the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world











2001 September 15


Much has happened since I last wrote; and while it is natural to focus on the events of the last week, we should remember that in the last few months wars have been fought, governments overthrown, elections held, laws passed, wilderness destroyed, people killed, and people saved, all without the attention of the United States, confining itself as ever to matters of immediate concern. Now, though, the events of the world have entered into our consciousness, because we have become forcibly involved in them.

Of course, I and all stewards are appalled by what has happened; we feel sorrow and we feel anger as our fellow humans do. And we, being a compassionate group who have the interests of the world in mind, are the very people who most ask what we can do to help, and how we can keep this from happening again.

But there is already a world full of people who are feeling the same. It is not necessary to have one more voice expressing grief, or pledging to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism. There is no shortage of compassionate grief and certainly no shortage of vengeful wrath. What we are most lacking at this time is the dissenting voice that we as stewards have always known it was our part to provide, lest the dominion reign unchallenged. For though it is right that we should do something in response, it is equally right that we should consider and deliberate before doing so, and we should not allow the proponents of uniformity of thought to eliminate criticism with this terror as an excuse.

George Bush’s war on terrorism is only slightly less hyperbolic than Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, less only because, in this case, someone will, in fact, get bombed. Such may appease our collective desire for retribution, but it will not eliminate our peril, it will not erase terrorism from the planet.

Terrorism is indeed a vile practice; but it is in many cases resultant from a genuine grievance. Until the world ceases to inflict injustice upon the desperate and powerless, it will continue to receive the unfocused, unprincipled violent response that is the recourse of the desperate and powerless. That is not to suppose that the bombers in this case had a legitimate grievance; but their methods are duplicable, and will eventually be used by those whose motives cannot be so easily dismissed as blind anti-Americanism. For the United States and its powerful counterparts around the world have much to answer for, have caused much suffering and perpetrated much injustice, and the innocent thousands of dead from Tuesday’s attack could conceivably have been the responsibility of a world that does not give to each of its residents the freedom, dignity, and sustenance that each might reasonably expect; and in that world the United States has been a chief player. It has perpetuated the power of tyrants, and been the tyrant itself on many occasions.

It should not be forgotten, before we rally around a single person as national commander-in-chief (as though we had all enlisted), that the person to whom we are being asked to show unified loyalty is one whom few of us voted for and none supported wholly or even in large part two weeks ago. He is still the same fool whose policies, we asserted, would lead us to ruin, whose party openly supports bigotry and environmental destruction, favors profit over human rights, and has worked to oppress our fellows here and abroad. George Bush is not my commander, and no degree of devastation can make him so.

Nor should it be forgotten that the patriotism, even jingoism, that we are being urged towards at present is the same empty religion that most stewards rejected before as a tool of dominion. It is the dominion that wants us all to fall into lockstep, to shut our mouths and shut our eyes and go along with the pack.

Order comes at the expense of freedom, and safety and security often do the same; and if we surrender the last of our freedoms for the hope of perfect security, we will be sorry, and we will be disappointed. Perfect security, complete safety, is unattainable. And liberty is often unrecoverable. It may be understandable for a grieving and angry nation to countenance the dismantling of domestic civil liberties, whose value it never understood, for the prospect of domestic security, whose value it knows quite well; it is completely to be expected that this same nation would show no regard whatsoever for the rights of those in other lands who may be affected by our response. But lying underneath that pained plea for security that tells us we must give up our civil liberties are the cunning devices of a tyrannical order that was never inclined to grant those liberties in the first place. Yes, this act was an atrocity; but there are other atrocities that we are being threatened with, not least the fascist society which some will accept as a solution to this problem of terrorism. I say again, this is a pretext, used by those who would rule us and oppress us. We must resist.

For in the end the desire to live free is a desire both to live and to be free, to enjoy the two as an inseparable experience; and the desire to live in a world without terrorism springs from the same origin as that to live in a world without oppression. It is a desire for peace and freedom, and the two can and must exist in conjunction. While we contest the violence of a small band of disillusioned and hateful persons, we should also contest the violence of a rather larger group, whose work to oppress humanity comes now with a more palatable justification, wears a more pleasant face. If the response to this attack is the end of our freedom, the attack has served its purpose, and we have been defeated.



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