Fight terror’s source |

Fight terror’s source

Ryan Sutter
Vail CO, Colorado

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 2,973 people. Few will ever forget the day. Emotions poured, growing from fear to sorrow to anger. We were vulnerable. Despite our mighty armies and tremendous wealth we had been hit. Life in the United States and life in general had been changed forever. It was a wake-up call, and for many, a call to arms. The economy collapsed, security everywhere tightened and new prejudices were born. A tremendous bruise was laid upon our proud nation and someone had to pay. War was declared on terrorism. On terrorism?

Declaring war on terrorism is like declaring war on war itself. It was a categorical error that clouded the true cause of the problem and continues to obscure the facts of why we fight today. Terrorism was not the source of the violence of Sept. 11. It was a symptom.

Last October the New York Times ran an article on the escalating conflict between humans and elephants. It seems elephants across Africa, India and Asia have been striking out, trampling crops and villages, attacking and killing human beings. Where for centuries humans and elephants lived in relatively peaceful coexistence, there was now hostility and violence. Many elephant researchers are convinced that these violent tendencies are no longer due to increased levels of testosterone in newly matured and competitive males, but are in fact the result of decades of poaching, culling and habitat loss. Elephants are profoundly social creatures. Calves typically stay within 15 feet of their mothers for the first eight years of their lives. If harm comes to a member of a herd, all the other elephants are aware of it. They mourn the loss of family members and often return to the grave sites of their dead. The complex social fabric by which elephants are governed has been drastically disrupted by years of poaching, forced relocation and habitat loss. The elephants are feeling the stress of watching their family members die and their lands destroyed. They have become impoverished. Their lives are at the mercy of mankind. They are intelligent creatures and they are striking back. They have become terrorists.

Meanwhile, back in America, the U.S. continues to focus on building an ever-stronger military while mostly ignoring the threats posed by continuing environmental deterioration, poverty and population growth.

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Why would a country with 5 percent of the world’s population need a military budget equal to all other countries combined? Under the cloud of terrorism the U.S. was able to convince a mourning and vengeful American population that war was the answer, and that in order to be truly safe, only an enormous military presence would do. We failed to see the forest through the trees and declared war on a symptom rather than the real cause of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Following Sept. 11, several world leaders agreed that a plan was needed to deal with poverty and its symptoms, arguing that in an increasingly integrated world, abject poverty and great wealth can not coexist. Gordon Brown, the U.K.’s chancellor of the exchequer, notes that, “like peace, prosperity was indivisible and to be sustained, it had to be shared.”

So we bombed Iraq for its oil and in effect created the very conditions from which terror is born.

It is hard to find the words to convey the gravity of the situation we find ourselves in now. We face many threats simultaneously. Terrorism is one. No question. But terrorism is merely the result of the impending stresses brought about by population growth, climate change, poverty, water shortages and escalating oil prices.

Heavy military investments have been ineffective in fighting terror, much less its causes. It is time for a shift in priorities.

As we look at the environmentally destructive trends undermining our future, the world is desperately in need of visible evidence that we can indeed turn things around.

As for the elephants, the conflict rages on. As more villagers are killed by elephants, more elephants are killed by villagers. But an interesting thing is occurring in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. There, the elephants’ natural environment has been preserved; they are protected from poachers, thriving and peaceful. There is hope …

Ryan Sutter of Avon writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at

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