Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Support Our Annual Fund Drive! We only ask one time of year, but when we do, we mean it. Without your support we can’t continue to bring you the very best material, day-in and day-out. CounterPunch is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. Help make sure it stays that way.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Congressman Bernie Sanders

by Jeremy Brecher

2202 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC, 20515

Dear Bernie,

This letter explains the matters of consciencethat have led me to resign from your staff.

I believe that every individual must have somelimit to what acts of military violence they are willing to participatein or support, regardless of either personal welfare or claimsthat it will lead to a greater good. Any individual who does notpossess such a limit is vulnerable to committing or condoningabhorrent acts without even stopping to think about it.

Those who accept the necessity for such a limitdo not necessarily agree regarding where it should be drawn. Forabsolute pacifists, war can never be justified. But even for non-pacifists,the criteria for supporting the use of military violence mustbe extremely stringent because the consequences are so great.Common sense dictates at least the following as minimal criteria:

The evil to be remedied must be serious.

The genuine purpose of the action must be toavert the evil, not to achieve some other purpose for which theevil serves as a pretext.

Less violent alternatives must be unavailable.

The violence used must have a high probabilityof in fact halting the evil.

The violence used must be minimized.

Let us evaluate current U.S. military actionin Yugoslavia against each of these tests. Evil to be remedied:

We can agree that the evil to be remedied inthis case — specifically, the uprooting and massacre of the KosovoAlbanians — is serious enough to justify military violence ifsuch violence can ever be justified. However, the U.S. air waragainst Yugoslavia fails an ethical test on each of the otherfour criteria.

Purpose vs. pretext: The facts are incompatiblewith the hypothesis that U.S. policy is motivated by humanitarianconcern for the people of Kosovo:

In the Dayton agreement, the U.S. gave Milosevica free hand in Kosovo in exchange for a settlement in Bosnia.

The U.S. has consistently opposed sending groundforces into Kosovo, even as the destruction of the Kosovar peopleescalated. (While I do not personally support such an action,it would, in sharp contrast to current U.S. policy, provide atleast some likelihood of halting the attacks on the Kosovo Albanians.)

According to The New York Times (4/18/99),the U.S. began bombing Yugoslavia with no consideration for thepossible impact on the Albanian people of Kosovo. This was notfor want of warning. On March 5, 1999, Italian Prime MinisterMassimo D’Alema met with President Clinton in the Oval Officeand warned him that an air attack which failed to subdue Milosevicwould result in 300,000 to 400,000 refugees passing into Albaniaand then to Italy. Nonetheless, “No one planned for the tacticof population expulsion that has been the currency of Balkan warsfor more than a century.” (The New York Times, 4/18/99).If the goal of U.S. policy was humanitarian, surely planning forthe welfare of these refugees would have been at least a modestconcern.

Even now the attention paid to humanitarianaid to the Kosovo refugees is totally inadequate, and is trivialcompared to the billions being spent to bomb Yugoslavia. Accordingto the Washington Post (4/30/99), the spokeswoman for the U.N.refugee agency in Macedonia says, “We are on the brink ofcatastrophe.” Surely a genuine humanitarian concern for theKosovars would be evidenced in massive emergency airlifts anda few billion dollars right now devoted to aiding the refugees.

While it has refused to send ground forcesinto Kosovo, the U.S. has also opposed and continues to opposeall alternatives that would provide immediate protection for thepeople of Kosovo by putting non-or partially-NATO forces intoKosovo. Such proposals have been made by Russia, by Milosevichimself, and by the delegations of the U.S. Congress and the RussianDuma who met recently with yourself as a participant. The refusalof the U.S. to endorse such proposals strongly supports the hypothesisthat the goal of U.S. policy is not to save the Kosovars fromongoing destruction.

Less violent alternatives: On 4/27/99 I presentedyou with a memo laying out an alternative approach to currentAdministration policy. It stated, “The overriding objectiveof U.S. policy in Kosovo — and of people of good will — mustbe to halt the destruction of the Albanian people of Kosovo. .. The immediate goal of U.S. policy should be a ceasefire whichhalts Serb attacks on Kosovo Albanians in exchange for a haltin NATO bombing.” It stated that to achieve this objective,the United States should “propose an immediate ceasefire,to continue as long as Serb attacks on Kosovo Albanians cease.. . Initiate an immediate bombing pause. . . Convene the U.N.Security Council to propose action under U.N. auspices to extendand maintain the ceasefire. . . Assemble a peacekeeping forceunder U.N. authority to protect safe havens for those threatenedwith ethnic cleansing.” On 5/3/99 you endorsed a very similarpeace plan proposed by delegations from the US Congress and theRussian Duma. You stated that “The goal now is to move asquickly as possible toward a ceasefire and toward negotiations.”In short, there is a less violent alternative to the present U.S.air war against Yugoslavia.

High probability of halting the evil: CurrentU.S. policy has virtually no probability of halting the displacementand killing of the Kosovo Albanians. As William Safire put it,”The war to make Kosovo safe for Kosovars is a war withoutan entrance strategy. By its unwillingness to enter Serbian territoryto stop the killing at the start, NATO conceded defeat. The bombingis simply intended to coerce the Serbian leader to give up atthe negotiating table all he has won on the killing field. Hewon’t.” (The New York Times, 5/3/99) The massive bombingof Yugoslavia is not a means of protecting the Kosovars but analternative to doing so.

Minimizing the consequences of violence. “Collateraldamage” is inevitable in bombing attacks on military targets.It must be weighed in any moral evaluation of bombing. But inthis case we are seeing not just collateral damage but the deliberateselection of civilian targets, including residential neighborhoods,auto factories, broadcasting stations, and hydro-electric powerplants. The New York Times characterized the latter as “Theattack on what clearly appeared to be a civilian target.”(5/3/99) If these are acceptable targets, are there any targetsthat are unacceptable?

The House Resolution (S Con Res 21) of 4/29/99which “authorizes the president of the United States to conductmilitary air operations and missile strikes in cooperation withthe United States’ NATO allies against the Federal Republic ofYugoslavia” supports not only the current air war but alsoits unlimited escalation. It thereby authorizes the commissionof war crimes, even of genocide. Indeed, the very day after thatvote, the Pentagon announced that it would begin “area bombing,”which the Washington Post (4/30/99) characterized as “droppingunguided weapons from B-52 bombers in an imprecise technique thatresulted in large-scale civilian casualties in World War II andthe Vietnam War.”

It was your vote in support of this resolutionthat precipitated my decision that my conscience required me toresign from your staff. I have tried to ask myself questions thatI believe each of us must ask ourselves:

Is there a moral limit to the military violenceyou are willing to participate in or support? Where does thatlimit lie? And when that limit has been reached, what action willyou take?

My answers led to my resignation.

Sincerely yours,

Jeremy Brecher

Jeremy Brecher is an historian and co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability. A new, post-Paris edition of his Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival was published by Routledge.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

September 27, 2016
Louisa Willcox
The Tribal Fight for Nature: From the Grizzly to the Black Snake of the Dakota Pipeline
Paul Street
The Roots are in the System: Charlotte and Beyond
Jeffrey St. Clair
Idiot Winds at Hofstra: Notes on the Not-So-Great Debate
Mark Harris
Clinton, Trump, and the Death of Idealism
Mike Whitney
Putin Ups the Ante: Ceasefire Sabotage Triggers Major Offensive in Aleppo
Anthony DiMaggio
The Debates as Democratic Façade: Voter “Rationality” in American Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Punishing the Punished: the Torments of Chelsea Manning
Paul Buhle
Why “Snowden” is Important (or How Kafka Foresaw the Juggernaut State)
Jack Rasmus
Hillary’s Ghosts
Brian Cloughley
Billions Down the Afghan Drain
Lawrence Davidson
True Believers and the U.S. Election
Matt Peppe
Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism
James McEnteer
Eugene, Oregon and the Rising Cost of Cool
Norman Pollack
The Great Debate: Proto-Fascism vs. the Real Thing
Michael Winship
The Tracks of John Boehner’s Tears
John Steppling
Fear Level Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Where Is That Wasteful Government Spending?
James Russell
Beyond Debate: Interview Styles of the Rich and Famous
September 26, 2016
Diana Johnstone
The Hillary Clinton Presidency has Already Begun as Lame Ducks Promote Her War
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Against Russia
Dave Lindorff
Parking While Black: When Police Shoot as First Resort
Robert Crawford
The Political Rhetoric of Perpetual War
Howard Lisnoff
The Case of One Homeless Person
Michael Howard
The New York Times Endorses Hillary, Scorns the World
Russell Mokhiber
Wells Fargo and the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival
Chad Nelson
The Crime of Going Vegan: the Latest Attack on Angela Davis
Colin Todhunter
A System of Food Production for Human Need, Not Corporate Greed
Brian Cloughley
The United States Wants to Put Russia in a Corner
Guillermo R. Gil
The Clevenger Effect: Exposing Racism in Pro Sports
David Swanson
Turn the Pentagon into a Hospital
Ralph Nader
Are You Ready for Democracy?
Chris Martenson
Hell to Pay
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Debate Night: Undecided is Everything, Advantage Trump
Frank X Murphy
Power & Struggle: the Detroit Literacy Case
Chris Knight
The Tom and Noam Show: a Review of Tom Wolfe’s “The Kingdom of Speech”
Weekend Edition
September 23, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Meaning of the Trump Surge
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: More Pricks Than Kicks
Mike Whitney
Oh, Say Can You See the Carnage? Why Stand for a Country That Can Gun You Down in Cold Blood?
Chris Welzenbach
The Diminution of Chris Hayes
Vincent Emanuele
The Riots Will Continue
Rob Urie
A Scam Too Far
Pepe Escobar
Les Deplorables
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes, Obfuscation and Propaganda in Syria
Timothy Braatz
The Quarterback and the Propaganda
Sheldon Richman
Obama Rewards Israel’s Bad Behavior
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail