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COLUMN

U.S. Genocide: The Mirror Looms Large

Guest Column
Aimee L. Smith

There are so many issues of pressing importance these days, from the still fresh pain of the loss of 6,000 loved and valued human beings on September 11, to the gutting of our constitution, to the implications of the U.S. government isolating itself once again last summer by failing to ratify the biological weapons verification treaty, and the implications for the current anthrax scare. But when it comes to immediacy and scale, the largest issue is the impending death by starvation and treatable disease of roughly 7.5 million Afghanis as a direct and foreseeable result of U.S. air strikes and the U.S. sealing of the border with Pakistan. If the winter snows barricade the mountain passes before aid convoys and the aid workers who give medical care and create distribution networks can be shipped in, the consequences will be nothing short of U.S.-manufactured genocide. The meals delivered at terminal velocity from 30,000 feet with no parachutes on the second most heavily land-mined country in the world are enough to feed only a paltry fraction of those in desperate need. This effort is simply a mockery of our intelligence and, more importantly, of the very meaning of the word humanitarian.

If you don’t live in Afghanistan, you might wonder what this has to do with you. It isn’t going to affect your problem set or next exam. The sporting events will continue unabated if this occurs. Life will look as if nothing has changed. The networks owned by General Electric, Disney Corp and Rupert Murdoch will continue to remind us how wounded we are, and continue to ignore the suffering that our government inflicts elsewhere. War is great for business, and these media conglomerates are no exception. Why should they put a damper on their own profit margins? After all, the law compels them, as they have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to make profit, not to proliferate objective facts to the populace at large. But to the extent the United States is actually a functioning democracy acting out the will of its people, all citizens of this land will be transformed into genocidal murderers. You know how the Nazis are remembered from the previous century? We will be remembered the same in this new one. And the whole world will never forget.

Some would argue U.S. citizens already are genocidal murderers when we tally up the loss of life by the foreseeable consequences of our government’s actions in the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous U.S. population, the brutality and murder of slavery and the slave trade, Iraq, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, indirectly in places such as East Timor or former East Pakistan, and via economic relations in places such as Rwanda. More people die every year than in the Holocaust due to the preventable disease of starvation, something that is caused by distribution and economic priorities that have farmers in Africa growing coffee and chocolate for U.S. and European consumers rather than food for local consumption. This blood is also very much on our hands, despite the tenuous screens that we might try to hide behind, such as the World Bank and the IMF. I am not arguing that we U.S. citizens are innocent up until now. Nor do I argue that every death and atrocity can be neatly placed at our doorstep. The principle of morality I advocate can be captured in two ideas: (1) we are first and foremost responsible for the foreseeable consequences of our actions, and (2) as is captured in the Hippocratic Oath, first, do no harm.

What I do argue is that today there is a tremendous possibility. With the horror and loss of the tragedy on September 11 comes the potential for both tremendous and exploitative manipulation by corporate and imperial power promoters as well as the potential for U.S. citizens to, for one tiny moment, look ourselves long and hard in the mirror. Who do we arm? What weapons do we sell? What treaties do we refuse to sign? What signed treaties do we refuse to abide by? How much blood is dripping from our collective hands, and is it worth it? Are we, the vast majority of citizens, safer or less safe when the rest of the world perceives our nation as a callous, murdering imperialist power? Who does benefit from this “Mafia Don” model of foreign policy? Will George W. Bush, who skipped out on his own National Guard training, be at risk for the choices he makes? Or will the less well-off U.S. citizens bear the brunt of the risks to the United States? Will the courageous fire fighters and police officers, such as those who rushed into terror on September 11, be put needlessly into harms way over and over again? And could untold millions be the meaningless pawns, the “collateral damage”, in the game of “Geo-eco-political Hegemony?”

George W. Bush gave us an impossible choice in the week following the September 11 tragedy. He said “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” The problem is, if we are with him, we are still with terrorists, just the state-sponsored sort rather than the low-tech, “unofficial” variety. I am against all terrorists -- state-sponsored or otherwise. I abhor the taking of innocent lives to make a point, whether those people happen to be workers in the World Trade Center or starving peasants at the mercy of the CIA-inspired Taliban or at the mercy of the equally merciless CIA-inspired Northern Alliance. I refuse to allow the sacrifice of 7.5 million Afghanis to avenge the death of 6000 U.S. residents. Bringing those responsible to justice, for example by taking the Taliban up on their offer to turn Bin Laden over to a third party country if evidence is provided, would be a great start. If the Taliban is bluffing, call their bluff. It will only make us look more credible in the eyes of the rest of the world. Perhaps we could also agree to extradite the terrorists that we are harboring from places like Costa Rica as a show of good will and adherence to international law. Perhaps we could ratify the International Criminal Court treaty without requiring blanket immunity for U.S. soldiers and U.S. public officials, a demand no other country was bold enough to request. There are many many stones that have been left unturned. Bombing and warfare seem bold and immediate. It gives the impression of protection and “enduring justice.” But in this case, it is nothing less than terrorism itself. Try as we might, we can never fight terror with terror without becoming exactly what we claim to rail against.

I love this nation, with its diversity, its protections of freedoms and civil liberties, promise of due process, and separation of church and state. There are many many things to be celebrated about our country. Let that not keep us from looking squarely at those things for which we can never be proud both in our history and in our present. And let our love for this nation be expressed in challenging our Nation to live up to its promises as fully as possible and to heal its past harms. Only when we have managed this true justice can we have true and lasting peace both here and abroad. And at the very least, in the words of Ida B. Wells in reference to her fear of lynching, “sell your life as dearly as possible” -- as she lived her life, keep struggling for universal justice even in the face of fear of death. We need not be a nation of unquestioning tools and cowards. Certainly, we can each be brave enough to take a look in the mirror.

Aimee L. Smith is a graduate student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.