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Now is the Time to Speak for Peace

by Robert Jensen And Rahul Mahajan

The Bush administration has stolen from us the time to grieve.

Americans, and people all over the world, should have had time to grieve for the victims of last week’s attacks. But the politicians have made it clear they want war — on anyone, at any price, with seemingly no thought about the consequences — and we have no choice but to begin speaking out and organizing as we grieve.

Those who speak against war face hostility from many Americans — including even some in the peace movement — who say, “Now is not the time to talk politics; the country needs to heal.”

As one person put it in an email to us, “Sometimes to hold our tongues is far better than to voice our opinions.”

But now IS the time to talk politics, before it is too late.

From the first day of this tragedy, the leadership of this country — amplified by the hawkish tone of most of the media coverage — has made it clear they see an opening to ram through a military “solution” to the terrorism problem. They seem to believe this strategy will further consolidate U.S. power, especially in the Middle East.

Their claim to be acting to protect Americans rings hollow. Will Americans be safer if the U.S. unleashes its own “holy war” against — against whom? where? ending when?

The people calling the shots would prefer that citizens argue about whether we should seek vengeance or not. But the politicians’ goal is not mere vengeance; these are not the days when nations go to war to settle a grudge.

It is time to face some difficult truths: The war being planned is not about the emotions of citizens and their leaders spinning out of control. Yes, people are angry, and many are hungry for revenge. But that is merely a cover for the politicians.

Like all wars involving great powers, this is a war about geopolitical strategy. It is a war that aims to extend the dominance of the United States.

A lesson from the Gulf War is crucial: The United States said it wanted Iraq out of Kuwait, but U.S. officials blocked any possibility of a diplomatic solution to the crisis caused by Iraq’s illegal invasion. The first Bush administration wanted a war, and it got one. And that war gave the United States even greater dominance over the Middle East.

Now the current Bush administration says it wants Osama bin Laden. No doubt everyone would like to see bin Laden out of commission. But we fear that the administration is after something far beyond that. Remember that the talk in Washington is not just of nabbing bin Laden; it’s about “rooting out” his terror networks and waging a global “war on terrorism.” In other words, an unending counterinsurgency against any part of the Islamic world that does not accept U.S. supremacy.

Ponder that: An indefinite war waged against an entire culture.

The history of empires — and make no mistake, we must understand the United States as an empire, though with a different method of control than the empires of old — suggests that the drive to greater power and dominance is never satisfied.

But the other lesson of history is that empires eventually take on more than they can handle. There is a recklessness in the air; officials talk openly about going after “high-value targets,” such as capital cities, in countries that may “harbor” terrorists.

The first effect of any such attack, other than killing massive numbers of innocent civilians, will be to multiply tenfold the number of people in the Islamic world willing to die to wreak havoc on the United States. If fewer than two dozen people, supported by a few hundred more, could carry off last week’s attacks, what will happen when we arouse the anger of 1 billion people by a blatantly unjust and destructive “retaliation?”

Ordinary people, feeling the danger, are flocking to peace demonstrations in unexpected numbers. But without organization, those efforts will die down as people attempt to return to their normal lives — while we enter a cold new world of ongoing fear, hatred, and war.

Our government is starting down the road to potential disaster. The time to act is now. CP

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas. Rahul Mahajan serves on the National Board of Peace Action. Both are members of the Nowar Collective ( They can be contacted at:

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). Robert Jensen can be reached at and his articles can be found online at To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

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