Editor's note: This letter was originally sent to Sen. Claire McCaskill before President Obama sought Congress' approval for military action against Syria.
We don’t know each other, but I think we know some of the same people. I live in Columbia as a student at the University of Missouri. I am from Kansas City where you spent some years at City Hall. My family is from Columbia and I suspect that my aunts and uncles may have known you or your sisters way back in high school. I say this to emphasize that I am your constituent and that, appropriately, we are not so disconnected. We have some similar experiences, at the very least. There are some serious differences between us, though. For one, 9/11 ruined my faith in American governance.
It wasn’t just 9/11, Iraq had a lot to do with it as well. I was twelve years old when al-Qaida attacked the United States. If I had been any younger maybe it would have been just a peripheral disturbance, a kind of vague uneasiness. As it was I was a nascently political entity, keenly curious about what it meant to be an American. As you remember we invaded Iraq without U.N. sanction. Consider that a good primer coat of cynicism on my political consciousness. I hesitate to rehash all the bad news so let me just summarize: Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, the hanging of Saddam Hussein, Guantanamo, and perhaps most significantly, nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. All of these things crushed my belief in America. It was a collective nightmare and I paid attention to all of it, during my “formative years” no less. Well, I am fully formed along with most of my generation. I can’t speak for them but as for myself I would like to urge you to say no to military action in Syria.
I would like to assure you that I understand the fundamental differences between what happened in Iraq and what is happening in Syria. What has happened in Syria is unconscionable, and something should be done, but that something should not be unilateral war-making. My generation and I have been learning a lot about war. While there may have been wide coverage of the Vietnam War, I don’t think anything can compare to the kind of coverage provided by the Internet and cable news. One thing we have learned about war is that it is fundamentally about killing people. Words like “strike,” “surgical action,” and even “war” itself are actually words used to euphemize “killing human beings.” It’s noteworthy, to me anyway, that no one is suggesting that the human beings who are serving in the Syrian Army are all evil hearted, irredeemable monsters, because that would, of course, be insane. We can probably assume that some of those who would be killed by us are people who have no more to do with choosing to use chemical weapons than most of our service people have to do with authorizing drone strikes in Yemen. Of course the old argument is that this is the risk you run by joining the military. It's an argument that seeks to remove the agency of killing from the killer and place it on the killed, but that is really just a matter of wishful thinking. Killing more people, or killing the right people is not the way to proceed. That is why I ask you to say no to any military action in Syria.
I don’t really expect you to do that though. So here are things I think you can do: say no to military action in Syria without the U.N. inspectors’ findings; and secondly, tell the president to abide by our Constitution and go to Congress for permission to wage war. It’s the law, according to the War Powers Resolution. It is truly amazing what Defense Department lawyers can do to the law — bending it to justify the targeted killing of American citizens in Yemen, for example. Abdulrahman Al-Awlaki was sixteen, Senator, and we’re supposed to be a moral force for good? How can a nation stand without the rule of law? Call out the president and make him follow the law in regards to war. I mentioned that I have lost faith in our government, it is no lie, and furthermore I think it is justified.
You may have noticed the emergence of new kinds of candidates, ones who use identifiers like “Libertarian.” They seem to be getting a lot of traction, especially with people my age. Here are some reasons I think this may be. They generally talk a lot about making government accountable to the people. They seem to want to use the Constitution to protect civil liberties. Some of them have said in no uncertain terms that they wish to cease using military force unless it is necessitated by an actual threat. All of these things appeal to a generation which has been jaded by endless war, endless twisting of the Constitution, and the endless feeling that conventional politicians just aren’t listening. I don’t want to vote for someone who doesn’t believe in Social Security, and I don’t want to vote for someone who thinks that markets fix themselves, but I will not vote for anymore war.
Samuel Stella is a Columbia resident.