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Response to Crowley

Dennis Fox

Brookline TAB
October 25, 2001

My parents came to visit last Thursday, the day Chris Crowley's column in the TAB (Some See Mixed Message, I See Freedom) disagreed with my own October 11th guest column (Signs of Progress and Danger).

When he read Crowley's column, my father wasn't pleased at what, based on Crowley, he took to be my pro-bin Ladn views.

Then he read my column and seemed surprised. Why, wondered Dad, was Crowley criticizing me for things I never said?

I had wondered the same thing.

It's one thing for a columnist to interpret and analyze, even to criticize and ridicule. That's what I used to do when I wrote a regular column in the TAB.

It's another thing to distort someone's words beyond recognition. That's just not fair.

Crowley's most significant distortion occurs when he says "I don't see how anyone who witnessed the horrific attacks could have blamed them on America." He adds that I fail to understand that "terrorist attacks are not justified whatever the grievance."

Anyone who read my column knows that I neither blamed America nor excused the September 11th perpetrators. What I did was address some of the reasons that so many millions of people around the world sympathize with those who resort to terror against us.

Crowley seems not to grasp the distinction between understanding and justifying, which I described in an earlier column (We Have Met the Enemy, September 20). Every action has reasons. Going after the killers while ignoring their reasons may feel good. It may even bring the perpetrators to justice--regardless of their reasons, those who commit evil acts are responsible for those acts and deserve punishment.

But unless we grasp the reasons and work toward changing US policies, our effort to apprehend today's terrorists will create future generations whose growing hatred of America will be matched by their escalating ability to inflict even more horrendous atrocities.

According to reputable relief agencies that have been forced to interrupt their shipments of emergency food into Afghanistan because of our bombing campaign, extending the conflict through winter may result in up to seven million dead civilians. The food packages our planes drop on Afghanistan are a drop in the bucket. Even worse, according to the agencies, our food drops encourage Afghanis to enter dangerous mine fields where the cost of a little peanut butter becomes a blown-off limb.

Crowley, referring to September 11, says rightly that "killing thousands of innocent civilians is a savage act." I wonder just how many dead Afghanis Chris Crowley is willing to accept. Of those who survive, who will be more numerous, those who thank us for our actions or those who discover yet one more reason to resent American power?

I've explained to my young daughter that America is like a kid in school who's big and strong. Sometimes that child uses size and strength for good purposes--helping someone climb a tree in the park, carrying someone's heavy books, even protecting weaker kids from bullies. But sometimes that big strong youngster becomes the bully--taking other kids' stuff, pushing them around, deciding what rules everyone has to play by--and becomes disliked and feared.

The United States, big and strong, has done both, I tell my daughter. There are things we can be proud of as a people. Yet too often we have been the bully, deciding for ourselves how the world should work and using our power to enforce our will. We take more than our share of the world's resources. We impose conditions on the world's governments that we'd never allow others to impose on use, ignoring international tribunals when they find fault with our actions. We do whatever it takes to reinforce "the American way of life" regardless of the damage our way of life does to others.

President Bush claimed a couple of weeks ago to be "amazed" that so many people around the world hate the United States, because "we are so good." Bush's failure to comprehend the dynamics he sets in motion parallels Chris Crowley's failure to acknowledge that something must be done about American policy. Distortion by either of them serves none of us well.

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