Carols Writings About Current Issues

back to Carol's homepage
(also see Carol's publications)

The Contradictions in the Body Bush

Out of one side of his mouth come platitudes about freedom and democracy, while the other side authorizes torture and indefinite imprisonment without trial. 

With one eye, he envisions the profits from America’s industry saving the nation’s solvency, while the other sees America’s wealth as a limitless source of funds for his war.

On the one hand, he eulogizes family and religion, while on the other, he slashes the programs that help to keep families together, educate children well, feed and clothe the elderly, and protect women’s ability to make rational decisions about reproduction. 

One leg rests lightly on a display of international cooperation, while the other leans heavily on the international goodwill built up over decades by other administrations, civil society and individual Americans.

While one foot is being washed by proponents of Christian teachings about caring for the poor, the other is grinding into the ground those in need both at home and abroad.

©  Carol J. Pierce Colfer

return to top

‘Civilization’ and the Changing World

 I’ve typically avoided this term, civilization.  It is often used to differentiate “us” from “them”----“them” being people living in forests who neither produce nor have access to ‘modern technology.’  I reject this usage.

 But in recent times, I’ve realized that I do accept the idea that globally, we have developed higher standards for ourselves than was once the case.  We are in some ways more civilized than in times past. Most countries acknowledge (despite lapses) that we all have some basic human rights. Specific rights of women and children are accepted in many countries.  There are agreements among nations that we should protect our environment---biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions, protecting forests. We’ve made international agreements about the treatment of prisoners.  Most nations now have health systems that try to maintain people’s physical and emotional health.  More and more countries were allowing freedom of expression and of religion.  These have been real steps forward for humanity---so perhaps we should talk about civilization.

 But recently, rather than trying to move forward toward ever-higher levels of civilization (in this broader sense), our public debate has increasingly focused on the truly primitive:  warfare.  This obsession with the ‘war on terror’ makes no sense.  We know that attacks and retribution produce a perfectly predictable downward spiral of violence.  Somehow we (the media, the public) have come to accept the inevitability of this ‘war on terror’; when in fact it is neither sensible nor inevitable.  I do not question the violence and savagery that terrorists can exhibit, by the way.  What I question---no, what I flatly reject---is the idea that the answer to such barbarism is this concerted and sustained attack.  The real answer lies in looking at---and correcting---the underlying conditions that breed such violence.

 We live in a world of truly gross inequities in which the people of the West/North live comfortably (most, wastefully), while huge segments of the world live in abject poverty.    Once, we could have been excused for not knowing the level of poverty in the world---but with the communications systems we now have, we can no longer pretend ignorance.  Nor can we hide our own ever-increasing wealth from those with nothing.  Communications go both ways.  Such injustice also spawns violence.

 The planned wall between the US and Mexico is a perfect symbol of the doomed option we’re currently following.  We are trying to protect our privileged and unjust way of life by building walls around ourselves and our property.  To make matters worse, our government has adopted an arrogant and insulting attitude toward the rest of the world---an attitude straight out of the playground, where the biggest can bully the younger and smaller. We have managed to alienate virtually the entire world.  I live abroad, and I see the hatred that our recent policies have fostered, even among former friends and admirers of the US.  The route we are following leads clearly and inevitably to further violence and a very long state of war---as Rumsfeld acknowledged in a recent CNN documentary (‘Rumsfield:  Man of War’).  The nuclear option that so many countries now have means none of us can afford continued warfare.

 It is time to take the other option---the civilized option.  We need to move forward cooperatively with other nations (an approach we were following quite successfully prior to 9/11).  We, globally, need to work together towards improving conditions in parts of the world where people are suffering.  Collectively, we can reject the ongoing political violence in places like Darfur, alleviate the suffering of victims of natural disasters (Aceh, Pakistan, Bangladesh), and ostracize corrupt and/or dictatorial leaders (Sudan, Korea).

 Part of a return to this ‘civilized option’ will mean putting 9/11 in perspective.  There is no denying the suffering of those whose friends and family members died in that dramatic and tragic event.  But the deaths of these 3,000 people (from many countries) pale when compared to the routine deaths in Africa from malaria, HIV/AIDS, even diarrhea.  Millions have died in Ruanda and Darfur from political violence, and the world did not change.  The only reason 9/11 ‘changed the world’ is because the Bush Administration hoodwinked the country into accepting his primitive, anachronistic view of the world---the ‘bully in the playground’ view of the world, where ‘getting even’ and ‘winning’ are the goals, rather than ‘doing better,’ making the world a better place.

 We really need to move beyond ‘getting even’; we’re adults, not children.  This upcoming election provides an opportunity to do so.  A Democratic Congress can rein in this President gone mad, and perhaps save the world. 

 © Carol J. Pierce Colfer

return to top

Double Talk

 I came of age in the sixties, when we were full of social conscience and the conviction that an active citizenry was needed to monitor the actions of our own government.  We expressed our opinions---sometimes ad nauseum---about everything from the war in Vietnam to racism and sexism and all kinds of oppression.  This isn’t happening so much now, and I think we are paying the price.

 Coming from that era, I’m increasingly aware of the extent to which words and phrases have come to have different meanings in recent years, under the Bush Administration.  Here is a small sampling, in proper alphabetical order:

 A country’s right to defend itself – This used to mean when a country was attacked it could legitimately use its weapons and personnel to drive the attackers from its borders.  It now means that [certain] countries’ armies can bomb other countries to rubble, killing all in their path, in retribution for actions by sub-sections of the victim’s populace (such as kidnapping of a soldier, or alleged bombing of the World Trade Center).

 Democracy – Whereas this used to mean the right of the citizens to determine the government of their choice, it now has a central role as a banner to justify invading other countries.

 Environmental protection – Previously this referred to the need to care for our natural surroundings.  The phrase is now used to disguise legislation and other means of granting industry the right to do whatever it pleases to the environment, in its search for profit (now also considered legitimate by any means).

Family values – Although this phrase wasn’t in common usage, it would not have meant what it means now:  ignoring the needs of the poor and disenfranchised, while supporting the oppression by men (particularly wealthy men) of women and children, and reinforcing rigid traditional sex roles and a Fundamentalist vision of sexual mores.

 Fiscal responsibility – This has come to mean emptying the national treasury, rather than maintaining a surplus in case of need.

 Strong leader – Whereas previously this meant having lots of good ideas, with the charisma and competence to carry them out, including the ability to persuade and charm would-be followers; now, it means a tyrant, who reneges on global treaties, invades other countries, ignores national law, abridges civil liberties, etc., with impunity.

 Terrorist – This term was used to denote single individuals or small groups of individuals who behaved in violent ways against the innocent for political purposes, widely viewed with disapproval.  It is now often applied to the United States of America, as well as to other nation states---still with disapproval.

Valuing life – This---which once focused on the fundamental rights of functioning human beings to have their lives respected and protected---has come to be associated with a preference for saving the lives of a) the unborn over the living and b) older Americans in terrible pain or any American in a vegetative state over the human right to health and well being of the rest of us both in the US and abroad.

Carol J. Pierce Colfer ©

return to top

False Impotence

 I got a letter today from a friend from college---another of the famous ‘sixties generation’----in response to some of my political writings.  She reminded me of the “world historical manipulative patterns” and recommended that we solve today’s problems with “world transcendental meditation to tap into the quantum physics of world energy”.  This led me to wonder how many others of my generation are depending on what can surely only be a very long term potential solution.

 I sense that perhaps the lack of political activity from most of my generation, at this stage in our lives, comes from a sense of their own impotence, a sense that they personally can do little to alter the trajectory of current events.  I do not share this view---though it is certainly a self-fulfilling prophecy!

 I have lived a great deal of my life in other countries----Turkey, Iran, Oman, Indonesia---and I have traveled to many others in Asia, South America and Africa, always maintaining close links with family and friends in the US, via letters, email and routine visits.  I have seen the political systems at work in these other countries, which makes me truly value our own----warts and all. 

 My conclusion from these observations is that in fact the American electorate potentially represents the most powerful force on earth.  We are among the world’s most educated populace.  We are among those with the best access to global communications, and thus to information, of any peoples on earth. We have a comfortable standard of living.  And, most importantly, we still have a political system that allows us to make our views known.  We have a system whereby our elected officials---if they betray the public trust---can comparatively easily be elected out of office, and, somewhat more difficult, they can be impeached.  Yet we have not been using this power for the global (or even national) good.  Indeed, we seem to have abdicated our responsibilities, taking what is essentially a fatalistic view.

 I share some of the disenchantment with the Democratic party as it is currently functioning.  But its failures are a function of the lack of commitment, direction, and ethics of those within it (and those who have withdrawn from political activity---or even voting!---because of its failings).  There is no one else who can bring the American political system back to its ideal function of implementing the wishes of its citizenry.  Only we can do that.

 The US status as the last remaining ‘super power’ makes us the most powerful force on earth----IF we re-engage in the political process and make our views known: 

We DO have this power, but only if we exercise our rights and perform our duties.  We have not been doing that.  Now is the time to start again---in time for the November election.

Carol J. Pierce Colfer ©

return to top

Framing the Debate; Stopping the Madness

The news media in recent weeks have been discussing at some length whether we, the US, should be deploying our troops and other resources in Afghanistan or Iraq.  The point is made---and it is probably true---that our foray into Iraq resulted in neglect of Afghanistan, with the result that the Taliban were able to re-group and re-arm.

But there is a fundamental flaw with such discussions.  The central question should not be how much of American wealth and personnel should go into occupying which country (though we have gotten ourselves into such a situation that we cannot ignore this question completely).  Rather it should be, how do we put a stop to the cycle of violence that we have been fostering?  How do we translate war into peace?

We are in a vicious cycle, in which each act of violence on one ‘side’ encourages further acts of violence on the other.  Every suicide bombing in Iraq strengthens Bush’s atavistic thirst for revenge; every Israeli (read: American) cluster bomb in Lebanon increases the level of hatred among Hezbollah’s supporters.  And the climate of conflict is growing as more and more countries line up behind the combatants---whether for religious or economic or cultural reasons.  There can be no winner in such a conflict; if one group should ultimately prevail, the amount of global destruction of life and property would surely negate the ‘win’.

The United States is the last remaining superpower, which means that we have a unique potential to be the peacemaker in this global morass.  No other country or entity has the power to stop the cycle of violence.  But to do it, we---the American people---have to begin to concentrate on making peace.  The question we all need to be asking is not ‘where should we make war?’, but ‘how can we make peace?’

Making peace will mean rejecting the climate of fear that the Bush administration has so assiduously created in the US.  It will mean abandoning the idea of vengeance.  It will mean recognizing that the kind of “security” Bush envisions is a chimera.  Whatever protections may be devised, intelligent, angry and persistent people can eventually breach them.  The fear other peoples now feel toward America---powerful as we are---is more justified than the fears the Bush Administration has instilled in Americans about terrorists.  Real security can only come when the lives of people around the world can be lived in dignity, consistent with their own desires and culture.  International cooperation and trust are the keys to real security.  But these must be re-built.  The Bush Administration has squandered what we had. 

It is time for those of us who see this to act.  Reject Bush’s climate of fear.  Clamor for peace.  Elect a Congress that will control Bush’s excesses.  Sing out against war.  Reject torture under any circumstances.  Support other countries’ efforts at self-determination.  Study how to resolve conflicts peacefully.  Work toward more equitable economic systems.  Protect the earth.  And speak out for global agreements that make us all safer and more civilized.  We, the American people, are probably the only force on earth that can stop this madness; but to do it, we must act.

Carol J. Pierce Colfer ©

return to top

Consider Impeachment

Impeachment is not an action lightly taken in the United States.  Most of us were somewhat horrified about Congress’ effort to impeach Clinton for lying about his private affair with Monica Lewinsky.  But we have much stronger reasons to consider impeachment seriously this time around.  And I believe that we have to consider an unprecedented dual impeachment---of both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.  I list here only three of the most egregious ‘errors’ committed by Bush, Cheney and their administration.


My point is that I think the time has come---with three more dangerous years of this administration ahead of us---to consider impeachment seriously.  The president and vice president are endangering American freedoms in a way that is even alarming their conservative constituency at this point.  And the havoc they are wreaking internationally is unprecedented in my lifetime (60 years). 

This is another election year; and we Democrats must get our act together.  We must come up with a coherent platform that is grounded in traditional Democratic values.  We must field strong candidates who will stand up for that platform, rather than striving to be ever closer to the ephemeral ‘middle of the road.’  In the single-minded pursuit of winning elections, we’ve let the spirit of compromise get out of hand; we’ve abandoned the values---at least in public---that characterized the Democratic party, and that most of us still stand for.

The last few months have brought a number of encouraging signs.  First, the press has begun to cover some of the cover-ups and snafus that they ignored for the previous five years.  Second, there have been signs that many Republicans themselves are getting fed up:  the 80 conservative Christian groups who recently came out in support of scientific conclusions about global warming, the Republican-dominated investigative committee that looked into the Katrina debacle and found all levels of government---including the top---falling short, and other Republicans breaking ranks over spying, deceit, and other problems. 

Third, Al Gore has found his voice.  He gave a passionate and coherent speech a few weeks back vilifying the policies that are endangering our freedoms and our soldiers and bankrupting our nation; and he did it with flair and charisma.  Given that many felt he won in the first round against Bush, is it not possible that he could take on Bush again, with the benefit of hindsight, learning from his failings, and with full recognition of the incredible shambles Bush and Cheney have made of domestic and foreign affairs?  Could not Gore’s righteous anger at the election that was stolen and the resulting state of our nation spur him to win the next election?

But for that to happen, we have to be clear on our core values:  We care about social, health and educational programs.  We care about equity between men and women, between young and old, between white, black and brown. We care about social security.  We care about the rights of women to control their reproductive lives and of gay people to live together in peace.  We care about the environment and maintaining it for the next generation.  We want to create a cooperative world in which nations work together to improve conditions for all humanity.  We believe that the best weapon against terrorism is improving the conditions that spawn it while strengthening international cooperation. We believe in keeping our promises, honoring our treaties. We even care about fiscal responsibility!

And we need to stick to our guns on these issues.  We can’t give wishy washy answers and try to ‘play it both ways.’  We either believe these things or we don’t.  The electorate is not fooled when we abandon our principles for short term and ephemeral electoral advantage.

But as we move forward on these fronts, let’s consider impeachment seriously.  I don’t think we can afford three more years of this continual erosion of our own liberties, our national budget, our environment, and the goodwill that we had built up internationally.

© (Carol J. Pierce Colfer)

[1] A much longer and better documented list of misrepresentations, connivances, and deceit is available in The Book on Bush.


© Carol J. Pierce Colfer

return to top

22 July 2006


With the level of killing that is occurring in the world today, does it really make sense for the United States to be supporting and encouraging Israel’s war against its neighbours?   Does the abduction of three men really justify hundreds of bombing raids, purportedly against the perpetrators, in which thousands of innocent human beings die and hundreds of thousands are displaced?  Does this abduction justify bringing us closer and closer to a wider conflagration, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, and potentially leading to global warfare? 

Is not the rhetoric of George Bush and Condoleeza Rice---“Israel has a right to defend itself”---simply fanning the flames of hatred between the Muslims and the Jews, and against the United States?  Since when is the security of a whole nation endangered by the abduction of three people?  And why is the security of those three people not weighed against the deaths and destruction that Israel is now inflicting on the Palestinians and on its sovereign neighbours?  Who is bankrolling this massive destruction?  Undoubtedly the United States (through official and private support).

It is truly time for impeachment of the President and Vice President of the United States---for global security!  That will require a Democratic majority in the House and Senate.  It is time to mobilize to make that happen!

© Carol J. Pierce Colfer

return to top

22 July 06

A Need for Greater Balance

‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.’

Again I am struck by the fact that the deaths, displacement, and destruction in Israel and Lebanon dominate the news.  Why?  A typical answer might focus on the production of oil in the Middle East, but these two nations are not oil-producers.  Equivalent levels of death and displacement in Africa---less destruction of things, because there is less to destroy---are almost completely ignored by the media.  What makes the people of the Middle East so much more valuable in the world’s eyes than the people of Africa?  What makes the deaths of Jews more newsworthy than the deaths of Arabs?  Why are the deaths of Europeans and Americans considered even more newsworthy?  After the Indonesian tsunami of December 2004, the media were fixated on the foreign tourists in Thailand, rather than the hundreds of thousands dead and displaced in Indonesia. 

 The world will be a better place when we consider loss of life anywhere to be equivalent.

© Carol J. Pierce Colfer

return to top

Rise, Ye Oldsters!

An Australian television show brought it all back. In 1972, a photograph that captured the horror of the Vietnam war was widely circulated.  It was a little girl, running naked down a road, with arms outstretched, screaming in pain.  She had been hit by American napalm a few moments earlier.  The TV program featured the girl, now a woman, and documented her life since.

For me, the images brought back vividly the passion and anger of my generation as we saw our government making mistakes that meant death and destruction in another part of the world.  In the 1960’s and early 1970’s young people ranted and raved, wrote letters and articles, demonstrated, had sit-ins, and discussed these abuses publicly and privately.  And finally, in 1975, the US withdrew from Vietnam.

From my point of view---nearly 40 years later---the same mistakes are being made again, or at least mistakes with similar effects on the ground.  People are suffering and dying, their homes and infrastructure are being destroyed because of American bombs, weaponry, funding and policies.

Yet, the youth are silent.  Almost everyone is silent.  And those who do speak out, complain more about the expense than the death and destruction.

Events suggest that we are needed again.  It is time for the ‘60s generation’---now in our 60s---to make our voices heard again.  Most of us are still capable of ranting and raving, of writing letters and articles, of demonstrating and holding sit-ins.  We can still discuss these issues publicly and privately---and loudly! 

An election is upon us, an election that can make a difference if we elect the right people.  It is time for us to do a repeat performance.  Let’s do it!

© Carol J. Pierce Colfer

return to top

Time to Mobilize

We’ve seen what George W. Bush and his cronies can and will do.  They’ve overturned two centuries of American precedent with their “pre-emptive strikes”.  They’ve embroiled us in a series of wars that show no signs of ending---where American young people are dying along with the innocent citizens of other countries.  They’ve essentially turned the whole world against the US, while undercutting the work of the UN. They’ve attacked our civil liberties at home, apparently with impunity.  They’ve nurtured a climate of unreasoning fear, and managed to link it to a false idea of patriotism.  They’ve ignored international conventions that had made us all more civilized.  They’ve eviscerated US environmental protections.  They’ve mounted a concerted attack on women’s right to make choices about their own bodies.  And they have lied to us over and over and over again.

It is now time to stand up and take back what we consider “the American way.”  We need to stand up for world peace, for the dignity and value of the individual, for human rights (and responsibilities), for the environment, for equity and justice, for those who need our help both at home and abroad.  We need to be able to impeach the President and Vice President; and that means we need to take back the House and the Senate in November.

We need to mobilize.  That means activating our personal channels in whatever ways we can.  

We can talk to our families, persuading the doubters, encouraging the lazy, inspiring those on our side.  We can re-activate networks of friends from high school, college, work, or professional/trade associations, communicating with them via email or by phone or in person.  We can engage or re-engage with clubs, interest groups, churches, mosques---where we can use our powers of persuasion, one on one or by giving speeches.  We can try to connect with people we know in the red states, where we’re more likely to make a difference. 

We can write our views and publish them in newspapers, newsletters, on the web, in leaflets.  

We can contribute money or time to political groups interested in changing the composition of Congress. 

 We can bombard our Congress people with our views, by phone, email, letters, even visits.  We can try to get out the Democratic vote.

There are many things we can do, but we all---each and every one of us---need to get off our butts, and JUST DO IT! 

If we don’t, I fear for the United States and the world.

Carol J. Pierce Colfer ©

return to top

6 February 2003

Whither America?

There is much talk of war, in the United States today.  A few brave souls object, arguing that war is immoral and questioning the rationale for the proposed attacks on Baghdad (and possibly, points East).  But there is a remarkable shortage of debate, when the course we seem to be following is so dangerous.  Unethical, yes, but dangerous too.

To allow the reader to put my views in perspective, I confess that I am a second-generation anthropologist who spent nearly seven years of her childhood and youth in Turkey.  Since then I have spent some 20 years overseas, mostly in Oman  and the villages of Indonesia, where I have developed lifelong, familial relationships with local people.  So I am comparatively well-informed about the Middle East and Islam.  Although in New York this year as a visiting fellow at Cornell, I normally work for an international research center (Center for International Forestry Research, CIFOR) in Bogor, Indonesia.  There I am surrounded by scientists from all over the world; in my own program, we conduct village-level work in ten countries.  So perhaps I have had more than average exposure to non-American views of our actions.  I would close this little self-disclosure paragraph by stating that my years abroad have led me to value very highly many aspects of America, like democracy (with all its flaws), our basic freedoms (speech, press, religion,  etc.),  and the concept of equality under the law.  In fact, I love my country very much.

Indeed, that is one reason I’m moved to communicate these views.  I believe that I share with a significant proportion of the American populace certain core values.  Many of us believe that one should be true to one’s word; that the strong should protect the weak; that individuals have certain inalienable rights; that sharing is a good thing; that hard work should be justly rewarded.   I also believe that the current administration is making a mockery of these values, in its dealings with the rest of the world. 

The world has changed a lot in my 57 years.  There has been striking technological progress in many places, resulting in equally striking discrepancies between the rich and the poor.   Even more important, there has been a phenomenal increase in our connectedness.   Communication and interdependence among countries have exploded---meaning that images of America flood the world.   And, increasingly, we don’t look so good.  People in other countries imagine that the violence we export under the guise of entertainment reflects all of our day-to-day lives;  our leaders are more bellicose by the day.

Our country has led much of this global change.  We have developed much of the technology and we have spearheaded the internet revolution.  We have also garnered much of the wealth.  These accomplishments (good and bad, just and unjust), combined with the fall of the Soviet Union and the resulting hegemony of the United States, have set the other nations of the world on edge.  If the United States is the most powerful nation on Earth (and it’s hard to argue that we are not), then---citizens of other countries reason---any other nation is potentially in danger from us.  Others are, understandably, uncomfortable with this state of affairs.

For people in the many countries plagued by corruption and bad governance, the United States has been a beacon.  While resenting our wealth and periodic failures of judgment, people in other nations could still value our democratic principles, our respect for human rights, the good example we set in many spheres.  Many, even while expressing anger at specific policies, have seen us as a symbol of what was achievable.  We have represented economic and human rights successes toward which they and their nations could aspire. 

The value, in a changing world, of faithfully performing this symbolic role---as an example of good governance, of faithfulness to one’s agreements, of generosity towards other nations in times of need---is hard to over-estimate.  For the world’s sake as well as our own, we should be strengthening our commitment to these values, rather than abandoning them.   We should be recognizing and building on the simple but real power of a good example; not embracing atavistic chauvinism.  As interconnected as the world is, this is the time to be moving international discourse to a higher plane.  For the first time, we actually could lead the world toward peaceful relations.  Instead we are leading the world toward war. 

Our President, in his previous positions, showed remarkably little interest in the world outside our borders (except perhaps as a supplier of oil); and he continues to show his lack of understanding of international affairs.  He undoubtedly knows even less of the hearts and minds of ordinary people in other countries.  Such ignorance in the most powerful person on earth is extremely dangerous in a world as interconnected as ours.

Now, when George W. speaks, he insults other nations, belligerently threatening others with America’s strength  and ignoring the commitments that we as a nation have made to the world.  The cabinet is actively involved in planning war,  based on very questionable  justification; and American citizens’ and visitors’ longstanding rights are being increasingly abridged.  Those members of the House, the Senate, and the populace who perceive the dangers, have been effectively muzzled by a greater fear:  that they will be perceived as “un-American” and unsupportive of their President and their country in a time of national crisis.

I do not question the fact that Saddam Hussein is an evil man who oppresses his own people.  I was a reluctant supporter of the previous war in Iraq.  At that time I had been living in Oman for the previous four years, and was very aware of the dangers he posed to his neighbours.  And he had invaded Kuwait.   But this time, he has invaded no one.  Are we really ready to send troops to all the countries whose leaders do not live up to our standards of conduct (standards we seem increasingly willing to abrogate ourselves!) and who possess potentially harmful weapons?  As an informed citizen, I have not seen sufficient evidence to convince me that we should unilaterally attack Iraq at this time.   We live in a democracy where we are supposed to be told why our leaders act as they do.

But more fundamentally, I believe that our current foreign policy, based on brute strength rather than on the firm foundation of our values---values that are admired and aspired to, around the world---is a dangerous mistake.  We are frightening other nations when we should be reassuring them.  We are attacking them when we should be sending them aid.   We are not being true to the values we routinely express in our day to day lives and that we teach our children.   Why should we not honour our own values in our interactions with other nations?

We possess more weapons of mass destruction than any other country in the world.  We are ignoring the rights of men being held in Cuba, pretending they are not prisoners of war, so that we are not bound by international agreements we have signed.   We are abridging the rights of our own citizens and visitors based on their ancestry, religion and appearance.    Are these actions meant to reassure the world of our good intentions and moral turpitude?

In my view, our position (being the one, most powerful nation on Earth) requires strict adherence  to moral precepts.  To reassure the rest of the world that we are an honorable nation, more likely to help other nations than to invade them, we should adhere scrupulously to any international agreements we have made.  We should generously provide aid to countries in need.  We should set a flawlessly good example in the efforts to protect the global environment.  We should strictly respect the rights of all those who come within our purview. We should cooperate fully with, and strengthen the role of,  the United Nations.

Pragmatically speaking, rather than threatening others, we should be creating forums---among ordinary citizens, among scholars, and among the powerful---in which global problem-solving is the  genuine goal.  We should be seeking skilled individuals who can facilitate serious discussion among the world’s powerbrokers---creating space where leaders and negotiators from less powerful nations can also express their perspectives and contribute solutions with impunity.  We should be mobilizing human creativity, jointly with other affected countries (and the UN), to deal with the problems posed by Saddam Hussein and other dangerous regimes in the world.  For the first time in human history, air travel, telephones and email make more humane and cooperative approaches much more potentially viable----if there is the political will.  This is where American power and influence should be brought to bear---to bring about creative, and wherever possible, peaceful solutions.   I do not believe we have reached the stage where the no-brainer of simply unilaterally bombing miscreant nations out of existence makes any sense at all.  The citizens of those countries already suffer enough under their rulers.

As the administration continues its hawkish approach, other countries will inevitably become more and more nervous about US intentions.  The possibility that fear and antagonism could mobilize others to band together to oppose us grows larger with every bellicose statement from the White House. The increasing perception that we are anti-Islam has already resulted in stronger connections between nations with large Muslim populations and great antagonism toward Americans.   The North Koreans have now been given an excuse, in response to the charge that they were part of an “axis of evil,” to strengthen their own military arsenal.

 Again, I recognize that Iraq and Korea are unlikely to honor their own agreements, that they are indeed dangerous states.  But the way to deal with them is through international cooperation, with scrupulous attention to international law, with persistent attention to collaborative problem-solving, and quiet, but dogged determination.  We should be leading by good example, not bad!

 The path that the US President and his cabinet have chosen is one that is unlikely to lead to some sort of benign Pax Americana, but rather to reduction in human rights at home---for which many valiant battles have already been (and will always need to be) fought---and an increased probability of a world-wide conflagration, rendered far more dangerous than those that came before by global, technological sophistication.   Let us change course, building on and following the values we teach our children, rather than threatening the world with our might.  

Carol J. Pierce Colfer, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Carol J. Pierce Colfer ©

return to top