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September 18, 2001

To the editor,

The violent attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last week are terrible tragedies. It is understandable that many people respond to these events with angry calls for revenge. But seeking vengeance against a people or nation only spreads violence, increases hatred, and leads to more death and destruction. How will such a response deter another similar violent act when the perpetrators feel so desperate and backed into a corner that they are willing to commit suicide in acting?

Is it time to ask some serious questions. Why do some people hate the United States so much that they are willing to die in these attacks? What has the United States done to trigger these types of passions? Unless we listen to those who commit these acts of violence and understand their grievances we can never overcome this threat of terrorist violence.

Many in the United States enjoy an affluent consumer lifestyle benefitting from the resources of the earth, while others around the world live in abject poverty. A few monopolize political, cultural and economic power while others have little. The United States needs to change its policies and relations with other countries. Living in an increasingly globalized world, it can no longer afford to consider only its own national interests, but instead it has to become an equal partner in the world looking out for the interests of all. If we work together to create a more egalitarian and tolerant world, then we will have a more secure world.

It is also important to realize that the United States has not shied away from the use of terror to achieve its own objectives. The Army’s School of the Americas specializes in training its allies in Latin America in the use of human rights violations to quiet political dissent. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan and Oliver North outfitted mercenaries in Nicaragua and trained them to mine roads and blow up civilian transportation vehicles in attempts to destabilize the government. Ironically, the United States trained Osama bin Laden to fight against the Soviet Union. In what the CIA calls “blowback,” bin Laden proceeded to use these same tactics against his creators. The United States cannot claim innocence in the exercise of terrorist actions.

How will we respond to these violent acts in New York and Washington? Will we devote our energy and resources on a descent into vengeance and increased security measures? We can never be secure enough in a world where hurts and hatreds fester these types of responses. Violence against these perpetrators will only result in increasingly violent counter-responses, as well as a repression of civil liberties and human rights both at home and abroad.

Or will we work instead toward understanding, equality, and social justice that diffuses the roots of this violence? Rather than retreating into an armed bunker in which we risk death for all, can we begin to act as responsible world citizens and share our resources in order to build a better and more secure world for everyone?

Marc Becker
Assistant Professor of History

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