The Cycle of Violence
by Harry Browne
September 15, 2001

My article last Tuesday "When Will We Learn?" provoked more controversy than anything I've ever written. In case there was any misunderstanding, here is what I believe:

  • The terrorist attack was a horrible tragedy and I feel enormous sympathy for those who were personally affected by it. I wrote my article hoping that, however unlikely, it might be possible to prevent such a thing from ever happening again.
  • I hope anyone responsible for the attack who didn't die in it will be found, tried, and punished appropriately.
  • Terrorism by definition is the killing of innocent people in order to bring about some political or social change.
  • Terrorism may cause some changes in the short term, but it never leads to a conclusive victory, because it provokes a never-ending cycle of escalating violence on both sides.
  • The U.S. government has engaged in acts of terrorism over the past few decades – bombing and starving innocent people in foreign countries, supposedly to force their leaders to make changes the US government desires. Terrorism doesn't become "policing" or "justice" merely because it is our government doing it.
  • All Iraqis are not Saddam Hussein; all Serbs aren't Slobodan Milosevic; all Afghanis (or Saudis) are not Osama Bin Laden.
  • Killing innocent people in retaliation for the sins of other people isn't justice; it is terrorism. The terrorists were wrong to kill Americans to satisfy their grievances against American foreign policy. And to react to them by killing innocent foreigners would also be terrorism.
  • You can't make productive decisions at a time when your mind is clouded by anger, resentment, or thoughts of revenge.

The reactions I've received have been roughly 50-50 regarding my article.

Here are some of the objections people have made against my position . . .


"This was a bad time for you to say, 'I told you so' in such a poor fashion."

I'm not saying, "I told you so." I'm trying to stop future madness – against Americans and against foreigners. Should I wait until after our military invades Afghanistan before speaking out?

"Now, of all times, is the time when we must support one another for the best."

That doesn't mean supporting the ill-conceived policies that led to this event.

"It is time for our people to pull together against these sick terrorists. We could use your help too."

To do what? Encourage our politicians to continue doing the very things that led to this?
You're demonstrating why I had to write the article. If we stand behind our leaders now, letting them speak for us "as one voice," nothing will change. We will continue to see more acts by our government that will lead to more terrorist attacks on the US

"Don't tell me to 'stop the hysteria'. This event merits hysteria, anger, sadness, and fear. I will be hysterical because it is the only thing I can do to show my countrymen that I mourn them."

Hysteria creates lynch mobs and more killing of innocent people. Grief, anger, and resentment are all natural reactions to what happened. But letting your emotions make bad decisions is not a productive reaction.

"What's done is done and now we're in the middle of this terrible mess. Maybe you're right, maybe we should not be surprised that something was bound to happen. But, now what? We don't need people criticizing our past mistakes at this moment. Save that for later. Right now we need immediate action."

If we don't understand the past mistakes, the "immediate action" taken will simply repeat those mistakes. Is that what you want?

My Motives

"You have lost my support by your political posturing in a time of crisis."

Political posturing? Do you really think I expected to receive adulation for writing an article that goes so sharply against current public opinion?

"It sickens me that you would use this tragedy this way."

In what way? To try to stop it from happening again? To try to stop our politicians from running off and bombing more innocent people?

As a normally public voice, should I sit quietly by and not point out that our politicians are continually putting innocent Americans in harm's way by terrorizing innocent foreigners?

I understand your outrage and emotional reaction, but we must hold our own politicians accountable for the anger they are causing around the world with their careless, dangerous, showoff tactics.

"Please leave the United States. You do not deserve to remain here with this type of un-American diatribe which only serves to support the voices of moderation."

I thought this supposed to be a free country in which everyone was allowed to speak his mind. I guess I misunderstood. I didn't realize it was a crime to try to stop a lynching.

The Libertarian Party

"Using this event as a means to bolster the Libertarian party is despicable and it is disgusting."

It appears that standing up for what one believes isn't a way to bolster the popularity of the Libertarian Party. But that's what Libertarians often do – especially when no one else will.

"You have forever ended any chance of my supporting the Libertarian party, unless you resign from any and all leadership positions immediately."

You'll be pleased to know I don't hold any leadership position in the Libertarian Party. I am a private citizen who grieves for what the politicians have done to my country and to the innocents who die in America and abroad.

Many Libertarians disagree with my position, so you shouldn't judge the Libertarian Party by me.


"We must deter the next attack with the fiery sword of vengeance, not some limp, liberal, why-can't-we-be-let-alone weak response."

We have done that already – bombing Libya, invading Panama, bombing a perfume factory in the Sudan, bombing Afghanistan. Did those "fiery sword[s] of vengeance" deter the next attack?

"Bomb Kabul into oblivion."

As I recall, Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan, which is run by the same "Freedom Fighters" to whom our government gave so much money and military hardware in the 1980s. Before we run off bombing innocent people (or is every Afghani guilty of the World Trade Center bombing?), shouldn't we question the American foreign policy that put those people in power in Afghanistan? Or is it bad timing to bring that up now?

"Once you know the face of your enemy, destroy him completely and you will never need fight him again. America is at war. To win a war it must be fought in totality."

A war against whom? Against people like the one million Iraqis who have died of starvation or disease because of the American blockade? Against people like the innocents who died in the bombings of the Sudan and Afghanistan? Every time our leaders say, "We must make sure this will never happen again," they do something to assure that it will happen again. I wrote my article in the vain hope it might help people to think twice before demanding the wrong action.

"Do you think these terrorists can really be reasoned with?"

I didn't say they could. I said we shouldn't give them legitimate reasons to direct their misguided zeal at the US.

"Don't you think a soft response would just encourage more terrorism?"

I hope the people who were involved are found, tried, and punished. I don't consider that a soft response. But I don't want any more innocent people hurt – Americans or foreigners.

"This is not the time to run and bury our heads in the sand. Someone has to stand up to bullies wherever they are! Like the Nazis; the only good Religious Fundamentalist is one that is in heaven! Not only is it a time for the US to take action but to occupy all Arab lands, since their Religious leaders 'preach' the Jihad."

Did I mention that there's a lot of hysteria and a lynch-mob sentiment right now?

"You totally lost your credibility with me when you suggest that any military response will basically serve no purpose."

The US went to Vietnam to stop the Communist dominos from falling, and the entire region fell to the Communists. The US invaded Panama, supposedly to end drug-dealing there, and today Panama is more overrun with the drug trade than ever. After years of arming Saddam Hussein, the US invaded Iraq to get rid of him, but he is still held up as a terrible threat to the world. The US bombed Libya to teach terrorists a lesson; so the terrorists hijacked the Pan American plane over Scotland.

Perhaps you could give me an example of where US military response in the past several decades has achieved any purpose.

Obviously, the individuals involved in the attacks should be found, prosecuted, and punished. But going to war against another country or some vague conspiracy will solve no more than the examples I just gave.

"At this time, past wrongful deeds committed by Americans should not play a role in our reaction to this horrible event. We have to retaliate once we confirm who is responsible. Otherwise, even more horrific events are sure to occur in the future."

We have retaliated in the past, and still horrific events followed. What I'm hoping for is a different kind of reaction this time – one that will actually change American policy so that we never again suffer what happened this week.

Corrections & Caution

"I would like to point out that the airliner destroyed over Scotland was a PanAm plane, not TWA."

You are right. In my haste to get the article finished, I was careless in relying on my imperfect memory and not looking it up.

"I put my Harry Browne for President stickers back up in my dorm room yesterday."

Please take them down before you get lynched.

Harry Browne was the 2000 Libertarian Party presidential candidate. You can read more of his articles at, his books are available at

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