By Donella Meadows
–January 3, 1991–
“Why aren’t you writing columns to oppose this war?” my peace-activist friends are asking me.
Because this is a time of rampant misinformation and great danger. The world is magnifying signals in strange and perverse ways. It’s possible that a loud anti-war noise could help bring on the war.
I do not want my country to go to war under any circumstances. But I don’t mind Saddam Hussein thinking we will. He could back down in the face of fearsome threats. I want to give him every encouragement to do that.
Iraq’s foreign minister Tariq Aziz understands this country well. He knows our recent history of unpopular war; he knows we are a sometime democracy. He monitors U.S. media as closely as Congress and the White House do. He sees our peace demonstrations and reads our opinion polls. Therefore, I think we should stop demonstrating. We should stop publicizing polls. We should become maddeningly quiet.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t oppose the war, it means we have to do it noiselessly — and quickly. There may not be much time left.
How do we demonstrate quietly? One way is to send Congress and the President an unrelenting flood of letters Instead of going to a demonstration a day, write a letter a day. The letters can even start with praise — politicians hear so little of that, it’s bound to catch their attention. Bringing troops to defend the Saudi border was a good move. Our work through the U.N. has been brilliant. We should go on acting with the world, listening carefully to our allies, especially our Arab allies. We should not enter into war alone — and not bully anyone into war.
We can also speak in our letters of opportunity. The President says that we are now forming the basis for a new post-cold-war world. I’m afraid he sees that world as one with the U.S. sitting upon and controlling the Persian Gulf oil fields. That is not the best opportunity before us. The best is to use this crisis to forge a serious settlement of the Middle East’s chronic problems, so the oil fields are secure without our policing. That is the outcome our allies are calling for and one that Saddam Hussein says he wants. Wise, firm negotiation is the tool that’s needed now, backed by the moral power of all nations — not war.
Our letters need to create in the minds of our leaders a different picture of this war than the one built by the military talk of a short, sharp engagement. Wars are never as quick and neat as their planners intend. This one has a million soldiers already concentrated in a small area, along with 18 million civilians, counting only those in Kuwait and Iraq. A ghastly array of conventional, chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons is poised. Massive oil facilities are set to be blown sky high. If this war begins, it will flatten the ravaged Kuwait we are trying to save, and Baghdad, and possibly Israel too, and it may not end there. However it ends, it will leave deeper hatreds, more vengeful hearts, waiting to write the next violent chapter of Middle East history. Let us not think of war as fast and tidy.
There’s another powerful word our letters can contain: impeachment. Starting a war without Congressional approval is a violation of the Constitution and an impeachable offense. We need to let our representatives know that their duty is to enforce the Constitution.
There are other ways we can quietly resist this war. We can refuse to answer opinion polls. We can inform ourselves. If we speak in public at all, we can speak as citizen diplomats with understanding of the Middle East and with our hearts open to both Arabs and the Israelis. We can spurn the demonizing of the warmongers and look closely at our enemy. There is only one Saddam Hussein but 18 million Iraqis; we can make common cause with those people against their dictator.
We can study our own historic role in this crisis, from arming dictators to wasting oil — and vow that in the new world order our behavior will be different. We can implement as citizens the energy policy our government refuses to consider, the one that will make us independent of the Middle East. We can insulate our houses and stop driving gas guzzlers — if not for the sake of the current young people ready to fight in Arabia, then for the sake of future ones.
Whatever noises we make and actions we take now will assemble themselves into thoughts and patterns that could cost millions of lives and billions of dollars and untold environmental damage, that could redraw maps, that could derail nations, including ours, from their courses — or that could, really could, forge a new world that solves its problems in more rational ways than war. We had better speak and act very carefully.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1991