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About the magazine … and the war

Letter from Stu Krebs

War on terror – April 2002 – Colorado Central Magazine

About the magazine…

Dear Ed and Martha,

I enjoy Colorado Central every time, and what’s more, usually read most of it. I’ve found the more extensive coverage of things like public lands issues especially interesting. George Sibley is always good, too, as are the editorial pieces.

I especially liked Martha’s recent letter, “We’ve got to figure out how to talk about this war.” I’ve been thinking about September 11 a lot, too, and sent the following letter to editors of some local papers back during the Anthrax scare.

It’s dated in some respects at this point, but still reflects my thinking on the whole affair. And considering the continuing war rhetoric coming from the Bush administration, the letter expresses some measure of my distress at this point — not that I’m at all surprised.

Hang in there and keep up the good work.

Stu Krebs

… and about this war

After September 11th with each passing day it becomes increasingly clear that we are not going to be safe until other people are safe. Other people? Safe? How could that help us now? Great care is needed when attempting to make sense of complex situations so it is important so look at what has worked in the past for guidance on what we might do now.

In 1964 my wife and l traveled by land from Europe across the Middle East and Western Asia to Pakistan and back, and in the process went the length and breadth of Afghanistan. A while later, after living a year and a half in Chile, we traveled again by land the length of South America, Central America and Mexico back to Colorado. During those thousands of miles and years spent living among many peoples, there were, at most, three or four incidents in which we felt even uncomfortable as Americans. Overwhelmingly we were greeted with respect, kindness and genuine hospitality.

We realize now that we were able to draw upon a huge reservoir of good will toward the American people and admiration of America as an idea, an ideal, and as a model for a better way of life. This in spite of a distressing record of acts by our government and by corporations flying our flag. These acts have been wholly inconsistent with the principles and ideals upon which our nation was founded and by which we have tried to live — and they were, in large part, undertaken without our knowledge or consent. Sometimes these acts were done out of a sense of urgency or threat, especially during the “Cold War” when the threat seemed to outweigh principled action. Often there was no such justification. But there are two important things worth noting here.

The first is that in spite of these actions, the people we encountered in other countries differentiated between governmental or corporate acts, and Americans as a people, and America as an ideal. The second thing of importance and of particular relevance today, is that actions which run counter to our ideas and principles, regardless of how compelling they may seem at the moment, come back to haunt us.

We have just suffered a great tragedy, unjustified and unexcused on any political, economic, religious or philosophical grounds. When we have been hurt so deeply, it is probably inherent in our make-up as human beings to want to hurt back. And we are engaged in that now. But it is important, especially now — if the lessons of the past are not to be lost upon us — that we look beyond the pain of the moment to where we want to be as a people, as a society, and as a world community. There is presently much talk of war as the proper response to our tragedy, accepting that still more innocent lives will be lost as a consequence. But if we succumb to that, then the terrorists will have won. They will have changed America, and for the worse.

A wit once observed “If you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.’ If we are now a military “hammer” then our response is predictable. But we are a good people, and we have other tools in our bag. We need to show the rest of the world, and remind ourselves as well, of the other face of America: the America of our ideals, principles, generosity and kindness. It is alive and well. It has served us brilliantly in the past. It has been a major source of our strength through thick and thin, good times and bad.

These are dark times. Some say dark beyond precedent. Maybe, maybe not. Back in 1964 we were just a few years beyond World War II. Much of the planet had been convulsed in that conflict, millions had died, Germany and Japan were our mortal enemies. But after the war through the Marshall Plan in Germany and a similar program in Japan, we helped our former enemies get back to their feet. We guided them in establishing governments consistent with our ideals, and by 1964 an incredible healing had taken place.

My wife and I were safe in our travels, not because the world was perfect and every single soul was safe, but because enough, maybe even most, people felt safe — secure in their physical and material circumstances and with hope. It is here that the idea of a social threshold, critical mass, balance, or tipping point becomes relevant and important. Bullies, tyrants, and plain evil people have always been among us. But they can be, and have been, overcome and their influence reduced to manageable proportions if enough people in a community, or nation, or on a planet feel safe and secure and have hope and push the society across a line and above a level where safety and peace predominate. And the other face of America, the kinder, gentler America spoken of by the elder President Bush, is the proven and best way to tip the balance back to a better safer world.

We all agree that the perpetrators of September 11th must be stopped and brought to justice. But we, as a people, should insist that this be done in a manner consistent with our ideals and principles. Otherwise the terrorists will have won again and we hide our better, more effective face.

We should commit as much — no, we should commit far more — effort and energy to humanitarian help for the Afghan (and other) people than to military activities. Indeed, the humanitarian activities might even be more effective in accomplishing what we seek than military means. But the essential thing is that we keep our eyes on the goal of a safer, more secure world and measure every action in these trying times against that goal. And we must make sure that our fellow Americans — neighbors, representatives, and others — understand that.

Stu Krebs