Arguments against War in Iraq (03/03)

I  would like to discuss a number of reservations that I have with policies that you seem to be promoting. First, it troubles me that you interpreted the events of September 11, 2001 as attacks on our “freedom.” This isn’t the obvious conclusion. The attacks were against the most prominent symbols of our corporate economic and military systems, and terrorist leaders said that they were opposed to our military aid to Israel. In attributing the attacks to our freedom, you have made it much more difficult for the US public to understand why so many people throughout the world hate us. Without a realistic understanding of the situation, it will be impossible to effectively stem the growth of anti-US feeling.

Another troubling attitude is the profound faith you seem to have in the ability of US military power to solve every major international problem. It is particularly troubling that you, who profess to be a Christian, seem to believe that military power is completely consistent with the teaching of Jesus. I have read the Sermon on the Mount and other teachings attributed to Jesus, and it doesn’t seem that military activity can be reconciled with those teachings.  Jesus taught love and forgiveness (particularly the forgiveness of one’s enemies). Military training teaches people to hate their enemies and use the most technologically advanced means to kill them and destroy their property. I can understand why, under a direct threat of aggression, some people might see no alternative, but not how “preventive” or “preemptive” war can be justified by religious principles.

If the US goes to war against Iraq, its armed forces certainly will kill large numbers of Iraqi military personnel. Most will not be enthusiastic supporters of Saddam Hussein, or eager volunteers for the Iraqi military. They will be young men and women conscripted against their wills. Sentencing them to death simply because they have been forced into the military will be a profound injustice. Many civilians will also be killed. Most authorities estimate that at least 100,000 Iraqi civilians died in the Gulf War. Even with “precision weapons,” the US can’t avoid killing and maiming thousands of civilians in another war.

A just and peaceful world cannot be built on a foundation of war and military intimidation. Nuclear deterrence is a good example. National leaders of all of the countries possessing nuclear weapons claim that deterrence can preserve “peace” forever. This flies in the face of scientific analysis. Deterrence always creates the possibility of catastrophic accidents with nuclear weapons and nuclear war. “Stochastic theory,” the mathematical science of how probability is related to time, shows that destructive events are inevitable. Nuclear deterrence can be expected to fail catastrophically.

Deterrence is a “Faustian bargain” that buys an indeterminate period of apparent peace, but only at the eventual cost of nearly unimaginable horror. Rather than trying to increase the power of its nuclear weapons, the US should be doing all that it can to bring about universal nuclear disarmament.

Preventive or preemptive war may destroy the regimes of specific tyrants, but will have an extremely dangerous side effect. Other countries with large nuclear arsenals, such as Russia and China, will wonder if they are next and act to increase the power and range of their own nuclear weapons. Smaller countries with nuclear arsenals, or the potential for developing them, will move ahead as rapidly as they can. We have seen this in regard to North Korea. Its leaders note how you have categorized them as part of an “Axis of Evil,” attacking Afghanistan and now threatening Iraq. They are wasting no time in trying to create their own nuclear arsenals to deter us.

If you threaten North Korea, an extremely dangerous situation will be created. General MacArthur made a Herculean blunder in miscalculating that China wouldn’t become involved if the US (with UN sponsorship) invaded North Korea. One result was the death of tens of thousands of US military personnel. If you miscalculate this time and nuclear weapons are used, millions of people may be killed.

What is true for nuclear weapons is also true for other “weapons of mass destruction.” If countries that fear us can’t develop nukes, they will be strongly tempted to build chemical and biological arsenals – and use them against us if they are attacked.

And if we attack nations just because they are “potential” threats, why shouldn’t others adopt the same attitude toward neighbors perceived as “enemies”?  Restraints on the use of military force will be removed, and international relations will become steadily more violent.

In general, you seem to believe that improved military power will increase our security. This is patently untrue. Research has made 200-kiloton hydrogen bombs – powerful enough to destroy any city – so small that several can be hidden in the trunk of a car. They can even be carried about in large suitcases. There are thousands of these weapons, and untold numbers aren’t under our control. There is no way that any “homeland security program” can insure that terrorists won’t transport such weapons into our cities. In this respect, military research has made us less, not more, secure.

Another example is our development of surface-to-air missiles (SAMS). We gave substantial numbers to the Afghanis fighting the Soviet occupation of their country. But SAMS are now dispersed throughout the world, and several apparently were used recently to try and shoot down an Israeli airliner in Kenya. It is just a matter of time before these weapons become easier to carry, with longer range and greater accuracy. In a few years, every airliner will be vulnerable to terrorists armed with SAMS.

In view of all this, I hope that you will re-appraise your assumptions and policies. Can a peaceful world really be built on our nuclear arsenal and precision-guided weapons? Can we promote international cooperation and harmony by unilaterally waging war on countries we dislike?

My own view is that peace and security can’t be built on threatening to kill people and destroy their property. It can only be built on helping them. For example, 14 million people soon will die in Africa of AIDS, and millions more in Ethiopia soon may be at risk from famine. Meanwhile, a full-scale war against Iraq will cost at least $100 billion. Rather than waging that war, exert your influence to lift the sanctions that make it difficult for the Iraqi people to acquire adequate food and medicines. Then commit the billions saved by not invading Iraq to overcoming AIDS and other diseases in both Christian and Muslim Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and feeding people threatened with starvation. Such policies would stimulate people to like rather than hate us. That would be an effective and realistic way to wage “war against terrorism” and provide “homeland security” for everyone.

– Bradford Lyttle, January 2003

Bradford Lyttle is a Chicago-based activist and long-time friend of Toward Freedom.