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A Letter to my American Friends (2.11.2004)

Written on 02.11.04 07, that is two days prior to the Presidential election in the United States

Last September, when I arrived in Chicago, the view from the plane allowed immediately one conclusion: the 'clean sky' act by President Bush had failed to produce the wished for result, or at least judging by the polluted sky over that city, something had gone terrible wrong under this administration as far as the environment is concerned, but not only.

Once in the terminal, and while changing flights - I was on transit en route to Canada - and queuing at the new security check since 11th of September, a woman from Los Angeles and I struck up a conversation. She told me what was happening in her neighborhood: people, including ex Vietnam Veterans, were picketing every day with a sign on how many more had died since March 21, 2003 in Iraq.

Yesterday it became known that more than 100 000 people have died in Iraq. The estimate is a conservative one and excludes cities deeply involved in fighting. The horrific number becomes even more horrific since the main cause of death is bombing from the air. It refutes the possibility of surgical bombing so much praised after Kosovo 1999.

I suppose all of you are by now over-saturated with political speeches and advertisements praising the one or the other candidate. You may even say enough has been said, all we need to do now is to get a good sleep before voting on Tuesday. Still, even if politics and life shall continue after November 4th, there are daily news coming in. To these we have to respond as it is important that we are able to structure our thoughts and actions in terms of a wished for common future.

There is the recent release of the tape which depicts Bin Laden. It may be called a sort of expected 'October surprise'. He addresses directly the American people and says to them that security is in their hands; all what they have to do is to stop attacking other people! It is that simple and direct. Bush was not convincing in his response by merely saying "the American people shall not be intimidated". By saying that, he already admitted that they are. It shows that there different levels of intelligence when it comes to deal with such a challenge. Unfortunately that challenge has been transformed due to the over simplistic and dangerous formulation of 'war against terrorism' into a war which encourages still further 'terror'. Is that really a strategy? Due to terrorism being an invisible phenomenon, and because of the asymmetrical relationship with here a huge army and there a few people in the bush, the enemy cannot be clearly defined or else everything ends up being ill devised, especially if it means only Bin Laden or someone like Saddam Hussein are the enemies number 1.

With regards to use of the media at prime time, it was already analyzed by some who concluded "the energy loaded" images of September 11th - the two planes crushing into the Twin Towers - will determine the new communication strategy. Naturally the Bush-Cheney administration responded with a kind of new propaganda technique. They call it 'public diplomacy', and ever since public statements spin out of control. There is no longer a sober relationship to people who have a need to hear the facts and the need for some convincing proof based on clear moral arguments and ethical principles, before they can draw some practical conclusions. All that is made impossible once Patriotism spins out of control and Home Land Security blindly enforced.

Indeed, people are not tired of speeches or campaigns, they are sick and tired of truths being overturned and facts twisted until everything is made to appear as if to suit the strategy. With it goes the myth of America being strong and God having blessed this land.

However, there cannot be any myth, if there is no 'friendly attitude towards the world'. This was said Cassirer who had to flee Nazi Germany and went into exile. He went to the United States where he found refuge. What he meant with 'friendly attitude' is that the underlying disposition of how we regard the world will also influence how we experience the world. It is a bit like what we shout into the forest, shouts back at us. It is our own doing in which sort of relationships we end up in. If we attack the world, we enter a completely different relationship.

Now many Americans think that they have to a large degree no relationship to the outside world or else they have come from other parts of the world, but by trying to get away from that past, they wish to live in an artificial present. Forgive me if I say it so generally.

There is something missing in many forms of communications Americans practice with the rest of the world. Already in 1987, when I stayed at Cornell University, I heard a big concern amongst the staff of the Western Society Program. It was designed to educate future diplomats and other people dealing with foreign relationships with knowledge about Europe. A cut in funding would mean that the number of people with real experiences of other countries would diminish, so that understanding what governs the USA-Europe relationship would be impoverished. Thus one can simply imagine if that trend continues and would be even reinforced, less and less Americans would be educated in a way to understand other cultures and countries. This does not even take into consideration the fact that the American military brass rushes usually from one American base to another without ever getting to know the country they have landed in.

In the past some jokes were mde about certain hotels being everywhere just like Coca Cola to make the Americans feel at home, even when traveling through different countries and cultures, may have provoked James Clifford to write his book called 'Predicament of Culture'. He describes a world in which all cultures look the same and thus that important dimension of the 'otherness' has disappeared. If the case, we are no longer able to seek a critical self understanding of our own identities by letting it be challenged by the otherness of the others. If everything appears to be the same, then we end up living in but an over-simplistic world unaware of its own assumptions and totally ignorant of the needs of the others who have gone silent or under.

That was a discussion in Europe around 1993-1994, that is when the European Union was not yet perceived so much from its weak sides, but was still looked upon as an alternative model to the nation state project which the United States has been advocating in order to avoid any positive challenges. The mistaken world view which follows that premise is that the United States can only understand the world in terms of nation states despite them having caused some of the worst world wars.

If we go beyond the nation state, it would mean cultural diversity and not the melting pot, not two states for the Israeli-Palestinian people but one for both. South Africa has overcome that painful experience of Apartheid, one does not wish the same to be the case for Israel or Palestinians living in the shadow of the wall. Insofar efforts have to be made for different people being able to live together and not just one kind with everyone else doing the same in order not to upset those wishing to rest assured that their supremacy is not challenged. To say it differently, we all belong to this world and no single state can impose such claim as to what it owns, the others do not. That is exactly the problem with the environment and with all world cultures, the world heritages included. They belong to no one and yet enrich all in understanding that humanity is made up of different facets and streams of consciousness. So any kind of black-white moral schema along those lines we are the good guys, they are the bad ones does not work. The human spirit must be upheld at all times and fore mostly through the United Nations.

Ever since these discussions and dialogues about cultures some important differences between Europe and the United States have emerged. One of them is the death penalty. While Europeans do not accept this form of punishment, the advocates in the United States like the mother of President Bush call it a deterrent of a crime like terrorism. This has a really frightening dimension to it because it underlines the belief the harder you hit back the less likely the others will ever dare to attack again the United States as they did on September 11th. It sanctions thereby not merely the death penalty per definition but war as a weapon to bring death upon people who have dared to attack the United States - provided that was the case on 11th of September.

In other words, the kind of war fought by American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq is the extension of the death penalty but an unjust infliction of pain and humiliation because these people in Iraq had nothing to do with that attack. By not responding with intelligence, but instead to send in the army, this is a very crude measure as we can see by having now over 100 000 people, mostly children and women, that is innocent civilians, killed in Iraq alone and this since March 21, 2003. That is not merely irresponsible behavior but qualifies for 'war crime'.

Since Viet Nam the ethics of the pilots who push the button to release the bombs or the technicians on some ship from where they launch missiles has been called as much into question as the soldiers who torture prisoners. It is an irresponsible blindness when Bush and the military say that the attack means removal of a dictator named Saddam Hussein, when in fact innocent people have to suffer the consequences of such declaration of war.

The war in Iraq is made even worse by all the false pretenses stating reasons for going to war. They suppress in reality and to date any 'human' and 'real' remorse for what has been done. Not one reason given stands up nowadays to any proof or justification nor was there ever any justification for this war. Everything that has become known since that invasion started is that 'no weapons of mass destruction' have been found. And now that 350 tons of explosives are missing, Iraq is surely less safe than ever before.

The consequences of that war have made the world by far a more dangerous place than when the civil conduct of the weapons inspectors was still a way to keep things softly under control. But America wanted to lash out, or rather a wounded tiger is most dangerous, was a saying immediately after 9/11. By wishing to hit someone, to make him feel the pain one felt for September 11th, the danger of confusing real pain with the fear not to be able to retain the myth of invulnerability was never admitted openly. It was a grave error that the entire Congress voted to grant Bush the power to go to war and only after wards little by little, but not enough to draw any political consequences, it became known on how faulty where the intelligence briefings on which these decisions were based on supposedly. The key argument was 'Saddam Hussein posed a threat', but what if politicians would have said, 'he is a challenge to our moral responsibilities', then challenge would not justify the going to war as a means of a violent overthrow of this regime but the need to re-affirm the belief in democracy as a peaceful, non violent transition of power.

Let us be clear no one, neither the President nor Congress have the Right to give themselves a blank check to go out and "bomb them", especially not and even less so when it was never proven that the people of Afghanistan or of Iraq where responsible for the attack on September 11th. To use people as representatives of the guilty party never clearly identified is more than just a crime. American 'collective responsibility' begins here.

I am conscious when using the term 'collective responsibility', that it evokes just that: the criticism of and charge by the world against Germans for having given their support, even if only tacit or silently but without any resistance, to Hitler and his murderous regime that cost 6 Million people their lives alone in a deliberate extermination program.

By reminding of this, there should not be identified the Iraq war with what happened under Hitler and the National Socialists. Still, collective and individual responsibility begins when the politicians voted into power begin to abuse that power and harm innocent people. Harm to human beings may come in the form of their lives being squandered or even worse just wiped out or else mutilated due to someone else thinking he has the Right to drop that bomb!

If this letter is an appeal to moral consciousness, then also in recognizing that many Americans are agonized over what has become of their country. The killing of innocent people has simply to stop. Therefore, the election on November 2nd will not be judged merely by the rest of the world as to whether or not America can retain its system of democracy - there are many doubts due to voting irregularities like those experienced in Florida 2000 and which pulled off the America the 'mask of democracy' - but if people know what they are doing and what they will do in a responsible manner to both themselves and the rest of the world.

Bush could scoff at the one formulation used by John Kerry, namely 'the global test' as if American sovereignty is expressed in doing solely what one wants to do without being responsible to anyone else but to God. This kind of escapism practiced by Bush and his administration has lead to cutting links to the United Nations when exactly the weapons inspectors should have been allowed to continue their job. It would have meant, however, dealing also with the corruption in the 'oil for food' program administered by the United Nations.

But a nation that prides itself to be great must be humble and accountable, if it wishes to be respected rather than merely feared. The world is coming ever closer to just fear America because of not caring what the rest of the world thinks. Yet truth matters and people are disturbed how much that too has suffered over the past four years. There is by now so much pain in the world due to ill designed actions by American military and political forces and what frightens people in addition to that is to see highly intelligent people but with no moral scruples because they are capable of using spin doctors to justify almost everything but never taking any responsibility for their actions and 'lies'. It is not enough to bemoan prisoner abuse and therefore violation of the Geneva Convention. Some stronger conviction in human justice must be articulated and America must demonstrate convincingly to itself that not everything goes. Only then we can talk about the 'global test': is America mature enough to handle its own state of affairs or has it succumb to people afraid to speak out lest they fear to loose their jobs?

If Americans are not careful as to what Bush is suggesting as of late, namely to shut down the International Court - and he often says "we will not let our own people be judged by foreign judges" - and thereby to let Milosovic to go free in order to get some votes from the Serbian community in the United States, then Bush's criticism of Kerry as "saying everything and promising everything just to get elected" may apply to Bush more stringently than to any other President of the United States before him. Even Nixon did leave office after Watergate became known. Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney have not even the slightest trace of human decency in them, for otherwise they would have left office a long time ago voluntarily due to the blunders and mistakes they made. Misleading not only America but the entire world is a most serious political mistake and if it costs people's lives, then all the more a reason to go rather than to cling onto power by all possible methods, even mass deception. The latter is the beginning and end of democracy.

So there has to be seen some consequence from all these efforts to reason with the American people about the outcomes of the Presidential election in 2000, for an election fraud was covered up back then by the Supreme Court decision just to avoid a real nasty fight. Now the legal case has been ever more weakened and the stand that anyone can make now to challenge the outcome of this election in 2004 will depend whether or not either candidate has taken a true measure of things to come.

After having spoken critically about Bush, I do not want to suppress my disdain for a politician who uses the so-called tough language as if Americans want to hear this in order to be convinced their President means business. Strangely or interestingly enough in these elections there is less and less reference being made to President and much more to 'Commander-in-Chief', so then less and less a political matter and much more a military matter due to linking all the good and bad things in life to security and therefore to the war in Iraq.

Let me say it again, the key question is not one of military response to terrorism. That has been the mistake all along since September 11th. By sending in the army to execute the death penalty against 'unknown' or 'invisible' enemies - remember Bin Laden was on the pay roll of the CIA in the fight against Russia in Afghanistan so he is not really an enemy but perhaps an intelligent trainee of the security community of America but who has spun out of control of his masters - the wrong tools and methods were used. You don't fight terrorism with an army because only innocent people shall be shot and terrible mistakes shall be made.

An army needs a clearly defined enemy and Saddam Hussein became a good target even though he was never involved in the 11th of September attack, but because of the need of a concrete enemy even millions of Americans believe still today he was behind these attacks and thus deserved to be toppled. Unfortunately Bush cements this belief by continuing to claim that 'we are better off without him around', a claim that is proving to be more and more less true even if no one wants to admit that in his administration.

But my disdain is directed more against what Kerry utters when he wants to appear tough. He speaks about terrorists as 'those who we will hunt down and kill'. There is not even a flutter in the mind to be seen, no hesitation at all when he makes this tough stand. But here Kerry risks repeating the mistake of issuing free licenses to kill. That is not possible in any civil world based on the separation of political and judicial power with no one having the right to kill anyone, hence also no state mechanism the Right to invoke the death penalty. By linking legal charges with the execution of the worst kind of punishment even before the person's guilt has been attested is to transform the judicial system into a kind of Rambo self styled punishment system. That is not possible.

Unfortunately the American concept of a just war is linked to the death penalty at one and the same time. That is no justice but an evocation of such a dumb threat that it invites but one thing: ever stronger retaliation. No, you have to disarm the other side mentally before getting the others to lay down their weapons or stop using fanatics as suicide bombers. What the world needs is not the same toughness as demonstrated all along by Bush, but a highly respected civil conduct against uncivil offenses. The latter can be linked to suicide bombers as much as planting bombs beside police stations while hitting innocent by-standers.

Since the end of Second World War there raged a debate between Camus and Sartre about the justified use of violence to stop violence. That debate ended unfortunately to the detriment of both sides since the human dimension went silent especially in the Algerian war.

We have not found the means as of yet but there has to be brought to bear at the top of all political decision making levels a way to counter terrorism in a language that reveals the truth of the matter and does not make the expedition into a lynching campaign. It may appeal to some but to the rest of the world it adds just to the worries that America will never calm down and come to terms in not just a brute and tough way, but in an intelligent and highly civil way.

Hegel once said that law suspends revenge and lets not the person suffering the damage inflict upon the other side still further damage, because that leads to revenge and conflicts in permanence. Over the centuries much was given to build up such a legal system that offenses were charged, judged and punishments handed down in proportion to the damage made and crime committed and all in the wish to avoid revenge fueling the endless spiral of violence and counter-violence. Essentially the countless wars and now the supreme form - the permanent war as outcome of the Rumsfeld doctrine - shows humanity's failure to break out of that endless spiral.

There is a real danger when not individuals or groups of terrorists evoke the principle of revenge, but an entire state. What those who supported this process of civilization by developing a more sophisticated legal system superseding revenge die not foresee is what would happen if an entire state took it upon itself to enact revenge for humiliation suffered in the past? Clearly the danger if not individuals but an entire state takes it upon itself to revenge something is that power spins then out of control. There is no one left in that State to counter any abuse of power.

The worst example in history is that of Hitler who after seizing the state mechanism went on to inflict a kind of revenge - in the case of Germany it was not so much against the Jews, but the 'unlived life' that revenged itself - against 6 Million people for being different, the otherness par excellence, especially if you think of Gypsies, Homosexuals, Jews, disabled people who all perished in those concentration camps. The entire revenge was against non-pure citizens in racial terms as if those holding the power over life wished power for the sake of some futile supremacy at the exclusion of all others. Presumably they feared one thing the most: the sharing of power and thereby the acknowledgement that they do not rule the world alone.

Such state revenge cannot be made possible without fanaticism and the kind we see in the American administration is that they are doing just that: they cannot lie, they must convince themselves that they are saying the truth. It is a most dangerous sign of America having gone out of control if the President alone can decide which prisoner is to be treated according to the Geneva code, which ones are deemed to dangerous and taken to a prison that lies in Cuba of all places and is, therefore, double faulted because outside American jurisdiction and yet close enough to one of the most disdained left over symbol from the Cold War, namely Fidel Castro. That there is contrived logic behind such moves in order to prevent any legal challenge shows already what the planners of such moves anticipate in future. No wonder Bush is against international courts as if he fears one day his fate could be very much the same as that of Milosovic.

Bush's responsibility after September 11th is that he did not individualize the pain, but took it like a state insult for the fact that the attack on September 11th occurred. By taking it personally, so to speak, but at state level, it became a reason to hit back just like the proud man becoming angry if he feels himself insulted by the other. Yet there is a difference of one man hitting back to a great Nation sending its troops off to invade Iraq after having already inflicting from the air huge damages upon Afghanistan.

Kerry's answer is unfortunately not an alternative but really more of the same - a terrible mistake, if he would stick to that policy once elected. He needs an eye opener once in office, namely the fact that his other approach - clarity and intelligence together with the others - would allow quite another approach to this insane killing done because America wants to revenge itself for what happened on the 11th of September.

There is something everyone has to realize: by having entered the Islamic world in which 'revenge' is the highest law to restore balance, America has vaulted revenge to the highest principle in the world. That is the terrible mistake. Kerry risks that by saying: "Americans will hunt down those terrorists and kill them" - as if that is the most intelligent answer to the challenge of terrorism?

No, to stop terrorism you Americans and we all in this world have to come back to what Robert Musil said already prior to Second World War in his marvelous book "Man without Attributes". He said a society in which there is no truth, everything becomes probable at the end of which is 'terrorism'.

If facts no longer count, then truth is no longer an objective standard by which to appraise and to evaluate things. There appears to be this danger to have only within the American society not truth, but something people recall as being characteristics of Totalitarian regimes. It means people have no longer the means to validate what they hear and what is told to them as being the news since too much of it is intertwined and enmeshed with the system or rather with what those in power wish to hear and for people to know. There is then no open information accessible but everything dealt with as if managing news becomes also a skill on how to reduce any questioning of power into a triviality. As a consequences even the most profound moral arguments and the oath of the President to safeguard the lives of the American citizens seems no longer something that can be invoked anytime and everywhere, regardless of sex, age, profession, race or standard in society. The truth is not just about equality in economic but in moral terms and means to be taken serious, if we mean a working democracy.

The loss of truth is perhaps the most important reason for terrorism. It leads to the most arbitrary use and abuse of power. It frightens people so much, and once threatened that they will be hunted down and killed, then some of them will be willing to take up this principle of revenge in order to balance out such arbitrary decisions threatening everybody's life at random and within the range of probabilities (a term Rumsfeld likes to use even when he means collateral damages have again inflicted unforeseen damages upon innocent bystanders, but then 'war and democracy' combined is a mess, but not democracy).

Terrorism is never justified by human measures, but it does evoke a question still in need of being answered, namely what choices do these people still have if total war is declared against them and that there is no other option but the evocation of an immediate death penalty in the form of bombs raining down from the sky upon your houses and neighborhood?

Albert Camus together with Arthur Koestler convinced Europe immediately after Second World War that by evoking the death penalty, you reinforce the principle of revenge. This is no civil conduct and must be abolished. America has here still not come to terms with its own Wild West philosophy which tends to favor 'shot first and ask only afterwards questions', but what if too late? The fate of countless innocent persons ending up on the death row is reason enough to believe no full proof system exists and therefore there is no justification at all for the death penalty.

It has been the cause of humanity to find solutions to the sheer endless and senseless spiral of violence but as the Irish poet Brendan Kennelly would put it, 'learned hatred is the most difficult to unlearn'.

I wish, my friends in America, that you take to heart our European wish, namely that the first thing you would do, is to abolish the death penalty, and thereby also war. The latter is sold to you as the most effective method of deterrence of anyone seeking ill plans against you. Don't forget, no one has ill wills against you, especially not if you continue carrying forth the values of democracy. There is your amazing source of optimism which was and can be based again on a friendly attitude towards the rest of the world, and for that matter towards anyone coming to visit you in your neighborhood. Only then we stand a chance to unlearn hatred and face the truth of human reality together rather than be divided by politicians wishing to sound tough when in fact what we need is a civil conduct in the world and in domestic affairs alike.

We think of you when voting on Tuesday!


Hatto Fischer



This article was first published in heritageradio


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