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Action Alert 

The American Way

2 October 2001

On my nightstand - actually a television set - there is a pocket-size copy of the ancient Chinese classic, "The Art of War." I've read it a few times before but, with the war on terrorism clouding our days, it seemed like a good idea to take in a little more Sun Tzu.

"When you induce your opponents to come to you, then their force is always empty; as long as you do not go to them, your force is always full. Attacking emptiness with fullness is like throwing stones on eggs - the eggs are sure to break," I read.

I thought about my amateur boxing days and how I had preferred the strategy of counter-punching, where baiting opponents with head and fist fakes was key. Then another thought. Had the perpetrators and collaborators of the Sept. 11 atrocities been reading this? Are they, whoever "they" are, trying to induce U.S. decision-makers to attack fullness with emptiness?

I thumbed over to another page. "Complete victory is when the army does not fight, the city is not besieged, the destruction does not go long, but in each case the enemy is overcome by strategy."

So, you don't have to be a pacifist to think nonviolent strategy is an effective way to confront conflict and the only way to achieve "complete victory."

Sun Tzu doesn't call it "examining root causes," but does insist that government policies be constantly and critically reviewed to make sure they are in alignment with "the Way," which is characterized by "humanness and justice."

At the beginning of the 20th century, 85 to 90 percent of war casualties were military. Today, the opposite is true - anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of war casualties are non-combatants, which means that, though the weapons used may vary, terrorism happens all over the world, all the time, whether CNN chooses to cover it or not.

Dan Smith of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, published a scholarly paper on the subject. I found it compelling. He points out how guerrilla forces the world over "almost all recruit from the impoverished, the miserable, the starving, the people with no other prospects, with no hope and no reason for hope - casualties of development... . Each individual's choice to join the guerrillas is made for individual reasons, in a context of desperation that leads to desperate acts."

But Smith isn't suggesting that poverty causes war. "Crude statistical correlations do not indicate causality. Poverty may cause war yet war may also cause poverty. Identifying the causes of conflict is complicated," he writes.

However, Smith's research shows there is a high statistical association between debt and conflict. Extravagant borrowing and spending from the late 1960s and 1970s sent many Third World governments spiraling into debt, which by the early 1980s, they could not afford to service.

The management of debt and the organization of debt service moved away from commercial banks to multilateral institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and its various off-shoots.

"The conditions under which the IMF and the Bank will reschedule debts and make new loans for new development projects essentially boil down to a particularly pure form of free-market capitalism," Smith writes.

I prefer peace activists and World Bank protesters over guerrillas, but who listens to the critics of globalization and uneven development?

Of the 71 Third World countries that have received adjustment loans, 50 are conflict-ridden countries, 19 are involved in all out wars and 31 are plagued by widespread sub-war violence. Of the top 25 Third World debtors, 22 are embroiled in conflicts. Of the 32 war-torn countries in the Third World, 20 carry major debt burdens.

"The high statistical association of debt and conflict is only an association. It suggests an important issue to explore but more work is required before causality can be uncovered. The double fact that many conflicts have an identifiably multiple causality and that many also have a causality which changes over time means that statistical analysis is not an attractive way to explain causes," Smith concludes.

"The historical record is clear that war creates debt; the question is whether debt can also lead to war. In pursuing that question, we should not focus on finance but on economic and social policies," he recommends.

To explore these issues is not justifying terrorism or negotiating with terrorists. It's about trying to understand the world and seeing if we can do something creative and constructive, together, to make the planet less violent, aiming to reduce the number of future victims. The Sept. 11 attacks are inexcusable, but critical self-examination is the American way.

Sean Gonsalves,
Copyright 2001 Cape Cod Times.

Index page on Response to attacks in US


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