The Empire Strikes Back

War vs. Peace: Novelists and Essayists Tell the 'Voice' Where They Stand

First, there was the explosion, then the collapse. Then words rushed in: vermin, cowards. Posters promised, respectively, that Jesus, Peace, and War were the answer. As Bush and his posse wage retaliation, we think not just of what has happened, but what will happen next. For a response, the Voice turned to the griots, teachers, and critics whose words have helped us keep on keeping on. The question: Is there an alternative to a military response to the events of September 11? If so, what might it be?


Isabel Allende, author of Portrait in Sepia A massive Marshall Plan for the third world is required to help diminish the gap between rich and poor. The "gated community" mentality will not keep the underprivileged subdued and invisible.

Illustration by Limbert Fabian

Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk and author of Anger By punishing Afghanistan—and we are not even sure we would be punishing the right people—we will make more suffering. They will suffer and they will always hit back and we will suffer also. Face what you think is the cause of your suffering and say: I know you must have suffered a lot in order to have done such a thing to us. Have we contributed to your suffering? If you say this sincerely, it is not a lack of courage but a courageous act. Military power cannot buy peace. Only sincerity and humanity can do this.

Howard Zinn, author of The People's History of the United States Treat this as if a criminal is taking refuge in a neighborhood of poor, desperate people who will not give him away. Try to apprehend the evil one. Don't bomb the neighborhood, but clean it up with food, jobs, good housing, and health care, in order to get at the root of terrorism and eliminate the pool of desperation from which terrorists are recruited.

Ellen Willis, director of NYU's cultural journalism program Deliberate destruction on such a scale—the mass murder of over 6000 people!—can't be allowed to go unpunished, not morally and not practically. To allow this would reveal to ourselves, our enemies, and our allies that we are willing to violate our most basic social compact, to "provide for the common defense." But we also need to find the political will to address the economic misery and theocratic tyranny that produce fundamentalist violence.

Eduardo Galeano, author of Upside Down (reprinted with permission, La Jornada) In the battle of Good versus Evil, it is always the common people who fill the graves. Contempt for the popular will is one of the many common threads between state terrorism and private terrorism. In Porto Alegre, at the beginning of the year, the Algerian revolutionary leader Ahmed Ben Bella warned, "This system, which has already made the cows mad, is driving the people mad." And the madmen, mad with hate, act exactly the same as the power that produces them.

Katha Pollitt, Nation columnist and author of Subject to Debate What if the U.S. offered to lift nonmilitary sanctions on Iraq in return for Osama bin Laden, who would be tried at the international criminal court? As for Afghanistan, perhaps the most miserable place on earth at the moment, the government should take the money it would spend on bombs and soldiers and use half of it to help the wretched Afghan people and support those among them who favor democracy, human rights—especially women's rights and ethnic cooperation—and the other half to Pakistan in return for withdrawing its support for the Taliban.

Robin D.G. Kelley, history professor, NYU, and coauthor of Three Strikes In 1932, a group of French and Caribbean Surrealists got together and wrote a brief called "Murderous Humanitarianism," vowing to change "the imperialist war, in its chronic and colonial form, into a civil war." I say the same thing: We need a civil war, class war, whatever, to put an end to U.S. policies that endanger all of us. Imagine a U.S. foreign policy committed to real democracy in the world, ending poverty with no strings attached or profit motive, respecting Islamic concerns regarding Western occupation of sacred land. Rather than beat up a whole nation, we could identify and isolate those directly responsible and bring them to trial and, as we should have done with the Confederate South, make them liable for damages by seizing assets.

Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair columnist and author of The Trial of Henry Kissinger The last time I was invited to contribute to a Voice symposium, I was asked to specify the highest and lowest cultural points of the last two decades. I replied that the lowest point was the fatwah against Salman Rushdie, with the capitulation by publishing houses and many pseudo-intellectuals to the supposed imperatives of religious feeling. The high point was the ultimately successful resistance to such blackmail. I'll take this opportunity to repeat myself: The struggle against theocratic fascism is one of the main struggles of our time; it started long before 11 September 2001; no compromise with such an enemy is either possible or desirable; and those who wish otherwise, or who stand aside, or who look for excuses, will still be treated with contempt (and as if they were "collateral damage") by a resourceful foe who cannot win and who, therefore, can as well as must be pitilessly defeated. Secular democracy is not a free gift; it will require volunteers to defend itself against all enemies foreign and domestic. No time like the present.

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