To War or Not to War

Voice Card  -  Volume 18  -  John Card Number 9  -  Thu, Jan 31, 1991 2:16 AM

This is ONE OF 5 responses to VC 17 John 16 ("A question")...

Like the rest of you, I have spent many anxious hours in front of the TV lately watching SCUDS and gas masks bomb damage assessments. I think it might do us all some good to keep talking about this; there seems to be little else we can do.

I am of mixed minds about this nastly little war. I have never doubted that it would be long and costly and would earn us many new enemies. To some extent, this is among the first of many bitter legacies from the Reagan years and might well have been avoided. But the issues here are very deep and very murky; so I am not ready to join the protests - not yet.

Several of my friends have already marched in demonstrations in San Francisco and Seattle. Here in Helena, it is too cold for parades, but a few hardy souls stand in front of the courthouse each lunch hour with placards.

Another friend of mine is a Vietnam Vet who is more or less against the war but who has been receiving 2:00 AM calls from an old war buddy now leading low flying sorties against Iraq's best tanks. He argues eloquently against blaming the war on the warriors, and hopes demonstrators will not treat gulf war veterans the way he was treated.

So many of the people I most respect are against the war. On the other hand, I agree with Drury that after all of Bush's posturing and ultimatums, we had no choice but to follow through. I think that if I had been in Congress this January, I would have voted to support the president even though I had no doubt Bush would start firing at 12:01 on the 16th. On the OTHER hand (I seem to be running out of hands), if I had been in Congress last October I would have voted against going on the offensive and issuing ultimatums. If we could turn back the clock far enough, I think an alternative to war could have been found.

But I'm not sure even of that.

From the beginning Bush has talked about a new world order in which violence would not be rewarded. It seems to me that the best way to achieve this, in the long run, is through steadfast worldwide PASSIVE resistance to such violence. Unfortunately, this means tolerating evil in the short run.

I think Bush was absolutely correct in sending the defensive troops to save Saudi Arabia. Hussein almost certainly would have taken Arabia and with it control over half of all the oil in the world. Ignoring this obvious threat would have involved abandoning allies and breaking treaties. It would have placed a madman in control of the world's economy, doomed Isreal, and might have eventually led to a nuclear war.

But having halted further aggression and rallied support for the embargo, I think we should have stopped there and prepared for a very long and expensive vigil. Unfortunately, I think this would have meant abandoning Kuwait, at least for the forseeable future. I doubt the sanctions would have ever driven Hussein from Kuwait. At best, they would have slowly weakened his military capabilities until he was no longer a major threat - and even that would take years.

I have no illusions about a diplomatic breakthrough. Hussein is simply not a reasonable man and from the day he came to power has been interested in absolutely nothing but war. This was clear when his ambassador refused to even consider talking about the possibility of even trying to talk to anyone about anything. And now, after he has flouted the Geneva Convention, hurled scuds at random into crowded cities, and created the world's largest oil slick for no good reason, there can be no more doubt that diplomacy alone is futile here.

I agree with Larry that we have little if anything to gain and much to lose by going to war. However, I have to acknowledge the distinct possibility that we have even more to lose by not going to war. It seems absolutely inevitable to me that, unchecked, Hussein would have medium range atomic, chemical, and biological weapons within a few years. And it is now clear to me that he would not hesitate for a moment to drop the bomb on Tel Aviv, even if he knew it would mean the end of Iraq and the beginning of World War III.

This may have been about oil to begin with, but by now the issue has become much larger (and much older). Hussein is the latest of a long line of challengers to the most fundamental tenets of civilization itself. He is the force of chaos, the Vandals at the gates of Rome. So what do we do with the Husseins and Hitlers of this world? How do we respond without sinking to their level?

This is the problem of evil and it has been with us from the beginning. It is a problem we encounter not just on the world stage, but on playgrounds and street corners as well. If we happen upon a child being raped and pleading for help, do we just sigh and walk on? Do we try to reason with the rapist? Or do we go in swinging? Evil ignored will invariably multiply. Yet violence begets more violence, and nowhere is this more clear than in the Middle East.

In any war each side is quick to accuse the other of evil. But this doesn't mean that evil is always mere rhetoric or just a difference of opinion. In this case, after much hesitation, I have come to believe that Hussein is a genuine evil and must be resisted sooner or later. Whether or not this resistance has to take the form of war is not at all clear to me, but I cannot say with any confidence that we were wrong to go to war, no matter what the outcome.