Winning the War on Terror
By Bill Moyers
Thursday 08 April 2004
President Bush spoke eloquently the other day about what the war on terror requires of us. He said, "The war on terror is not a figure of speech. It is an inescapable calling of our generation." Those words ring true. Whatever drives them, whatever grieves them, Islamic fanatics have declared war and seem willing to wage it to the death. If they prevail, our children will grow up in a world where fear governs the imagination and determines the rules of life. Mr. Bush clearly believes what he said: The war on terror is an inescapable calling of the generation now in charge.
Like most Americans, I want to support him in that work; I want to do my part. But the president makes it hard. He confused us by going after Saddam Hussein when the villain behind the mass murders of 9/11 was Osama bin Laden. He seems not to realize how his credibility has been shredded by all the false and misleading reasons put forth to justify invading Iraq; Lyndon Johnson never recovered from using the dubious events at the Gulf of Tonkin as an excuse to go to war in Vietnam, and even if Mr. Bush wins reelection this November, he, too, will eventually be dragged down by the powerful undertow that inevitably accompanies public deception. The public will grow intolerant of partisan predators and crony capitalists indulging in a frenzy of feeding at the troughs in Baghdad and Washington. And there will come a time when the president will have no one to rely on except his most rabid allies in the right wing media; he will discover too late that you cannot win the hearts and minds of the public at large in a nation polarized and pulverized by endless propaganda at odds with reality.
So what to do? How to assure we win this war?
The hearings in Washington suggest a start. It is clear now the Bush White House bungled the warnings about Al Qaeda, but it's also clear that the Democrats under Bill Clinton made plenty of mistakes, too. Why can't both parties come clean, apologize, and start over? Either party could lose this war but both parties together just might win it. Why not a wartime cabinet to serve a wartime nation? Al Gore as head of Homeland Security. Gary Hart at Defense. The independent-minded John McCain or Warren Rudman at State. The world would get the point: This time we mean it, all of us - the war on terror no longer a partisan cause.
Surely, too, there are ways to subject all of us to the moral equivalent of the draft. The president put it well in another speech last week when he said, "I've seen the spirit of sacrifice and compassion renewed in our country. We've all seen our country unite in common purpose when it mattered most."
Those words ring true, as well. But so far sacrifice has been asked only of the men and women in uniform and their families: Over 600 dead since the war began -- over 400 of them since the President landed on that aircraft carrier under a banner reading "Mission Accomplished."
Even now the privates patrolling the mean streets of Baghdad and the wilds of Afghanistan, their lives and limbs constantly at risk, are making less than $16,000 dollars a year in base pay. Here at home, meanwhile, the rich get their tax cuts - what Vice President Cheney calls "their due." Favored corporations get their contracts, subsidies and offshore loopholes. And as the president praises sacrifice he happily passes the huge bills that are piling up on to children not yet born.
My thoughts started running on this track a couple of weeks ago when my wife Judith came across a relic of the past in our attic - a ration book, issued by the OPA (the Office of Price Administration) with stamps for the purchase of essential goods. It's dated 1943 and it's aged so much you can barely make out the name on it -- "Billy Don Moyers," the alias my mother gave me at birth.
I was nine years when this ration book was issued, and America was fighting a war on two fronts, against Nazis and Japanese warlords. Just about everything vital was going to feed the war machine, so just about everything was rationed: gasoline, tires, sugar, butter, meat, tea, diapers, kitchen utensils, lawnmowers. When stockings became scarce, women painted seams down their calves to simulate the real thing. You stood in line to get scarce items; and all of us were called upon to eat less, drive less, do without.
Kids weren't exempt. I took this book with me to the store, and tore off exactly the number of stamps required to buy something. I never used all the stamps in this one book - that's how parsimonious people were. Or maybe it was patriotism. Anyway, I think of this now as a kind of war souvenir, a keepsake to remind me that victory on the home front began at 801 East Austin Street.
Where does the home front begin today? President Bush hasn't told us. I believe him when he says the war on terror is the inescapable calling of our generation. But it is one thing to say it, and yet another to lead all of us, and not just a partisan few, to answer it.
Apr 9, '04
Interesting article. I agree with much of what it says. But this so-called "war on terror", and mind you I believe that terrorism has ALWAYS existed since human-kind grunted, should be a world-wide effort. Not just an effort of two political parties from one country.
The current administration has strayed too far off in providing any form of leadership and cooperation for a world-wide effort, or dialogue, against "terrorism". From pre-war to post-war, this whole Iraqi fiasco is one shameful example. This world is shrinking. One can travel from Washington DC to any point around the world in just mere hours. And yet this administration acts as if our country and its interests is the ONLY country that matters.
No. "Terrorism" is a world-wide problem. As long as there's poverty, fanatical governments, oppression, greed, narrow-mindedness in problem-solving and and apathy, there's going to be groups of people, both small and large in number, that's going to lash out in violent ways. An age-old problem. With the HUGE advances in technology in many forms including agriculture, energy, salt water conversion to fresh water, health, communication and transportation (just to name a few) we SHOULD be able to stamp out poverty. Poverty is a HUGE source of discontent. Recently, I read yet another article (a religious based article, by the way!) again providing numbers and statistics demonstrating that the gulf between those who can eat and those who can not eat is growing wider. This is problematic. Where's the leadership in providing solutions to another age-old problem, poverty??? Certainly NOT from my country's leaders (from both sides of the isle)!
I've said this before and I'll say it again. I'm not hopeful for the survival of human-kind. I believe that we're going to allow greed, apathy, political and religious ideology and denial kill us all. (And I'm NOT just talking about this country, either. There's a lot of this that exists in most if not all countries!) Talk about terrorism! We are our own terrorists if we are reluctant to share our resources and use the tools and technology that exist in this day and age to stamp out that age-old problem of poverty. And no one country is going to solve this problem either. It's too big and it's GROWING. It's going to take some fundemental changes in thought and action to solve this problem. And I give doubt that most countries are enlightened and brave enough to make those changes.
But we should at least try. . . and always continue to try. Because maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we as a species might learn from our history and past mistakes and provide thoughtful, enlightened and compassionate solutions to one age-old problem of poverty, and at the same time possibly wipe out another age-old problem: "terrorism". And we just might survive!
Last edit by Ted on Apr 9, '04
Apr 9, '04
Quote from stevielynn
Great point Fergus . . .
Poverty is much too simplistic answer to why terrorism happens. Actually, it isn't an answer.
I beg to differ. It's one of many answers to the motives of terrorism. Saying it's simplistic is almost saying like it doesn't exist. To say it doesn't exist is folly.
Don't underestimate the problems poverty brings to human civilization.
Quote from DavidFR
Let's try to understand just what turns a moderate moslem into a religious fanatic, a reasonable citizen into a crazed suicide bomber, then we might start getting somewhere.
Maybe we can start by looking at ourselves. There's a lot of fanaticism in the Christian religion in the U.S.. Maybe not to the point of people becoming "crazed suicide bombers", but definately to the point of denying other citizens basic human rights in marriage. I view this as a kind of terrorism. Elements of this religious fanaticism holds the ears of our current administration. I'm scared.
I find a few commonalities to "fundementalist" religions whether it's Jewish, Christian or Muslem. One glaring characteristic is "We're right and all who think differently are wrong." And this type of dangerous thinking exists right in our own back yards.
Last edit by Ted on Apr 9, '04