Coulda Been, Woulda Been, Shoulda Been….Sad Lessons in 20/20 Foresight

A few weeks after 9/11, my local newspaper published my “solutions” and comments about “what we should do next/now.” Here is the article as printed then:

If I were the U.S. government, (and, come to think of it, I am!–a person in the government of the people, by the people and for the people) I would figure out which American foreign policies have resulted in so much global hatred and criticism, and change them.

I would use this terrible, tragic attack an an opening to form global alliances based in respect and love for human life, human freedom, and human interests everywhere.

I would stop acting as if American interests and American children and American families and American freedom and American lives are more important than, or in some way separable from, the interests of children and families and  freedom and lives everywhere. People in faraway places feel just as much pain, anger, confusion, frustration, sadness as Americans do, when violence touches them.

I would defend the lives of my family and friends with my own. I would defend our land, our forms of government and economics, our people and cultures and freedoms and ideals and our chosen way of life, but I would not insist that everyone everywhere adopt them.

I would not subvert, and would ardently support, the right of women everywhere to freely choose their roles and work and religions and cultures–whether or not I agree with their particular choices.

I would not use the arguments of “stability,” “American interests,” or “protection of our citizenry” to legitimize unjustly invading, occupying, imposing on, or exploiting any other peoples, or to create or support undemocratic governments favorable to American interests.

I would not send secret agents to undermine others' right to self-determination. I would not assume that everyone wants us to come over and tell them how to live.

I would offer help to others in reaching whatever goals are important to them; that seems to be a good way to win friends.

Sharing our loving American hearts with people everywhere would make good economic and political and military sense. If some of the money we spend on military and intelligence were spent on kindness, diplomacy, and sharing, we'd be a safer, richer, happier country.

I would give no support to government policies and decisions that legitimize treating non-Americans in ways we Americans would not wish to be treated.

That's the golden rule for you–Jesus' rule, Buddha's rule, Confucius' rule, Moses' rule, Mohammed's rule. Treating others as you would wish to be treated is the christian thing, the humanitarian thing to do.

America is a land and a way of life that can legitimately be defended from those who would invade or impose upon us, true. But the America that is most worth defending is not just a land, not just a people, but a noble idea, a symbol, a belief and value system that supports freedom for all (not just Americans), a happy, joyful life for all children (not just American children), democracy for all (not just Americans), equality of opportunity for all (not just Americans), peace for all (not just Americans), freedom from terrorism and tyranny and war (90 percent of war deaths are civilians) for all, not just for Americans.

What we Americans all stand for, what is most worth defending, is the American creed we uphold, our fundamental creed that reminds us that our creator gave us all (not just Americans) inalienable rights.

Americanism is a creed declaring freedom for all, justice for all, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. If not, we Americans are not really about justice, democracy, freedom, rights, at all. By definition, these are inclusive human rights and legitimate pursuits, or they mean nothing at all.

How can we be responsible for everyone else? Well, we can at least make a small start by making sure that we're not part of the problem for anyone else.

We can look and see where we have burdened other people or countries, where we have taken unfair advantage, where we have supported an unrepresentative system of government for our own convenience or comfort or gain, where we have taken advantage of unjust conditions and governments and situations and workers to reap an inequitable, unkind benefit–and stop doing that.

Would I be willing to give up some of my comforts, some of my privileges? Yes, gladly, and so would most other Americans. We would give up a great deal, for freedom, for justice.

We must actively insist that our government act only in ways that express and uphold the values we believe in.

Capitalism does not have to mean unfair exploitation, unbridled selfishness, uncontrolled greed, blind materialism. Capitalism isn't a system designed to protect the rights of everyone to take whatever they want however they can get it. Capitalism is not about allowing the rich to exploit the poor. Capitalism is about open, ethical markets among free peoples. Capitalism is about creating and protecting fair economic systems which work to support the interests of all people, everywhere in the world.

If the idea of America is about anything, if it's worth anything, it's about justice, fairness, kindness, support for true freedom and democracy and abundance for all.

If we allow America to be about freedom, justice, and abundance–but only for Americans–how can we say we value human life itself? How can we be angry with others who don't seem to value human life, who take it away senselessly in terrorist acts?

How can we expect the rest of the world to give a damn about the 6,000+ beautiful lives that were lost in America on Sept. 11, and about the thousands of family and friends who are suffering today because of those losses, if we ourselves don't care, moment-to-moment, day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year whether our own economic and military and political policies contribute to the long-term suffering, starvation, disease, and death of millions everywhere in the world, and in our own country?

If we don't care about the millions of Afghans who died and/or are currently refugees from the last decade of war? If we don't care about the Iraqi children, 5,000 dying every month? If we don't care about these things, then we're not Americans, we're…I don't know…something else…hedonists?…some other entity that doesn't deserve to win, to be powerful, to thrive, to speak proudly of our rights and values and ideals and heritage, to people everywhere.

If we value human life at all, if we expect others to value American lives, then we must examine our own economic, military, diplomatic, intelligence and foreign policies, and hold our government responsible to insure that each of our policies and decisions reflects value and respect for human life, not just American life. Whenever we make policy that affects anyone anywhere, we must ask if we would want that policy directed towards ourselves.

Nothing can excuse this terrible, violent act of terrorism, or ever make it right. It has opened a Pandora's box of hatred and anger which will increase for a long time, and I pray in the name of its most direct sufferers that their memory will not be disrespected by using them as an excuse to start World War III. They know more than anyone else right now how much human suffering another war would create. Instead, I look for some kind of silver lining, some hope that some good can come of senseless tragedy, some understanding, some growth,  some meanings, as all things can work together for good.

I hope this disaster will impel us to finally open up global money tracking so criminals, terrorists, and drug dealers of all stripes cannot have a free hand. I hope we will finally track down all the weapons ever made, and make no more. I hope we will strengthen our highest-minded global alliances, create more, and continue to reach across national, racial, ethnic, historical, age, gender and religious boundaries, person to person, to further our highest ideals.

I hope we will support representative, responsive governments everywhere. I hope we will all listen, and talk, and share, and learn, and act in ways that respect human life and freedom and dignity, that alleviate human suffering. I hope that we will make decisions which reflect the highest beliefs of Christianity, of Islam, of Judaism, of Buddhism, of humanitariansm.

Only when we work together internationally in love, will we be able to begin to save our planet from the ravages or man's fear, greed, ignorance, and selfishness.

We must make choices from now on that are worthy and honorific of our beloved dead.

(Postscript, written on 12/19/05):

I never thought WMDs in Iraq probable (although possible.) My reasons for this opinion were generally rejected, though, by “average Americans” (people relatively unsophisticated about politics who trusted a narrow, steady diet of  conservative news outlets) with whom I spoke on the subject at the time—so enthralled were they with the booming Saddam-As-Evil-Incarnate pro-war propaganda machine as to be unreceptive to any alternate probabilities.

The reasons I thought Saddam probably didn't have WMDs were: (1) He was unlikely to have been able to conceal WMDs throughout so many years of U.N. sanctions and scrutiny; (2) he was unlikely to respond to the imminent U.S. threat by admitting he had no defensive capacity; (3) U.N. inspectors were very clear about the fact that their expensive and expansive searches had not as yet found any such weapons; (4) all the U.S. pro-war hawks had already embraced sufficient motivations for invading Iraq–a list including cockiness, dominance, militarism, oil, power lust, ideology, fear, religious convictions involving protection of  Israel, U.S. strategic and commercial interests, a desire to test and use their fancy new weapons and troops, “because they could,” and so on….) So I distrusted what they said about WMDs (along with everything else) as likely being just another part of their long dubious list of overblown, panic-inducing manufactured justifications for going to war; and (5) I knew enough about the U.S. government's history of setting up and supporting tyrannical thugs throughout the world in the past, not to buy into any newly convenient shrill indignation about how suddenly dangerous to the U.S. Saddam Hussein had become, how he'd gassed his own people, etc. It was the U.S. (the CIA) who originally set Saddam Hussein up as Iraq's leader, who financially supported him in exactly that type of thuggery for many many years, in order to protect “our” cheap and steady flow of Iraqi oil from an Iran-like oil industry nationalization. (For annotated and documented history of such repugnant U.S. actions, read he-whom-conservative-demagogues-most-fear-you'll-read: MIT's Noam Chomsky. For starters.)

Although I didn't write critically about the WMD speculations post 9/11, a lot of very informed and interested people who opposed invasion did. I wish someone would take the (considerable) research trouble to compile an “I told you so” expose, listing all the thoughtful people who, before the war, accurately predicted in U.S. daily newspapers, exactly what happened later in Iraq.

I wish this researcher would list who and when and what each critic wrote at that time, to answer all those who now say, “Everyone worldwide thought there were WMDs.” This assertion is simply blatantly false–“everyone” did not believe that. A multitude of spot-on pre-war critics wrote frantically, both in the U.S. and in international periodicals and newspapers, offering scholarly, articulate, and perfectly reasonable rationales against WMDs and for not going to war—although by then most Americans were so terrified by the steady drumbeat of pro-war, pro-fear propaganda that they had already made up their minds—including, unfortunately, many in leadership roles in our government who never even bothered to read about or consider the warnings. 

Anyone who was the least bit skeptical about the logic, trustworthiness, and veracity of the Bush administration's blustering could have read all such arguments in many daily U.S. and international newspapers, and certainly they were rampant on the web. For example, most of such arguments against WMDs and invasion were right there in black-and-white, as plain as day (if sometimes in small print and at the ends of articles) in The Washington Post—the daily newspaper I read—tied up with string, for me and all others willing and capable of looking past the pro-war lies and hype.

Please send comments to





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *