There goes another war, and another war, and another war. They were all the last resort of course. They will all be the last resort. They run together; different names, different places, different flags, different faces; one continuous last resort with no beginning and no end. Nonetheless, they are a last resort. A last resort to be sure.
I am often asked the question, "If you are opposed to the war, then what would you do about this crisis, this terrible injustice, this evil dictator?" If I don't accept the judgment of the leaders who were elected by the majority, and who know secrets most people will never know, what would I do? If I resist the leaders who are doing their best to serve me even in spite of me, what would I do? If I, who am nothing more than an average man, reject the words and actions of the leaders and stand by my convictions, how would I defend freedom and democracy? What would I do?
What would I do? The question is a demand. Any dissenters must answer correctly, convincingly, and understandably or they will be considered illegitimate. The catch is that the questioner already believes that the war is necessary and just. No indisputable facts are required. The leaders have spoken. The die is cast. All that is needed is to believe in God and country, salute the flag, and support the troops. No amount of debate will be convincing. No alternative course of action will be adequate. Simple faith and loyalty defeat complex, uncertain reason. The result is preordained. War is responsible. Peace is irresponsible. Dissent is selfish. Show solidarity. Dissent is wrong. Salute the flag. Dissent is evil. Support the troops. Peace is bad. War is good. War is good. Feel good… If religion is the opiate of the masses, the style of patriotism reflected in the question, "What would I do?" is the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.
"Yes Mrs. Doctor, we know that you love your son, Mr. Corporal, and fear for his safety. We know that you are suspicious that this war has more to do with oil and business than with weapons of mass destruction and a threat to the security of the United States. We know that you have grave misgivings about knowing that much of the substantial tax you pay each year goes to buy weapons that kill and maim. You wonder if there might be peaceful ways to solve our problems. But you must admit, Mrs. Doctor, Saddam Hussein is a bad man. He does bad things."
"What would you do, Mrs. Doctor?"
Mrs. Doctor doesn't have an off the cuff solution for bad men who do bad things. She is too busy trying to earn a living and raise a family to thoroughly research this issue. She feels self-doubt, and a little guilt. She says to herself, "Don't I love my son and want him to know I am proud of him and all his medals? Don't I support him? I could not protest the war knowing that it might cause my son to feel bad. Don't those civil servants who so unselfishly serve our country have our best interests in mind? Doesn't the government have experts who know far more about these things than me? Am I not a patriot? Don't I prominently display a US flag on my Cadillac's antenna?"
"Yes Mrs. Doctor, that is what we thought. Believe in us, Mrs. Doctor, we are your government. War is the only solution. Now drink this cup of Kool-Aid, pay all your taxes, and support your son, the President, and the troops in these difficult times."
Mrs. Doctor believed. She drank the Kool-Aid. She hung her son's medal and a flag in a special place in the waiting room of her office. Her taxes bought a smart bomb that incinerated a busload of women and children. One of the surviving fathers was a scientist. He vows revenge. The pilot who dropped the bomb sees pictures of the charred corpses during debriefing. He is stunned for a while, but he sees Mrs. Doctor's Cadillac on CNN flying "old glory." He is told the mission was a success. There was one man on the bus who was suspected to be a militant. He feels good enough to continue his bombing raids. Three years later he has nightmares and he drinks too much. He sees Mrs. Doctor for refills on his Prozac and Xanax.
"Yes Mr. Corporal, we know that you have your misgivings about invading another nation when most of the world's religious leaders and governments oppose this invasion. We know that you, based on the evidence you have seen, are not sure this invasion is justified. You get no pleasure from killing another grunt like yourself who, like you, is probably a husband and father. We know you are concerned about what would happen to your family if you were killed. But you must admit, Mr. Corporal, Saddam Hussein is a bad man. He does bad things."
"What would you do, Mr. Corporal?"
Mr. Corporal is not an expert in international relations. He does not have a quick, easy solution to all the problems in the Middle East. He has not heard the other side of the story. He is not sure if what he has heard is the truth, or propaganda, or lies. Mr. Corporal looks confused. He feels self-doubt and guilt. He says to himself, " Don't I want to make my family and my community proud? I could not face them if I am court-martialed for refusing orders. Didn't I pledge allegiance to the flag? Don't I love my country and want to serve it? Didn't my minister bless me? Don't I believe that God loves me? Hasn't God blessed America? Didn't I know what I was getting myself into when I joined the Army?"
"Yes Mr. Corporal, that is what we thought. Believe in us, Mr. Corporal, we are your government. War is the only solution. Now drink this cup of Kool-Aid and do as you are told."
Mr. Corporal believed. He drank the Kool-Aid. Mr. Corporal ran over a land mine.
Mr. Corporal is dead.
Mr. Corporal's young bride found a new husband to make love to her. His beautiful young daughter runs to her new father and calls him Daddy. Mr. Corporal's mother got another medal. She hung it in her office. That made her proud.
"Yes Senator, we know you were secretly briefed about the problems we have with the ruling regime in Iraq, and that you are skeptical because we cannot specifically verify many of our claims. We know that you heard contradictory information from your personal sources in the intelligence and military community. We know that you have grave misgivings about sending your constituents' children off to war and possible death. But you must admit, Senator, Saddam Hussein is a bad man. He does bad things."
"Senator, what would you do?"
Senator is an expert in politics. Senator knows that much of the pro-war talk is politics and propaganda, but Iraq is a small far-away nation. Death and disease among the common people of Iraq, and the destruction of their country will have little impact on the lives of people in the United States. Iraqi oil is important to the economy of the United States. The lobbyists for Senator's major donors say that a war in Iraq could result in many lucrative business contracts. Senator is a politician, not a priest. Senator feels no guilt. "Did I not vow to serve my state and my country and my constituents including my campaign donors," thinks Senator? "Am I not a very important Senator? Do I not enjoy the power and perks of my office? Do I not want to appear to be patriotic and supporting the troops? Do I not desire re-election? "
"Yes, Senator, that is what we thought. That is government, Senator. Believe it."
Senator believed, and not only drank the Kool-Aid, but sponsored a bill that authorized the use of Kool-Aid and paid for Kool-Aid for everyone in the state. Senator personally passed out the Kool-Aid as a way of serving the public.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians died. Cities were destroyed. Cultural relics and historic places were lost. There was thirst and starvation and disease. The environment was permanently damaged. Seeds of hatred were planted. Revenge was plotted. The budget deficit soared. The economy fell. Rights were suspended. Protestors were shot. Flags waved. There were victory parades. The Senator was re-elected. So it goes.
May 23, 2003