Distal Muse Archives

Guns and God

by Mark W. Tiedemann

     Okay, now I'm annoyed.  This war crap has gone too far.
     Have you all heard about the wonderful Easter baskets K-Mart and WalMart are supposedly offering this year?  Instead of eggs, they've stocked them with chocolate guns, soldiers, and missiles.  Just to get everyone, even the children, into the spirit of traipsing off to kill other people.
     All in the name of what's Right and Good, you understand.
     Now look.  I know some folks will misunderstand this no matter how much explaining I do.  Some will think I'm not patriotic, that I'm anti-American, that I'm on the side of Satan and our enemies.  To assert that (a) none of that is true and (b) none of it matters anyway is to hope that snow should ever and only fall on grass and leave the streets and sidewalks clear.  But one tries anyway.
     I'll state this up front, so that we're all clear on it from the get-go.
     I think Saddam Hussein is a monster.  There's no better description of him.  He's a tyrant, a despot, a sadist, and he has no business being in charge of a country.  Hell, I wouldn't even put him in charge of a dog pound.
     This has nothing to do with how I might possibly be misunderstanding what sort of man he is.
     Tony Blair made the case for intervention months ago and I think quite succinctly and admirably.  We have been engaged in a low level war with Hussein for 12 years.  He has violated the UN resolutions so often that it's a joke.  There is no question that the UN--and us--have the authority and right and legal grounds to go in there and smear his despicable butt all over the desert.  It should have been done by now.  Maybe it should have been done back in '91, when we fought him the last time.
     But for many reasons--mostly of a diplomatic nature--we chose the route of sanctions, for better or worse.  Personally, I don't like sanctions.  I think sanctions work only in extremes.  For countries that have no infrastructure and few if any ties to the outside world or on First World countries that can't abide the embarrassment of lopsided trade wars.  For anything else, all sanctions do is punish the common people in an attempt to make their leaders uncomfortable, and their leaders are usually the last to be vulnerable to discomfort.  The Hussein's of the world will let their people die in the streets before they relinquish power, so sanctions only make us look like bastards.
     Having said all that, I am also quite firmly 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.
     Besides, we're so fickle about when to apply it.
     If ever there had been a situation calling for armed intervention of a massive and absolute nature it was Bosnia in the 80s and early 90s.  And we didn't use it.  Why?  There wasn't anything there that mattered to us economically.  It was purely a moral issue.
     And the UN did not approve it.
     Why listen to them then and not now?
     Now we have oil at stake.  And the more these folks assert that it's not about oil, the less I believe them.  It's about oil in the short run and the long run.  It's about preventing the Middle East from turning off the spigot.
     As if they would.
     But let's get back to this issue of the Easter baskets.  That has me so riled I can hardly see straight.  Not only that K-Mart and WalMart would have the unconscienable gaul to put them out there (and not tell anybody, by the way--most people found out only after they got them home) but a whole vast population of people I hesitate to characterize with an unfortunate stereotype (but, damn, how they work at fitting it) had their chance on televised news to express their opinions about them and couldn't see much wrong with them.
     "And the president ought to know what he's doing..."
     I'm sure he does.  It just may not be what his supporters think he's doing.
     It seems fairly clear that Bush has two--possibly three--aims in the way he's going about this.  One is to gain an opportunity to put a huge military force in the middle of the Middle East.  This has a variety of geopolitical consequences.  If, as journalist Steven Shwarz asserts, Al Queda is funded and fueld out of Saudi Arabia--out of, in fact, the royal house of Saud itself--then having an army right next door might not be a bad thing if you want to rattle sabers and intimidate them.  Certainly having a huge force in striking distance of all the identified hot zones would be desirable if we intend to start seriously hunting and killing terrorists in the region (which we might do once Al-Queda starts blowing up construction sites and workers in a big way).  That's cynical, but not altogether unreasonable.  The second is secure the Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil fields and possibly put pressure on the other oil producers to stabilize prices and production.  The third reason--and I admit this is more speculative, since there's no actual dollar issue attached to it--is to secure a UN mandate to hunt and kill at will.  The current administration has no affection for the United Nations, can't abide the idea of the Hague and the World Court, and wants to assert clearly and undeniably that what has been done to Milosevicz will not be done to an American president!
     The problem with all of this is, that he's stepping all over international law to get his way.  Maybe not violating actually, but if he wins his contest with the UN he will have rendered it nearly as ineffectual as the League of Nations.  They will become an irrelevancy because it will be clear to everyone that the UN cannot stand up to the United States.
     Why is this a problem?  Simple.  If we want order, law, and stability in the world, we must recognize that we are all in this together.  Sounds trite, I know, but the basis of the UN is that all nations must have a say in global conduct.  Exempt one--or knuckle under to it--and it's worthless.  Faith will be lost.  Cohesion will end.
     Bush Senior understood this.  I don't think his son does.  Or maybe he just doesn't care.
     But in his rush to bring the Big Stick of American vengeance down on his perceived enemies, he is distorting our national character.  He is making people think that substituting Easter eggs with Warheads is Acceptable.  He is making us believe that violence and goodness are somehow the same.  He is giving a daypass to the uglier demons of our nature.
     He wants us to glory in the war to come.
     Sorry.  I don't buy it.
     I love my country.  But when patriotism becomes a propaganda tool and I am told there are only a few acceptable ways to express it, then I part company with it.  I have no use for the lobotomy of jingoistic conservatism.  When everything become subborned by the need to spin the issues in order to support a dubious war, then it ought to be obvious that something isn't right.  Our leaders shouldn't be having this much trouble making their case.  If they are, then maybe something's wrong with the case they're trying to make.  That's only logic.
     The Al-Queda hurt us.  It required no rhetoric to get us to back an intervention in Afghanistan to oust them and try to bring them to justice.  But almost immediately, Bush turned his sites on Iraq and tried to tell us that Hussein--who has no reason to love bin Laden--was part of the Al-Queda network, so we must go in and shut him down.  If he had adopted Blair's line, I might have backed him.  Having a hot zone like Iraq at our back while trying to do this other thing is probably something we should tend to.
     But not this way.  Not at the expense of who we are when our heads are clear and we're not terrified.
     I am not a Christian.  But I recognize the impulse in the Easter celebration.  It is a reaffirmation of the promise of love and peace at the stated core of Christianity.  It is a message of love and gentleness and hope.  That anyone could think there could be any coincidence or congruity between that and the horror of war other than as an opposite bespeaks the extent to which Bush's supporters have abandoned their humanity to press this cause.
     And regardless how monstrous Hussein may be, destroying him this way is only to resurrect him within ourselves--by destroying the essential nature of America.

copyright © 2004 by Mark W. Tiedemann