As I watched the events of the Boston Marathon bombing unfold, I was reminded of something we all said following the tragedy of 9/11:
Nothing justifies the killing of innocent people.
That phrase is acknowledged as a universal human principle. When spoken by the people of the United States, however, it is more than a bit disingenuous. An accurate version for US voices might be the following:
Nothing justifies the killing of innocent people, except …
- the institution of slavery; not only did at least one million slaves die during the Middle Passage to America, many more died here before and after slavery was abolished in the US; 1,2
- the imposition of economic sanctions (at least 500,000 Iraqi children died from US-sponsored, UN-imposed economic sanctions;3
- a woman’s right to choose (over one million abortions are performed each year in the US);4
- the right to keep and bear arms (over 30,000 firearm-related deaths occur each year in the US); 5
- following proper police procedure (numerous innocent people have been killed by US police; valid statistics are difficult if not impossible to find – surprise, surprise!); 6
- military necessity (an estimated four million civilians were killed during the Vietnam War, mostly by US forces); 7
- the doctrine of discovery (an estimated twelve million Indians died during our physical and economic takeover of North America); 8
- the moral imperative of free trade (nearly 300,000 Indian farmers have died as a result of neoliberal economics and the introduction of GM crops from the US); 9
- the war on terror (a disputed but growing number of civilians, certainly in the hundreds, has been killed by US drone strikes).10
I’m sure you can think of other exceptions which could be added to this list. If none immediately come to mind, please ponder these three basic justifications for America’s murders:
- The dead were not “innocent”, or
- The dead were not “people”, or
- We didn’t kill them (someone else did, they killed themselves, or they were killed by a concept or an institution).
Our past and present crimes in no way justify anyone’s attacks on America. And I agree that our leaders should not give in to the demands of terrorists. But there are two things which have yet to be tried as strategies in our on-going war against terror: telling the truth, and practicing what we preach.
I suggest we open a new phase in the war against terror by doing the following:
- Stop using food as a weapon,
- Stop threatening sovereign nations,
- Stop supporting dictators and oppressive regimes,
- Scrupulously follow all domestic and international laws,
- Arrest and prosecute America’s torturers and war criminals, and
- Start acting as if we really believe that “nothing justifies the killing of innocent people”.
Or we could continue militarizing our police, installing more spy cameras, violating more civil liberties, and torturing or force feeding more detainees in the vain hope that the rest of the world will once again acknowledge our fundamental goodness.
Which would you prefer?
- The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database [↩]
- How the End of Slavery Led to Starvation and Death for Millions of Black Americans [↩]
- UN Says Sanctions Have Killed Some 500,000 Iraqi Children [↩]
- The 2012 US Statistical Abstract [↩]
- Total Gun Deaths [↩]
- Innocent Down [↩]
- Vietnam War History, Introduction [↩]
- Were American Indians the Victims of Genocide? [↩]
- Dirty White Gold [↩]
- Counting Deaths from Drone Strikes [↩]