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September 19, 2001
Letter to friends and colleagues

By George Capaccio


Dear friends and colleagues, I do not ordinarily send out mail to many people at once. But given the state of our nation and the impending threat of war, I have made an exception and am sending all of you a "letter" I composed. Please feel free to circulate it among your own email lists and/or communities.

George Capaccio

Letter to friends and colleagues
from George Capaccio
(writer, teacher, anti-sanctions activist Salaamg@aol.com)
September 17, 2001

I join you today in mourning the loss of so many innocent lives in last week's attack. My heart, like yours, is heavy with sorrow and grief. And like you, I struggle to grasp the enormity and horror of what has befallen us. Thankfully, I have not lost a loved one. I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and shock of those who have.

In my neighborhood, as no doubt in yours, almost every home displays our country's flag in recognition, I suppose, of the bond, the loss, and the grief we share in common. Coming together at such a time is a necessary and crucial part of healing. We have lost so many. Our wounds are deep and terrible. If for the time being we can see no way to make sense of our suffering, at least we can be united in our sorrow and our outrage, united in the hope that never again will we suffer such a blow.

Too many, I fear, believe the solace we collectively seek is to be found in war. By force of arms, we hope our wounds shall be healed, our strength restored, our suffering, if not redeemed, at least made more bearable knowing our foe has suffered as much as we.

How hard it is for we Americans to see, at this time, the futility of war. Our media, as it did during the Gulf War, serves only to inspire hysteria, jingoism, and xenophobia. Major cable and broadcast networks parade before our eyes a simplistic view of what has happened Rarely does a reporter or commentator ask why the United States was attacked. To do so, of course, would raise disturbing questions about our conduct in the world.

Certainly our political leadership is no less invested in keeping us in the dark. President Bush would be committing political suicide were he to refrain from calling for retaliation. But I wonder how future generations would characterize a leader who resisted such a call, whatever the risks to his career, and called instead for prudence and restraint and the hard work of discernment.

There is much to see and understand about our way of being in the world and about the way others see us. Of course, we Americans would like nothing more than to see ourselves as a benign nation, a chosen people who, if we err, do so from an excess of virtue. If this is true, then why on earth would anyone want to attack us unless they are the very embodiment of evil bent on destroying our civic institutions, our economy, and the freedoms we have sacrificed so much to preserve.

I trust you will understand, friends, that I too regard Tuesday's attack as an unconscionable and unjustifiable act of terror. The perpetrators must be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. As for waging war against a country like Afghanistan or, for that matter, any country that harbors or supports terrorists, I say such a course is wrong-headed and doomed to failure. As long as the causes of terrorism remain unexamined and unaddressed, no amount of military force will suffice to keep us safe.

We have only to look at our history to understand why so many people in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world bear so much ill-will toward our political and military institutions. The history of which I speak is not the story of a freedom-loving democracy that stands always on the side of the downtrodden and oppressed. I wish with all my heart that story were true. If it were, then I would not be writing this letter. Indeed, if it were true, Tuesday's tragedy would in all likelihood not have taken place.

A connection.

I maintain that there is a strong, albeit tragic connection between our conduct in the world and the events of Tuesday, September 11. This is not in any way to justify these events but rather to examine them in the light of our government's behavior toward developing countries. Consider just a few examples of what I would describe as our aggressive, interventionist foreign policy from the end of the second World War to the present:

  • Overthrowing the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954 in favor of one more disposed toward our economic interests.
  • Supporting the 1973 coup that led to the murder of Salvador Allende in Chile and the rise of Augusto Pinochet.
  • Setting up a puppet regime in South Vietnam, invading that country, then carrying on a protracted war that can best be described as one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.
  • Providing military, economic, and diplomatic support to repressive regimes in central and south America throughout the seventies and eighties; training and in other ways supporting Salvadoran security forces responsible for assassinating Archbishop Romero in 1980 and six Jesuit priests in 1989 primarily because of their commitment to social justice.
  • Equipping an army of terrorists (the Contras) who made a policy of attacking 'soft targets' such as schools, hospitals, orphanages in the 1980's; mining Nicaragua's harbor in defiance of a World Court injunction against such an action.
  • Invading Panama in 1989 and killing perhaps as many as one to two thousand innocent civilians, the poorest of the poor, who happened to be in harm's way when our troops landed.
  • Waging war against Iraq in 1991 ostensibly because of that country's invasion of Kuwait; killing tens of thousands of Iraqis, most of them civilians; destroying that country's infrastructure with the use of the most advanced weaponry yet invented; deliberately targeting the water treatment plants and electrical system; enforcing a decade-long embargo that has led to the deaths of an estimated 500,000 children from water-borne diseases and malnutrition; conducting bombing runs over north and south Iraq from 1998 to the present, ostensibly to protect Kurds and Shias in the so-called 'no fly zones', while killing several hundred people in the process.
  • Blowing up a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan in 1998 with cruise missiles. The attack was in response to terrorist attacks against our embassies. At the time, President Clinton stated that this plant produced weapons. No evidence to support this charge has ever surfaced. Shortly after the plant was hit, a plague broke out in Sudan. There were no drugs to treat the victims. We may never know how many hundreds of innocent people died as a result of our actions.
  • Allowing Israel to flaunt UN resolutions demanding an end to the occupation of Palestinian lands; supplying that country with fighter planes and attack helicopters, among other advanced weaponry used during the current uprising or Intifadah; failing to offer more than token support for the Palestinians' call for freedom and justice while shielding Israel from international censure for its policies and actions.

    Given such a record, it is not too difficult to understand why we have become the target of terrorist networks. What is truly remarkable is the way our own media establishment has kept us woefully ignorant of the harm we have done in the name of 'national interest'.

    When those hijacked planes crashed into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, they struck a blow not only against we Americans but, I believe, against all of humanity. The terrorists on board those planes and the clandestine network that put them there represent a profound failure--a failure of international institutions like the United Nations to deal effectively with the causes of terrorism; a failure of dispossessed, disenfranchised, marginalized people to have their grievances heard and addressed; a failure of policies, creeds, and ideologies that sanction violence and vengeance as the ultimate instruments of social change.

    Our government is preparing for war. It is not too late, friends, to make our voices heard and do all that is within our power to prevent what is sure to be an even greater catastrophe for the peoples of this world.

    What we should do.

    Instead of launching a full-scale attack against Afghanistan or other states that may harbor terrorists, the United States government should pursue a fundamentally different direction that could begin with at least some of the following initiatives and actions:

  • Declare a period of national mourning for the victims of last Tuesday's terrorist attack.
  • Pour whatever resources it takes to help survivors cope with their loss and rebuild their own shattered lives.
  • Outreach to schools throughout the country to help children and young people deal with these tragic events.
  • Consider erecting a memorial and/or peace park on the site of the former World Trade Center in honor of those who died and in recognition of our common humanity.
  • Bailout the airline industry.
  • Convene an international conference under the auspices of the United Nations to examine terrorism in all its expressions and ramifications.
  • Stop arming Israel. Compel that country to follow the international consensus (on the Arab-Israeli conflict) by ending the occupation and stopping all settlement on Palestinian land.
  • End the economic embargo on Iraq. Allow that country to fully rebuild its economy without US or UK interference. Insist on Iraq's disarmnament within a regional context (i.e., if Iraq is to disarm, so too must Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, etc.).
  • Hold Turkey accountable for the repression of its own Kurdish people and for its frequent invasions of Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish resistance fighters.

    This is by no means a complete list. But it is a beginning. I invite you to add your own ideas as you think about what I have written and perhaps share this letter with people within your own community.

    George Capaccio