I believe two moral judgments can be made about the present "war": The September 11 attack constitutes a crime against humanity and cannot be justified, and the bombing of Afghanistan is also a crime, which cannot be justified. And yet, voices across the political spectrum, including many on the left, have described this as a "just war." One longtime advocate of peace, Richard Falk, wrote in The Nation that this is "the first truly just war since World War II." Robert Kuttner, another consistent supporter of social justice, declared in The American Prospect that only people on the extreme left could believe this is not a just war.
"It is 27 degrees today outside in New York, a chilling reminder of the events of the day six months ago. ... we are going to give you a series of reflections, glimpses of reality since September 11th."
Every day for several months, the New York Times did what should always be done when a tragedy is summed up in a statistic: It gave us miniature portraits of the human beings who died on September 11—their names, photos, glimmers of their personalities, their idiosyncrasies, how friends and loved ones remember them. As the director of the New York Historical Society said: "The peculiar genius of it was to put a human face on numbers that are unimaginable to most of us.... It's so obvious that every one of them was a person who deserved to live a full and successful and happy life. You see what was lost." I was deeply moved, reading those intimate sketches—"A Poet of Bensonhurst...A Friend, A Sister...Someone to Lean On...Laughter, Win or Lose..." I thought: Those who celebrated the grisly deaths of the people in the twin towers and the Pentagon as a blow to symbols of American dominance in the world—what if, instead of symbols, they could see, up close, the faces of those who lost their lives? I wonder if they would have second thoughts, second feelings. Then it occurred to me: What if all those Americans who declare their support for Bush's "war on terrorism" could see, instead of those elusive symbols—Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda—the real human beings who have died under our bombs? I do believe they would have second thoughts.
The images on television have been heartbreaking. People on fire leaping to their deaths from a hundred stories up. People in panic and fear racing from the scene in clouds of dust and smoke. We knew that there must be thousands of human beings buried alive, but soon dead under a mountain of debris. We can only imagine the terror among the passengers of the hijacked planes as they contemplated the crash, the fire, the end. Those scenes horrified and sickened me. Then our political leaders came on television, and I was horrified and sickened again. They spoke of retaliation, of vengeance, of punishment.
"Why can’t we take our cue from the rescue workers, from the compassion shown by the medical teams, the doctors and nurses and medical students, the firemen and policemen, whose thought—when they are taking care of these people and trying to find people and help them and cure them, their thought is not of retaliation. No, their thought is of human compassion and how to end the suffering."