This piece first appeared Feb. 14, 2003, in the official publication of ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento

War as a Massacre

Leonardo Boff

The greatest danger for humanity and the biosphere is George W. Bush, rather than Saddam Hussein. As a result of the 11 September attacks, as the leader of the only global superpower, a genuine non-territorial empire, he decided to dominate the world by force. He inaugurated "permanent war" and "infinite justice," overriding all international conventions and law. When analysing his official statements, one can see a dangerous escalation.

The first step was to summon the world for a relentless war against international terrorism. His motto was "those who are not with us are against us". The second was to identify those countries which protect and promote global terrorism. He assessed that there were about 60, calling them "outcasts" and "bandits," amongst which three form the "axis of evil" – Iran, Iraq and North Korea. And finally, he designed a preventive war. In his speech to the nation on 7 October 2002, Bush clearly states: "Considering the evident danger, we cannot await conclusive evidence, we shall make war." It is, of course, a premise of public and international law that any decision is based on conclusive evidence. Until now, international inspectors have brought forward no conclusive evidence, and those listed by Colin Powell were not convincing. However, for Bush, this is no obstacle to unilateral action. Those who threaten the military power of a country should immediately be disarmed. Consequently, Bush threatens to use all available weapons in a preventive military action.

Here lies the risk of Bush. The available arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons is so huge that only a small percentage could decimate all humankind. George Bush, more moderate than his son, authorized the use of depleted uranium, as a coating on the bombs against the Iraqi population in 1991. This radioactive substance, a residue from the production of atomic weapons, remains active for 4,500 years; its particles penetrate the soil, contaminate water and food, and produce cancer and genetic deformations. This perversity was also used in former Yugoslavia, Kosovo and Bosnia. Nearly 940,000 missiles were launched, all coated with this lethal weapon. The victims are countless. In the war against Iraq 150,000 children died, and 500,000 as a consequence of the embargo.

The imminent war is not war; it is cowardice; it is massacre. It is not a confrontation between armies; it is the killing of civilians with smart bombs from a height of 16,000 meters. Max Born, Nobel Physics Prize winner in 1954, denounced the prevalence of civilian deaths in modern war. During World War I, only 5% of civilians died; during World War II, 50%; in the Korea and Vietnam wars, 85%. And recent data indicate 98% of the casualties in the wars against Iraq and former Yugoslavia were civilians. It is not enough to be for peace. We have to be against war. There is no holy, just or humane war. All are perverse.

Leonardo Boff is a theologian and writer, author of "Crisis: Development Opportunities", Verus, São Paulo 2003. Email him at: