Letter to the Editor

Time To Take Responsibility

It is difficult to own up to one’s own wrongs, and it is even more difficult for an entire nation to accept blame for having done wrong.

If nothing else, the attacks in New York should alert us to the need for taking responsibility for actions of our own that provoked the anger that led to the attacks. And being able to do that might lead us as a nation to see our way to remedying the behavior that has provoked such anger and such violence against us. What have we as a nation done to merit such anger and such violence?

There are three sources for the anger against us.

First, for decades we supported tyrannical regimes in the Middle East that tortured their own people, suppressed democracy and freedom of expression, and maintained power illegitimately and in defiance of the principles of government we ourselves supposedly stand for. We did this to forestall socialism in the area, the political economic doctrine that argues in favor of an equal distribution of wealth, to guarantee access to oil for oil companies that, back in the 1950s when all of this unfolded, strongly influenced our government, and, finally, to use the regimes to act as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

Second, we have acted hypocritically toward the various nations of the area that have defied United Nations resolutions. When Iraq, a nation that disagrees with us, disobeys such resolutions, we bomb and boycott it, harming not only its military but also its civilian population.

When Israel, a nation that agrees with us and that we support, disobeys UN resolutions calling for an end to its occupation of Palestine, we support it in bombing its neighbors. We have not acted on principle; we have acted solely to promote factional interests for reasons that appear racist in motivation.

Thirdly, we have helped deny basic human rights to the Palestinian people, ignored past agreements and treaties that guarantee them a homeland, and failed to impose on Israel, which conquered Palestine and continues to occupy it, the rules we impose on others, the most important of which is that land taken through war must be returned to its owners when the war is over.

We have acted badly, and we continue to act badly in the eyes of many people of conscience in the world. That does not excuse the violence against us. But perhaps now, we can begin to get a sense of how the Arab peoples we have helped suppress feel when they are denied democratic rights in the sheikdoms we support or the Palestinian people we have helped deprive of rights and a homeland feel when the Israeli army murders them at will with our weapons.

We will feel anger over the violence done to us, but we must turn that anger into a sensible reflection on how we have acted to provoke such violence against us. And we must change how we have acted. Only then will the bad situation we have created be transformed in a way that ends the violence.

We must urge our government to put pressure on Israel to give the Palestinian people back their homeland, and we must elect representatives who will put our values of democracy and freedom before an interest in preserving access to oil by maintaining anti-democratic regimes such as the one in Saudi Arabia in power.

If we put our principles instead of political interests first, we can begin to act in ways that will make us appear to be heroes rather than villains in the eyes of dispossessed people all over the world.

Michael Ryan


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