Arrogance: the "offensive exhibition of assumed or real superiority. Overbearing pride." Synonyms include "haughtiness, insolence, disdain." In my dictionary one finds other synonyms: "Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bush."
We have had some presidents who scared the hell out of us because they had their finger near "the button." Reagan comes to mind, not to mention Nixon facing impeachment with pills and booze. But for most of our history people surrounding the presidents have urged caution before committing America's youth to combat. Not so today. The president's advisers long for war for political gain and to show our military dominance. "War is too important to be left to the generals," said Georges Clemenceau, the French prime minister during World War I, but that suggests civilians are more rational than the generals. Clemenceau never met Don Rumsfeld.
Remember Korea? Five decades later our troops remain and we are reviled in both North and South Korea. We could even trigger a nuclear war if we are not careful. Bush's first response to North Korea's rumblings was to dismiss them by refusing to negotiate as that would "reward bad behavior" as if daddy were dealing with a 2-year-old child. A retired general on Ted Koppel's "Nightline" urged the tactical use of nuclear weapons to wipe out the threat. He estimated 1 million or 2 million causalities but thought that was an acceptable risk. The arrogance of suggesting that a lesson to the North is worth a million deaths in South Korea is mind-boggling.
Let's move on to Iraq. The United States' attitude toward the United Nations: "We, the greatest power on earth (haughty), do not need the support of any country (insolence). We will invade Iraq no matter what the United Nations says." Why? "Because we are so powerful we can destroy Iraq and therefore we will. We don't care what the inspectors find (disdain)."
I have a vivid memory of my reaction to "The Ugly American." That novel brilliantly portrayed the arrogance and ignorance of the Unites States toward the world and had a profound influence on a generation of Americans. We have tried to overcome that "overbearing pride" but our politicians won't let us because they cannot give a speech without reminding us that "we are the greatest." It's reminiscent of Muhammad Ali at his peak bragging that he was "the greatest fighter of all time," but the difference between Rumsfeld and Ali is that Ali had a twinkle in his eye. He was a showman who knew how to anger the white media. The twinkle one sees in Rumsfeld's eye is the calm confidence that he knows something that we don't. He is the master of the universe and the captain of our ship.
But when I see poll after poll showing us to be the most unpopular country in the world, "The Ugly American" sadly comes back into focus. Why are we hated? Why were there demonstrations last Saturday in New Zealand, Great Britain, Australia, Islamabad? The answer is simple: Arrogance of power. We have told the world we don't care about their attitudes. Hot news. No one loves the bully.
Why did hundreds of thousands of Americans - young, old, veterans, pacifists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, students, professors, iron workers, farmers - hit the streets to raise hell about "no blood for oil"? I'll give you a hint. We remember the burials during Korea, we remember the body bags in Vietnam. Ask a neighbor with a 19- to 25-year-old son if she would sleep well with a flag in the house that had draped the coffin of her boy following a war to enrich Halliburton, Exxon and Mobil.
That is what this is all about. Would we, middle-class America, send our sons or daughters into combat to satisfy the dream of W's advisers and to make billions for the oil companies? If not, is an American war OK if only the poor whites, blacks and Hispanics give their lives and health?
Could we focus for a moment on the death and destruction we would bring to Iraq or do we get a moral pass because we are the most powerful nation the world has ever seen?
Sept. 11 was awful. More than 3,000 dead. Families grieving and a nation in turmoil. But within the first 60 seconds of a war with Iraq our missiles would kill more Iraqi citizens than we lost in the Twin Towers. Indeed, probably more lives than we have lost in all our wars. How will the people react to us? Do the Japanese love America because we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? While the debate over Truman's decision will never die, at least there was a war and some could argue that thousands of our troops would have been killed had it not been for the atomic bombs. Whether you agree with that logic or not, there is no ongoing war with Iraq. There is no credible argument that the bombing of that country will save thousands of Americans. If we are upset and have had our lives turned upside down by 9-11, what do you think will be the reaction of people of the Middle East if we kill a million citizens of Iraq?
Arrogance must be replaced with respect for life. Ours and theirs.
Ed Garvey is a Madison lawyer who was Wisconsin's Democratic candidate for governor in 1998.
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