Retaliation: Necessary response or unjustified attack?

Professor John Dreher

Professor John Dreher

In consideration of the situation at hand, and the string of events that have, since Sept. 11, led us to military action in Afghanistan, the Lawrentian interviewed various LU professors to seek out their views on the “first war of the 21st century.” Questions posed were as follows: What reaction do you have about American military action in Afghanistan? How do you feel about the Taliban decrying U.S. military action as a terrorist attack on their country? How should America proceed from here out?

—Reporting by Jessie Augustyn, Chris Chan, and Janie Ondracek

Karen Carr, professor of religious studies.

“I think most people would agree that generally a diplomatic and non-violent resolution to conflict is preferable to one involving military force.,” begins Carr. She goes on to explain why this situation was not one that could be easily chosen, “I doubt that such a resolution would have been possible in the present case. Even though Bush and Blair have (quite rightly) emphasized that we are not ‘attacking Islam,’ we must remember that bin Laden and his followers/supporters understand their own actions in intensely religious terms, and thus see themselves as acting with the support—indeed, with the mandate—of God.”

Carr continues, “Religious extremists of any stripe—be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish, whatever—are not inclined towards moderation or compromise, which effectively renders diplomatic solutions moot. And to elect simply not to respond to the attacks on New York and Washington seems to me unacceptable.”

Peter Glick, professor of psychology.

“I see a targeted military response as appropriate. Although the bombing undoubtedly will provoke (and has already provoked) counter-reactions (e.g., violent protests in Pakistan and Indonesia), failing to act against regimes that harbor terrorists is not a viable option,” says Glick.

Glick does not believe that pure diplomacy is a viable option, “The Taliban and the terrorists would not be impressed with or appeased by pacifism. Osama bin Laden, in particular, wants to provoke the West and, if left with the ability to do so, will continue his attacks.” Glick points out, however, that there is a difference between terrorism and the attacks the United States has made: “Targeted strikes against a brutally repressive regime and the terrorists it harbors are very different from hijacking airliners and slamming them into densely populated buildings full of civilians.”

Glick goes on, saying, “At the same time, it is extremely important that our military actions be coupled with humanitarian aid that is more than simply a band-aid. The food drops are a great start, but are not enough to help the people who have been victimized by drought and by the Taliban. The U.S. actions will truly be successful only if, in addition to toppling the Taliban and rooting out the terrorists, the Afghan people are left better off afterwards than they were before. Given how devastated and repressed the country was beforehand, this should be well within our power to accomplish.”

Glick considers what America is doing as a possible relief for many citizens of Afghanistan, “If I were a woman in Afghanistan, I’d be secretly cheering whenever a U.S. bomb dropped on a Taliban target. We now bear a responsibility for the Afghan people who do not support the Taliban—we need to ensure that these people receive food and other aid, as well as help them to develop a stable, democratic government.”

Rebecca Matveyev, assistant professor of Russian.

“Honestly, I have very conflicted and complex emotions about this. I can understand why many people in the government would feel a need to retaliate in this way…I have a number of concerns, however, one simply being in regards to earlier history. For example, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did not work out very well. I think if ground troops are going to be committed, there are going to be all kinds of issues involving, among other things, the extensive mining in Afghanistan.”

Matveyev stresses the significance of perception in analyzing the situation. “Whereas Bush tends to frame everything as a sort of struggle between good and evil, where the Americans are clearly good and the terrorists are clearly evil, I’m not entirely sure that this current administration comprehends that in fact the opposite side has precisely the same attitude, [that Americans are evil]… I don’t necessarily think that somehow getting rid of this one, very problematic force…means things will be safe for democracy and the world will become saved.”

Matveyev remarks, “There’s a tendency often for Americans and American governmental institutions not really to be aware of how the United States is perceived in other countries and not really to be aware of other cultural values. And whatever ends up happening, I think that it’s important that there be people involved in any process that have some concept of how things work.”

John Dreher, Lee Claflin-Robert S. Ingraham Professor of Philosophy.

“I’m glad there was not a very quick, shoot-from-the-hip, bomb-the -hell-out-of Baghdad-and-Kabul reaction. I think Colin Powell deserved a lot of credit for being as deliberate and careful as we’ve been.” He goes on to say, “I don’t know if it’s wise foreign policy or just foreign policy to fire the missiles that we’re firing right now. When that kind of missile is fired and bombs are dropped from thirty thousand feet there is undoubtedly going to be damage to people and things other than the target. That’s just part of the game.”

Dreher says that the Taliban calling U.S. military strikes terrorism was “part of their propaganda. I don’t think trying to locate terrorists is itself an act of terrorism.” In response to the question of how bin Laden should be treated, Dreher comments, “Too bad we didn’t work hard to develop a legitimate international court of justice. Right now people laugh at the United Nations. It’s almost a synonym for ineffectuality. That’s unfortunate, very unfortunate.”

Dreher also points to several mistakes the U.S. has made in its foreign policy, saying that many of our enemies, including bin Laden, were trained or funded by the U.S. “Taliban means ‘the students,'” Dreher says. “We strengthened the hands of the people who are now in charge. That’s a cautionary lesson for us. The United States has had a lousy record of intervening in local politics, strengthening the hand of certain groups to weaken other groups that are currently our enemy, and it turns out that those groups that we help turn back and haunt us.” He suggests that the problems we are experiencing “have to be seen in a longer historical context” to be fully understood.

As for other action the U.S. should take, Dreher says: “I think there is a lot going on right now the American public is not being told about. Some of them we’re not told about for damn good reasons. There are probably other things going on that we don’t know about that we should know about but aren’t being told. I think this talk about war is covering up lots of things…President Bush spoke with moral indignation about some members of the United States Congress, Senators and Representatives, releasing confidential information. I don’t have any evidence that any of them released anything. He didn’t name anybody that I know of.”

Dreher says the charge that congressional members are leaking information to the press is not one that should be taken lig
htly. “Presidents and politicians are upset most of the time legitimately—some of the time illegitimately—by news articles all the time. That’s a lot different than accusing somebody in a responsible office in Congress of breaching national security.”

He thinks that Bush limiting the number of Senators and representatives with access to classified military operation is a “cover for keeping congress out of the decision making” and adds, “I think some of the things being done right now in Washington, D.C. are undemocratic, [and] I object to it.” Dreher says that while he recognizes some military secrecy is necessary for success, he does think more is being withheld than should be.

Elizabeth De Stasio, associate professor of biology and Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science.

“Well, certainly the major emotion is just sadness at this point. I would hope that what America remembers, and what our leaders remember, is the Marshall Plan after WWII.”

The Marshall plan was a proposal during the Truman administration to help rebuild political and economic stability in Europe after WWII. This plan went through legislation and is credited with preventing famine in Europe by restoring agricultural and industrial productivity.

De Stasio adds, “We need to make sure we follow up so that the people of the country we’ve attacked can be rebuilt…that we don’t just leave things hanging, but that we do it in a culturally sensitive way.”

De Stasio reminds us that we should treat the terrorists as criminals. “They are not a nation, so we cannot really be, in the traditional sense, at war with them. But yes, they do need to be brought to justice…we all have to be citizens … and make sure were looking for justice and not retribution.”

In terms of how America should proceed, De Stasio answers succinctly: “Culturally sensitive humanitarian aid.

Professor Elizabeth De Stasio

Professor Rebecca Matveyev

Professor Karen Carr

Professor Peter Glick