Who's Gonna Take Away Washington's License to Kill?
by Stan Cox
May 7, 2003

Now, there's a woman on my block,
She just sit there facin' the hill.
She say who gonna take away his license to kill?

– Bob Dylan

Arab boys are gunned down for throwing stones and sandals. Heavily armed foreign troops check the ID cards of people trying to get in or out of their own hometown. A land is occupied by a superior military power, without even a pretense to legality.

In this way, Iraqis are learning how it is to be Palestinian. U.S. soldiers are learning what life is like in the Israeli Defense Forces. And I'm fairly certain that in the Middle East, America has chosen the wrong role model.

Here's a vignette from the May 2 Washington Post, regarding the town of Fallujah, where U.S. troops shot into crowds of unarmed civilians in late April:

"At the school where Monday's shooting occurred, teachers spent the day cleaning up in preparation for the start of classes on Saturday. The headmaster, Mohammed Ahmed, said that before they left, U.S. soldiers had damaged furniture and classroom supplies and left offensive graffiti on the walls.

"In one classroom, 'I [love] pork,' with the word love represented by a heart, was written on the blackboard, along with a drawing of a camel and the words: 'Iraqi Cab Company.' In another room, 'Eat [expletive] Iraq' was scrawled on a wall. And in Ahmed's office, sexual organs were drawn with white chalk on the back of the door.

"'They came to liberate us?' Ahmed asked, pointing out the graffiti to a reporter. 'What is the point of doing this?'"

It's looking as if we'll be able to occupy Iraq for as long as we like. Israel has managed to squat in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights for 36 years. They have gotten away with it, and we can, too, because we both have big, tough, well-equipped armies and we both have nuclear weapons.

And each of us has a license to kill. Their license was issued by Adolf Hitler, ours by Osama bin Laden.

I'll admit that, in scale, it's a crude comparison. Two thousand Jews were killed in the Holocaust for every person killed in the September 11 attacks. But for our two nations, the events are serving the same function: The memories of those tragedies allow our governments to justify almost any sort of aggressive behavior, and the rationalization works – if not internationally, at least among the majority of our own citizens.

Most of the people who perpetrated the Final Solution are dead, and those who planned and carried out the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon are all either dead or in hiding. But there are plenty of other targets. America's and Israel's licenses do not specify names or nationalities, and there are no bag limits.

The combined number of Afghan and Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. bombs and gunfire has reached almost double the number killed in Washington and New York. Israel's ratio is still higher: four Palestinian civilians have been killed for every Israeli civilian killed by Palestinians since September 2000. We've both killed a lot more children than terrorists.

Neither Israel's current attackers nor its victims had anything to do with the Holocaust, and none of those killed in Iraq or Afghanistan had any hand in the hijackings. But have a talk with any pro-Israel hawk, digging your way down through the layers of murder, and when you reach bottom, and the hawk needs a firm foundation, he will usually whip out his license, reciting to you some version of what Ariel Sharon said in a speech for Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2001:

"Just as the Holocaust became an integral part of our identity and collective past as a nation, the legacy of Jewish bravery in facing the Nazi extermination mechanism is the very foundation of our unique existence and our future in the State of Israel. Israel is the only place in the world where Jews have the right and capability to defend themselves, by themselves. Only through strict adherence to this principle will we know that the courage and sacrifice of our Holocaust heroes was not in vain, and will ensure the Jewish people's independent existence in our homeland. Only then will we achieve the peace which we so desire."

And any day of the week we can hear some American hawk paraphrase Newt Gingrich's message to U.S. Joint Forces Command last June, when he said that "we have learned the hard way of September 11th that if we are not aggressive, that we could lose millions of Americans."

Ask people in the Congo, Sri Lanka, East Timor, Guatemala, or dozens of other nations, and I'll bet they won't claim that their suffering is unique in history. Their experience tells them that violence never runs in a straight line but only in cycles. They can't ignore that lesson because they don't have the world's biggest war machine, as we do, or a powerful military backed up by the world's biggest war machine, as Israel does.

In the eyes of most of the world, our license to kill expired sometime in the past year, and Israel's has been invalid for a long time. But we're still acting as if international law applies to every nation but our two, and we're getting away with it. Who's going to eject us from the territories we occupy? Who's going to prevent us from enforcing the death penalty for stone-throwing?

Only we ourselves – Americans and Israelis – can do that. We can tell our governments that we are sick of playing the role of vengeful victims, that we're each revoking our own nation's license to kill.

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Stan Cox is a plant breeder and writer living in Salina, Kansas.

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