An open letter to President George W. Bush

I wrote and mailed this in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks. I never received a response. While this is a bit late, I think it is important because it registers where I was on that date, given my other comments on that attack, here and here.

September 12, 2001

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington DC

Dear Mr. President:

I am still in shock after the dastardly attacks of yesterday. But I am worried by some of the things I saw and heard from my fellow citizens, on national television and radio--calls for vengeance, and the facile assumption that we are now at war.

Mr. President, in December 1941 there was an open act of war. [1] Men wearing their country's uniform, in ships and aircraft flying their country's flag, attacked military targets--without formal declaration of war, but still openly, as soldiers. None of these stipulations were met yesterday: men wearing civilian clothes attacked civilians in stolen, civilian aircraft. This was not an act of war, sir. It was a crime.

Mr. President, I heard yesterday calls for response in kind, for attacks on civilians. I heard you state that we would not distinguish between the criminals who planned the attacks and "the nations that harbor them." Does this mean that we will wage war on civilian targets? Does this not allow the criminals to win? Does this not drag us down to their level?

Mr. President, as Christians we share the Just War tradition that countenances the minimum force required to stop aggression and bring criminals to justice. Your father acted in that tradition when he forswore the use of weapons of mass destruction even in response to an attack with such weapons, and I honor him for it. In the same tradition, I ask you to forswear attacks on civilian targets even if criminals hide behind them. I ask you not to dignify yesterday's crimes by treating them as war, but to bring the criminals to justice, using police methods, in domestic or international courts of law.

Mr. President, I beg you to remember that in April 1995 we were all running around in the dark, feverishly blaming those who don't look or think like us for a crime that had been committed by an American citizen. After Oklahoma City, and after the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, we brought the criminals responsible to justice efficiently and without the use of the sword.

Mr. President, I ask you to lead the effort to repeat the successes of criminal investigation and criminal justice we saw then. Do not wage war. For if we do so, we prove that we are what the criminals think we are. [2] And we are better than that.


Daniel J. Berger

  1. I hope it's obvious that I refer to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. (return)

  2. Given what actually happened, have we proven that "we are what the criminals think we are"? I don't think so. But making the case in our favor is much harder than it would be had we followed my recommendations.

Copyright © 2003 by Daniel J. Berger. This work may be copied without limit if its use is to be for non-profit educational purposes. Such copies may be by any method, present or future. The author requests only that this statement accompany all such copies. All rights to publication for profit are retained by the author.

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