause serious economic problems at home. Even before Sept. 11, the government's budget surplus had disappeared, and since then spending has increased greatly. With $40 billion already committed to new defense and anti-terrorism measures and larger amounts sure to come, $15 billion appropriated to bail out the airline industry, and the government's stated goal of using taxpayer money to cover losses suffered by the insurance industry, government deficits are sure to return and grow. Such conditions -- a stagnant, cold economy overheating with new spending and possibly a capital gains tax cut -- will create an economic storm, which surely will affect all of us.
·Finally, this war, as such conflicts historically do, will lead to an attack on civil liberties and "suspect" groups at home. One need not expect another Red Scare or the internment of minority groups to be deeply concerned about new proposals to give the government more authority to restrict immigration, tap phones, read e-mails or conduct surveillance. Under the umbrella of "anti-terrorism" all of us, young or old, male or female, black or white, conservative, moderate or liberal, will be at risk to lose some of our liberty, have our freedom constricted, and have our actions examined and questioned more closely.
All of us were affected by the unspeakably horrible acts of Sept. 11, and no one wants to see terrorist attacks like that occur again. Unfortunately, a heavy military response by the United States and its allies may provoke more aggression and more terrorism. International law and global discussions offer less peril and may lead to the creation of a different international system. We weep and remain shocked by the attacks in New York and Washington, and our hearts go out to all those affected, but our grief is not a cry for war.
Buzzanco is associate professor of history at the University of Houston.