War Hawks Lose Sight of Real Enemy
Published on Saturday, August 10, 2002 in the Times-Union (Albany, New York)
War Hawks Lose Sight of Real Enemy
by Andrew Greeley

Some words of warning for Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and all the civilian war hawks in the Defense Department and for the President who wants to clear his father's honor by going to war in Iraq:

Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on that strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events, weak, incompetent or arrogant commanders, untrustworthy allies, hostile neutrals, malignant fortune, ugly surprises, awful miscalculations -- all which take their seat at the Council Board.

You can put quotes around that paragraph. It was written by Winston Churchill in 1930, reflecting on the experience of the Great Boer War of 1899 to 1902, a war that the English thought would be a cakewalk. A "change in regime" was necessary in Natal and the Transvaal. They also believed that their prestige and credibility were at stake. Incalculable wealth in diamonds and gold would belong to the winner. When the war came to an ambiguous end with perhaps 100,000 dead -- many in the "concentration camps" established by the English for Boer women and children -- it seemed much less glorious.

In 1950, General MacArthur promised that the "boys would be home by Christmas." The great powers who blundered into the August 1914 war also thought it would be over by Christmas. Hitler was confident he could capture Moscow and eliminate Russian resistance before winter. Lyndon Johnson's advisers often thought they saw light at the end of the tunnel.

War is always a great mistake. There are no just wars, but there are some necessary wars. The war against Hitler and the Japanese military was surely necessary but terrible evil was done to German and Japanese civilians in the firebomb raids by British and American planes. The former were unsuccessful, the latter successful, but in retrospect, probably not necessary. Neither does the use of the atom bomb seemed to have been necessary. In all three cases, however, those who made the decisions about these attacks believed that they were necessary. War blinds even the good guys to the evil they may be doing.

The Vietnam War was not necessary. However, after America's leaders had stumbled into the "big muddy," it seemed to develop a necessity all its own and created havoc from which our society has yet to recover. It is easy to compare Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Secretary Robert McNamara and Paul Wolfowitz to MacGeorge Bundy. The former two were successful businessmen turned war ministers and the latter two brilliant Cold War intellectuals. In both cases with a serenity and insouciance that is astonishing, they launched this country (or plan to launch it) into an unnecessary war with little concern for the likely catastrophic consequences.

Suppose it will require only 250,000 American troops. It is not unreasonable to project a 5 percent casualty rate, perhaps 15,000 body bags. Tens of thousands -- perhaps hundreds of thousands -- of Iraqis will die, and Americans will no more worry about their deaths then we did about the deaths of Japanese and German civilians. In the end, we will not have found Saddam any more than we have found bin Laden. Chemical and biological weapons will have fallen on Israel. Oil prices will have gone sky high. A shattering blow will have hit the fragile American economy. Inflation will shoot up. The International Criminal Court will have indicted many Americans (including perhaps the President). Iraq will be a mess. There will be more violence throughout the Near East. Our relationships with our allies will have been sundered. The real war on terrorism will have been neglected. Iraq will be a mess, perhaps for years or even decades. The United States will be more of a police state than it has ever been.

One has the impression that experts have told the war hawks all these possibilities, just as the military leaders in the Pentagon have warned them against the war. Yet so arrogantly confident are they in American power and so impressed by the President's popularity ratings that they do not hear the warnings.

Unless someone can stop this relentless and manic rush to war, there will be bad times ahead, very bad times.

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