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What shall be our legacy?
Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2003

By Doreen Miller,

It seems like only yesterday when the world was caught up in mass hysteria and dire predictions of doom and gloom about the impending Y2K crisis that would plunge the world into utter chaos and darkness. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when, at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000, planes did not plunge from the skies, computer systems continued to function, and the lights remained on. In short, life went on as usual. Little did people realize, however, that the year 2000 was to herald in a unprecedented age of terror and darkness.

The road to hell began barely nine months into George Bush's presidency, when the American public suffered a major terrorist attack made possible allegedly by a simple failure of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies to connect the dots. The dust had barely settled when select congressmen were graced with letters laced with weapon-grade anthrax whose origins mysteriously point to a U.S. source. Next, U.S. citizens had their Constitutionally guaranteed civil rights sharply curtailed by the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act. Their right to privacy was even further eroded by the just recently passed Homeland Security Act which sets up a Total Information Awareness operation that would make George Orwell blush.

Color-coded warnings signifying levels of terrorist threat are announced in the media on a regular basis -- always jacked up a notch or two in time for the holidays to further intimidate an already fearful and paranoid public. The economy is being rocked by one corporate scandal after another; the numbers of those without jobs, health insurance or a place to call home continue to climb; and the few remaining safeguards protecting the environment are quickly being dismantled. Terrorism and other acts of violence are escalating around the globe. The world's most powerful leader, drunk with a belief in his own invincibility, belligerently threatens pre-emptive war and nuclear retaliation on any country suspected of trying to undermine U.S. interests and superiority. Indeed, the world has been plunged into an age of darkness far surpassing its worst Y2K nightmares.

Most Americans see themselves as innocent victims in a world gone mad and believe, quite naively, that their government holds the moral high ground in its efforts to establish a Pax Americana worldwide. The facts, however, reveal the United States to be not only a part of the cycle of violence, but the largest exporter of death and destruction this world has ever known.

Richard Grimmet of the Congressional Research Committee reported that in fiscal year 2001, of the $26.4 billion in registered sales of international military weapons, the United States exported $12.2 billion, or roughly 46 percent of the total. This represents 2.5 times more than the amount sold by the second (UK) and third (Russia) largest exporters, 9.7 times greater than the level exported by France, and 19 times more than that of China.

The Center for International Policy estimates that about 80 percent of U.S. arms exports go to non-democratic regimes notorious for gross human rights abuses against not only their own citizenry but people of other countries as well. In 1999, of the forty-two conflicts in the world, thirty-nine of them made use of U.S. military equipment or technology, a whopping 92 percent rate of indirect U.S. participation in, but direct support of, war and violence. The U.S. also trains foreign military in the art of murder and torture in more than 70 countries and has troops currently stationed in nearly three out of every four countries in the world.

Sadly, the lives of 3,000 civilians from the U.S. and many other countries were lost in the September 11 attack, but where is the American outrage at the millions of deaths that the U.S. has caused, directly or covertly, in the twentieth century alone? Over 3,000 innocent Afghanis were killed in blind retaliation for terrorist attacks with which these oppressed people had nothing to do. Add hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths of mostly elderly, infants and young children in Iraq due to over ten years of extreme economic sanctions, demanded by the U.S., that prevent Iraq from importing essential medicines and disinfecting agents because of their potential for dual usage. Don't forget the 500,000 deaths in wars supported by the U.S. in Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Panama, and other Latin American countries over the past half century, or the hundreds of thousands more in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

The United States is just as guilty as any other nation in targeting civilian population centers -- cities such as Dresden, Hamburg, and Tokyo were mercilessly firebombed during World War II; atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, all resulting in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

Recently in Iraq, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan, the United States has resurrected and implemented a new kind of nuclear warfare through the use of weapons outfitted with a depleted uranium component. Upon impact, the uranium is released in micro-sized particles that travel great distances on the wind to contaminate air, food, soil, water; in short, anything it touches. Post Gulf War soil samples tested in Basrah register an 84 times greater than normal background radiation level from uranium elements, according to studies carried out by various international organizations.

This new American-made legacy will be remembered for its long-term, continuous assault on innocent people and their environment. Studies conducted by Johns Hopkins University reveal a sevenfold increase in cancer, leukemia and birth defects in Iraq since the Gulf War. Full-term babies there are born with grotesque malformations such as having no face, no eyes or nose, twisted, fused or missing limbs, huge heads with no brains, no digestive tract, heart defects, severe ulcerations of the skin, and other abnormalities.

All this is made possible by each and every American who chooses to remain silent in the face of U.S. military atrocities against humanity. The United States is squandering both its status of most powerful nation and its potential to do some lasting good by continuing to serve the gods of greed, fear, hatred, war and violence. America should be leading the world by practicing what it preaches to other nations. The truly powerful lead by example, not by intimidation and brute force.

Placing self-righteous justification and moral superiority aside, for all involved parties seem to claim them, we need to look at war for what it really is -- murder and maiming, pure and simple. Our unquestioned faith in the use of military threats, death and destruction to deter violence and settle disagreements is an inherently flawed philosophy that has brought the world to the brink of mutually assured destruction with the United States leading the way.

The late Philip Berrigan had it right when he spoke about "the universal American fantasy that 'national security' can depend on weapons of mass destruction." These weapons we insist on amassing are instead the very cause of our mortal danger. His final words resonate as a warning to us all, "nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the Earth itself."

In this unparalleled period of danger and darkness brought about by the ignorance of mad men in their lust for power, it's time for people to awaken and do their part to transform this insane, money-making, war- mongering mentality. Imagine what a different world this could be if everyone took personal responsibility and vowed no longer to be a part of the ongoing cycle of government sponsored terrorism. Imagine if the people who build (in part or whole) bombs, guns, assault weapons and other weapons of mass destruction were suddenly to have an attack of conscience and leave their jobs, refusing to manufacture the evil that gets exported around the globe. Imagine how different the world could be if the $839 billion dollars spent yearly on military expenditures worldwide (Arias Foundation figures for FY 2001) were instead used for constructive purposes to alleviate hunger and provide decent housing, education, health care and meaningful employment for all.

I am convinced that reprioritizing the use of our vast resources from our current destructive bent towards constructive, life-affirming, humanitarian ends would be a much more successful deterrent to terrorism than our ineffective and inane faith in using "the violence to quell all violence." As the great Martin Luther King, Jr. believed, "An eye for an eye only ends up making us all blind."

Life is a series of making choices. We can choose to take the easy path by closing our eyes and remaining part of the evil of war and violence, whether it be through our line of employment that may directly or indirectly contribute to government sanctioned destruction and murder, or through the complicity of simply keeping silent in the face of inhumane policies carried out by our government. Else, we can choose the more difficult and courageous route of speaking out and working towards eliminating war and weapons of mass destruction all over the world, beginning in our own country. If we do not walk the talk of peace and disarmament, then we are, in fact, no better than the terrorists we are purporting to defeat.

The state and fate of our world and the legacy we leave for future generations all come down to the individual choices we make in our lives. As the adage from the Vietnam era significantly states, "Just imagine if they gave a war, and nobody came."

[Doreen Miller lived, studied, worked and traveled abroad for several years, and is currently a Senior Lecturer and educator of international students. She dedicates part of her time to serving the elderly and Alzheimer patients. Mother, musician and poet, she pursues an avid interest in Buddhist and Eastern philosophy. She advocates human rights, social justice, fair trade, and environmental protection. Doreen lives in the United States.]

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