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:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail