Were there any clues to the impending collapse of Enron? This NOW with Bill Moyers episode investigated by going to Enron’s hometown in Houston, Texas, to talk to the people that knew the company best — its employees and others in the business and financial community.
NOW also profiled Sept. 11 widow Amber Amundson, who made the difficult decision to oppose war in Afghanistan. Her own father, meanwhile, felt differently. Is dissent unpatriotic when the loss is so great?
WATCH A CLIP
MOYERS: Good evening and welcome to NOW. To begin, a look at Enron, with Kenneth Lay out as CEO and Congress beginning what will be a series of investigations, we decided to launch our own reporting about Enron deep in the heart of Texas. There the saying know thy neighbor has taken on a whole new meaning. Enron was everybody’s neighbor and everybody’s friend, or so they thought.
Welcome to Enron, Texas, also known as Houston. From its gleaming headquarters building, to the Enron Field Stadium, to charitable organizations like the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and Barbara Bush’s Literacy Foundation, Enron was all over the place; so was its Chairman, Kenneth Lay.
FILE TAPE OF KENNETH LAY from FRONTLINE: Well, I can describe Enron in a number of different ways. One way is we are the largest provider of electricity and natural gas in North America, and for that matter, the world.
So we’re a very large factor in the electricity and natural gas business around the world.
MOYERS: Think of them as a middleman. By the way, that clip is from before Enron went bankrupt.
But Enron wasn’t an energy company the way we think of energy companies, they didn’t pump oil out of the ground.
MOYERS: They liked to say they, “created markets,”. Bringing buyers and sellers together, taking a little piece of the action in between.
(TAPE OF ENRON TRADING FLOOR): I’m going to get some prices and call you back.
MOYERS: But along the way, Enron was busy creating a lot of other things, too.
KENNETH LAY FROM FRONTLINE: now, we’re in a lot of other businesses, too, but basically, if you want to define Enron, we’re a very, very large logistics company.
MOYERS: Enron’s businesses were as far flung as trading in data bandwidth, to dealing in newsprint. And often, those businesses were set up as subsidiaries, those so-called “partnerships” or “special purpose entities” you may have heard about, at last count, over 2,800 of them, almost a third located in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands.
David Berg is a well-known attorney in Houston. He came to learn about Enron’s tangled web of affiliated companies.
DAVID BERG: At the time, Enron was our leading corporate citizen. They were our hometown favorite. They, Ken Lay and his wife, were among the most generous people this city has ever known.
It made sense that they would have a leg up. What got my attention was that the leg up they had was more like a pointy-toed boot.
MOYERS: Berg is chairman of something called HAWC, the Houston Area Water Corporation. HAWC’s job: to hand out $3 billion in contracts to build water purification plants for the city, one of the largest public works projects the city has ever undertaken. It’s in that role he began a long and painful relationship with Enron and its executives.
BERG: Water purity is a very serious issue here. We’re all on, so much of our city is on ground water, primarily out in the county, and what my main concern was that the company we did business with today would be here tomorrow, and next year, and the year after that.
MOYERS: The first plant in this $3 billion project was to be built here, on the shores of Lake Houston, north of town. Enter Azurix, one of those overseas affiliates under the Enron umbrella. Azurix was one of three finalists recommended by the city to Berg’s water board. But Berg had never heard of them, so he decided to find out what they were about.
BERG: It was very complicated, and my rule of thumb is if I don’t understand it, then i’ve got to dig deeper. And I don’t trust it, and I didn’t trust the structure.
But what got me was the off-shore portion of this, was the Cayman’s corporation through which some of the ownership was funneled, and that really set off a red flag.
MOYERS: Berg says he’d never seen anything like it. To him, it seemed as if Enron had something to hide.
BERG: If you looked at this thing, I understand that there are tax benefits to Cayman corporations, and I also understand that it is a tax haven. And when I examined the ownership, it looked more like a drug deal than it did a business deal.
MOYERS: Suspicious, Berg decided the water board should take a pass on Azurix. But Azurix and Enron weren’t about to be dismissed so easily. They proceeded to get tough and use their political clout.
BERG: They brought a lot of pressure. The City Attorney weighed in on me in front of my wife, in front of the city Chief Financial Officer, and in front of 2,000 people at a fund-raiser for the mayor, and said he heard we weren’t going to vote for Enron, and they were going to dismantle our board, and this, that, and the other, and I let him rant for a while, and my sense was they thought they had this job coming as a matter of right.
They had the mayor’s chief fund-raiser as their chief lobbyist to get this job. I had a sense all along that they knew they were going to get the job come hell or high water.
MOYERS: In this letter to Houston’s mayor, Azurix claimed to have had more than $4 billion in assets.
Furthermore, “Azurix continues to maintain a strong liquidity position.” Translated: our pockets are full of cash.
But just weeks earlier, in a separate filing with the securities and exchange commission, Enron claimed Azurix had “insufficient liquidity to fund projected negative cash flow through 2002.”
BERG: I was stunned by the depth of the duplicity. Sure they had $4.5 billion in assets; what they didn’t mention is that they had about $6 billion in liabilities. Well, you know, I’m not real quick with math, but I can figure that out very fast. It’s a negative number.
You can’t tell them you are liquid when you are not. You can’t tell them false things about the financial condition of your company. That’s what fraud is all about. Listen, I know fraud. I’m from Texas. I mean, I try lawsuits about fraud. I’ve never seen anything like this in my 33 years of practice.
MOYERS: Things got so bad, Berg decided to call Ken Lay personally.
Enron eventually ended its campaign to get the deal, but only, Berg believes, to avoid exposing the wrongdoing with its limited partnerships.
BERG: I can tell you that I know that, in retrospect, knowing what I know about the company, that they dealt with us with the same sleight of hand that they dealt with the American public, so that they were able to take your attention off of what was going on over here with what they were telling you was going on over here, and what was going on over here was a huge amount, multibillion dollars of debt.
And in that way, they did business with our board just like they did business with the rest of the world, while at the same time, assuring everyone our earning are robust. This is the best position we’ve ever been in.
JOHN OLSON: Just going through the footnotes of the company was like climbing the Alps.
MOYERS: Berg wasn’t the only one worried. John Olson is Director of Research at Sanders, Morris, Harris and Company, a financial services firm. He studies and rates companies. He was one of the few early skeptics of Enron’s worth.
OLSON: There was a lot of gray area, double-speak, things which were eluded to, but never really highlighted, for instance, the partnerships, the so-called “special purpose entities.”
There were a few lines in one annual report, and then there were a few lines in a proxy statement, and that was about it.
The burning issues over there were always legal issues: is it legal or is it not legal? And they had 245 lawyers over there, and you would think someone would raise a flag.
MOYERS: When Olson went public with his concerns, he, like Berg, got a taste of what it was like to provoke Enron. Ken Lay went right to Olson’s boss.
OLSON: This company played hard-ball. They were very successful at playing hard-ball, whether it was with their outside counsel or their auditors or analysts, they played to win.
BERG: The problem was the corporate culture. That’s the first place you look to decide what a corporation is really like. And it’s set at the top. This is the most rapacious corporation that i’ve ever been involved with, and I’ve been involved with a lot. That’s who I represent.
And what it was, they were not able to create a climate of integrity, where everyone supported one another. They ate their young at Enron.
ALLAN SOMMER: Greed was a big part of that corporate culture, and it was rewarded. It was emphasized and rewarded.
MOYERS: Allan Sommer is a voice from the inside.
He was a Vice President for Enron, before being laid off in December.
Two years ago, he moved to Houston to work for Enron, and soon began to see things he didn’t like.
SOMMER: I was shocked to see what they were looking for in people. They were looking for cutthroat-type people who had maybe come from trading type businesses before, had gone back to school, who had those types of skills, because they would fit into that corporate culture.
REVEREND JAMES NUTTER: For the last several years, I had a number of people from the work environment, here in Houston, talk about what it was like to work at Enron or deal with Enron.
MOYERS: Reverend James Nutter is the Rector of the Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, where Allan Sommer worships. Many of his parishioners are, or were, Enron employees. He says their chorus of complaints about life at Enron only grew louder over time.
NUTTER: The hyper-competitive environment, the hyper-aggressive environment where everyone is being graded. One person described it as: “you’re either putting your foot in someone’s face who is just below you, or you’re grabbing the other person who is just above you by the belt to bring them down.”
If you are building the kind of environment where the end justifies the means, that begins to ripple out and spread like a virus.
MOYERS: “Spread like a virus.”
The Enron way went far beyond Houston’s city limits. One example: Texas senior Senator Phil Gramm is married to the former Chair of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. As Chair, Wende Gramm saw to it that Enron got an exemption from federal oversight. Within weeks, she resigned from government and went on Enron’s board, earning almost $1 million serving on the audit committee that was supposed to hold the company accountable.
Meanwhile, Senator Gramm, his campaign coffers larded by Enron, was making sure the Senate gave the company further exemption from regulation.
And back in Texas, Enron’s virtually took title to the state capitol, hiring 89 lobbyists over the last two legislative sessions alone.
CRAIG MCDONALD: Enron’s tentacles were deep. And we notice that by the list of recusals every day, and the list of people who are lining up to give back the Enron money.
MOYERS: Craig McDonald is Director of Texans for Public Justice, a group that tracks money and politics. He’s been watching Enron operate in Austin for years.
MCDONALD: It was ubiquitous. It was almost everywhere. Around here, we’re talking that it may take, we may have to go down to the clerks in the capitol mailroom to find a disinterested party to carry on the Enron investigations.
MOYERS: McDonald has seen the kind of political hard-ball Enron plays, all part of a strategic vision, he believes, that made Enron what it was.
MCDONALD: What did Enron get from its political clout?
What it really got was Enron; Ken Lay’s political access to the political system at the state regulatory level, at the state legislative level, and at the federal level, deregulated the energy market place.
His political clout created Enron in the broadest sense, and that’s what Ken Lay and Enron got from their political giving.
MOYERS: But many Enron employees ended up with nothing. Even while Enron was nose diving towards bankruptcy, and executives were selling their stock, Ken Lay was reassuring employees about the company’s future.
TAPED FOX NEWS REPORT: Enron stock was removed from the New York Stock Exchange today.
MARIE THIBAUT: The company betrayed their employees.
But in order to be betrayed by someone, you have to trust that person. You cannot be betrayed by someone you don’t trust. Of course, I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m bewildered. I feel taken.
I’ve lost my savings.
At one point, you know, if I could have gone back into that building and gone up on the 50th floor and punched a couple of people in the nose, I would have done it.
I would have done it. They took my savings away.
KAREN PADGETT: We don’t think about retiring now.
Now, I think we think more of surviving just day-to-day. We’re not going to be able to have the dreams we had. And I know a lot of people won’t have their dreams of retirement. We just have to think about day-to-day life and just surviving.
TOM PADGETT: I blame greediness.
How many millions of dollars does it take for one man to live at somebody else’s expense?
You know, upper management is not going to have to worry about their retirement and where their next meal is coming from, or whether their kids are going to have to take care of them when they do retire, or when they can’t work anymore. But my wife and I, and a whole lot of other people, are.
THIBAUT: The motto of Enron’s advertisements on TV, and we have little signs all over the company — “ask why.”
“ask.” No one was asking questions about this. We weren’t asking why.
That was the motto of the company — “ask why” — and no one asked why.
MOYERS: Robert Bartley is Editor of the WALL STREET JOURNAL, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing, and one of the most influential conservatives in America.
His editorial pages champion supply side economics, free markets, tax cuts, and the drawing and quartering of liberals.
Almost single-handedly, he turned the investigation of whitewater and the clintons into an epic larger than WAR AND PEACE, five volumes in all, the opus of the American right.
Thank you for joining me tonight.
ROBERT BARTLEY: Thank you.
Nice to be here, Bill.
MOYERS: How did so many people get taken for such a ride?
BARTLEY: Oh, we had a big boom, and now we’re having a recession. And it… There’s always, after one of these booms, there’s booms, there’s some kind of a shake-out. And this time around it’s Enron.
MOYERS: will the JOURNAL treat Enron as a potential Whitewater?
BARTLEY: Oh, I doubt that it will be quite a Whitewater, but I don’t think it’s going to go on for eight years the way the Whitewater series did, and how…
MOYERS: Well, that depends a lot on you and the JOURNAL.
BARTLEY: Ah, I don’t know.
I think, you know, we’re… We think there ought to be some criminal investigations. There might have been some serious crimes here, and there probably… There probably will be.
There might be some kinds of reform, but I… Our stress is, my stress has been that, you know, we have a pretty good system. We have the most prosperous country in history, and we want to tinker with it very carefully.
MOYERS: Kenneth Lay, Enron, were the single biggest contributors to George W. Bush’s entire political career. Over half the members of Congress have received financial contributions, political contributions from Enron.
The Attorney General had to recuse himself because of his own contributions from Enron. How can the American people trust whatever the government says and does about Enron?
BARTLEY: Well, you know, push come to shove, they didn’t get anything out of the Bush administration.
Whatever regulatory hanky-pank there might have been happened back during the Clinton Administration.
That’s when their… That’s when their stock ran up, then it ran down during the… During the Bush administration when we had a recession and things started to get tight and we found out what the truth was.
MOYERS: They got it…
BARTLEY: The… You know, you’re preaching to the choir here about businesses trying to…Trying to gin the regulatory apparatus.
MOYERS: What do conservatives this about it, should there be a special prosecutor because the government is so compromised?
BARTLEY: Oh, I’d have to look a little more carefully at exactly what charges are going to be. But certainly there ought to be a criminal investigation. Now, whether… Whether it has to be a special prosecutor or whether the justice department can do it is kind of a secondary question. I’m not sure we’re there yet.
MOYERS: You never vacillated what you were writing editorials on something like that.
BARTLEY: Well, never vacillated on what? We’ve been against special prosecutors. When the law was passed, we were against it.
But there the law was, and it’s gone again. And we think if the law’s on the books, you ought to enforce it.
MOYERS: The new Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Bob Harvey Pitt, was a lobbyist for the accounting business. He represented Enron’s auditing firm, which is under investigation, which was a big contributor to politicians as well.
I mean, shouldn’t Robert Pitt…Harvey Pitt step down?
BARTLEY: Step down as SEC Chairman?
MOYERS: Yeah, for the integrity of the commission.
BARTLEY: Oh, I don’t know. It seems a little extreme to me. Maybe he ought to recuse himself from certain cases.
MOYERS: He said he will do that, but still he’s there attending inside, private meetings on Enron.
BARTLEY: Well, what’s the SEC going to do? I mean, it turns out the SEC gave them some kind of important deregulation and it never even went to the commission; it was done by the staff. I don’t know. I’m… I don’t think it would solve the problem to have everybody recuse themselves because…
MOYERS: But a special prosecutor, you wouldn’t have to recuse themselves.
BARTLEY: Well, a Special Prosecutor would have to be within the Justice Department, under the current law.
It might be a good idea to have a special task force to put somebody in charge. I don’t have any objection to that.
MOYERS: Should corporations like Enron be able to contribute as much money as they want to the politicians?
BARTLEY: I think so, as long as it’s adequately disclosed.
MOYERS: Doesn’t this unbalance the very capitalist system toward the excesses that you’re concerned about, if they have that much power? If they had that much power, that much influence, they can get away with a lot, Bob.
BARTLEY: Yeah, but you’re assuming that everyone is on one side, and that’s not the way these usually turn out.
You’d have Enron on one side and some other big corporation on the other side, and…
MOYERS: But people with money have more clout than people who don’t.
BARTLEY: Yes, it’s better to be rich than poor.
MOYERS: But is that what democracy is about?
BARTLEY: Yeah, equality of opportunity.
MOYERS: Equality of opportunity as defined by wealth?
BARTLEY: Well, some people get wealthier than others if you have equality of opportunity. But if you try to level society, then nobody is going to do anything.
MOYERS: Has Enron in any way changed your ideas about policy, about government and business trying to develop a better way to be a safeguard?
BARTLEY: Yeah, I think Enron is a pretty rich case. The offshore entities, the…The accounting rules, the kind of systemic failure of oversight, not by the auditors, by the audit committee, by the markets, by the press.
It’s pretty dramatic and I think needs to be… Needs to be looked at.
MOYERS: A systemic failure?
BARTLEY: Yeah, a systemic failure. It has to do with kind of a general decline in moral standards in this society. I mean, capitalism is based on kind of an inherited moral climate.
You know, you have to have trust. And I think that throughout the society, you know, the standards have been lowered in the bar, in accounting, probably in the press, in academia. I think there’s been a slippage of the standards, you know, for 40 years or so.
And that’s part, at least, of what the Enron picture is about.
MOYERS: That wouldn’t excuse Enron any more than…
BARTLEY: No. No, not at all, not at all.
MOYERS: Did you follow the story last year when some 30 countries, including in the beginning the United States, came… Tried to close down the offshore tax havens?
MOYERS: And some of the very kinds of tax havens that Enron used, and some corporations and conservatives in Washington and the banking lobby went to the Bush White House, forced the White House to back down.
The United States pulled out of that effort to close down havens such as Enron and terrorists were using.
What did you think about that?
BARTLEY: Well, I had very much… I did follow that, yes, and I had kind of mixed feelings about it.
On the one hand, there’s obviously some kinds of abuse going on there.
But on the other hand, I think there was a big part of the motive, was that the Europeans wanted to collect tax rates that I would consider onerous, that that kind of curbed my appetite a little bit for that. That has to be looked at carefully.
MOYERS: Those tax havens were encouraging… Then were encouraging Europeans and others to evade their law.
BARTLEY: Yeah, yeah.
MOYERS: How can we have a society when people are encouraged to hide their money and evade their laws?
It seems to me that this is exactly the kind of oversight that citizens cannot maintain themselves and that governments have to do it and that we shouldn’t be encouraging people to hide their money.
BARTLEY: Well, that’s…
MOYERS: You should change the laws if you don’t like the tax rate, but encouraging people, corporations to hide their money…
BARTLEY: No, I don’t think we should encourage corporations, U.S. corporations to hide their money.
MOYERS: Enron did.
BARTLEY: Yeah, sure, and I think they probably ought to be prosecuted if we could find a course of criminal action.
MOYERS: I was drawn to your column this week when you said “not even the most ardent advocates of capitalism claim it can abolish… Abolish pride, greed, and the rest of the seven deadly sins.”
I agree with that, by the way, but who should protect the public against the excesses of those human appetites?
BARTLEY: Well, the problem is that if you put somebody in charge of protecting against excesses you… First of all, they’re likely to be guilty of excesses themselves because they’re human, too.
MOYERS: True. But is the balance of power…?
BARTLEY: And then secondly, you don’t want to squeeze the vitality out of the system, which is the way the Europeans have done.
They don’t have the kind of vigorous growth that we do because there is not as much leeway for human folly.
So I would… Sure, there are things you can do, and i’m not against doing anything, but I think you want to be careful that you don’t… You don’t say, “okay, here’s this terrible thing going on.
We want to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” and you set up this big apparatus that keeps anything from happening.
That’s my concern.
MOYERS: But if those 401(k) investors, those small investors in Enron, the employees of Enron, lose faith in corporate capitalism, I mean, the system will lose its dynamic, its energy very quickly.
BARTLEY: Well, that’s certainly true to some extent. It’s also certainly true that capitalism markets don’t work if they’re given bad information. I mean, good information is the heart of markets, and that was one of the things that wasn’t happening here. We didn’t get the information we needed.
MOYERS: Who should be the watchdog when the CEO is telling everyone things are going well and internally his board, his auditors, his accountants are helping cover up the other side of the story, which is it’s going badly?
Who should be the watchdog?
BARTLEY: It’s tough. In the end, the markets are the watchdog, and…
MOYERS: What do you mean by “the market”?
BARTLEY: Well, the stock… things started to come out and the stock started going down, and then that brought the whole thing cascading down.
Now, it should have happened sooner in a perfect world. But, you know, it’s pretty hard to design a perfect system.
To say, “well, the market is getting too rambunctious, we ought to go stop it,” it’s a very dangerous thing.
MOYERS: I don’t think… I mean, I’m not saying it.
I don’t know anybody who is saying it.
I’m simply saying who is going to look out when the auditors, the board, the executives, when everyone is taking the little investor for a ride?
BARTLEY: Auditors… You know, the press didn’t do its job here soon enough.
I mean, our news department had a lot to do with breaking the story.
You know, failures happen in any system.
MOYERS: You’ve said in that column this week, “the system works because people are allowed to fail, indeed, to make fools of themselves.”
MOYERS: Did the people whose pensions were in those 401(k)’s make fools of themselves, or did Kenneth Lay make a fool of them?
BARTLEY: Well, I don’t want to defend Mr. Lay’s part in that, particularly talking up the stock when it should have been talked down.
But on the other hand, the people in those pension funds were… They bear some of the responsibility because, you know, the general advice is to diversify and don’t put a lot of money into your… Into your company’s funds.
MOYERS: do you remember five years ago Barbara Boxer and some others in congress tried to pass a proposal that would have limited to 10 percent the amount of 401(k) stocks that could be in that same company?
Conservatives in Washington and corporations watered down that proposal that might have protected the Enron people and didn’t.
BARTLEY: I didn’t follow that one exactly.
But on the other hand, people who put all their… Microsoft employees who put all their money in Microsoft became millionaires.
So whether you want to stop them from doing that, I think there’s at least an ambiguous kind of question, though I must say that I, you know, I’d be prepared to consider it a lot more today than I was before the Enron thing.
MOYERS: Thank you very much for joining us.
Robert Bartley, Editor of the WALL STREET JOURNAL.
BARTLEY: Thank you.
Great to be here, Bill.
MOYERS: If Enron isn’t a wakeup call I don’t know what it will take, but then Ivan Boesky didn’t wake us up either.
Okay, so you don’t remember Ivan Boesky. What about the savings and loan scandal? Seems like the dark ages, doesn’t it, but it was hardly more than a decade ago that taxpayers had to foot the bill for one of the biggest ripoffs of the public trust ever.
By the way, that one, too, was first cultivated in the hothouse of Texas, where rented politicians put the watchdogs to sleep so the predators could make off with the loot. By the time it was over it cost you and you and you a hundred and fifty billion dollars. Never again, we said. But never again doesn’t reckon on the ability of money to erase memory. Now comes Enron, turning Boesky into a piker and the S&L scandal into a tea-party.
You have got to admire Kenneth Lay. This son of a Baptist preacher understood the power of the collection plate. Every time a politician passed one, he filled it, until he owned the right to fleece the flock. Employees, shareholders, pensioners — “Kenny boy,” as he’s known to friends, ran an equal opportunity scam. He got you, too, and you and you and you. Because by the wholesale use of tax dodges, Enron avoided paying its fair share of operating the Weather Bureau, the National Park Service, and the War on Terrorism.
Guess who made up the difference? Then, because Congress allows corporations to pass the cost of executive stock options on to you, the government turned around and gave Enron a tax refund…out of your pocket…for taxes it never even paid. What a system. It’s enough to make you long for the dark ages again.
JOHN KAPLAN: A lot of the older people in Cuba still remember the days when American culture was king.
She’s just an everyday lady living in a Havana apartment.
She was cleaning the living room as I came over.
She went to try to run away and put on makeup and change into her best clothes.
I really just wanted to photograph her in her everyday clothing. She’s had the picture of Marilyn Monroe since the late 1950s proudly hanging in her living room. I just think that she’s just as beautiful.
This man is named Egon, and he represents a spirit in the Santeria faith. I photographed him at a street festival in Havana.
He just stands there silently with his painted black face as a way to bring the power of Santeria to light.
Santeria feels mysterious, it feels powerful. It’s kind of an eclectic combination of voodoo and Catholicism even.
This boy is a six-year-old young Communist Pioneer. I’d say that Pioneers in Cuba are maybe the equivalent of the Cub Scouts in the US.
He lives next door to this abandoned house in an abandoned statue of the Cuban national hero, Jose Marti. He and his family kind of guard it from vandalism. So he’s a patriotic young boy who’s trying to do his best to protect Jose.
Times are tough in Cuba.
I think people survive through their wits and sometimes through their ingenuity as well. This is a 57-year-old grandmother and her children. They’re just regular folks living in an apartment building in Havana. They’re trying to make ends meet by having a little business on the side selling basic necessities such as soap, shoes, or cooking oil on the black market. At the time that I took this picture, it was illegal to have dollars in Cuba.
If I would have shown the identities of these folks, they would have had a good chance of being arrested and imprisoned.
MOYERS: For months the military campaign in Afghanistan has been America’s priority. Polls report most of us support it. But amidst the patriotic cheering an occasional lone voice can be her challenging the consensus.
This is about one of those voices.
FILE NEWS TAPE: We’ve seen a remarkable play of air power just in this past hour from the US. The planes are still attacking.
MOYERS: By official accounts, the military campaign in Afghanistan is a success. It’s been almost universally embraced by Americans, but not by everyone.
AMBER AMUNDSON: The year 2002 is going to be the year of war, and that really scares me.
If you’re sitting at home and you’re uncomfortable with this and this doesn’t feel right and your heart is telling you that, is it okay for you to speak out?
MOYERS: Amber Amundson spent the holidays in Hartsville, Missouri, with her in-laws. Like the rest of the nation, she’s still grappling with the deadly attacks of September 11.
But the events of that day have set her on a very different path from much of the country. Amber’s husband, Army Specialist Craig Amundson, was among those killed in the Pentagon.
AMUNDSON: My dad came to our house within less than 24 hours of the attacks.
Of course, after hugging me and comforting me and spending time together, the first dialogue we had was him saying, “we’re going to get the people who did this, that are responsible for the death of Craig. We will get them. I promise you, honey, it’s going to happen.”
GLENN FLURY (Amber’s father); My only regret when they get that S-O-B is that I’m not the guy that pulled the trigger. I could rip his heart out and shove it down his throat. That’s how I feel.
TAPE OF PRESIDENT BUSH: On September 11, great sorrow came to our country. Today, we are a nation awakened to the evil of terrorism and determined to destroy it.
FLURY: When they were talking about killing the evildoers, I seen the look on her face and I seen, you know, when other people were applauding, she was kind of staring into space.
She didn’t want the kind of revenge, say, I wanted.
AMUNDSON: there was part of my heart that just sank, because I knew then that the way people were going to try to provide comfort to me and other family members in the country might possibly be in a way that meant more death.
MOYERS: Last fall, as the nation went to war in Afghanistan, Amber spoke out.
In the CHICAGO TRIBUNE she wrote, “I take no comfort in your words of rage.” She said that if the nation went ahead with a military campaign, “you may not do so in the name of justice for my husband. Craig would not have wanted a violent response to avenge his death. We cannot solve violence with violence.”
AMUNDSON: My response is one that Craig would be certainly not surprised. It’s really Craig’s beliefs that are such a big motivation for this.
MOYERS: Craig Amundson had been in the Army for three years, working in the personnel department.
He enlisted because he saw a positive role in the army’s peacekeeping mission.
REV. GREG DOWLER: He was actually in the service to effect the peace process. He felt that he could do more inside and be more effective than, than protesting on the outside.
FLURY It’s interesting when you think that Amber’s all this peace, but yet her husband was a military person. But he drove to work with a bumper sticker that said “Visualize World Peace,” and he believed in that.
MOYERS: Amber’s plea for restraint was at odds not only with much of her family, but also with much of the nation. Her comments drew a ferocious reaction.
Some columnists accused her of aiding the terrorists’ cause. One outraged writer suggested she and her kind be dropped from a B-52 bomber onto Afghanistan.
But that didn’t stop her. Two months after Craig’s death and joined by his two brothers, she went on the road to make her case.
AMUNDSON: I want justice. I mean, justice for the country and for us with our personal situation. I mean, I want the people who are responsible for my husband’s death brought to justice, absolutely.
But what are the effects when 5,000 people in a country die?
RYAN AMUNDSON: There’s so many innocent people, just like Craig and all the other people that died on 9/11, that don’t have anything to do with this and they don’t deserve to die.
FLURY: Innocent people are going to be killed.
We knew that when this thing started. Our leaders knew that. I think anybody in the country with a thinking mind knows that innocent people are going to get killed. Did we want it to happen? Do you want to say, “well, that’s just the way it is”?
AMUNDSON: I know that in Afghanistan, there’s a young woman who has children like myself that is dealing with this, and questioning possibly the same things as, “was this necessary?”
My husband was here four months ago, and is now not here. Why is that? Why does that happen? Did this have to happen?
CNN NEWS TAPE: America fights back.
MOYERS: But as the campaign in afghanistan progressed, America had little appetite for dissent.
AMUNDSON: I’ve been called in editorials unpatriotic.
You know, “how can she even display a flag in front of her home, and then talk about peace efforts?
How can she do that during this time?”
MOYERS: Amber and her father don’t discuss the war much these days. A quiet truce has been reached. Each knows what the other believes.
AMUNDSON: When I speak to my dad and hear what he has to say, I have a lot of respect for maybe a generation or a group of people that have lived through a lot more than I have, and can have a different perspective about what war means.
I think at the same time, my dad can hear my words and have an understanding of how someone could feel scared and have feelings of loss and concern for humanity.
REV. DOWLER: if we ever stop asking, “is there a better way?”, then I think we are doomed.
And I don’t think that Ryan and Amber were doing anything more than that. I don’t believe that their ideas and opinions are in the least unpatriotic.
AMUNDSON: We’ll be speaking on the afternoon of the 19th in like a community center.
REPORTER: Despite the criticism and the small audiences that turn out, Amber and brother-in-law Ryan are hitting the road again.
There’s talk of the war spreading to other countries.
AMUNDSON: I think the more we as family members carry a voice about peace, the more that the American public will hopefully feel comfortable enough to do the same thing.
RYAN AMUNDSON: People are ready to start talking about alternatives to war, especially when they hear we have a long, bloody road ahead of us.
When people hear that, they start to think, “are there any alternatives?
Are there other things we can do?”
That’s why I hope to get on the road and I hope we can get that discussion going.
AMUNDSON: I think Craig is looking down and smiling at the way that I am choosing to heal and choosing to grieve. I think that he would be really proud of me. I think he is really proud of me.
MOYERS: Amber will soon be in South Carolina to speak out once again against the war, but she’s also agreed to answer questions on our website. Log onto pbs.org where you can learn more about Amber’s husband Craig. Or join our forum and share your own ideas.
Now, to Oklahoma City, where survivors of one horrible act of terrorism find themselves struggling once again to face the dilemmas raised by more recent terror.
REPORTER: Do you want revenge for the people killed on September 11?
STEVE BOURLON: Absolutely. Uh, I, I feel those responsible ought to pay, pay for the tragedy that occurred.
BEVERLY POWERS: Not really. It’s tempting — very tempting — but it doesn’t solve anything.
LEE LOCKHART: I don’t think “revenge” is a good word. We’re never going to bring those people back, and killing more won’t help.
JAMIE SPARKS: Do I want revenge? Um. To a degree, yeah, but I don’t think that would solve a whole lot at this point. It’s not going to bring those people back, so.
MARK ERICKSEN: Not revenge; justice. There’s a difference. I think it’s only fair. Whenever you do something bad you’re punished. That’s all.
REPORTER: What’s your response to people who say they hate us, who hate Americans?
NEIL CHIARELLO: I think we’ve got to work a lot harder on, on understand why so that that isn’t the truth any longer.
BEVERLY POWERS: Sometimes I think, well, they have a point. They have a point that we’ve gone too far in one direction. And uh, that still doesn’t give license to do the destruction that’s been done.
KEMAN MAP: There’s gonna be people that hate you and you can’t let that affect your life. You know, you have to carry on, you have to life your life.
LEE LOCKHART: If we go in and we go to their countries and we’re arrogant and we look down our nose at them and treat them as inferiors, sooner or later you’re gonna, you’re gonna learn to resent that, and maybe that’s what their problem is. And I don’t know how you overcome that one.
JACKI LYDEN: Joining us now, Father J. Bryan Hehir, who is the president of Catholic Charity USA and former head of the Harvard Divinity School. He’s written extensively on the issues of war and justice and international affairs, and he’s spent a great deal of time discussing the issues of a just war. Thank you very much for joining us.
REV. J. BRYAN HEHIR: I’m glad to be here.
JACKI LYDEN: Tell us something about, what is a just war? I understand there’s an actual document within the Christian tradition that sets out the precepts of a just war.
REV. J. BRYAN HEHIR: Well, there’s actually a tradition within the Christian tradition, because it is evolved over centuries. Essentially what a just war position says is some uses of military force are morally acceptable but not all uses of military force.
So the position stands between a position which would say that all use of lethal force is morally wrong — a pacifist position. And then it also stands over against a position that says that when you go to war there is no time or space or possibility of imposing moral restraints, that you can use moral restraints in other dimensions of life but when you go to war there’s no possibility.
That’s sometimes called the realist position, if you will. So the just war position stands between those two. It is a position that has its origins in the fifth century with a Christian saint.
Saint Augustine was the bishop of Hippo in northern Africa, and he was writing the book called The City of God just as the Roman Empire was being threatened from the outside.
And people were saying the Roman Empire was going down the tube because the Christians had these virtues that didn’t allow them to protect the empire. So Augustine set out to write on the morality of war.
And so his basic position was that war is the result of sin in the world, and war is the remedy for sin. What he meant by that was, war is the result of sin — meaning that people are not perfect and so they will do evil things to other people. And therefore in that kind of world you may need to use force to protect people from evil being done to them.
He entrusted the use of force to those who had responsibility for the common good, as he would call it. That is to say, the political authority of the community.
LYDEN: Or the sovereign.
HEHIR: The sovereign. That’s the beginning of the tradition.
And essentially it stays with the proposition that some uses of force are morally acceptable but not all. So then the function of the moral doctrine is to determine which uses of force are morally acceptable and which aren’t.
JACKI LYDEN: And how would you apply this doctrine, this tradition, to the war in Afghanistan, which has a tremendous amount of popular support but which nonetheless as we’ve seen has raised some serious questions about what is morality…no matter what the situation, this is a violent conflict.
HEHIR: Well, basically what the just war teaching says is that the only morally legitimate use of force is a limited use of force.
For example, is there, as they call it in the tradition, just cause, to use force? Does the United States have a morally justified reason to use force?
Now, people can disagree on that. My own judgment is that the kind of attack that occurred in New York and Washington was an attack on the homeland of a sovereign state with civilians in New York being the primary target, and in addition to that, we were promised that there would be other attacks.
So in the face of that, the argument is that you have a moral right to respond to that kind of threat and that kind of fact in order to prevent it from happening again. So the just cause reason in my mind is satisfied.
JACKI LYDEN: Father, we’ve just seen Amber Amundsen looking at this war through a different kind of prism. She is thinking about not wanting any more conflict, not wanting her husband’s name to be used in Afghanistan in what she would look at, I think, as vengeance. What would you say to her if she were able to ask your counsel on this?
HEHIR: Well, first of all, it was a very impressive interview on all sides.
And I understand and respect the fact that there always have been a group of people in a society who want to see justice done, who want to protect others from harm, but do not think you can take human life in order to do that. That is the sort of strict non-violent position. And I think that is a position that deserves respect.
It is not a position I think that can be the doctrine of a political community, because again, to go back to Augustine, when you have responsibility for the lives of others, it may be that if you are not prepared to use any force at all you cannot fulfill that responsibility. But individuals certainly can hold that position and I think she does.
JACKI LYDEN: Recently, I’ve just returned, as you know, from Afghanistan…just a few days ago. And people there are not, as you might think, of one mind about the American strikes, they’re not of one mind opposing them or welcoming them, although I think that they do think that they had very little alternative. But this argument changes when you talk to someone who has lost someone in the air strikes. We don’t know precisely what those numbers are.
There are people who say, I lost a daughter, and if I had to lose another one to get rid of the Taliban then I would lose one more family member. And there are other people who say, we are not the target and should not be the target. And I am collateral damage.
You know, we use rhetoric in pursuit of what we are thinking of as a just war, that that doesn’t apply to the human being who’s standing on the ground.
HEHIR: Well, one of the functions of moral argument in warfare is to make sure that we don’t hide the reality of war, that we use concepts that in fact expose what happens in war and not shroud them.
When you make the argument that there is a, quote, just war, what you are saying again is that an aggression, a major offense is being committed, and you do not have any other way to protect people from that aggression except to use force.
But that translates into an argument that says that only those who carry out the aggression are to be subject to directly intended attack. Therefore the distinction arises between civilians and non-civilians. And that’s where a central principle of the just war teaching comes.
Now, when you go into warfare, will civilians be killed? Almost inevitably they will be killed. The moral question is, what brought about their killing? And here you can have a spectrum of possibilities, and it’s an interesting perspective historically.
In World War II, both sides in World War II, the Allies and the Germans, both attacked civilians directly…
JACKI LYDEN: Targeted cities…
HEHIR: …purposely. Nobody said anything about it, virtually.
Jump 50 years. Jump up to the Gulf War and then on to this war and there’s constant discussion about the targeting of civilians. So there’s been a shift both within the professional military, in the political process and in the country.
That is to say, if you are directly and purposely intentionally targeting civilians, you are going to run into trouble.
JACKI LYDEN: The President has talked about a war on terrorism and taking this to any state that harbors terrorists.
Is it going to be just if we decide to attack Iraq? Is it going to be just if we get involved in the Philippines against Islamic guerrillas there?
HEHIR: Well, I think the description of transnational organizations with terrorist objectives is an accurate description. There are such things. So they exist. Secondly, the next question is, what’s the relationship of those organizations to states where they live, if you will.
I think the Afghani state was hand in glove with the Taliban. You may have other states where that is not the case and where you may have a legitimate reason to try to suppress the terrorist organization but you don’t necessarily have a legitimate reason to suppress the state. That’s a question.
In the Philippines, it’s complicated because there are constitutional issues, but presumably the United States will not be able to take action in the Philippines unless the government is in agreement with them presumably, at least… I would think we’d be buying trouble if the government is not in agreement with them.
And, therefore, you’re not in the same situation as you were in Afghanistan where the state and the group are in a sense both targets. In the Philippines the presumption is the Philippine government wants to be able to end the insurgency in the south.
Iraq is a totally different question, really a totally different question, because…
JACKI LYDEN: Because I think what we’re saying is that there are just doctrines under which we operate a war. And we talked about provocation and proportionality and defense.
And then there are causes that seem to me to be murkier, whether or not one should remove Saddam Hussein, how involved one should become in the Philippines. These things seem even less clear cut than Afghanistan.
HEHIR: Well, I think they are. I think that is the case. Basically the way morality works in discussions of war and peace is that you need to talk about politics, strategy and ethics at the same time.
The ethics don’t exist outside the politics and the strategy. The ethics are as set of concepts, principles and rules that you enter the public debate with and engage the politics and the strategy.
I think in each instance there’s going to have to be a debate about the use of force. In other words, I don’t think you can simply say, because there’s a transnational terrorist network and because it’s legitimate to try and suppress that, that therefore the legitimation that went to the use of force in Afghanistan gives you free license everywhere else. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think you have to debate every single question.
JACKI LYDEN: Well, thank you very much for joining us this evening Father J. Bryan Hehir. It was a very interesting conversation.
HEHIR: Thank you.
This transcript was entered on March 20, 2015.