Who are the terrorists?

On Aug. 6, more than 50 of us gathered at Vance Monument to remember those killed by U.S. weapons of mass destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We needed no reminder that ours is the only nation ever to have used such weapons militarily. We are keenly aware that our leadership has identified several potential “rogue nations,” whom we have threatened militarily.

This year, our leadership has enumerated several scenarios in which we might use nuclear weapons in a first strike against such nations. We’ve even identified China as a possibility. China, with whom we carry on huge commercial operations? China, whose 20 nuclear missiles that could reach the United States are opposed by more than 7,000 U.S. nuclear weapons that could destroy China?

We also have thousands of warheads on instant-alert status, ready to deploy against another potential target — Russia (“our friend” with whom we are allied in a “War Against Terrorism”). Our Cold War, “mutually assured destruction” policy is still alive and well. But what should be terrifying to our leadership is that a globally suicidal war is far more likely to happen by accident than by choice.

And now, even as we make preparations to invade Iraq, our administration flaunts its hypocrisy. To the rest of the world, our leaders say, “Read my lips”: Eliminate all weapons of mass destruction, but we’ll go right ahead with more proliferation and modernization to make our weapons safe and effective for another 100 years, and we are prepared to use them, so you had better get used to that threat.

We are told that Iraq is one of those rogue states, that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, and that he supports terrorism; therefore we should destroy him. But it’s hard to find another country on earth that agrees with us. And whether or not we use nuclear weapons, such a war will not only result in more U.S. casualties than any conflict since Vietnam — it will also be yet another seedbed for future terrorism.

Suppose you were a judge who arrived on earth from another planet. Besides setting the stage for a peaceful resolution of the mess the world is in, you would begin to identify the terrorists. Let’s try to look at ourselves as such a judge might do. What is our country’s business? Is it not about control and domination? Isn’t it really all about oil, corporate globalization, and enhancing the power and wealth of the few at the expense of the poor (both here and abroad), who grow increasingly impoverished?

What is the United States’ No. 1 industrial export today? Is it not weapons? And isn’t our State Department in the business of globally marketing (through our embassies) this product? Don’t our policies greatly increase people’s impoverishment and suffering and the obstacles they face to obtaining life’s necessities? Do we not sit back complacently when we hear such seemingly innocent words as “collateral damage,” well aware of what they really mean — that every month (according to a United Nations report), 5,000 Iraqi children die unnecessarily of causes related to Desert Storm, and that peaceful Afghan villages have been bombed, leaving considerable numbers of dead and wounded people? Is it moral to surround and starve the children of Iraq? Isn’t it terrorism to bomb and kill children, women and men who, up till now, have played no part in our War Against Terrorism?

As an impartial, alien judge, how could you avoid ruling that the United States is yet another earthly terrorist regime?

And as citizens, aren’t we alarmed that our democracy appears threatened by the influence of huge corporations with unique access to our elected officials? And how about the monopolization of the media, which feed the public pablum instead of informing us about what is really important?

Since 9/11, haven’t increases in secrecy and encroachments on our civil liberties become a real cause for alarm? After one secret door was recently pried open a crack, did we not learn that our new environmental policies were largely written by the leaders of the major polluting industries? How can we believe that our military policies were not developed, in even greater secrecy, by the leaders of the major weapons manufacturers — who stand to gain financially from the plans they develop, without regard for the unintended consequences of their actions?

Meanwhile, our response to Sept. 11 is spawning its own responses. Have we learned nothing from history about how people around the world are getting tired of being controlled, dominated, impoverished and even killed by actions supported by the United States? Are we not creating ever-larger numbers of new terrorists through our so-called War Against Terrorism?

On Aug. 6, we contemplated the devastation wrought by the bomb dropped on Hiroshima 57 years ago. We witnessed a dramatization by a Hiroshima survivor, a woman physician who felt tortured by her own inability to help other sufferers. We realized that this devastating weapon was nonetheless minuscule compared with today’s 20-megaton warheads. But we were reminded that even a “tiny” nuclear device causes massive blast effects, super-hurricane winds, intense radiation, a firestorm and fallout, all of which produce both instant and delayed deaths, horrible suffering, malignancies, birth defects and deformities. And once we resort to nuclear weapons, their use is likely to escalate, threatening the lives of all people on earth.

Up till now, a great many of us haven’t felt that we had much in common with one another. But if the human race is to survive, we will have to start cooperating. After all, we’re all here on earth together.

[Lewis E. Patrie, M.D., is the president of the Asheville-based Western N.C. Physicians for Social Responsibility.]

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