"We Were Wrong"

By Wagner James Au

By Salon Staff
Published February 5, 2002 6:19PM (EST)

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I'm an old fan of Waggy Jim's writing, and quite familiar with his long-standing habit of firing scattershot to provoke and enrage. In "We Were Wrong," we're treated to a dollop of his "Ooh, aren't I bold and daring?" attitude, but slathered with the self-righteousness of the repentant. I respect that Au feels badly for expressing opposition to bombing Afghanistan a few months back. It ain't easy to come out and publicly admit that your stance has changed (which doesn't have to be the same as saying "We were wrong." The world isn't necessarily such a black-and-white place). Now that he's got religion, he wants to dunk the rest of us in the river. Hallelujah!

But Au fails to explain why people who do not believe in violence, murder and/or the power of the military-industrial complex should suddenly embrace war -- just because he happens to. Some "hardcore" liberals -- which these days seems to mean anyone who isn't waving flags and taking tea with Laura Bush in their spare time -- might be expressing their antiwar stance not because Chomsky talks genocide or Nader leads the Greens astray, but because they do not believe in war. For some of us, it doesn't have anything to do with whether 50 civilians were killed or 3,700. Some of us believe that war is a stupid way to run a planet. Will a military-based reality ever change if we continue to support it?

Additionally, Au's tone suggests that he thinks the war and its effects are over and done with, as he ridicules the prominent women who signed a petition stating, "We will not support the bombing or U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, for it would only punish suffering people, and increase the hatred on which terrorists feed." Your writer may have to eat his words and reverse his opinion yet again in the future. None of us knows yet how this is going to play out on a larger scale and on a longer time frame than a mere five months. But a country that swaggers around bombing people, blowing off treaties and pushing aside the Geneva Conventions in the name of its own holy war just might find greater global opposition, hatred and violence against it in upcoming years. What a radical, far-out concept! How very unrealistic of us extremist freaks to endorse a different way of doing things!

Those of us who've landed on the un-represented fringes of American belief do need leaders. Au is a Generation X-er like myself; perhaps he, like me, is just tired of the old guard Boomers claiming to lead the left. Perhaps he should start his own party, one combining concern for the environment with wholehearted support for the American military. But to demand confessions of guilt and retractions of one's beliefs from liberal leaders and independent media outlets is self-indulgent and over-the-top. Some people just don't want to be baptized.

-- Miss Tiffany Lee Brown, Editor, Signum Press

The success of the war in Afghanistan, especially combined with the surprising ability of the Bush administration to build an effective coalition prior to launching attacks, has forced me to examine much of my leftist perceptions of the United States. While certainly not excusing past and current abuses of U.S. foreign policy, the months since Sept. 11 have shown that under certain circumstances the U.S. can use its power and influence in positive ways.

I agree with Au that it is the duty of left-leaning thinkers to speak out against the well-entrenched elements of the left, which offer little solution beyond general condemnation. From someone who has also supported the fatalistic wings of the left, I hope that we can use the lessons learned in the last five months to salvage our party so it can once again offer workable and well-thought-out solutions to the domestic and global problems we face.

-- Todd Uzzell

Au is correct in asserting that the U.S. action in Afghanistan has been a success. Relatively few civilian casualties, a people liberated from an awful regime, the provision of emergency supplies and an effort by the U.S. government to avoid anti-Islamic sentiment are all laudable aspects of the action.

While the Left may have to admit "We Were Wrong," they should also add, "You're welcome." Much of the success behind this action has been due to a strong progressive political movement in the past. The U.S.'s determination to avoid anti-Muslim hate-mongering, as well as its effort to restore the rights of women in Afghanistan, has a lot to do with a persistent, liberal voice, interpreting history and analyzing current events over the past 50 years.

Moreover, a strong liberal voice continues to be needed. Despite President Bush's calls to acknowledge that all Americans have equal rights, we are unable to even monitor the civil rights of those being held for questioning -- we don't even have their names. In addition, a strong voice is needed to keep Bush and Congress from waging an unlimited, undefined war, as Bush seems to advocate. And finally, if this is to be a "war," we need to continue to ask why its prisoners are not "prisoners of war."

-- Jeremy Arkin

I don't understand the closing paragraphs of this article. If Chomsky, Sontag and others were wrong in their predictions, then why not simply show it and leave it at that? Why the added indignation at people not suspending their conscience for the sake of a grieving man? Why the rhetorical dismissal of Chomsky's reasoned and patient replies to his many critics as "flatly denied" and "quietly redefined". There just doesn't seem to be anything in this article that shows that the Left as represented by these few people is irrelevant or self-involved.

What comes across more clearly is a general confusion on the part of the author as to how to understand political thought and criticism under present conditions. It is perhaps a concern we all should have, but to allow ourselves the assumption that others are not genuine in their thinking and feeling about political issues is just unfair. It is a real concern for life that causes some to overlook the already dead and try to halt the death of more, no matter what the reason.

-- William Stafford

The hysterical text of the article leaves a lot to be desired. The problems with its premises are more than a few, but a few will do:

First we went to war to get bin Laden and destroy al-Qaida. We haven't done either, but we did overturn the government of Afghanistan. In other words we went to war to defeat one enemy and missed them and defeated another one. We started by attacking al-Qaida and defeated the Taliban. Kind of like Mike Tyson biting off the ear of the second in the corner instead of the opposing boxer.

We've replaced a puritanical right-wing government with a highly corruptible client state. Our government should be congratulated; it has managed to blind most of its citizens to the fact that it has totally (so far) failed in its original objectives (unless you think its original objectives were to replace the Taliban with a government that would be more acceptable and "reliable" to the ruling/oil class here). How long do you think it will take to get a contract to build that pipeline across Afghanistan now?

Second, the Taliban government's internal policies were no different or more misogynist than the internal policies of our "moderate" ally Saudi Arabia are.

Third, most of the people we were after were Saudis, not Afghans. Most of the money for and religious training for the terrorists came from our moderate ally Saudi Arabia, which has an unpleasant habit of merely exporting their crazies.

Fourth, do we believe what bin Laden has said about the reasons for 9/11? The writer seems to. If we do, then the reasons for the attack were the U.S. troops remaining in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War. A war that was viewed by all as a totally successful action with no fallout (until of course, 9/11). So for anyone to say at this stage that our "war" against the terrorists has been successful is kind of silly. It took 10 years for the fallout from the Gulf War to come back and bite us in the ass.

-- Ron Couch

I read Wagner James Au's article lambasting Greens and other self-righteous leftists with gratitude because someone from that camp has finally seen the light.

I voted for Nader in 1996 as a protest vote on the too right-wing policies of the Clinton administration. Had Clinton been involved in a close election that year I'd have voted for him because I'm a pragmatist on such matters: better a little than less than nothing at all.

The Greens in this country during the last election simply went off their collective rockers, and because the vast majority of them will never in a million years admit their pigheadedness, Au's suggestion that the liberal left should attack and further marginalize that crowd, and to try to win elections without them, is a hard alternative that warrants serious consideration.

-- Ed Adams

Perhaps Wagner James Au truly hadn't thought things through when he applauded Amos Brown's comments at the Sept. 11 memorial in San Francisco. But that's no reason for him to cast his lack of insight on everyone who might be inclined to agree with Brown, whose comments, it should be noted, have nothing to do with the war in Afghanistan, which his article is supposed to be about.

Brown's strongly worded comments, while perhaps ill-timed, were still an apt critique of America's foreign policy, which has created so much resentment throughout the world. That is not a justification for the Sept. 11 attacks, as mainstream pundits have been inclined to charge. But if our common goal is to prevent future terrorist attacks, it is absolutely necessary to look at the climate from which such hostility is incubated.

As for the war in Afghanistan, the fall of the Taliban and the al-Qaida camps can't be overlooked. However, the situation is hardly as simple as Au paints it. The post-Taliban Afghanistan has seen a dramatic increase in murders, robberies and kidnappings. Before Au starts harping on Eve Ensler for opposing the war while supporting RAWA, he might want to check out the Afghanistan reports on www.rawa.org, which is full of reports of post-Taliban chaos and articles about U.S. bombing casualties.

Is Afghanistan's most prominent feminist organization calling for the return of the Taliban? Of course not. It's just that the people actually involved in the situation acknowledge the complexities of the situation, which is more than the flip-flopping Au seems capable of. If the mainstream media pundits and the hawks defining our foreign policy weren't guilty of the same, I might suggest that Wagner James Au should stick to reviewing video games.

-- Arun Pillai

Salon Staff

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