The Empire Strikes Back

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

Alice Walker, novelist In a war on Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden will either be left alive, while thousands of impoverished, frightened people are bombed into oblivion around him, or he will be killed in a bombing attack for which he seems quite prepared. But what would happen to his cool armor if he could be reminded of all the good, nonviolent things he has done? Further, what would happen to him if he could be brought to understand the preciousness of the lives he has destroyed? I firmly believe the only punishment that works is love.

Noam Chomsky, linguistics professor, MIT When the U.S. launched a murderous terrorist war against Nicaragua, Nicaragua did not set off bombs in Washington but took the matter to the World Court, which ordered the U.S. to cease its "unlawful use of force" and to pay substantial reparations. The U.S. responded by escalating the terrorist attack. Nicaragua approached the Security Council, which called on all states to observe international law (vetoed by the U.S.), and then went to the General Assembly, which passed a similar resolution (again vetoed by the U.S.). No one will stop the U.S. if it follows the procedures that it blocked in the case of Nicaragua.

Gloria Steinem, founder, Ms. magazine Many of the Afghan women who have been warning us about the Taliban for years say that bombing would be the surest way to unite most Afghanis around them. We need an act as positive as the terrorists were negative. For example, a massive airlift of food and medicine into Afghanistan. Instead of dividing the world into Islam and the West, we need to make clear that we are part of the same world.

Illustration by Limbert Fabian

Paul Berman, author of A Tale of Two Utopias Should we go to war? Dear friends, we needn't bother. War has come to us. If our enemies would stop attacking us, that would be peace. But even if we adopted Jerry Falwell's most visionary ideas and abolished gay rights and the ACLU (thus eliminating America's putative sins), and even if we followed the left-wing Falwells and stopped trying to preserve the Jewish state and allowed Saddam Hussein to resume his massacres (thus eliminating America's other putative sins), even if we did all that, our enemies would go on attacking. So we had better defend ourselves.

Raghida Dergham, senior diplomatic correspondent, Al-Hayat For this global struggle against terrorism to succeed, it needs to be deep and thorough not broad and shallow. The administration must dare to tell Israel it has to end its settlements and occupation. The Arab and Islamic world must self-examine and recognize the need for democratic processes. The American public needs to learn foreign policy, not only to know the enemy, but to learn about the world as the U.S. shapes up new bilateral, regional, and global relations.

Michael Ignatieff, professor of the practice of human rights policy, Harvard University Military action is not the only thing we can do: international police co-operation, extradition and trials, new conventions outlawing the harboring of terrorists. But to exclude the military option is to misunderstand what we are faced with: a genuine threat to the territory of the United States and all states who ally with her.

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed I don't know how you wage war against one person; it doesn't make sense. I can imagine a commando-type raid to capture Bin Laden, then a trial, with evidence, before the world court. But that would not address the vast global inequalities in which terrorism is ultimately rooted. What is so heartbreaking to me as a feminist is that the strongest response to corporate globalization and U.S. military domination is based on such a violent and misogynist ideology.

Marshall Berman, political science professor, CUNY, and author of All That Is Solid Melts Into Air The alternative: Follow the money. Stop the flow. This couldn't have been done without a global monetary network. The U.S. government has been so blasé about this piece of it because money laundering has become synonymous with American capitalism. Also, read John LeCarré, who says American intelligence is overblown, obsessed with a technological fix, and has no sense of human character. Our "intelligence" has a lot of data but doesn't know the first thing about how to listen.

Naomi Klein, author of No Logo The left needs to reject, once and for all, the label "anti-globalization." As Bush forces the world to join America's war, sidelining the United Nations and the international courts, we need to become passionate defenders of true multilateralism. What we are seeing is not a global response to terrorism but the internationalization of one country's foreign policy objectives. This is the trademark of U.S. international relations, from the WTO negotiating table to Kyoto. We can make these connections not as "anti-Americans" but as true internationalists.

Rabbi Robert J. Marx, president of National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice How can we declare to the nations of the world that they are either for us or against us, while we demonstrate our contempt for the world by greedily devouring its resources, by refusing to join the Kyoto Environmental Pact, by rejecting the 1972 ban on biological weapons, and by refusing to join the world court. Above all, we need to begin to feel that we are part of the world, until now we have been spared its pain. Now we need to share its sacrifice.

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