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AGAINST THE TIDE, SOME ARGUE FOR PEACE <br> WHILE DECRYING THE DESTRUCTION VISITED ON NEW YORK CITY AND WASHINGTON, ACTIVISTS WARN THAT VIOLENCE IS NO SOLUTION. SOME FIND THE WEST, BECAUSE OF ITS MIDEAST POLICIES, PARTLY RESPONSIBLE.

Rosemary Rooney said she's still mostly "numb" about the Sept. 11 terror attack that killed her son Sean in the World Trade Center.

Prayer is on her mind a lot.

Retribution is not.

"Retaliation is not going to bring Sean back," she said from her Livingston Street home in Buffalo.

Rooney said she hopes the United States doesn't resort to military action in response to the terror attacks, which killed an estimated 6,500 people, because she doesn't want "more young lives" being lost.

She's not alone, polling numbers and President Bush's call to arms notwithstanding.

Though national polls show overwhelming support for the president's call for military action, some people in America believe that more killing is the wrong response to terrorism.

At the Western New York Peace Center on Bailey Avenue, officials said their phones have been ringing constantly with calls from people who want the U.S. government to reconsider plans to attack terrorist bases in Afghanistan. Many of the callers said they support their country -- but do not support a hasty and emotional decision to go to war.

"A good friend who I grew up with died in the World Trade Center. I couldn't be more against terrorism," said Charles H. Cobb, executive director of the peace center.

"But what concerns us is that all the rhetoric we've heard from President Bush and other leaders seems to be saying one thing -- that we must go to war. There has been little public discussion of other alternatives," he said. "I think there are many people who feel that annihilating thousands of people in Afghanistan is not the right thing for us to do, but they almost feel unsafe about saying it. They're worried that they'll be viewed as unpatriotic."

Quest for root causes

Some in the peace movement believe the use of military force would be counterproductive; others feel the use of violence is inherently wrong.

"If violence was effective, we would have solved our problems a long time ago. We have this extraordinary faith in this failed ethic of violence," said Colman McCarthy, a pacifist best-known for his years as a columnist for the Washington Post.

Others believe that preventing terrorism will require the nation to reconsider its foreign policy, which they feel has spawned a contempt for the United States in many parts of the world that is as understandable as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 are unconscionable.

"If we're serious about preventing terrorism in the future, we have to look at root causes," said Phyllis Bennis, a Middle East expert at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

"We have to recognize that U.S. policies in many parts of the world have given rise to several generations who are impoverished to a degree we Americans can't even comprehend, who are politicallydisempowered to a degree incomprehensible to us, who are understandably angry."

Bush has declared America is at war and, with the support of Democrats in Congress, is planning military action. Cobb, of the peace center, worries about recent public opinion polls indicating that most Americans are ready for war, ready to accept American casualties and supportive of government-sponsored assassinations and other harsh actions against terrorists.

Poll says 85% back Bush

Following Bush's speech Thursday night, an NBC poll found that 85 percent of respondents were "totally" or "mainly" behind the president's plans. The support was steady even though 78 percent said they expected the struggle to last more than a year.

"We're very concerned that our president is calling these terrorist acts an 'act of war,' " Cobb said. "We do not believe that a group of fanatics commandeering four airliners is an act of war."

Noam Chomsky, a leader of the American left, agrees.

"This is a monstrous criminal act, not an act of war," said Chomsky, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a critic of American foreign policy.

Responding militarily, he said, "is answering the prayers of people like (Osama) bin Laden, who would like a massive U.S. assault against Muslims somewhere.

"Fifteen years ago, when the U.S. launched a terrorist war against Nicaragua (through the Contras), Nicaragua did not respond by setting off bombs on Washington. They responded by going to the World Court," Chomsky said.

The World Court subsequently ruled that the U.S. actions violated international law and ordered the Reagan administration to cease military action against Nicaragua. The U.S. government responded by saying it would no longer abide by the rulings of the World Court.

Cleric preaches restraint

Chomsky and others fear that a military response by the United States to last week's terror acts will be counterproductive by worsening the suffering of the people of Afghanistan and provoking further terror attacks on the United States.

"Wouldn't a knee-jerk military reaction play right into the hands of the terrorists?" said the Rev. Ann J. Salmon of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in West Seneca. She spoke out against military action in a Sunday sermon and at last week's rally in Niagara Square for victims of terrorism.

"If we bomb the Afghans and kill thousands of people, I think the terrorists will raise their banner and say: 'Do you see? The Americans are evil.' And there will be more terrorism attacks on us."

Chomsky said the U.S. government's push for a suspension of food aid and other relief to Afghanistan is reckless by itself.

"It's virtually a call for mass murder," he said. "These are the supplies which millions of starving people are depending on, people who are the victims of the Taliban."

Longtime peace center members Wayne Alt and Jim Mang said they hope the Americans who favor war have not forgotten the painful lessons of Vietnam.

"For me, this is a time of frustration and sadness," said Mang, who was executive director of the center for 22 years before leaving the job in June.

"You put so many years into working for peace. Then something like this happens and you hear so many people, including our president, talking about going to war. You wonder if our government and our country as a whole learned any lessons from Vietnam."

Pacifist urges forgiveness

McCarthy, director of the Center for Teaching Peace, in Washington, D.C., believes it's up to American leaders to break the cycle of violence.

"Martin Luther King once said that the U.S. government is the world's leading purveyor of violence. He was right," McCarthy said.

"Terrorists used violence against United States' violence -- that's the pacifist analysis of what happened."

What should the response be?

"The appropriate response is to have the United States political leadership say to the perpetrators: 'We forgive you. We will not kill you to bring about peace in the world. We also ask you to forgive us for our current and past violence,' " McCarthy said.

Does he really think that would win over terrorists?

"I can't predict the future, but I can observe the past. Nixon went to China, Reagan went to Russia, and they are now our allies and trading partners," McCarthy said.

A fledgling peace movement is beginning to mobilize in the face of the government's plans for war. Demonstrations took place Thursday at dozens of universities.

"Nerds Against War," read one of the student-made signs at MIT. "War Is Also Terrorism," proclaimed another sign at Harvard University.

Some of the students are among those who believe peace and security will require a rethinking of America's foreign policy, in the Middle East and elsewhere. Though Americans generally view their government as playing the role of peacemaker in the Middle East, U.S. policy is viewed more critically in much of the Third World.

Support of Israel at issue

At issue are the United States' steadfast support of both Israel and repressive Arab governments, its role as the largest arms supplier to the region, and its use of military force and economic sanctions in ways that have hurt civilians.

Critics point to several instances of what they consider to be brutish U.S. policies.

One is America's continued insistence on economic sanctions against Iraq. The sanctions have not brought down Saddam Hussein. But critics said they have caused scarity of food and medical supplies and a shattered public infrastructure. Those are cited as a major reason for the continuing deaths of Iraqi citizens, many of them children, from starvation and preventable diseases.

The toll is 1.5 million since the Persian Gulf War ended, according to the Iraqi government. American officials dispute that number and blame the Iraqi government's mismanagement of resources for the continuing civilian deaths.

A number of more independent observers said the embargo is a contributing factor and say the number of continuing deaths is 5,000 a month -- almost as many people as those who died in the Sept. 11 terror attack.

"The United States is totally devastating the civil society of Iraq," Chomsky said. "They are not attacking Hussein, but they are killing plenty of Iraqis."

Another source of anti-American sentiment is the American missile attack in 1998 against a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan in retaliation for terror attacks against U.S. targets. The Clinton administration claimed the plant was producing a deadly nerve gas that could be used by terrorists, but some independent assessments concluded otherwise. The plant owner sued the United States to unfreeze its assets, an action the United States did not challenge. In the meantime, however, a source of vaccines and other medicines in Central Africa was disabled.

A legacy of resentment

It's that kind of indiscriminate action that has fueled resentment of the United States in the Third World, said Bennis, the Middle East expert.

"I think there's clearly a danger of more terrorism if we don't deal with root causes," she said.

Alt, from the peace center, hopes that in the weeks ahead, Bush and other American leaders will consider the words of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

" 'An eye for an eye creates blindness all over the world,' " Alt said. "That's what Martin Luther King once said. I think those words are more true today than they ever were."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com
and jheaney@buffnews.com

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