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Postcards to the President

[ Author’s Note: This article was written around September 14, 2001.

Since then, many hopes have crumbled, not least the hope that the giant tragedy would spark some introspection and evoke a new level of statesmanship. Unfortunately our leaders would not appeal either to our patriotism or to our idealism –all they could call upon was our consumerism. They asked us not to stop shopping! Could it have been otherwise? I have tried to visualize a different course in another article, Little Minds and Large Empires.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that problems cannot be solved by a resort to the same level of thinking which produced them. As we complete two years of doing exactly that (the results of which we saw in the White House address a couple of days ago), maybe a good way to commemorate the 9-11 anniversary would be to ponder the wisdom of Einstein’s statement, which somehow strikes me a shade more profound than “Bring ’em on!”.

–NR 9/9/03. ]

Dear President Bush,

I turned on the TV this morning, and couldn’t believe what was happening. Was this America? Dan Rather said it was not a movie, that terrorists had really struck. What horrible people would do this?

I was glued to the news the rest of the day. Despite our sadness, it was magnificent to see how ordinary people rallied and helped each other. We are truly a nation of heroes. We shall not bow to the terrorists. God Bless America!

Joanna McPherson
Minneapolis, MN

Dear Mr. President,

Perhaps now you will be able to appreciate the reality we Israelis have to face every day. Maybe your government will now stop treating us and the terrorists as two morally equivalent parties to a conflict, and cease its interminable lectures to us on human rights. Terrorism does not value human life, let alone human rights.

Yehuda Nir
Haifa, Israel

Dear President Bush,

I feel sorry for those Americans in New York and Washington who have died.

But your country dropped bombs daily on our innocent civilians –napalm bombs even –for 10 years. You defoliated our forests, poisoned our air, and tried every inhuman way short of the atom bomb to defeat our small country 8000 miles away, a country which had never even threatened a single American. Our nations are friends now, and we grieve at your loss of a few thousand lives and a few buildings. But we cannot ever forget that because of Americans, we lost several million people, and entire cities.

Nguyen Van Trinh
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Dear Mr. Bush,

Two wrongs do not make a right. I condemn the cowardly attack on one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and the destruction of two of its landmarks. But your country destroyed two entire cities of ours, and blighted generations of people to radiation diseases –I am talking about Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I hope you and other American leaders realize that military force is not the answer to any of mankind’s problems. I feel this is an empty hope, however, because the only talk on American TV is about revenge and retaliation.

Yasuhiro Odi
Osaka, Japan

Dear Mr. President,

I visited New York last month for the first time in my life. What a thrill it was to see the twin towers of the WTC –in fact we even went to the top floor for a cup of coffee. What a horrid feeling to know that they are no more!

My country too is plagued by IRA terrorism. I am saddened that the US, which had hitherto escaped it, has now been hit. It was heartening to see the great American spirit at work –pulling together in times of adversity. We in England are with America in the hour of its need. We are strengthened by your resolve to eradicate terrorism.

John Blackwell
Surrey, England

Dear Mr. President,

I am shocked that my country, in a misguided effort at diversity, would let known Islamic fundamentalists into the US. We spend some obscene number of billions on an alphabet soup of intelligence agencies, and we can’t stop four groups of people from getting into four different planes, at three different airports, within the space of an hour? And now these same agencies want more money? Talk of giving Captain Bligh his own fleet!

And where were you during all this, Mr. President? At least the terrorists had the courage to die for their convictions. Our entire national leadership, on the other hand, seemed to have gone into hiding –as an American veteran, I felt more sad about this single fact than all the other tragedies of the day.

Al Belgozi
Detroit, MI

Dear President Bush,

Please understand this –Islam and democracy don’t mix. Do you know there are more than 20 Arab states, and not one is –or has ever been –a democracy? There are scores of Islamic countries in the world –in every one of them, non-muslims are treated as second class citizens. As a Christian from Egypt, I should know. The amount of hatred coming out each Friday from the mosques in the Middle East is something you cannot even imagine. Young people are brainwashed, and their minds filled with hate –towards the USA, towards Israel, towards Christians and Jews. No wonder so many of them are so full of misguided fury and blind hate that they are willing to kill –and die.

I shudder whenever I read that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the USA. Having lived in the US during my studies in the late 80’s, I know that most US citizens are blissfully unaware of ground realities of the world. But this cannot keep reality away from them, as the attacks have shown. Wake up, America, and smell the coffee!

Joseph M.
Cairo, Egypt.

Dear President,

This event should teach America a lesson in humility. Religion tells us that God alone is Great, and Man should be Humble. America is arrogant because it thinks it is so strong it can do anything to any country, and not face the consequences. But, Providence exempts no one.

United States should think twice before striking other countries with impunity. It is hypocrisy that the United States, with the largest military and nuclear arsenal, should impose sanctions on Pakistan for developing a nuclear bomb.

I don’t know who were the culprits of the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings. Whoever they may be, whatever their nationality, they are not Muslims. Islam teaches peace and respect for life.

Mohammad Ashraf
Lahore, Pakistan

Dear George,

Time to fish out that old globe and see where the Middle East is, huh? But first, you’ll want to find Louisiana, Nebraska, and all those places where you hid before you slunk into the capital and showed your face to the country.

I fought in Vietnam, and my friends died there. You were a dodger then and are a dodger now.

But fear not, our country has other brave men and women, thank God. Our Marines will take out Bin Laden for you.

Burkett “Bud” Hampton
San Francisco, CA.

Dear President Bush,

There is a saying that ‘He who sows the Wind shall reap the Whirlwind’. My country, Afghanistan, was a beautiful place in the 60’s and 70’s. We were trying to modernize, educate our children, including girls, and provide opportunities to all. Then came the Russians, whom we hated. But looking back, at least the Russians were supporting the government, which wanted to bring Afghanistan into the 20th century. Your CIA bolstered the worst religious fanatics, giving them ultra-modern weaponry and a great deal of money. The weaponry and money bled the Russians and won you your war. But you and the Russians together reduced my country to the Stone Age, and you handed it to the care of stone-age zealots. As in Vietnam, you got out, leaving the locals to deal with the mess.

I have visited the USA many times, and deeply love your country, and the friendly and open American people. But their government has often done bad things in their name. Unfortunately, they are now being punished for their government’s follies.

Malik Yusufzai
Frankfurt, Germany

Dear Mr. President,

Devastating as the carnage is, I hope that the US now understands that it cannot hope to feed the sharks and expect them to stay away from its own waters.

India has been living with the results of your country’s lavish aid to Pakistan throughout the Afghan war. Armed mujahideen, fresh from training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, have been causing daily mayhem in our northern state of Kashmir. Over 70000 people have been killed (India has suffered the greatest number of deaths due to terrorism in the entire world, if you count the Punjab and Kashmir insurgencies, both fueled and fed by Pakistan), and tens of thousands of hindus have had to leave their homes and become refugees. Our cries of protest have gone unheeded by successive US governments.

We in India empathise with the United States, and stand by you in this dark hour.

Rajesh Dhar
Mumbai, India

Dear Presidente Bush,

How does it feel to have innocent people killed? Your government, your CIA, did exactly this to our children in Chile. You talk about people who will have no tomorrow. My son was picked up from his University and disappeared, never again to be seen. His tomorrows ended that day, and my long night began. Your government, Senor Presidente, was watching and helping approvingly while your terrorist, Augusto Pinochet, killed, tortured and eliminated thousands of our children.

Part of me prays and weeps for the people who died in New York and Washington. But, I am ashamed to admit, part of me sees this as divine justice.

Maria Nunez
Valparaiso, Chile

Dear Mr. President,

When I watched the cloud of dust and smoke bounce through the canyons of New York, I was reminded of my hometown of Bhopal that night. The New York tragedy was caused by cynical planning. The Bhopal tragedy was a result of cynical indifference. You have expressed great determination to catch the perpetrators of September 11. Please help us also bring to book one more ‘terrorist’, Warren Anderson, Chairman of Union Carbide in 1984, who is hiding in the US, and evading an Interpol warrant.

Altaf Zaheer
Bhopal, India

Dear Mr. President,

I am a 26-year old Palestinian from the West Bank. All my friends say that America is an enemy of Palestine, because it has helped Israel occupy and build settlements on Palestinian land. They danced and celebrated when the World Center was destroyed. I didn’t, because I felt it was not good to enjoy when people have died. But Israelis kill innocent people here every day. It is only because of America’s help that Israel is able to shoot and kill children and women, without anyone questioning them.

Just like you say Osama Bin Laden could not do what he is doing without the support of the Taliban, we say the Israelis could not carry out their terrorism against Palestine without support from the United States. When you support Israel in its occupation, you sponsor injustice and terrorism.

Please accept my sympathies and sorrow that we are not able to live in a world of peace and justice.

Sharif al-Abbas
Jerusalem

Dear Mr. President,

I am an Indian American. Although I got my citizenship four years ago, I will count September 11, 2001 as the day when I truly realized I was an American. When I saw the World Trade Center collapse, I felt as though someone had personally attacked me. I went the same afternoon and donated blood. Fear not, Mr. President. We Americans don’t flinch from adversity. We are behind you 200%, whatever decisions you take to fight this monster of terrorism.

Jagannath Prasad
Columbus, OH

Dear Mr. President,

With what voice can the US condemn terrorism, when it has itself been the promoter of terrorism in so many places in the world? In Nicaragua, where my wife and I lived for many years, CIA-sponsored death squads were on a rampage, terrorizing the local population because they supported the Sandinistas. Our intelligence agencies illegally mined the Nicaraguan harbors. How can you now condemn terrorists, when we have ourselves paid and maintained them? I weep for my countrymen who died in New York and Washington, but I weep too for my country’s immoral indulgence in sabotage, murder and drug dealing when it suited its purpose.

Dick McHenry,
Hudson, NY

Dear Mr. President,

I’ve read through all the letters in this collection. I’ve also worked in the Foreign Service area (I won’t say which exact branch) for 23 years, retiring a couple of years back. It is certainly true that the US has dealt with unsavory characters in other countries. But then, this is the reality of foreign policy, whether someone likes it or not. The world is not a garden party. It is full of countries and characters which may best be called ‘tough customers’. But I can say that our people work under a great many more constraints and with far more scruples than most other countries.

Reading all these letters from all over the world, I’m struck that they seem to miss one basic point –American actions are meant to benefit America. It is not for Chileans, Indians, Armenians, or anyone else. It is all –and only –for America. We do plenty for all those losers everywhere –the Marshall Plan, the food aid, the IMF and the World Bank –wouldn’t you say that was generous enough?

Now I have a message for the Americans who cry foul –fortunately I didn’t see too many in this collection –Love it or Leave it. You’re willing to enjoy the fruits of all the dirty work that people like me do. We go in the field, risk our lives and marriages, so that whiners like you can have the freedom to whine. Go right ahead, it don’t change a thing.

Mr. President, a word from the trenches –our people are itching to go. All we ask for is a free hand, Sir, and we’ll make sure that terrorism as we have seen it is a thing of the past.

Semper Fi.

Charles F. Broughton, Jr. (Not my real name)
Fairfax, VA.

Dear Mr. President,

The previous writer is correct. When people knowingly share in the fruits of someone’s action, they are indeed participants in those actions.

This is why in today’s connected world –few are innocent civilians. Certainly not in the US, or any other democracy, where people have a voice in government. Paradoxically, the only ‘innocent’ people in this sense are in China, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and places like that, where the people have no say in what their leader does. But our governments have had no problem punishing the Iraqis on the street for something Saddam Hussein did. We’ve had no trouble seeing their children starve and go without medicines, or bombing and hitting civilians, even though we well know that they have no control over what their dictator does.

Another question, Mr. President. You are a Bible-quoting Christian, as is your Attorney General. I didn’t see either one of you make a reference to the Sermon on the Mount. How can one reconcile professions of Christianity with such stirring calls to revenge? Mr. President, where does it end? Is our strength our only justification? Where are the references to our commitment to our freedoms?

And so, Mr. President, if you want to narrow your administration’s goals to fighting terrorism, that is your privilege, but it is not, in my humble opinion, a goal worthy of this great nation. Terrorism is only a symptom. Fight it we must and by every means, but please let us view it in a larger and deeper sense. What the world needs is zero terrorism, but that would be best achieved by democracy. Sponsor that, Mr. President. Insist on it. Hold firm on freedom of speech and of worship. I saw the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia, our ally, sitting at the National Cathedral this morning. Speak to him sometime. His country will not even allow Bibles into its borders! You are relying on Pakistan, where people are on death row for blasphemy.

If instead of confining your administration’s goals to terrorism, you resolved to take the Bill of Rights to the ends of the earth, you would secure eager and enthusiastic participation from every corner of the globe, and deprive terrorism of its prime nourishment –the loss of hope. As a first-generation immigrant, I can tell you that people all over the world look up to the United States, not so much for its riches as for the idealism of its founders –its unwavering commitment to Liberty.

Your choice, Mr. President. Will you inspire us, as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt did, or will you merely take us to war?

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN
Portland, Oregon

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a an author living on the West Coast. You can view his writings on Indogram. He can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com

 

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/>Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast.  His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave.  He may be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com.

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