Changing the way we view America’s role in the world

Posted Sept. 05, 2008, at 7:56 p.m.

On Aug. 6 the world took pause. Sixty-three years ago the United States became the first, and — so far — only country in history to detonate an atomic bomb in anger. The bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima and another on Nagasaki a couple days later, ostensibly to intimidate the Japanese into surrendering before further military confrontation during World War II. The price: over 220,000 civilian deaths in the two cities in the immediate aftermath of the bombings; thousands more from cancer and leukemia during the 40-plus years afterward.

Since 1945 apologists have tried to justify the bombings by saying that a military land invasion of Japan would have cost thousands more American lives in what was already a long, drawn-out military campaign. This false moral debate over the value of American military lives versus foreign civilian casualties continues today.

The government, and the obedient media, reports the occupation of Iraq is going well based on the decrease in American casualties. Will history truly view the war as successful because “only” 4,000 or so American lives were lost over the last five and a half years? After all, that is a pretty low ratio compared with the more than 47,000 soldiers killed over eight years in Vietnam. But were any one of those American lives worth more or less than any one of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed directly by military action or by the collateral damage the occupation has inflicted upon civilian life there? Exact figures of the civilian death toll are hard to obtain.

When recalling Hiroshima and Nagasaki it’s hard not to think about the Iranian nuclear situation as well. Once again we are faced with the prospects of a country threatening another — in this case Israel — with nuclear assault. However, one can hardly blame Iran for questioning America’s moral authority to demand the dismantling their nuclear program. Avoiding further escalation of tensions and another costly military conflict requires changing the way we view the American v. foreign life equation.

Now, more than ever, it is important to remember the words of the poet John Donne, who wrote: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

It is in this spirit we should approach the seventh anniversary of Sept. 11. The tragedy of the attacks that day and the loss of thousands of innocent lives remains fresh in the minds of many. The feelings of grief and fear in the days immediately following the attacks were manipulated into feelings of anger, and all of those powerful emotions were used to justify military strikes — and now a five-year occupation — against a country that had never directly threatened the United States. To this day the administration and its supporters defend their Iraq policy by saying if the “enemy” isn’t confronted there, they will most certainly get us again here at home. The loss of American lives, those lost on Sept. 11 and the threat of it happening again is yet again being used to justify the killing of innocent citizens in another country.

That is why the Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine is asking people from all walks of life to join hands on Sept. 13. On that day, a rally will be held at Paul Bunyan Park on Main Street in Bangor, followed by a march to the Hammond Street Congregational Church. We want to send a message to those currently in power, and especially to those seeking election this fall, that we will no longer allow our emotions to be manipulated to justify the slaughter of innocent people. We want to see an end to this war and efforts made to build the peace and restore the economy. We want all people to know that when the funeral bells toll in Hiroshima, Fallujah, Kabul or New York it tolls for them as well.

Joe Knox, an educator and volunteer with the Peace and Justice Center, lives in Bangor.

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