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Bowman: What Can We Do About Terrorism?
By Robert M. Bowman
10/11/2001 10:43 am Sat
by Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Lt. Col., USAF, ret.
A few years ago, terrorists destroyed two U.S. embassies.
President Clinton retaliated against suspected facilities of Osama
bin Laden. In his television address, the President told the
American people that we were the targets of terrorism because we
stood for democracy, freedom, and human rights in the world.
On that occasion, I wrote: "Tell people the truth, Mr. President ...
about terrorism, not about poor Monica. If your lies about terrorism
go unchallenged, then the terror war you have unleashed will
likely continue until it destroys us.
"The threat of nuclear terrorism is closing in upon us. Chemical
terrorism is at hand, and biological terrorism is a future danger.
None of our thousands of nuclear weapons can protect us from
these threats. These idols of plutonium, titanium, and steel are
impotent. Our worship of them for over five decades has not
brought us security, only greater danger. No 'Star Wars' system ...
no matter how technically advanced, no matter how many trillions
of dollars was poured into it ... can protect us from even a single
terrorist bomb. Not one weapon in our vast arsenal can shield us
from a nuclear weapon delivered in a sailboat or a Piper Cub or a
suitcase or a Ryder rental truck. Not a penny of the 273 billion
dollars a year we spend on so-called defense can actually
defend us against a terrorist bomb. Nothing in our enormous
military establishment can actually give us one whit of security.
That is a military fact.
"Mr. President, you did not tell the American people the truth
about why we are the targets of terrorism. You said that we are the
target because we stand for democracy, freedom, and human
rights in the world. Baloney! We are the target of terrorists
because we stand for dictatorship, bondage, and human
exploitation in the world. We are the target of terrorists because
we are hated. And we are hated because our government has
done hateful things.
"In how many countries have we deposed popularly elected
leaders and replaced them with puppet military dictators who were
willing to sell out their own people to American multinational
"We did it in Iran when we deposed Mossadegh because he
wanted to nationalize the oil industry. We replaced him with the
Shah, and trained, armed, and paid his hated Savak national
guard, which enslaved and brutalized the people of Iran. All to
protect the financial interests of our oil companies. Is it any
wonder there are people in Iran who hate us?
"We did it in Chile when we deposed Allende, democratically
elected by the people to introduce socialism. We replaced him
with the brutal right-wing military dictator, General Pinochet. Chile
has still not recovered.
"We did it in Vietnam when we thwarted democratic elections in
the South which would have united the country under Ho Chi
Minh. We replaced him with a series of ineffectual puppet crooks
who invited us to come in and slaughter their people - and we
did. (I flew 101 combat missions in that war which you properly
"We did it in Iraq, where we killed a quarter of a million civilians in
a failed attempt to topple Saddam Hussein, and where we have
killed a million since then with our sanctions. About half of these
innocent victims have been children under the age of five.
"And, of course, how many times have we done it in Nicaragua
and all the other banana republics of Latin America? Time after
time we have ousted popular leaders who wanted the riches of the
land to be shared by the people who worked it. We replaced them
with murderous tyrants who would sell out and control their own
people so that the wealth of the land could be taken out by
Domino Sugar, the United Fruit Company, Folgers, and Chiquita
"In country after country, our government has thwarted
democracy, stifled freedom, and trampled human rights. That's
why we are hated around the world. And that's why we are the
target of terrorists.
"People in Canada enjoy better democracy, more freedom, and
greater human rights than we do. So do the people of Norway and
Sweden. Have you heard of Canadian embassies being bombed?
Or Norwegian embassies? Or Swedish embassies. No.
"We are not hated because we practice democracy, freedom, and
human rights. We are hated because our government denies these
things to people in third world countries whose resources are
coveted by our multinational corporations. And that hatred we
have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism -
and in the future, nuclear terrorism.
"Once the truth about why the threat exists is understood, the
solution becomes obvious. We must change our government's
"Instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to
kill Arabs so the oil companies can sell the oil under their sand,
we must send them to rebuild their infrastructure, supply clean
water, and feed starving children.
"Instead of continuing to kill thousands of Iraqi children every day
with our sanctions, we must help them rebuild their electric
powerplants, their water treatment facilities, their hospitals - all the
things we destroyed in our war against them and prevented them
from rebuilding with our sanctions.
"Instead of seeking to be king of the hill, we must become a
responsible member of the family of nations. Instead of stationing
hundreds of thousands of troops around the world to protect the
financial interests of our multinational corporations, we must bring
them home and expand the Peace Corps.
"Instead of training terrorists and death squads in the techniques
of torture and assassination, we must close the School of the
Americas (no matter what name they use). Instead of supporting
military dictatorships, we must support true democracy - the right
of the people to choose their own leaders. Instead of supporting
insurrection, destabilization, assassination, and terror around the
world, we must abolish the CIA and give the money to relief
"In short, we do good instead of evil. We become the good guys,
once again. The threat of terrorism would vanish. That is the truth,
Mr. President. That is what the American people need to hear. We
are good people. We only need to be told the truth and given the
vision. You can do it, Mr. President. Stop the killing. Stop the
justifying. Stop the retaliating. Put people first. Tell them the truth."
Needless to say, he didn't ... and neither has George W. Bush.
Well, the seeds our policies have planted have borne their bitter
fruit. The World Trade Center is gone. The Pentagon is damaged.
And thousands of Americans have died. Almost every TV pundit
is crying for massive military retaliation against whoever might
have done it (assumedly the same Osama bin Laden) and against
whoever harbors or aids the terrorists (most notably the Taliban
government of Afghanistan). Steve Dunleavy of the New York
Post screams "Kill the bastards! Train assassins, hire mercenaries,
put a couple of million bucks up for bounty hunters to get them
dead or alive, preferably dead. As for cities or countries that host
these worms, bomb them into basketball courts." It's tempting to
agree. I have no sympathy for the psychopaths that killed
thousands of our people. There is no excuse for such acts. If I was
recalled to active duty, I would go in a heartbeat. At the same
time, all my military experience and knowledge tells me that
retaliation hasn't rid us of the problem in the past, and won't this
By far the world's best anti-terrorist apparatus is Israel's.
Measured in military terms, it has been phenomenally successful.
Yet Israel still suffers more attacks than all other nations combined.
If retaliation worked, Israelis would be the world's most secure
Only one thing has ever ended a terrorist campaign -- denying
the terrorist organization the support of the larger community it
represents. And the only way to do that is to listen to and alleviate
the legitimate grievances of the people. If indeed Osama bin
Laden was behind the four hijackings and subsequent carnage,
that means addressing the concerns of the Arabs and Muslims in
general and of the Palestinians in particular. It does NOT mean
abandoning Israel. But it may very well mean withdrawing
financial and military support until they abandon the settlements in
occupied territory and return to 1967 borders. It may also mean
allowing Arab countries to have leaders of their own choosing,
not hand-picked, CIA-installed dictators willing to cooperate with
Western oil companies.
Chester Gillings has said it very well: "How do we fight back
against bin Laden? The first thing we must ask ourselves is what
is it we hope to achieve -- security or revenge? The two are
mutually exclusive; seek revenge and we WILL reduce our
security. If it is security we seek, then we must begin to answer
the tough questions -- what are the grievances of the
Palestinians and the Arab world against the United States, and
what is our real culpability for those grievances? Where we find
legitimate culpability, we must be prepared to cure the grievance
wherever possible. Where we cannot find culpability or a cure, we
must communicate honestly our positions directly to the Arab
people. In short, our best course of action is to remove ourselves
as a combatant in the disputes of the region."
To kill bin Laden now would be to make him an eternal martyr.
Thousands would rise up to take his place. In another year, we
would face another round of terrorism, probably much worse even
than this one. Yet there is another way.
In the short term, we must protect ourselves from those who
already hate us. This means increased security and better
intelligence. I proposed to members of Congress in March that we
should deny any funds for "Star Wars" until such time as the
Executive Branch could show that they are doing all possible
research on the detection and interception of weapons of mass
destruction entering the country clandestinely (a far greater threat
than ballistic missiles). There are lots of steps which can be taken
to increase security without detracting from civil rights. But in the
long term, we must change our policies to stop causing the fear
and hatred which creates new terrorists. Becoming independent of
foreign oil through conservation, energy efficiency, production of
energy from renewable sources, and a transition to non-polluting
transportation will allow us to adopt a more rational policy toward
the Middle East.
The vast majority of Arabs and Muslims are good, peaceful
people. But enough of them, in their desperation and anger and
fear, have turned first to Arafat and now to bin Laden to relieve
their misery. Remove the desperation, give them some hope, and
support for terrorism will evaporate. At that point bin Laden will be
forced to abandon terrorism (as has Arafat) or be treated like a
common criminal. Either way, he and his money cease to be a
threat. We CAN have security ... or we can have revenge. We
cannot have both.
Dr. Robert M. Bowman directed all the "Star Wars" programs under
presidents Ford and Carter and flew 101 combat missions in
Vietnam. His Ph.D. is in Aeronautics and Nuclear Engineering
from Caltech. He is President of the Institute for Space and
Security Studies and Presiding Archbishop of the United Catholic
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