Distal Muse Archives


by Mark W. Tiedemann

     This is not an antiwar essay.
     I want to make that clear up front, because it will be misunderstood.  Even making that disclaimer at the beginning will not prevent some people from taking the following as antiwar, antiBush, antiAmerican.  I can't help that.  Thinking is the bane of the jingoist, the superpatriot, the morally convinced and righteously certain.  Thinking brings out all the gray in an issue and muddies the possibility of certainty.
     But I thought it important to claim right at the outset that this is not an antiwar essay, just in case there is the chance that some who might feel otherwise will pay attention for the rest of the piece.
     I'm not bothering with antiwar statements because at this point that would be like saying you're opposed to thunderstorms or earthquakes or hurricanes.  Personally, I'm strongly opposed to asteroids smacking into the Earth's biosphere.  My sentiments have about the same chance of changing history in all those cases, so it would be a waste of time--mine and yours--to do an antiwar schtick.
     Besides, I'm not altogether sure I am opposed to the war.
     You see, Saddam Hussein is on my To Be Gotten Rid Of Sooner Than Later list.  He occupies a space along with other political monsters, like Milosevicz and Sese Seko and Arafat and Pol Pot and all the others who put their own power above and beyond the interests of their people, not to mention humanity as an abstract.  Hussein is a bad one.  I think we were wrong to leave him in power twelve years ago.  We were trying, though, to do something else then, something which we failed to follow up on and which we're paying for now.  We were trying to build an international consensus on how to deal with the Hussein's of the planet.  Bush Senior, to his credit, nearly succeeded in putting one together.
     But clay is the basic material of all political feet and when it is clear that the only way to deal with such monsters is to slay them--often at great personal cost to those who go to do the slaying--expedience takes over and we assume lesser means will suffice.  Sanctions and the like.
     There are two things wrong with that belief.
     The first is, most of these monsters were put into power to meet the demands of the Cold War.  They are men of chill nerve and boundless ego, men who can stand and face the whirlwind and spit in the eye of the enemy.  They were chosen by their ability to survive and rise to the top, not by their moral character.  They were all beasts and if it seems now that we who did the supporting chose poorly and picked men who could not ultimately be controlled the way we thought, well, that's what we thought we needed.  On both sides.  Ruthless, amoral, decisive inhuman monsters put in place to face the bigger monster we thought lived on the Other Side.  These are not the sort of people who will abide by something like sanctions.
     The second is, of course, directly follows on the first, which is that sanctions only hurt the people we think we're trying to help.  Saddam Hussein hasn't missed a meal, run out of gas for his limo, or gone begging for anything that might make his life uncomfortable.  He's in power because he doesn't give a damn about anybody else.  People can starve in the streets of Baghdad and he won't shed a single tear of remorse or feel the first twinge of responsibility for the position he has put his country in.
     Such people think very linearly.  His country is in trouble because people--us--threaten it.
     Now, before anyone starts to think I'm defending Hussein, let me reiterate--he's a monster.  I'm only pointing out why sanctions won't work on someone like that.
     You have to remove them.  Period.  There's no subtle way to do it.  It should have been done twelve years ago.  The "peace" after the Gulf War was screwed up by the profoundest diplomatic ineptitude.
     Which is why a good portion of the world believes--then and now--that this is all about oil.  We got Saddam out of Kuwait, oil supplies were no longer threatened by a potential Iraqi takeover of, say, Saudi Arabia.  Who cared about what went on inside Iraq after we closed its borders?
     I'm sorry, I hate to be partisan.  I'm not a Democrat generally, I think they're as inept as the Republicans--but in wholly different ways.  But the chief concern Republicans have for business interests and money is so evident that when they try to deny it they look like hypocrites.  They're a part of Wall Street.
     But I don't think the Democrats would have done much better.  The solution then would have been to go to Baghdad and remove Hussein.  Period.  We did not do that.  All choices subsequent to that failure are bad choices.  It's like saying that Wilson shouldn't have let France and Britain muck up Versailles in 1919.  Bad move.  All choices after that were bad choices.
     Which brings me to my point.
     There is no glory, no morality, no justice in selecting one bad choice among many.  History leaves messes behind and more often than not we clean them up with tools that burn our hands and foul our lungs and damage our health, because there are no good choices left.  That's why there's a mess.  There may be better choices, but even these are alloyed to moral opportunism and ethical expedience and the pursuit of questionable goals.
     But we don't go to war willingly when we don't believe in it.  So the powers that be--in this case Bush and Company, Inc.--must make us believe.  They must get our support.
     Fighting Hitler was a moral no-brainer and for better or worse that has become the standard by which all national conflicts are measured, consciously or unconsciously.  Never since have we had such a clearly obvious choice in war.
     Bush & Co. Inc. have done an atrocious job of making a sound case for this war.  And the jingoists know it.  So they have hauled out the morally repugnant to get us to go along.
     Easter Baskets filled not with eggs but with soldiers and guns and missiles.
     K-Mart and WalMart offered these offensive pieces of propaganda "to support our troops" and a vast portion of the population, at least here in the midwest, can't seem to see anything wrong with it.  As if because we're going to war, the Prince of Peace will approve.
     I am opposed to war as brinksmanship.  Solving problems through violence--especially on that scale--is foolish, shortsighted, and usually does as much damage to the instigator (albeit of a different nature) as it does to the recipient.  There are instances when military action is called for.  It should always be entered into with reluctance and trepidation, executed quickly, and wrapped up ASAP.  Once done, immediate reparations to the fallen are essential.  We demonstrated an understanding of that principle after WWII that is undeniably powerful.  There should be no argument about its legitimacy.
     But the violence itself is not glorious, nor should it be glorified.  We should not teach our children how cool it is to kill.  War is always a Bad Thing.
     So we come to the main point of this essay.  We are twisting our national psyche into a shape that will permit us to not only go to war but to believe it is a Great Thing.  Support Our Troops becomes Support Our President becomes Support Our Right To Make War.  When it's done, we'll have to disarm that mindset in order to figure out how to correct the messes we will have made.
     There is nothing more pernicious in a free country than Us Or Them thinking.  For one, it's not thinking.  It's reaction.  It's ugly.  It has been evident since Bush ascended to the White House that he is bent on remaking America in some image that looks like the America of John Wayne, as if there is only one way for America to be.  With 9/11 he was handed an opportunity to start. And nothing polarizes people more than a questionable war.
     Let's be honest, though.  All wars are questionable.  Usually it means a mistake was made somewhere along the line and the various factions have gotten themselves into a position where they can't do anything else.  That makes it a great big traffic accident.  And about as glorious.
     Regardless of my feelings about Saddam Hussein, the problem I'm having is with the way we have come to this conflict.  Taking him out is not an issue for me--I repeat, it should have been done over a decade ago.  What is an issue is the brutish nature of those who have decided that this president is to be followed blindly and the ugliness of the road we have taken to get here.  Bombs in Easter Baskets are too terrible a symbol to just dismiss--these are chocolate.  In other parts of the world they're not.
     Maybe we have to make ourselves accept ugliness as beauty in order to do something as ugly as going to war.  Maybe.  But we should have a makeover as soon as possible when we're done.

copyright © 2004 by Mark W. Tiedemann