B. Ness: Stopping the Perpetual War


Anyone who believes that the United States is waging a "War On Terrorism," hasn't been paying attention. The United States is not waging a War On Terrorism. The United States is waging a War On (Some) Terrorism. Like its equally ill-conceived predecessor, the War On (Some) Drugs, it is doomed from inception to failure. One may as well wage war on "vice" or on "evil." The entire concept is ludicrous. It's like pouring corn down a rat hole. The rats don't come out and you don't get the corn back, either. But we are not pouring corn, we are pouring blood and treasure. With them spill away our civil rights, our way of life, and any chance at all of living in peace and safety.


There is no protection, least of all military, from a determined terrorist. If torture, internment, racial profiling, and the brutal punishment of innocent bystanders were a viable defense against terrorism, Israel would be the safest place on the planet. This is most definitely not the case. If Israel is ever to have peace, it must be surrounded, not by victims, but by friends and allies. It is still not too late, but Israel's rulers still fail to see the obvious. Instead, they make more enemies, and they make their enemies more determined. Must Americans repeat Israel's mistakes? If the powers-that-be are permitted to have their way about it, that's exactly what is going to happen.


If this war were really a war on terrorism, it would be a war on all terrorism. Bombs would be falling on the terrorist training camp at Fort Benning and the terrorist headquarters in Langley, Henry Kissinger would be extradited to Chile and the men who wage biowar against Cuba would be answering for their crimes. This is not happening. The name of this war is just one more deception in a very long line. Deception is the essence of war. We should not be surprised. (Neither should we be complacent.) But let's not quibble over names. Whatever you call it, this war is a burgeoning disaster. How many more people must die before we make it stop?


Anyone who believes this war will be over soon, just because the Taliban have executed a strategic withdrawal from some indefensible positions, has not read enough military history. Read military history. It's good for you. Specifically, read recent Afghan military history. All quiet on the Afghan front? Not any time soon. It ain't over till it's over, and it ain't over yet – not by a long shot. Even total destruction of the Taliban, and all of its foreign legion, would not bring an end to this war. The war is not being waged against them. The war is being waged against "terrorism," a term that can mean anything the powers-that-be want it to mean, a term so nebulous that it can even include dancing jaywalkers. A war on "terrorism" could go on forever. Think about it: perpetual war.


The talking heads on network TV are already getting us ready for the next campaign: "Iraq -- Cakewalk or milk run?" is the depth of their debate. The possible extent of the potential consequences is not being adequately addressed. Here's one possible scenario: a cornered, Saddam Hussein orders a devastating counterattack launched by Iraqi sleeper agents already in place, and/or by their friends, also already in place. We can't know for sure, but it is exactly the sort of thing we have to consider. This is the nature of war in the 21st-century. Don't think it takes place "over there."


This war can be stopped before it's too late, but it is going to take a mass movement to do it. To build it, we must set aside that which divides us. This is no easy task, but it can be done. Thinking of politics purely in terms of a left, right and center gets in the way. Not only does it pit one against the other, it leaves out everyone else. It also fails to explain the many, many things upon which we do agree. Fortunately, some of our most divisive politics are so obviously irrelevant as to not be a problem. Guns, abortion, affirmative action and social security just don't factor into this war. The global economy presents thornier issues. As long as access to resources and trade routes are distributed by force, war will plague this planet. (This century, that means literal plagues.) If we are ever to put an end to war, let alone terrorism, sooner or later we are going to have to address global economics. But not right now.


Right now we must focus on the immediate danger. Only fools bicker over how to slice up the pie while the bakery is being burned down around them by a hideous alliance of villains and fools. Right now we have to concentrate on building a movement powerful enough stop this war before we wake up some day to find that radiological bombs have made some major cities uninhabitable for decades, or that millions are dying from some horrible new disease. Only if we stop the perpetual war will we have a chance to live long enough to build a future we can all live with.

B. Ness writes the "Nessie Files" column for the San Francisco Bay Guardian online.

B. Ness