Over the weekend, Dr. Janet Asimov sent me this except from a (probably unpublished) letter written by famed author and former AHA president Dr. Isaac Asimov in March 1965. The following excerpt made her think that, since World War II, we seem to have the same “little” war over and over. Reactions to last night’s news about Osama Bin Laden makes me think this message is especially needed today.

I’m pleased that Bin Laden’s death will bring some closure to those who experienced loss as a result of Bin Laden’s ordered attacks. But it helps to be regularly reminded that we are one world and one people, and that we are at our best when we live up to our high moral expectations and don’t regard the lives of one society as more valuable than another.  

“The American embassy has just been bombed and now everyone is calling for raids on Hanoi in reprisal. I fail to see the difference. We are both bombing; the Viet Cong does it on a small scale because they must use hands and trucks as the transporting medium, and we do it on a large scale because we use airplanes. The Viet Cong’s attack is ‘cowardly’ but since our planes are not resisted, our attacks are ‘cowardly’ too. We take ‘reprisals’ but when the Nazis shot hostages during World War II in the same kind of ‘reprisals’ we were horrified. I don’t know; if one looks at war with a kind of logic, one is sickened. That is why people prefer to look at it through slogans. It is a form of retention of mental stability. One thing is certain. If the Vietnamese people could take a vote, we would be asked to leave. We ought to get out of Vietnam for the same reason that the Russians ought to get out of East Germany. If Vietnam is essential to our security, we ought to quit chivvying the Russians who undoubtedly consider East Germany essential to their security. I’m sorry; this isn’t a proper patriotic viewpoint, but darn it, I don’t feel patriotic about Vietnam.” –Isaac Asimov

Roy Speckhardt
Executive Director, American Humanist Association