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 will be published by Routledge in 2016.

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail