September 9, 2002 in the Guardian/UK

Drain the Swamp and There Will Be No More Mosquitoes
By attacking Iraq, the US will invite a new wave of terrorist attacks

by Noam Chomsky

September 11 shocked many Americans into an awareness that they had better pay much closer attention to what the US government does in the world and how it is perceived. Many issues have been opened for discussion that were not on the agenda before. That's all to the good.

It is also the merest sanity, if we hope to reduce the likelihood of future atrocities. It may be comforting to pretend that our enemies "hate our freedoms," as President Bush stated, but it is hardly wise to ignore the real world, which conveys different lessons.

The president is not the first to ask: "Why do they hate us?" In a staff discussion 44 years ago, President Eisenhower described "the campaign of hatred against us [in the Arab world], not by the governments but by the people". His National Security Council outlined the basic reasons: the US supports corrupt and oppressive governments and is "opposing political or economic progress" because of its interest in controlling the oil resources of the region.

Post-September 11 surveys in the Arab world reveal that the same reasons hold today, compounded with resentment over specific policies. Strikingly, that is even true of privileged, western-oriented sectors in the region.

To cite just one recent example: in the August 1 issue of Far Eastern Economic Review, the internationally recognized regional specialist Ahmed Rashid writes that in Pakistan "there is growing anger that US support is allowing [Musharraf's] military regime to delay the promise of democracy".

Today we do ourselves few favors by choosing to believe that "they hate us" and "hate our freedoms". On the contrary, these are attitudes of people who like Americans and admire much about the US, including its freedoms. What they hate is official policies that deny them the freedoms to which they too aspire.

For such reasons, the post-September 11 rantings of Osama bin Laden - for example, about US support for corrupt and brutal regimes, or about the US "invasion" of Saudi Arabia - have a certain resonance, even among those who despise and fear him. From resentment, anger and frustration, terrorist bands hope to draw support and recruits.

We should also be aware that much of the world regards Washington as a terrorist regime. In recent years, the US has taken or backed actions in Colombia, Nicaragua, Panama, Sudan and Turkey, to name a few, that meet official US definitions of "terrorism" - that is, when Americans apply the term to enemies.

In the most sober establishment journal, Foreign Affairs, Samuel Huntington wrote in 1999: "While the US regularly denounces various countries as 'rogue states,' in the eyes of many countries it is becoming the rogue superpower ... the single greatest external threat to their societies."

Such perceptions are not changed by the fact that, on September 11, for the first time, a western country was subjected on home soil to a horrendous terrorist attack of a kind all too familiar to victims of western power. The attack goes far beyond what's sometimes called the "retail terror" of the IRA, FLN or Red Brigades.

The September 11 terrorism elicited harsh condemnation throughout the world and an outpouring of sympathy for the innocent victims. But with

An international Gallup poll in late September found little support for "a military attack" by the US in Afghanistan. In Latin America, the region with the most experience of US intervention, support ranged from 2% in Mexico to 16% in Panama.

The current "campaign of hatred" in the Arab world is, of course, also fueled by US policies toward Israel-Palestine and Iraq. The US has provided the crucial support for Israel's harsh military occupation, now in its 35th year.

One way for the US to lessen Israeli-Palestinian tensions would be to stop refusing to join the long-standing international consensus that calls for recognition of the right of all states in the region to live in peace and security, including a Palestinian state in the currently occupied territories (perhaps with minor and mutual border adjustments).

In Iraq, a decade of harsh sanctions under US pressure has strengthened Saddam Hussein while leading to the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis
- perhaps more people "than have been slain by all so-called weapons of mass destruction throughout history", military analysts John and Karl Mueller wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1999.

Washington's present justifications to attack Iraq have far less credibility than when President Bush Sr was welcoming Saddam as an ally and a trading partner after he had committed his worst brutalities - as in Halabja, where Iraq attacked Kurds with poison gas in 1988. At the time, the murderer Saddam was more dangerous than he is today.

As for a US attack against Iraq, no one, including Donald Rumsfeld, can realistically guess the possible costs and consequences. Radical Islamist extremists surely hope that an attack on Iraq will kill many people and destroy much of the country, providing recruits for terrorist actions.

They presumably also welcome the "Bush doctrine" that proclaims the right of attack against potential threats, which are virtually limitless. The president has announced: "There's no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland." That's true.

Threats are everywhere, even at home. The prescription for endless war poses a far greater danger to Americans than perceived enemies do, for reasons the terrorist organizations understand very well.

Twenty years ago, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Yehoshaphat Harkabi, also a leading Arabist, made a point that still holds true. "To offer an honorable solution to the Palestinians respecting their right to self-determination: that is the solution of the problem of terrorism," he said. "When the swamp disappears, there will be no more mosquitoes."

At the time, Israel enjoyed the virtual immunity from retaliation within the occupied territories that lasted until very recently. But Harkabi's warning was apt, and the lesson applies more generally.

Well before September 11 it was understood that with modern technology, the rich and powerful will lose their near monopoly of the means of violence and can expect to suffer atrocities on home soil.

If we insist on creating more swamps, there will be more mosquitoes, with awesome capacity for destruction.

If we devote our resources to draining the swamps, addressing the roots of the "campaigns of hatred", we can not only reduce the threats we face but also live up to ideals that we profess and that are not beyond reach if we choose to take them seriously.

Noam Chomsky is professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the US bestseller 9-11 chomsky@MIT.edu

© Noam Chomsky/New York Times Syndicate
Michael McClure was the first person I ever heard address the "beauty" of the mushrroom cloud of an atomic bomb. I thought then "how true, and how brave to say it." I felt the same way reading this prose poem and wanted to share it.

Remembering the unimaginable, one year after

A couple leaped from the south tower, hand in hand. They reached for each other and their hands met and they jumped. Jennifer Brickhouse saw them falling, hand in hand.

Many people jumped. Perhaps hundreds. No one knows. They struck the pavement with such force that there was a pink mist in the air.

The mayor reported the mist.

A kindergarten boy who saw people falling in flames told his teacher that the birds were on fire. She ran with him on her shoulders out of the ashes.

Tiffany Keeling saw fireballs falling; she later realized they were people. Jennifer Griffin saw people falling and wept as she told the story. Niko Winstral saw people free-falling backwards with their hands out, as if they were parachuting. Joe Duncan on his roof on Duane Street looked up and saw people jumping. Henry Weintraub saw people "leaping as they flew out." John Carson saw people jumping from a thousand feet in the air. Kirk Kjeldsen saw people lining up and jumping, flailing on the way down. Jane Tedder saw people leaping and the sight haunts her at night. Steve Tamas counted 14 people jumping and then he stopped counting. Stuart DeHann saw one woman's dress billowing as she fell and he saw a shirtless man falling end over end and he too saw the couple leaping hand in hand. Several pedestrians were killed by people falling from the sky. A fireman was killed by a body falling from the sky.

But he reached for her hand and she reached for his hand and they leaped out the window holding hands.

The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, wrote John the Apostle, and the elements shall melt with a fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers, but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary ordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love.

There is no fear in love, wrote John, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment.

Their hands reaching and joining are the most powerful prayer I can imagine, the most eloquent, the most graceful. It is everything that we are capable of against horror and loss and death. It is what makes me believe that we are not craven fools and charlatans to believe in God, to believe that human beings have greatness and holiness within them like seeds that open only under great fires, to believe that some unimaginable essence of who we are persists past the dissolution of what we were, to believe against the evil hourly evidence that love is why we are here.

Their passing away was thought an affliction, and their going forth from us utter destruction, says the Book of Wisdom, but they are in peace. They shall shine, and shall dart about us as sparks through stubble.

No one knows who they were: husband and wife, lovers, dear friends, colleagues, strangers thrown together at the window there at the lip of hell. Maybe they didn't even reach for each other consciously, maybe it was instinctive, a reflex, as they both decided at the same time to take two running steps and jump out the shattered window. But they did reach for each other and they held tight and leaped, falling endlessly into the smoking canyon at 200 miles an hour, falling so far and so fast that they would have blacked out before they hit the pavement near Liberty Street, so hard that there was a pink mist in the air.

I trust I shall shortly see thee, John wrote, and we shall speak face to face.

Jennifer Brickhouse saw them holding hands and Stuart DeHann saw them holding hands and I hold on to that.

(Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland. Reprinted in the Utne Reader from The American Scholar, Winter 2002.
Will The Corporate Powder Keg Ignite A Populist Explosion?
by Arianna Huffington

When I logged on to AOL to check my e-mail last week, I was more than a little surprised to find myself confronted not with one of those annoying pop-up ads for a cheap subscription to Teen People or the now-standard promo for the latest Warner Bros. movie, but with the faces of three smiling men. The caption read: 'The Greediest Execs of All: They made billions as investors lost big.'

Intrigued, I clicked on the accompanying link and was transported to "The Greedy Bunch," Fortune magazine's exhaustive evisceration of America's most avaricious executives -- featuring blood-boiling stories such as "You Bought. They Sold." and "The Cash Out Kings."

Here was AOL, currently under SEC investigation for questionable accounting practices, eagerly redirecting me to AOL Time Warner corporate sibling Fortune for a stinging expose. And there, front and center among the greedy executives, was square-jawed AOL Time Warner Chairman Steve Case. Who said synergy is dead?

I'm guessing this wasn't what Case and Gerald Levin had in mind at that famous press conference -- which now seems decades ago -- announcing their great media colossus. Yet the prime placement given the greedy executives' story shows just how fully it has captured the public imagination. Who needs Dr. Evil when you've got Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers, Dennis Kozlowski and the seemingly endless Dickensian parade of other corporate villains?

Traditionally, declaring class warfare has been an ineffective political strategy in America -- are you listening Al Gore? Most Americans, rather than resenting the wealthy, aspire to one day share their lofty status. It's why this country's ever-widening division into two nations has had such little effect on Washington.

But Americans also have a deeply ingrained sense of fairness. The scandalous CEOs have pushed us too far -- and finally are reaping the whirlwind of public fury.

Being rewarded -- even over-rewarded -- for a job well done is as American as rescued miners selling their stories to Disney. We don't begrudge Vin Diesel his $20 million payday for XXX 2, and we even smile indulgently at the $250 million A-Rod gets for playing baseball -- it's the genius of the market, we tell ourselves, it's supply and demand. But making billions while your shareholders lose their shirts, and your workers lose their jobs, sticks in our craw.

The Fortune list of the Top 25 Cash-Out Kings tells the sorry tale of rapacious CEOs who, between them, pocketed an astounding $10.7 billion, and all while the companies they led crashed and burned. Singing the gospel of its new-found populist religion, Fortune, which spent the better part of the last decade exalting this same corporate culture, described the CEOs' rampage as an obsession with becoming "immensely, extraordinarily, obscenely wealthy."

CEO salaries went up 442 percent during the '90s. In 1980, the average CEO made 42 times more than the average blue-collar worker. In 1990, it was 85 times more. In 2000, it was a staggering 531. Meanwhile we have 8.3 million people out of work and millions of middle-class Americans whose retirement plans have shriveled away. This time, it's not just the disenfranchised who are getting the short end of the economic stick. It's Mr. and Mrs. Working Stiff.

Which is why the current epidemic of infectious greed has the potential to ignite an explosion of populist outrage -- one with the power to remake our democracy. The question is: Who will light the fuse?

Clearly not our leaders in Washington. Our elected representatives are so compromised, such an integral part of the scandal, that if they set off a populist petard, they'd only be hoisted by it themselves. Those currently in power have proven themselves chronically unable to bite the corporate hand that feeds and feeds and feeds them.

So, instead of real reform, we get watered down initiatives, slap on the wrist fines, showy arrests -- and the "honey, come look at this" sight of Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe attempting to ride the corporate scandals to a Democratic victory in November. That's Terry McAuliffe, the same guy who turned $100,000 and his friendships with Bill Clinton and Gary Winnick into an $18 million windfall from the now-bankrupt Global Crossing. The same Terry McAuliffe who earlier this month proudly unveiled the final drawings of the DNC's new, state-of-the-art $28 million dollar headquarters, financed entirely through massive -- and soon to be illegal -- soft money donations. Not exactly the poster boy for Populist Outrage.

Among the biggest donors to the DNC building fund is Sen. Jon Corzine, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, who made a mint on Wall Street helping create some of the same banking and accounting schemes corporate America has been using to bilk and defraud shareholders. But now, of course, he's a crusader for reform and a champion of the little guy. Or, at least, of those angry little guys who vote.

It's astounding how brazenly these guys switch sides, as if all they have to do is change jerseys and we'll believe they're suddenly on our team. Watching Corzine and John Castellani, the president of The Business Roundtable, on Meet the Press, sternly wagging their fingers, I wondered: Where were they in the '90s when, you know, all this was going on? After all, Fortune's findings were based on an analysis of CEO stock sales filed with the SEC, filings that are available to anyone who chooses to look for them. Why weren't they -- and why, for that matter, wasn't Fortune -- crying foul about these things ten, five or even one year ago? Were they unable to find the SEC in the phone book? Or were they too caught up in the irrational exuberance to notice?

As our collective anger collides head-on with our political system's intransigence, we're stuck with a classic case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object. Something has got to give. In the past, it's been us. But it doesn't have to be.

We can't count on a white knight riding to the rescue -- although I have to confess to a hope-over-experience fantasy that John McCain will finally abandon his dollar-rich but morally bankrupt party and mount an Independent steed. But, other than that, look around at the political landscape -- 100 senators, 435 members of the House, 50 governors. Is there anyone -- anyone -- who strikes you as capable of breaking the logjam, of tapping into the American people's longing for fairness and justice and equity?

I hear silence. The spark will have to come from outside the current political gene pool.

Will it be, say, a younger, charismatic Ralph Nader? A Ross Perot without the corporate baggage or bats in the belfry? A real life version of Jimmy Stewart's Jefferson Smith, who arrives on the scene funded by $1 donations from paperboys and soda jerks, or, these days, video store clerks and cubicle drones?

My guess is none of the above. Instead, it will be a critical mass of individuals and groups mobilized by the injustice given flesh and blood by the current scandals. This time we have a story to organize around, a story that has it all: narrative power, colorful crooks, sympathetic victims, juicy details (who can forget Kozlowski's $6,000 shower curtain?), political intrigue, global fallout. A story so compelling that even our part-of-the-problem media giants can't ignore it.

The scandal that is. The real solutions they'll try to ignore for as long as they can. But beneath the media radar screen, people are organizing across the country. From established organizations engaging in grassroots work like Public Citizen, Common Cause, Global Exchange, the Center for Public Integrity, the Pension Rights Center, Workingassetsradio.com, and United for a Fair Economy to younger groups like Citizen Works and Junction-City.com to Jim Hightower's traveling road show, "The Rolling Thunder Down-Home Democracy Tour."

"We have the chance," Scott Harshbarger, president and CEO of Common Cause, told me, "of combining the traditionally disenfranchised with a new investor class that now sees pensions and college funds disappearing. This is a unique opportunity to organize and politicize them."

While an over-reliance on market-based solutions may have gotten us into this mess, here's hoping that the growing demand for fairer, saner, and more democratic answers for America's problems may increase their supply.

We were told again and again during the '90s that our unprecedented prosperity was fueled by consumer spending. Well, the time has come for these shoppers to leave the malls and take to the streets -- to go from invigorating our economy to reinvigorating our democracy.

Liberalism's Patriotic Vision

September 5, 2002

With the massacres of a year ago came righteous outrage, bewilderment and a thirst for interpretations: What could such colossal violence mean? What did mass murder require of us? Who were we now? We needed a story.

The White House declared that the terrorists hated our freedoms; after an interlude of coalition building, the administration resumed its America-love-it-or-leave-it attitude. Members of Congress became sullen cheerleaders, cowed by the White House's willingess to question their loyalty. Patriotism seemed to function not as a spur to come to the aid of the country, but as a silencer.

Absolutists dominated the field - and eerily converged in
their penchant for going it alone. The terrorists took it
upon themselves to act in the name of all of Islam and all Muslims, to settle all accounts and slaughter all enemies. There could be no appeal or dissent; they expected their allies to be as silent as their enemies. They openly yearned to restore the eighth-century caliphate: a purist theocracy and an empire if ever there was one.

Squandering much support from around the world, President
Bush soon showed he was ready to go it alone, keeping even Congress at arm's length. He was not content with self-defense. Countries that were not with us were against us. We were launched upon a permanent war against anyone he declared we were at war against; the administration reserved the right to break treaties and to undertake pre-emptive war.

The American left, too, had its version of unilateralism. Responsibility for the attacks had, somehow, to lie with American imperialism, because all responsibility has to lie with American imperialism - a perfect echo of the right's idea that all good powers are and should be somehow American. Intellectuals and activists on the far left could not be troubled much with compassion or defense. Disconnected from Americans who reasonably felt their patriotic selves attacked, they were uncomprehending. Knowing little about Al Qaeda, they filed it under Anti-Imperialism, and American attacks on the Taliban under Vietnam Quagmire. For them, not flying the flag became an urgent cause. In their go-it-alone attitude, they weirdly paralleled the blustering right-wing approach to the world.

Long before Sept. 11, this naysaying left had seceded. When Ralph Nader's Greens equated a Bush presidency with a Gore presidency, they took leave of any practical connection to America. Rightly demanding profound reforms but deluded about their popularity, they withheld their energy from the Democrats and squandered alliances that would have promoted their ideals. They acted as though their cause had to be lonely to be good.

Many liberals and social democrats saw through this hollow negativity and posed necessary questions. What was a war against terrorism? To what did it bind the nation? War against whom, and for how long? Why should American foreign policy be held hostage to oil? How should strong and privileged America belong in the world? Was the United States to be a one-nation tribunal of "regime change" wherever it detected evil spinning on an axis?

Some good answers float in the air now. They have not yet
found political support, but they could. As the Bush administration paints itself into a corner, we could be headed toward a new liberal moment. Liberals need to step up their promotion of a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan and elsewhere, helping to stifle terrorism. Even conservatives no longer smirk about nation building or foreign aid.

Likewise, mainstream economists like Joseph Stiglitz (once chief economist of the World Bank) and Jeffrey Sachs (former free-market shock therapist) campaign to convince rich countries to give more development aid.

Liberals should affirm that American power, working within coalitions, can advance democratic values, as in Bosnia and Kosovo - but they should oppose this administration's push toward war in Iraq, which is unlikely to work out that way. Against oil-based myopia, there are murmurs (they should be
clamors) that we should phase out the oil dependency that overheats the earth and binds us to tyrants.
On the domestic front, corporate chiefs have lost their new-economy charm - and the Bush administration's earlier efforts on their behalf have lost whatever political purchase they had. With the bursting of the stock market bubble, deregulation no longer looks like a cure-all.

Whom do Americans admire now? Whom do we trust? Americans
did not take much reminding that when skyscrapers were on
fire, they needed firefighters and police officers, not
Arthur Andersen accountants. Yet we confront an
administration whose policies reflect the idea that
sacrifice - financial and otherwise - is meant for people
who wear blue collars.

A reform bloc in Congress, bolstered in November, could
start renewing the country. But we need much more than legislation. One year after, surely many Americans are primed for a patriotism of action, not of pledges. The era that began Sept. 11 would be a superb time to crack the jingoists' claim to a monopoly of patriotic virtue. Instead of letting minions of corporate power run away with the flag (while banking their tax credits offshore), we need to remake the tools of our public life - our schools, social services and transportation. Post-Vietnam liberals have an opening now, freed of our 60's flag anxiety and our reflexive negativity, to embrace a liberal patriotism that is unapologetic and uncowed. It's time for the patriotism of mutual aid, not just symbolic displays or self-congratulation. It's time to close the gap between the nation we love and the justice we also love.

Todd Gitlin, a former president of Students for a
Democratic Society, is author of "Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives." He is a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University.


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September 10, 2002

Real Battles and Empty Metaphors


ince last Sept. 11, the Bush administration has told the American people that America is at war. But this war is of a peculiar nature. It seems to be, given the nature of the enemy, a war with no foreseeable end. What kind of war is that?

There are precedents. Wars on such enemies as cancer, poverty and drugs are understood to be endless wars. There will always be cancer, poverty and drugs. And there will always be despicable terrorists, mass murderers like those who perpetrated the attack a year ago tomorrow ‹ as well as freedom fighters (like the French Resistance and the African National Congress) who were once called terrorists by those they opposed but were relabeled by history.

When a president of the United States declares war on cancer or poverty or drugs, we know that "war" is a metaphor. Does anyone think that this war ‹ the war that America has declared on terrorism ‹ is a metaphor? But it is, and one with powerful consequences. War has been disclosed, not actually declared, since the threat is deemed to be self-evident.

Real wars are not metaphors. And real wars have a beginning and an end. Even the horrendous, intractable conflict between Israel and Palestine will end one day. But this antiterror war can never end. That is one sign that it is not a war but, rather, a mandate for expanding the use of American power.

When the government declares war on cancer or poverty or drugs it means the government is asking that new forces be mobilized to address the problem. It also means that the government cannot do a whole lot to solve it. When the government declares war on terrorism ‹ terrorism being a multinational, largely clandestine network of enemies ‹ it means that the government is giving itself permission to do what it wants. When it wants to intervene somewhere, it will. It will brook no limits on its power.

The American suspicion of foreign "entanglements" is very old. But this administration has taken the radical position that all international treaties are potentially inimical to the interests of the United States ‹ since by signing a treaty on anything (whether environmental issues or the conduct of war and the treatment of prisoners) the United States is binding itself to obey conventions that might one day be invoked to limit America's freedom of action to do whatever the government thinks is in the country's interests. Indeed, that's what a treaty is: it limits the right of its signatories to complete freedom of action on the subject of the treaty. Up to now, it has not been the avowed position of any respectable nation-state that this is a reason for eschewing treaties.

Describing America's new foreign policy as actions undertaken in wartime is a powerful disincentive to having a mainstream debate about what is actually happening. This reluctance to ask questions was already apparent in the immediate aftermath of the attacks last Sept. 11. Those who objected to the jihad language used by the American government (good versus evil, civilization versus barbarism) were accused of condoning the attacks, or at least the legitimacy of the grievances behind the attacks.

Under the slogan United We Stand, the call to reflectiveness was equated with dissent, dissent with lack of patriotism. The indignation suited those who have taken charge of the Bush administration's foreign policy. The aversion to debate among the principal figures in the two parties continues to be apparent in the run-up to the commemorative ceremonies on the anniversary of the attacks ‹ ceremonies that are viewed as part of the continuing affirmation of American solidarity against the enemy. The comparison between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 7, 1941, has never been far from mind.

Once again, America was the object of a lethal surprise attack that cost many ‹ in this case, civilian ‹ lives, more than the number of soldiers and sailors who died at Pearl Harbor. However, I doubt that great commemorative ceremonies were felt to be needed to keep up morale and unite the country on Dec. 7, 1942. That was a real war, and one year later it was very much still going on.

This is a phantom war and therefore in need of an anniversary. Such an anniversary serves a number of purposes. It is a day of mourning. It is an affirmation of national solidarity. But of one thing we can be sure. It is not a day of national reflection. Reflection, it has been said, might impair our "moral clarity." It is necessary to be simple, clear, united. Hence, there will be borrowed words, like the Gettysburg Address, from that bygone era when great rhetoric was possible.

Abraham Lincoln's speeches were not just inspirational prose. They were bold statements of new national goals in a time of real, terrible war. The Second Inaugural Address dared to herald the reconciliation that must follow Northern victory in the Civil War. The primacy of the commitment to end slavery was the point of Lincoln's exaltation of freedom in the Gettysburg Address. But when the great Lincoln speeches are ritually cited, or recycled for commemoration, they have become completely emptied of meaning. They are now gestures of nobility, of greatness of spirit. The reasons for their greatness are irrelevant.

Such an anachronistic borrowing of eloquence is in the grand tradition of American anti-intellectualism: the suspicion of thought, of words. Hiding behind the humbug that the attack of last Sept. 11 was too horrible, too devastating, too painful, too tragic for words, that words could not possibly express our grief and indignation, our leaders have a perfect excuse to drape themselves in others' words, now voided of content. To say something might be controversial. It might actually drift into some kind of statement and therefore invite rebuttal. Not saying anything is best.

I do not question that we have a vicious, abhorrent enemy that opposes most of what I cherish ‹ including democracy, pluralism, secularism, the equality of the sexes, beardless men, dancing (all kinds), skimpy clothing and, well, fun. And not for a moment do I question the obligation of the American government to protect the lives of its citizens. What I do question is the pseudo-declaration of pseudo-war. These necessary actions should not be called a "war." There are no endless wars; but there are declarations of the extension of power by a state that believes it cannot be challenged.

America has every right to hunt down the perpetrators of these crimes and their accomplices. But this determination is not necessarily a war. Limited, focused military engagements do not translate into "wartime" at home. There are better ways to check America's enemies, less destructive of constitutional rights and of international agreements that serve the public interest of all, than continuing to invoke the dangerous, lobotomizing notion of endless war.

Susan Sontag, a novelist and essayist, is author of the forthcoming "Regarding the Pain of Others.''