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February 2002 - Issue No. #44 (p.9-10)

The Third Way (War in Afghanistan)

by John Small

Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, Japan

The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Save for individuals belonging to hate groups in the U.S. and abroad, people throughout the world were united in condemning the terrorist attacks that claimed thousands of innocent lives in the United States. U.S. president George W. Bush has subsequently insisted that "you're either, with us or with terrorists." While we should join President Bush in condemning the terrorist attacks and desiring justice, I would propose we reject the portrayal of this as a struggle of Good vs. Evil. I propose that we equally condemn the deaths of innocent Afghans. I propose we support--and urge our students to support--a third way, the way of peace.

As educators, our first responsibility is to become as knowledgeable as possible about the present conflict. For many, the conflict appears to have begun with the heinous crime of hijacked planes crashing into the WTC. If we wanted, however, to broaden the context, where could we draw the starting line? Perhaps we could point to 1950, when Britain withdrew from the Middle East, leaving vast oil resources up for grabs, a void the U.S. promptly filled. We might see 1953 as significant, the year the CIA helped topple Iran's democratically elected government and install the Shah, who then bought billions of dollars of advanced weaponry and was to eventually kill thousands of Iranians. We might consider the 1958 nationalist revolution in Iraq that wrested control of oil out of U.S. corporate hands; a few years later the Iraqi nationalist leader, Karim Kassem, was killed (along with thousands of supporters) in a bloody CIA backed coup. We might also consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Clinton's blunder of bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, or the U.S.'s support of bin Laden during the Soviet-Afghan war. It's complicated for sure, but as Wendell Berry, the American essayist said, "If our enemies are now to be some nations of Islam...our leaders should have the humility and the wisdom to ask the reasons some of those people have for hating us."

The historical facts we tend to focus on are largely dictated by our circumstances and background. A patriotic American who relies on U.S. mainstream media for news might easily conclude that this conflict is Good vs. Evil. A militant Moslem extremist, having been raised in a violent environment that hates the U.S., might think likewise (with roles reversed). Our responsibility as citizens, and especially as educators, is to overcome biases and make a sincere attempt to consider all relevant facts. I also believe we have a responsibility to work for peaceable solutions to conflict.

The Third Way

The reasons for following the third way, the way of peace, are supported by the messages of great leaders such as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus Christ and others. Are their teachings pretty words to admire, or truths to live by? The way of peace is also supported by clear, rational thinking and a sincere desire for justice. Michael Albert provides five strong reasons to oppose the war in Afghanistan, summarized below (full explanations are available at :

  1. Guilt has not been proven
  2. War violates international law
  3. War is unlikely to eliminate those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks
  4. Huge numbers of innocent people will die
  5. War reduces the security of U.S. citizens and their allies

Considering the illegality of this war and viewing it through the eyes of Afghans who will suffer and die will provide us the courage to voice our opposition and urge our students to do likewise. The question is relevant to Japan as debates are under way to alter Japan's constitution, to perhaps even send Japanese troops to Afghanistan. My firm belief is, this would run contrary to the resolute convictions for peace that young Japanese share. We can give our students the encouragement and information they need to speak out against this war and their country's participation in it.

Several months ago, I wrote an article for this Newsletter against nuclear weapons. I was careful, when presenting the issue to students, to fairly present the opposite, pro-nuclear view. In the case of the bombing of Afghanistan, however, rational reasons are few if any. Besides the dubious claim that this is self-defense, "What else can we do?" is the most common refrain in support of the attacks on Afghanistan. There is, however, no justice in bombing out of frustration over a perceived lack of options. "First do no harm" is a reasonable maxim to follow. And non-war options exist. Still, I would listen to and respect a student who supports the war; bringing an attitude of compassion to the discussion is perhaps as important as our very opinions.

Teaching Peace

The above 5 reasons to oppose the war in Afghanistan can either be shared with students in simplified English, or in Japanese; a high level student of mine, who aspires to be a translator, was very happy to translate the reasons and explanations. Students can then be provided with the addresses of world leaders (Appendix B) and urged to write their opinions. One approach would be studying a sample letter in English, then asking students to write to Prime Minister Koizumi in English or Japanese, and/or to George Bush and/or Tony Blair in English. The sample letter (Appendix C) is edited from (a Japanese sample letter is also available).

Now more than ever is the time to teach the Islamic religion, Middle Eastern cultures, and peace topics in general. Only through understanding, not violence, can conflicts be settled and peace achieved.

References and Suggested Readings

  • Clark, Ramsey. (1998) Challenge to Genocide: Let Iraq Live. New York: Int'l Action Center.
Suggested Reading
  • Chomsky, N. (2001) Propaganda and the Public Mind. Boston: South End Press.
  • Chomsky, N. (2000) Rogue States. Boston: South End Press.
  • Zinn, H. (1995) A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper Collins.


Appendix A: Peace Contacts in Japan
  1. Hiroshima: The Convergence for Hiroshima-Palestine Solidarity
    Tel: 090-5707-2948

  2. Kansai: Anti-war joint action groups. Tel: 06-6781-8549 or or

  3. Tokyo: Tokyo Progressive or
Appendix B: Government Contacts
  1. Japan: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi:
    Tel: 81-3-3581-0101 Fax: 81-3-3581-3883

  2. Japan: Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka:
    Tel: 81-3-3580-3311

  3. U.S.A. George W. Bush Tel: 1-202-456-1414 Fax: 1-202-456-6218

  4. U.K. Tony Blair
    Tel: 44-171-802-1000

Appendix C:


Dear Prime Minister Koizumi and Foreign Minister Tanaka,

After the terrible attacks on the WTC and Pentagon, we urge the leaders of Japan to persuade the United States to seek true justice, which will protect innocent citizens in all nations.

War is not a solution. Japan, which survived the terror and civilian deaths caused by two atomic bombs, should persuade the United States that violence leads to more violence.

War creates more innocent victims. Japan should not participate in war. It is not Japan's "global responsibility" to fight or support a war. The U.S. attacks will only create a cycle of violence. Instead, nations should seek justice legally, following international laws; they should try to understand the reasons for this war; and they should work to ensure all people have economic security.

Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez's son was killed in the WTC attack. They said, "It is not the time to act like bullies. We urge you to think about how our government can develop peaceful, rational solutions to terrorism, solutions that do not sink us to the inhuman level of terrorists."

The attacks against Afghanistan are revenge, not justice. It is our right and responsibility as citizens of goodwill to demand peaceable solutions.



John Small teaches at Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, 3-8-1 Harumi-cho, Fuchu-shi, Tokyo 183-0057 JAPAN
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