Editorial too dismissive of accusations against US
Stabroek News
October 3, 2001

Dear Editor,

I find your editorial of 30.9.01 to have been too dismissive of accusations against the US while showing great understanding for US excesses. You claim that some of the accusations, the bombing of Hiroshima for example, are "misplaced," suggesting that the horrific bombing, which claimed the lives of over 60,000 civilians, was somehow justified because it was done during the Second World War. You had earlier stated that there can be no justification for the September 11, 2001 events, which claimed 6000 lives. Do you not know that bin Laden declared war on the US in 1997 and that the American government has declared the events of 11.9 as "an act of war?" Given these facts, how did you come to the conclusion that 11.9.01 cannot be justified but Hiroshima can be? Aren't you aware that in both these war situations civilians were deliberately targeted?

In that same editorial, referring to America's foreign policy, you said, "Unfortunately, foreign policy cannot be totally grounded in morality..." This statement, I have to assume, represents a tacit acceptance on your part that violent or nonviolent immoral acts in the conduct of foreign policy are acceptable and may be defended. You further indicated that these acts are committed in a nation's national interest. However, you did not say who should decide what represents a nation's legitimate interests. This is an important omission because one nation's interest may be of no significance to another nation. For example, Guyanese live in fear of the terror that violent deportees may unleash upon our country, but the United States couldn't care the less. Yet we have been told that we will be considered a part of the terrorist problem if we don't share the US view of terrorism. As they say in the US, go figure! Question: do you believe that the US was right in destabilizing the democratically elected PPP because its world view was supposedly inimical to US interests?

Editor, I find your position on this issue to be illogical. In uncritically accepting that nations can engage in immoral acts in the conduct of their foreign policy, you are also accepting the deaths of innocent civilians, a consequence that often results from these immoral acts. However, you fail to allow for responses by groups or individuals who are directly aggrieved and affected by immoral acts. You can't allow that, for practical reasons and in their national interests, nations can engage in immoral acts but at the same time fail to allow for responses by affected and aggrieved individuals or groups. Editor, to use a big word, your line of reasoning, though practical, is discombobulating.

It will make no sense to the surviving relatives of the three million Vietnamese civilians who were killed because some in their country's leadership wanted to pursue an economic and social system that the US thought was inimical to its interests. It will make no sense to the children of Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Chilean president whose life and government ended on 9.11.73 because their world view was considered inimical to US interests. It will make no sense to the surviving parents of the more than 500,000 Iraqi children who have been killed by a US-sustained economic embargo. Just as it made no sense to the world when Iraq offered it as an explanation for its invasion of Kuwait.

Editor, in spite of your attempt to appear balanced in your editorial, I have to ask these questions: Given that you accept that nations reserve the right to engage in immoral acts, which often involve violence, in pursuit of their national interests, do you believe that affected individuals or groups have a right to react with violence? Do you believe that such retaliatory actions are just? Do you believe that nations reserve the right to kill innocent civilians or overthrow democratically elected governments of economically weak and militarily non-threatening nations in pursuit of their national interests? Do you believe that nations should protect and promote dictatorial governments because it is in their national interest to do so? Do you believe that there is a calling that is higher than national interests? Please don't vacillate.

As for me, violence, particularly against civilians, is totally unacceptable except on universally accepted grounds of self-defence. And those are the grounds on which nations should engage in so-called immoral acts against those who perpetrate or who have concrete plans to perpetrate violence. What are those grounds? We all recognize them when they are offered as a defence.

Yours faithfully,

Carl Franklin

Editor's note:

There is a world of difference between the Second World War, which involved state entities, and a group of individuals whose identities in many cases may not be known, and whose location is uncertain engaging in self-proclaimed 'war.' Where Hiroshima is concerned, the Japanese invaded the Chinese territory of Manchuria in 1931, and in 1937 embarked on a full-scale war against China, quickly taking over her coastal provinces. Millions of Chinese civilians died both as a direct and indirect consequence of a particularly brutal occupation. Hundreds of thousands more civilians died later in other parts of Asia following the Japanese occupation in those places.

When Germany finally surrendered in May 1945, the Japanese did not accept unconditional surrender, and fighting in the east continued. American losses taking Iwo Jima were very high, and were exceeded in the struggle for Okinawa, where 50,000 US soldiers were killed. The casualty estimates if the Japanese home islands were to be invaded, were given as two million Americans alone, a figure which no US leader wanted to contemplate. The use of the atomic bomb, therefore, was seen as a means of bringing the war to a speedy conclusion, and saving Allied lives. In general in World War II, civilians were as much on the front line as soldiers, and their losses were extremely heavy.

While the editorial did say that foreign policy cannot always be informed by moral considerations (there are many others which are devoid of moral content), it did not say, and nor does it follow, that nations are then justified in engaging in immoral acts in the conduct of their foreign policy. And to answer Mr Franklin's specific questions, no, the US was not right to connive at the overthrow of Allende in Chile, or to destabilize a democratically elected PPP government in the 1960s.

What the editorial was suggesting was that we are moving, albeit very, very slowly, in the direction of a better defined international legal framework for dealing with certain issues between states. 'The world' is now trying cases of genocide, for example, wherever they occur, and it may be that the events of 11.9. will tilt the US faster in the direction of signing on to the International Criminal Court than otherwise would have been the case. In any event the implication was that in order to combat terrorism, the US would have to abandon Mr Bush's isolationist posturing of earlier this year.