Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children....This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from an iron cross. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953
If it is true that feeding the perpetual cycle of war is a betrayal of our best instincts, a colossal waste of human and natural resources, and a diversion of human ingenuity which might better be devoted to building just societies where hunger and oppression are abolished, how did we come to this critical impasse in our nationís history?
Letís see if memory can reconstruct the events leading to the impending war against Saddam Hussein. We were attacked on September 11, 2001 by 19 terrorists who hijacked four airliners, successfully and tragically finding targets in New York and Washington. Of the 19 terrorists, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, our steadfast ally with an enviable record of democratic government and concern over human rights. In retaliation the President went about assembling forces to destroy Al Qaeda and their sponsors in Afghanistan. The success of that operation was mixed, at best, since Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants escaped and civil order was imposed on one city only, Kabul, the rest of the country remaining in the hands of autonomous war lords. Since there was no trophy to present to America, the Administration turned its laser like attention to Iraq, and in a masterful campaign of deception substituted Saddam Hussein for Osama bin Laden. In a relentless campaign, the President and his minions demonized Saddam (as if that were necessary, given his brutal record) and so confused the American public that a sizeable number actually believe that he was responsible for the attack against the United States. To the dismay of the Administration, this charge was not supported by the CIA which could not provide evidence that there was any connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda. But for people who are obsessed, this was no deterrent and the drums of war were pounded with renewed fervor. The rationale for this adventure was about as elusive as Osama. It was regime change, then ridding Iraq of WMD, then freeing the people, then democratizing the country. In other words, the Administration has tried desperately to offer a convincing argument so Americans and the rest of the world would climb aboard its Ares Express. Well, the train is only half full, but it has left the station, has attained full speed, and is in imminent danger of heading off a cliff.
What is the cost of waging such a war? First, there is the cost of lives lost, shattered, or deprived of further hope. If we are forced to carry on urban warfare through the streets of Baghdad, a scenario least preferred by the military, there will be no repetition of the 1991 war. Instead, there will be heavy loss of American lives and a reminder of what real war entails. In addition, Gulf War Syndrome was caused in part by the use of shells containing depleted uranium. Whatever their effectiveness as weapons, their radioactive dust remains in the desert sands, a small detail suppressed by the military, and will create a new class of Gulf War victims in years to come.
There is the economic cost. Despite the Administrationís understandable reluctance to quote any figure, responsible sources have claimed the sum will run between $100 and $200 billion dollars. This in a country running $400 billion annual deficits as far as the eye can see, the economy in shambles, unemployment nearing 6%, the urban school system a disgrace, Medicare and Social Security systems on the road to collapse, and a steady march toward plutocracy where whatever wealth remains will be in the hands of 5% of the population.
There will be the further loss of friends around the world. The overwhelming sympathy extended to this country following 9/11 has been squandered as a result of our arrogance, our imperial ambitions, and our dismissal of any opinions not mirroring our own. What was once friendship and admiration is fast turning into fear and loathing. And by attacking Iraq it would be difficult to find a more efficient way of recruiting a new army of terrorists intent on wreaking havoc on us.
Further, there is an irresponsible threat to use atomic weapons if Saddam resorts to biological or chemical weapons against our troops. Since our use of these weapons 58 years ago, the genie has been forced back into the bottle. To now encourage a reckless proliferation of these weapons is unconscionable. The lesson that we have given the world is that possessing atomic weapons earns respect; to be without them is to leave yourself at the mercy of the United States. For evidence, simply compare our treatment of North Korea and Iraq.
Despite all these reasons for seeking a sound diplomatic solution to this impasse, we rush headlong into a potential catastrophe. We are now prepared to launch the most devastating assault on a nation in the history of warfare. Forget about "smart bombs" and "collateral damage" and "surgical strikes." Those euphemisms are invented to obscure the reality of war, just like changing the title of the War Department to Department of Defense was supposed to create the illusion of a benign institution that didnít have death as its motivating purpose. During the first 48 hours of this war, 3,000 missiles are going to be teeming down on Baghdad, a city of approximately 5 million people, half of them under the age of 16. Could anyone possibly believe that 3,000 missiles are going to find their way to military targets alone? In this initial attack, it is reasonable to expect that thousands of civilians are going to be annihilated - civilians no different than those who make up a typical American city. These Iraqis are not abstractions but real people who face the daily struggle to feed themselves and their families, people whose dreams for a better life are no different than our own. To share those lives, even for a day, would destroy forever the heartless complacency the Administration exhibits in their cynical claim that this must be done to liberate the Iraqi people. Shades of Vietnam, when the demented philosophy was that we had to destroy the country in order to save it.
We stand at the brink of an abyss. No one can doubt that we are capable of ridding Iraq of a cruel despot. But in taking a path where endless wars are waged to eliminate potential threats, there should be real doubt whether we can lay claim any longer to being a nation interested in democracy, decency, and freedom. And by following that path, while daily sacrificing liberties guaranteed under the Constitution, we are in danger of losing our collective soul. What, then, beside our overwhelming military machine, makes us superior to Saddam Hussein?
Gilbert Jordan (firstname.lastname@example.org)is a retired English professor (Monroe Community College, Rochester, NY), involved in the anti-war movement, an active artist (www.iinc.com/~gfjordan/ ) and a life long musician.