Jeremy Brecher Resigns From Bernie Sanders Staff

Jeremy Brecher was a policy analyst on the staff of U. S. Representative Bernie Sanders. He resigned April 29, 1999.

May 4, 1999

Congressman Bernie Sanders
2202 Rayburn Building
Washington, DC, 20515

Dear Bernie,

This letter explains the matters of conscience that have led me to resign from your staff.

I believe that every individual must have some limit to what acts of military violence they are willing to participate in or support, regardless of either personal welfare or claims that it will lead to a greater good. Any individual who does not possess such a limit is vulnerable to committing or condoning abhorrent acts without even stopping to think about it.

Those who accept the necessity for such a limit do not necessarily agree regarding where it should be drawn. For absolute pacifists, war can never be justified. But even for non-pacifists, the criteria for supporting the use of military violence must be extremely stringent because the consequences are so great. Common sense dictates at least the following as minimal criteria:

Let us evaluate current U.S. military action in Yugoslavia against each of these tests.

Evil to be remedied: We can agree that the evil to be remedied in this case -- specifically, the uprooting and massacre of the Kosovo Albanians -- is serious enough to justify military violence if such violence can ever be justified. However, the U.S. air war against Yugoslavia fails an ethical test on each of the other four criteria.

Purpose vs. pretext: The facts are incompatible with the hypothesis that U.S. policy is motivated by humanitarian concern for the people of Kosovo:

Less violent alternatives: On 4/27/99 I presented you with a memo laying out an alternative approach to current Administration policy. It stated, "The overriding objective of U.S. policy in Kosovo -- and of people of good will -- must be to halt the destruction of the Albanian people of Kosovo. . . The immediate goal of U.S. policy should be a ceasefire which halts Serb attacks on Kosovo Albanians in exchange for a halt in NATO bombing." It stated that to achieve this objective, the United States should "propose an immediate ceasefire, to continue as long as Serb attacks on Kosovo Albanians cease. . . Initiate an immediate bombing pause. . . Convene the U.N. Security Council to propose action under U.N. auspices to extend and maintain the ceasefire. . . Assemble a peacekeeping force under U.N. authority to protect safe havens for those threatened with ethnic cleansing." On 5/3/99 you endorsed a very similar peace plan proposed by delegations from the US Congress and the Russian Duma. You stated that "The goal now is to move as quickly as possible toward a ceasefire and toward negotiations." In short, there is a less violent alternative to the present U.S. air war against Yugoslavia.

High probability of halting the evil: Current U.S. policy has virtually no probability of halting the displacement and killing of the Kosovo Albanians. As William Safire put it, "The war to make Kosovo safe for Kosovars is a war without an entrance strategy. By its unwillingness to enter Serbian territory to stop the killing at the start, NATO conceded defeat. The bombing is simply intended to coerce the Serbian leader to give up at the negotiating table all he has won on the killing field. He won't." (The New York Times, 5/3/99) The massive bombing of Yugoslavia is not a means of protecting the Kosovars but an alternative to doing so.

Minimizing the consequences of violence: "Collateral damage" is inevitable in bombing attacks on military targets. It must be weighed in any moral evaluation of bombing. But in this case we are seeing not just collateral damage but the deliberate selection of civilian targets, including residential neighborhoods, auto factories, broadcasting stations, and hydro-electric power plants. The New York Times characterized the latter as "The attack on what clearly appeared to be a civilian target." (5/3/99) If these are acceptable targets, are there any targets that are unacceptable?

The House Resolution (S Con Res 21) of 4/29/99 which "authorizes the president of the United States to conduct military air operations and missile strikes in cooperation with the United States' NATO allies against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia" supports not only the current air war but also its unlimited escalation. It thereby authorizes the commission of war crimes, even of genocide. Indeed, the very day after that vote, the Pentagon announced that it would begin "area bombing," which the Washington Post (4/30/99) characterized as "dropping unguided weapons from B-52 bombers in an imprecise technique that resulted in large-scale civilian casualties in World War II and the Vietnam War."

It was your vote in support of this resolution that precipitated my decision that my conscience required me to resign from your staff.

I have tried to ask myself questions that I believe each of us must ask ourselves: Is there a moral limit to the military violence you are willing to participate in or support? Where does that limit lie? And when that limit has been reached, what action will you take? My answers led to my resignation.

Sincerely yours,  Jeremy Brecher

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