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"Collateral Damage" Extends to U.S. Foreign Policy

By Walter Simpson

Buffalo, NY – During the war against terrorism "collateral damage" has been used to excuse the killing of innocent Afghan civilians by American bombs and to distinguish the kind of killing we do from the kind of killing terrorists do. Mind you, those who are killed do not know the difference.

I cringe when I hear the term collateral damage. It is used to disguise and rationalize the ugly consequences of war. It is an admission that war is not a matter of surgical strikes. It cuts a big swath. Even victors get victimized.

Our war against terrorism has left dead bodies all over the place. The collateral damage includes the further militarization of U.S. foreign policy, the further distortion of our domestic spending priorities, unresisted attacks on social and environmental programs, and an abrupt return to deficit spending. Our liberties have also been under attack, not just by terrorists.

It wasn't long after September 11 that Congress and the President enacted the Patriot Act, legislation which opened the door to CIA surveillance of American citizens and to telephone and internet spying. We all know about the use of surveillance cameras and computer face recognition technology at public events. Retinal eye scan technology is being tested for airport security. The U.S. Department of Transportation is creating a giant computer program to sift through mountains of what was previously private electronic data to assemble traveler profiles on each of us. I think they call it the "friendly traveler" program. Then there is the push for a national ID card.

Collectively, these erosions of privacy and ultimately liberty are known as homeland security, a term which seems to have a Nazi ring to it. "We protect your freedom by taking it away. And don't complain or we will brand you a traitor and take you away!" It is hard to know how much of this is necessary and how much is simply a coup for the forces of oppression and evil.

Consider the collateral damage done to our foreign policy as we fight this war against terrorism. We now explicitly reserve the right to attack any country whenever we want. How many of us have thought about what this sounds like to the rest of the world? It goes far beyond arrogance.

Will we make the world a safer place by attacking Iran, Iraq or North Korea, the new Axis of Evil? What about sending troops to the Philippines? Now that the drug war has become part of the terrorism war, many more billions of dollars worth of U.S. weapons and advisors will we pour into Columbia, further tearing apart that civil war-torn country and poisoning the rural population with Uncle Sam's coca plant-killer herbicides.

Lest we forget, the U.S. has quite a history of intervention and we have rarely been on the side of the angels. In the 1960s and early 1970s, our collateral damage stretched from one end of Southeast Asia to the other -- as six million Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians were killed or maimed by American bombs, bullets and napalm. We have intervened in Latin America many times on the side of ruthless dictators and death squads. Now the U.S. power elite has a new weapon. They can use the war against terrorism to justify any intervention, any war they wish to wage.

All this will cost lots of money which can also be counted as collateral damage. Bush/Cheney wants to increase the military budget by $120 billion over the next five years -- with a $48 billion increase this year alone. This is a recipe for pork-barreling, corporate welfare, and war-making, yet who will argue against it? Critics have been silenced. Rally round the President boys and girls in Congress, and shut up!

Perhaps the worst collateral damage of this war has been to our psyches and souls. We have been cowed and buffaloed. Prior to September 11, who in their right mind would have put faith in the Bush Administration to punch its way out of a wet paper bag let alone address a major terrorist threat. Well, ladies and gentlemen, they are the same bunch of oil patch clowns, and they are still dedicated to drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge full of holes, transferring as much wealth as possible to the rich, and to bolstering the Enrons of the world. Why do we defer to them now?

Imagine for a second other ways of spending the tens and hundreds of billions of dollars our government is prepared to send to the Pentagon. How about spending that money on fuel efficiency and renewable energy in order to eliminate our need for foreign oil and end our support for Persian Gulf dictatorships and the terrorist groups they spawn? Or how about spending that money on forgiving debt, easing suffering, and meeting the basic human needs of the impoverished, exploited Third World peoples who have learned to hate us because of our greed, selfishness or indifference?

Collateral damage. Its our silence. Its our consent.

Walter Simpson is a local peace activist and Energy Officer at the University at Buffalo.