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by Geov Parrish
Monday, Nov. 12, 2001 at 8:50 AM
This is from a few days ago, but remains one of the most poignant essays I've read since the bombing campaign began. I hope many people read this, and take it to heart.
The Coming Apocalypse
from WorkingForChange.com via Znet
Does anybody in this country get it?
Does anybody understand what the United States is on the verge of doing?
Experienced, respected food aid organizations warn that even before the bombing of Afghanistan began on October 7, some 7,500,000 Afghans were -- through a gut-wrenching combination of poverty, drought, war, dislocation, and repression -- at risk of starving to death this winter. When the bombing began, almost all delivery of food from the outside world stopped. Now, roads and bridges are destroyed, millions more people are dislocated, and the snow is steadily approaching from higher elevations and from the north.
For weeks, aid organizations, along with voices from throughout the region, have been begging the United States to call off its bombing campaign, at least for long enough so that aid agencies can conduct the massive transfer of food into and throughout Afghanistan that is necessary to prevent death on a scale the world has not seen in a long, long time. On our newscasts, it's politely referred to as a "humanitarian crisis." That's a euphemism that makes "collateral damage" seem humane.
Seven and a half million people at risk of dying in a matter of months. That's three times the number of people Pol Pot took years to kill. Thirty-five times the number that died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, combined. If 5,000 died on September 11 (a number that reports are now suggesting is vastly inflated), we're talking the equivalent number of deaths to ten World Trade Centers, every day, for 150 days. Slow, painful deaths. Entirely avoidable deaths. Deaths whose sole cause is not the United States, but most of which can still be prevented -- except that the United States is refusing to allow them to be prevented.
It repulses me to say this, but I suspect a lot of Americans don't care. They'd rather see the United States "get" Osama bin Laden (though there's no actual evidence that we're any closer to that today than we were two months ago, and probably the task is harder as he becomes more popular and protected). A lot of people in this country do not care that a staggering number of innocent people are on the verge of being condemned to death, or that most of the world will blame the United States. Correctly.
We should care. If the object of this war was to thwart terrorism -- to bring existing terrorists to justice, and to isolate them politically and culturally so that others won't throw in their lot -- in less than a month, the United States has perpetrated one of the most abject failures in military history. It still does not know where any of Al-Qaeda's leadership even is. It is on the verge of succeeding in its goal of creating a unified Afghanistan government -- unfortunately, Afghans are uniting behind the Taliban, as warlord after warlord sets aside long-standing differences to stand shoulder to shoulder to fight the American invaders. Tens of thousands more young Muslim men are lining up to cross the borders into Afghanistan to join them. The ones that survive the experience will carry a lifetime of hate: living, breathing proof that within a month, America bombed a country but lost its war in spectacular fashion.
That's today. What will happen if millions of Afghans die this winter? How much future terrorism will the dunderheads of the Bush Administration have inspired then? If several million Islamic sisters and brothers starve to death, innocent civilians trapped between winter and the rage of America, how many of Islam's 1.2 billion adherents -- or the five billion other people on earth -- are going to take George Bush's proclamations about eradicating "terrorists" and "evildoers" to heart, and label him, and us, as the prime examples?
In less than two months, the United States government has gone from the moral high ground of being victimized by one of the most heinous crimes in world history, to being within a week or two of quite visibly committing a crime so much larger as to obliterate the world's memory of September 11. Remarkably, almost nobody in the United States seems to have either noticed, understood, or cared. While even progressives wring their hands over the ambiguity of a war fought under the auspices of America's legitimate right to defend itself, a situation is unfolding in which there is absolutely no moral ambiguity at all, and for which many people will want to hold each of us as accountable as the world held post-war Germans. Where were you? What did you say? How could you allow this to happen? Or, a more likely reaction in the Islamic world: Why should millions of you not die as well? America will have set out to isolate one man, and instead killed millions and isolated itself. And much of the world will not rest until we are brought to our knees.
Seven and a half million people. The snowline is creeping down the mountainsides. The food is almost gone. The infrastructure is in shambles. There will be no "independent verification" of the body count. There wasn't in the Holocaust or Rwanda or Cambodia, either. The judgment of the world did not need one. The clock is ticking. Where were you?
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Monday, Nov. 12, 2001 at 10:33 AM
What can we do?
It may take civilian-delivered food to prevent millions of deaths in Afghanistan
Four days ago, I wrote in this space decrying the coming catastrophe in Afghanistan: the millions, people who, through no fault of their own, have already lost everything and are now at risk of starvation; the difficulty of getting food to them once the snows and bitter cold set in; the refusal, despite literal begging from respected voices worldwide, of the U.S. to stop its bombing long enough to avert widespread death; the casual treatment of this unfolding nightmare as just another news story in the United States; the likelihood that the world's accelerating anti-Americanism will, in the wake of possibly millions of preventable civilian deaths, mushroom into something like America vs. the world, with America considered the bad guys.
It's not just another story.
That column has already been reprinted pretty widely (AlterNet, commondreams.org, and TomPaine.com, among many others), and stirred up a storm of response. The letters fall mostly into three camps: the Simple Gratitude camp, the Move to Afghanistan You Lefty Terrorist-Loving Scum camp, and the We Know, But What Can We Do? camp.
Notably, none of the Move to Afghanistan letters dispute my primary points, that many people might die and that the U.S. will be blamed. They simply don't think it matters, or even that it's a good and productive part of waging war against terrorism. Quite a few suggest simply nuking the place and having done with it.
Or course, there's no real response to such arguments. But it is the question of the latter group -- what can we do? -- that is far more vexing.
The World Trade Organization's first full post-Seattle meetings open today in the notably anti-democratic monarchy of Qatar. (For independent reports try www.indymedia.org, which will be in the harbor, reporting from Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship.) The United States government's response to the mounting criticism of neoliberalism in the two years since Seattle has been, basically, to treat it as a PR problem. Similarly, in the face of global condemnation of what in this case may be more death than the planet has seen in a long, long time, the Bush Administration is also treating Afghanistan like a PR problem.
Afghanistan and several million people on the edge of entirely preventable deaths isn't just a matter of spin. Listen to Anita Pratap, a pro-American writer, filing yesterday from New Delhi for Globalvision News Network: "Not just Muslims, but everyone [in the world] now talks of U.S. double standards ... to a great extent, the [arrogance and double standards of] the U.S. media has contributed to the anti-Americanism sweeping the world. ... the U.S media is no longer neutral and therefore no longer credible. The loss is theirs."
In the face of this mounting global criticism, what has our government done? Increase the bombing, ignore pleas for a temporary halt, and declare that the world needs more of what the U.S. media has already been delivering, to the great disgust of the world.
This is why the "what can we do?" question is so difficult. To all appearances, our government isn't listening, doesn't want to listen, and is seemingly convinced that democracy is a process by which a majority of voters are to be persuaded of the appropriateness of policies the politicians have already decided upon.
If the United States is not interested in allowing food aid agencies to go into the country, even briefly, without risking relief workers' deaths at the hands of the Pentagon, the goal of saving a lot of lives would seem to be impossible. But confronted with the unthinkable, we have to attempt the impossible. And there's also a second goal: to let the rest of the world (including but not limited to all of Islam) know that some Americans do, in fact, care very much about preventing these deaths. These two goals suggest a whole range of options.
At the local level, simply publicizing this issue is imperative. This is not an anti-war issue; it's about saving the lives of countless innocents, and (by happy coincidence) preventing a catastrophic failure in the long-term U.S. military and strategic goals of minimizing future anti-American terrorism.
Preventing the deaths of millions is not, or at least should not be, an ideological question. It should be raised -- and not as part of an anti- war message -- often and everywhere: to congressional reps, letters to the editor, radio call-in shows, public flyering and private conversations. Here in Seattle, a broad network of ecumenical and community groups are pulling together a three- day public fast Nov. 15-17 — from the beginning of winter to the onset of Ramadan. The fast may well continue, with the public collection of donations, until the situation is addressed.
But we need more, much more. Beyond these local and slower-acting publicity measures, encouraging our own government to act responsibly in our names, there remains the immediate questions of saving lives, and of global opinion.
One possibility is send nonviolent delegations of U.S. citizens, with food, into Afghanistan. Such a campaign could also have international and domestic U.S. components, with food brigades, fundraising, and donations all going to publicize the issue.
There is a direct connection between the number of innocent Afghan civilians who will die in the coming months and the number of innocent U.S. civilians who will likely die in terrorist attacks later.
For all of the people asking what they can do, there are presumably just as many people trying to answer. What's being done in your area? E-mail me at , and if I get enough good, imaginative, effective ideas, I'll pass them along next week.
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