A Reply to the Taliban

Dear Taliban,

Thank you for your letter to the American people.

As one person in the United States I cannot offer you a representative reply on behalf of all of us. Nor can I use polls to tell you what my fellow Americans think, because, as far as I know, polling companies haven’t asked the U.S. public about the war on your country in years. Possible explanations for this include:

  1. We have several other wars going on, and the blowback includes a lot of self-inflicted mass-shootings.
  2. Too many wars at a time doesn’t make the most desired packaging for advertisements.
  3. Our previous president announced that your war was over.
  4. Many here actually think it is over, which makes them useless for polling on the topic of ending it.

I do want to let you know that some of us saw your letter, that some news outlets reported on it, that people have asked me about it.

While I cannot speak for everyone here, I at the very least have not been paid to speak only for the weapons dealers or any other small group. And I can make some claim to speak for the thousands of people who have signed this petition asking President Trump to end U.S. participation in the war.

According to recent news reports, Trump actually considered doing that. It’s even possible that he had ending one of his many wars in mind when he came up with the idea for a big parade of weaponry — something that more typically accompanies the ending of a war than merely the celebration of a narcissist. Yet, we’re told that Trump’s Secretary of so-called Defense warned him that unless more troops were sent to Afghanistan, someone might blow up a bomb in Time’s Square in New York. You may know that someone tried to do that eight years ago, for the purpose of persuading U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan and other countries. It did not have the desired result. If someone ever engages in a similar terrorist act, Trump would rather be responsible for having escalated militarism that could have contributed to the crime than for having de-escalated and made it less likely. This is because of how information is communicated, and what our culture views as manly and honorable.

Your letter contains a lot of important information. You are of course correct on the illegality of the U.S. invasion. And the reasons you recount having heard the U.S. provide were both false and irrelevant to the question of legality. The same could be said of the reasons I remember hearing the U.S. give, but they were not the same as the ones you heard. You heard this:

“Establishing security by eliminating the so called terrorists inside Afghanistan.

“Restoring law and order by establishing a legal government.

“Eradicating narcotics.”

There’s a tale that when astronauts were training in the U.S. desert for the trip to the Moon, a Native American found out what they were doing and asked them to memorize an important message in his own language to tell to the spirits in the Moon; but he wouldn’t tell the astronauts what it meant. So the astronauts found someone to translate it for them, and it meant this: “Do not believe one word these people tell you. They are here to steal your land.”

Luckily no one was there on the Moon to need the warning, so I offer it to you. Back over here, we were told and have been told for many years now that the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan was for the purpose of punishing those responsible for, or responsible for assisting those responsible for, the crimes of September 11, 2001. I understand that you were open to turning Osama Bin Laden over to a third country for trial. But, just as most Afghans have never heard of 9/11, most Americans have never heard of that offer. We live on different planets with different sets of known facts. We can, however, agree with your conclusion:

“No matter what title or justification is presented by your undiscerning authorities for the war in Afghanistan, the reality is that tens of thousands of helpless Afghans including women and children were martyred by your forces, hundreds of thousands were injured and thousands more were incarcerated in Guantanamo, Bagram and various other secret jails and treated in such a humiliating way that has not only brought shame upon humanity but is also a violation of all claims of American culture and civilization.”

As I cannot speak for everyone, I cannot apologize for everyone. And I tried to prevent the war before it started. And I’ve tried to end it ever since. But I am sorry.

Now, I also must, respectfully, point out a few things missing from your letter. When I visited Kabul some years ago with a group of U.S. peace activists meeting Afghan peace activists and numerous other Afghans from around your country, I spoke with quite a number of people who wanted two things:

1) No NATO occupation

2) No Taliban

They viewed you with such horror that some of them were almost of two-minds about the NATO occupation. It is safe to say, I think, that you do not speak for all of the people of Afghanistan. An agreement between you and the United States would be an agreement made without everyone in Afghanistan represented at the table. That being said, it is clear that it would be better for Afghanistan, the world, and the United States for the U.S.-led occupation to end immediately.

But please allow me to offer some unsolicited advice on both how to make that happen and how to proceed after it happens.

First, keep writing letters. They will be heard.

Second, consider looking at the research done by Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan showing that principally nonviolent movements are over twice as likely to succeed. Not only that, but those successes are far longer lasting. This is because nonviolent movements succeed by bringing in many more people. Doing that is also helpful for what comes after the occupation.

I’m well aware that I live in a country whose government attacked your country, and so I would generally be considered as lacking the privilege to tell you what to do. But I’m not telling you what to do. I’m telling you what works. You can do with it what you choose. But as long as you allow yourselves to be depicted as viciously violent, you will be a highly profitable advertisement for U.S. weapons makers and U.S. politicians. If you build a nonviolent movement that demonstrates peacefully and multi-ethnically for U.S. withdrawal, and if you make sure we see videos of that, you will be of absolutely no value to Lockheed Martin.

I really do understand how disgusting it is for someone from a country bombing you in the name of democracy to suggest that you try democracy. For what it’s worth, I also suggest that the United States try democracy. I recommend nonviolence and democracy to everyone everywhere. I do not try to impose it on anyone.

I hope to hear back from you.


David Swanson

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