Here in Columbus I often see flags for Ohio State,
especially on game days. There are very few flags for other teams.
Football unites Columbus. People who have never attended O.S.U.
talk about the O.S.U. team as "us" and the opposing team as "them."
Refereeing decisions unfavorable to O.S.U. are often condemned.
Supporters usually do not see the fouls committed by their own
team. (Michigan supporters are few and far between.)
 Having grown up in Newcastle, where support for Newcastle
United is fanatical, I find this to be a familiar phenomenon. On
game days the black and white striped shirts of the city's soccer
team are everywhere.
 As in other American towns, lots of people here proudly
display the American flag. The American flag unites the nation in
the same partisan way as the O.S.U. flag unites Columbus on game
days. Recent immigrants and Americans who can trace their ancestors
back for generations take pride in their citizenship. They support
the same team. Does the analogy with football supporters stop
there? Americans are taught to swear allegiance to the flag. Are
they taught to think critically about government policies? Are
foreign policies open to question? Do they see the fouls committed
by our side? Does nationalism stifle discussion and silence
 I am not sure of the answer. I have been pleasantly
surprised by the willingness of some senior Republicans to question
publicly the Bush administration's policy towards Iraq. I have also
been impressed by the willingness of some Democrats to support
Bush's position (even though I disagree with their views).
 I left England before the jingoism of the Falklands War.
Although I have grown used to seeing American flags, it took a long
time. Union Jacks were seldom displayed while I lived in Britain,
although they are more common now.
 Immediately after the bombing of the World Trade Center last
year I met a colleague as I walked across campus. Naturally we
talked about the incident. I observed that such attacks should
hardly be surprising, in light of American foreign policy, and the
only surprise to me was that something similar hadn't happened
before. Although he said that he shared my views to some extent, I
knew by the look on his face that it was not the time (11 a.m. on
September eleventh) for such a debate. I hid at home for a couple
of days. Most people appeared to be more interested in revenge than
 I do not think terrorism is justified. I also think that we
can and should try to understand what motivates terrorists. I would
like to emphasize this point. Terrorism is the enemy of civilized
society and we should try to know our enemy.
 Now that the first anniversary has passed, perhaps we can
look more soberly at American foreign policy. What exactly is the
threat to the United States that might possibly justify the killing
of thousands more innocent civilians? Let us be clear-that is
exactly what will happen. Britain and the United States are already
bombing Iraq regularly. If we increase the bombing of Iraq, do we
prevent terrorism or create terrorists for the future?
 Assessing the effects of foreign policy is made difficult by
limited information and propaganda. It is often said that the first
casualty of war is truth. Churchill commented that in wartime truth
was so precious that is should be "attended by a bodyguard of
lies." The Bush administration seems to share this view. Although
Donald Rumsfeld denied that the Office of Strategic Influence,
which has since been closed, was specifically created to spread
misinformation, he did say that it was appropriate to use "tactical
deception." What exactly is the difference between tactical
deception and misinformation?
 We must recognize that rational, informed debate is
difficult when the government wants to go to war. Informed debate
is impossible in wartime and almost impossible after hostilities
have ended. After the war, any pretense of truth inevitably gives
way to the victor's version of events.
 Informed debate is more difficult thanks to the American
media, which seems to be dependent on press releases from the
government. Reporters are reluctant to criticize their news sources
in case they are denied access to future briefings. Investigative
journalism is rare, aggressive interviews almost unknown.
Government policy is reduced to a few clever phrases in an effort
to get a sound bite.
 In Britain we have a tradition of "loyal opposition." It is
the duty of the members of parliament who are not in the governing
party to question and criticize government policies. Often this
critical evaluation appears to be based on party allegiances. One
can get tired very quickly in Britain of political debate which
appears to be based on blind support or opposition. It is quite
refreshing living here in the States to find that politicians often
ignore party lines when supporting or opposing policies.
Unfortunately public debate is very limited, and the evaluation of
the government which takes place inevitably in Britain is lacking
 Is the debate likely to be open when immigrants in the
States are subject to racial profiling? When people are imprisoned
without trial? I find it incredible that so many people in the
United States and Britain are willing to accept the restriction of
civil liberties. How can governments claim to be fighting for
freedom while restricting the very rights that they claim to be
defending? What better victory for the terrorists than to undermine
the freedoms that we claim to be important? The weak media
criticism of this aspect of the war on terrorism is very
disturbing, and is part of a wider problem with the U.S. media.
When Clinton bombed Sudan and Afghanistan on August 20, 1998 (in
what Arabs dubbed "Operation Monica"), there was little
condemnation. Numerous international groups have confirmed that the
target in Sudan was a pharmaceutical plant and did not make
weapons. Reports such as these are seldom broadcast by the American
 Critical commentary is usually confined to a few opinion
pieces and editorials. Television and radio reports are superficial
at best. The problem is exacerbated in the States by the lack of
national newspapers. In Britain the opinions of national newspapers
(such as the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Times, or Independent) do
influence government policy. The majority of people in the U.S.
have to make do with a local paper, the main purpose of which seems
to be to sell advertising.
 Criticism and skepticism are very much part of public
discourse in Britain. It seems that here in the States policy
statements of public officials are much more likely to be accepted
at face value. Should we accept without question the views of
experts who claim to have special knowledge that they claim they
cannot share? Reporting and discussion of foreign policy issues
invariably amounts to a series of government representatives making
unsubstantiated accusations, speculating wildly, and extrapolating
worst case scenarios from the flimsiest evidence. When innocent
people are killed, the usual response is a denial, followed by
unbelievable explanations of how the deaths might have occurred.
These are reported without evaluation. When it becomes undeniably
clear that innocent people have been killed, the deaths are
described as collateral damage.
 How many Americans would be willing to accept family
members being killed by foreign bombs and have the deaths written
off as collateral damage? Foreigners suffer from U.S. bombs
regularly. In recent years, the U.S. has dropped bombs on
Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq (particularly Baghdad), Libya and Panama.
Are the deaths acceptable because those killed are foreigners? It
appears sometimes that British and American foreign policy is based
on a lethal combination of racism and nationalism.
 Whether the killer is a soldier or a terrorist is of little
importance to the person killed or his/her family. If an official
army deliberately bombs targets where there are known to be
innocent civilians, how is this different from a terrorist attack?
Why should these actions be seen as any different from terrorism
simply because the killers were in uniform? Such deaths are
inevitable when countries resort to military action. Bombs dropped
from miles above a target are bound to go astray. The people in the
bombers do not see their victims. They do not see the deaths and
injuries. They are merely doing their duty for their country.
 We should evaluate and (where appropriate) criticize
government policies. It is our right and duty. I believe that
evaluating the U.S. government's current policies reveals that
military action is very difficult to justify. Many people would
accept that a government has the authority to organize defense
against an invading force, but U.S. attacks on other countries do
not carry the weight of legitimate authority. Even if the United
States can persuade the United Nations Security Council that
military action is justified, this will add little legitimacy to
military action. The U.S. uses U.N. resolutions selectively at
best, enforcing those which serve its interests and ignoring those
which do not (such as 242 and 338, which call for the withdrawal of
Israeli troops from occupied territories).
 Peaceful solutions may take time, but imagine what would
happen if we spent as much pursuing peace as we do waging war. Even
if the effort fails, is it not worth trying? Do we really win with
wars? What was the great victory from Vietnam? What did the
invasion of Grenada achieve? What has violence between Israelis and
Palestinians achieved? Of course stopping Hitler was a victory. But
wouldn't it have been better if the First World War had ended with
a peace that did not lay the foundations for Hitler's rise to
power? Let us at least try peaceful approaches.
© September 2002
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 2, Issue 9