This morning, a reporter called to talk about the news that the U.S. has killed Osama bin Laden. Referring to throngs of young people celebrating outside the White House, the reporter asked what Voices would say if we had a chance to speak with those young people.
We'd want to tell them about a group of people who, in November of 2001, walked from Washington, D.C. to New York City carrying a banner that said, "Our Grief is not a Cry for War." Several of the walkers were people who had lost their loved ones in the attacks on 9/11. When the walk ended, they formed a group called "Families for Peaceful Tomorrows" to continually represent the belief that our security is not founded in violence and revenge.
Often, during that walk, participants were asked what we'd suggest as an alternative to invading Afghanistan. One response was that the U.S. and other countries could enact a criminal investigation and rely on police work and intelligence to apprehend the perpetrators of the attack. As it turns out, the U.S. discovered where Osama bin Laden was through those means and not through warfare. How have the past ten years of aerial bombardments, night raids, death squads, assassinations and drone attacks in Afghanistan benefited the U.S. people? Did the carnage and bloodshed bring the U.S. closer to discovering the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden? Have we defeated terrorism or created greater, deeper hatred toward the U.S.?
In the past, President Obama has said that "we stand on the shoulders of giants like Dr. King, yet our future progress will depend on how we prepare our next generation of leaders" (Jan. 18, 2010). In a historic speech, "Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence", King said: "We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate."
In that same speech, King called for a neighborliness that goes beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation. We think of that call in light of experiences of a 2010 Voices delegation that visited a rural village in the central highlands of Afghanistan. They sat with women who were close in age to the young people who were celebrating outside of the White House last night. Asked if they had ever heard of a time when a large passenger plane had crashed into a tall building in the United States, the young women were puzzled. They had never heard of 9/11.
They live in a country where 850 children die every day, a country which the UN has termed the worst country in the world into which a child can be born, where the average life expectancy is 42 years of age. The UN says that 7.4 million Afghans live with hunger and fear of starvation, while millions more rely on food help, and one in five children die before the age of five. Each week, the U.S. taxpayers spend two billion dollars to continue the war in Afghanistan.
Matt Daloisio, who co-coordinates the Witness Against Torture Campaign, sounded a note that we find far more authentic than triumphal celebration.
"10 years," Matt wrote. "Over 6000 US Soldiers killed. Trillions of Dollars wasted. Hundreds of thousands of civilians killed. Tens of thousands imprisoned. Torture as part of foreign policy. And we are supposed to celebrate the murder of one person? I am not excited. I am not happy. I remain profoundly sad."
Kathy Kelly for Voices for Creative Nonviolence www.vcnv.org