Donald Knuth’s letter to Condoleeza Rice
“[the following letter was mailed in September 2002; I’ve had no response]
I’m 99.99% sure that my writing this letter will have no effect, but my conscience tells me to write it anyway. Danziger’s cartoon has pushed me out of my lethargy.
[His cartoon shows her banging on a grand piano, saying “War! War! War!”]
When I knew you at Stanford I had the greatest admiration for your abilities and good sense. (And I was disappointed that we never were able to get together to play four-hands music.) But now I cannot help but express to you my chagrin that the warm feelings I once had have basically evaporated. I hope you can pause to try to understand why this might be the case.
Fundamentally I don’t see how the government of my country has done anything whatsoever to address and correct the root causes of international terrorism. Quite the contrary; every action I can see seems almost designed to have the opposite effect — as if orchestrated to maximize the finances of those who make armaments, by maximizing the number of people who now hate me personally for actions that I do not personally condone. How can I be a proud citizen of a country that unilaterally pulls out of widely accepted treaties, that refuses to accept a world court, that flouts fair trade with shameful policies regarding steel and agriculture, and that almost blindly supports Israel’s increasingly unjustifiable occupation?
And worst of all, I find that my leaders, including you, are calling for war against a sovereign nation that we suspect to be corrupt, thereby (even if our suspicions are correct) undermining all precedents against unilateral action by other countries who might in future decide that our own policies are wrong. If we peremptorily strike country X, why shouldn’t country X have a right to do the same to us, and to our children and grandchildren in future years?
On my trips to Europe all I can do is hope that my friends there can help their governments try to make somebody in my own government act responsibly.
Sincerely, Don Knuth
P.S. This is the second time in my life that I have written a letter to a U.S. government official. The first time was during the Vietnam war.
For readers outside the computing world who don’t know why Don Knuth is a revered figure, see here.