Who is this young woman? She is an officer in the United States Navy, the daughter of a very close friend of mine, a person I have known since she was a child and for whom I have great affection. For me she has become the single face who invades the eye of my mind when I think about my nation's relentless march toward war.
Undoubtedly, this young officer is headed for a military conflict. My government has determined that she, along with countless other men and women in our Armed Forces, are to be placed in harm's way. In carrying out her duties she may well be engaged in the act of killing other people. That is the reality of war. She may also become a victim of someone else's military purpose. She might even wind up a prisoner of war. In the culture of Iraq, where women are treated shamefully, this is the specter that fills me with the deepest sense of dread. My knowledge of this young woman has changed the nature of my questions about this war. They are no longer academic. They are now deeply personal and existential.
Is Iraq a cause worth the sacrifice of her life or others? Is war itself any longer a legitimate means for solving political disputes? Can an alternative not be found?
There is something about war today that seems so primitive. It seems to be the activity of creatures caught in an evolutionary time warp, contending over the same bone or defending their clearly marked turf. Human beings seem to sense this irrational quality and feel compelled to develop high sounding rhetoric to justify inhumane actions. World War I was "the war to end all wars." World War II was the war "to make the world safe for democracy." The Korean and Vietnam conflicts were packaged as wars "to contain the spread of communism."
Yet the power of these slogans diminished as the 20th Century rolled on. The Vietnam War could never be properly perfumed. It ended in a sea of disillusionment and defeat. It produced no heroes of note, no political ambitions that would catapult a victorious general into the White House and no romantic songs to promise that someday there would be "Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover." Nations contemplating war today sound like testosterone-filled little boys proclaiming "my old man can lick your old man." Even the guns and canons we use to kill our enemies are but thinly disguised phallic symbols, and the bombs, falling from the mid-sections of B-52s, look like illustrations from an eight-year-old's toilet talk. Human beings now contemplate cloning, genetic engineering and stem cell research, yet we still settle conflicts with childish war games. We clearly have not evolved beyond the mentality where might is assumed to make right.
The other nations of the world also waver publicly, insisting that additional resolutions from the United Nations must precede military action. As provocative and negative as the Iraqi government has been, people in America note that they have not yet reached the crescendo of announcing plans to build an atomic bomb, as North Korea has done. Political rhetoric, however, still seeks to heat up the passion against Iraq while cooling down the Korean conflict through negotiation. One cannot help but notice the double standard. It makes one wonder if there are unspoken reasons that require Iraq to be the designated enemy. Is a need to restore family honor driving public policy? To admit such a thing would be politically devastating, but does that mean it is not so? Is the current President Bush eager to correct what is regarded as the failure of his father in 1992 to finish the job?
A second unspoken possibility plagues me. Is this war driven by economic need and political desire to secure resources for this oil-thirsty nation? Is the American response to Korea quiet and non-confrontational because Korea has no oil? If military action resulted in the installation of a regime in Baghdad that owed its legitimacy to American military might, would that fact not serve to satisfy our need for oil in the foreseeable future?
Is there a desire in the American psyche to have the satisfaction of a victory against Iraq to ease the pain of self-doubt brought on by the absence of victory in the war on terror? Do we secretly yearn for a war we know how to win? Even the political opposition to this war from the minority Democratic party seems unwilling to raise these questions. Perhaps they sound so unpatriotic and lacking in the ideals that this country has articulated in its 225 plus years of national history, that muteness seems the only proper response. But are these questions not valid if the reasons offered for war lack candor and are left unclear? The stakes are so high that these questions deserve an honest answer.