De bello
A friend of mind has a brother-in-law who is stationed in the Middle East. I recently spent a long time on the phone with her as she poured out her fears for his safety — “He could return home a vegetable, and for what? What do you think of all this, anyway?”
I didn’t know what to say. At the time I suggested that she immediately turn off the 24-hour a day news networks that she was listening to, and to carefully consider the motives of any commentator. (It seemed like dumb advice at the time, but she said it helped her….)
But I still don’t know what to think. On the one hand, I have found some of the anti-war sentiment illogical and distasteful. “Hell no, we won’t go!” (Did we ask you to? Last time we checked, we still had an all-volunteer force.) “No blood for oil! (Even if this were only about oil, would you really be okay with watching our economy go down the tubes if the price of oil were to double or triple? Your organic hummus puffs probably come to the store in a truck, don’t they?) “Bush doesn’t care about innocent lives!” (Oh, please.)
More serious objections: “We should try sanctions.” (We did, and what have they done besides punish innocent Iraqis? and why are we so enamored of sanctions anyway? they’ve been sooooooo effective in driving out Castro….) “The inspectors need more time.” (For what? Iraq is not submitting to the inspections in good faith and has been shown to be in material breach.) “Iraq has not been shown to be tied to Al Quaeda.” (So the other terrorists are okey-dokey?) “We need another resolution.” (What for?!) It seems to me that if the UN is going to make resolutions they had better be prepared to carry them out, promptly. Otherwise, they are as effective as those model UNs in high school (the ones where your geeky political junkie friends got to dress up and get out of class for a day) or those parents who threaten “NO TV FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE EVER I REALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME SO HELP ME etc”
Ok, so the UN’s not going to back up its resolutions. How about we just blow off the existing UN resolutions and rely on containment and good ol’ Mutual Assured Deterrence?
Well, we could. But on the other hand…. last night my husband and I were watching Frontline‘s show on Gulf War One, and we found ourselves stumped trying to decribe Saddam Hussein. He’s not crazy, but he seems like he might have a swirl of dangerous romanticism in there (“Technology will never win a war!, etc”) He’s not stupid, but is he reckless and impulsive? a poor judge of others’ resolve? He’s not operating from some Grand Obsession like Hitler (unless you count the personal aggrandizement and enrichment of Saddam Hussein as his Grand Obsession). He is an aggressive and unpredictable enemy. Can we count on him to even care if Iraq is threatened with a retaliatory attack? Another consideration — for many countries, the “mutual” is missing from this equation. Should we just blow them off?
And are we REALLY WILLING to accept that Saddam might strike first? What if the Administration is correct — that Saddam has a weapon of mass destruction, and that his long-range delivery system is Al Quaeda? What if they get a dirty bomb into the US? Is that an acceptable risk?
I wish I were an Aquinas scholar and that a little of the Angelic Doctor’s precision of thought could rub off a little. Meanwhile, I look in my copy of The One-Minute Philosopher and find, on one page,
“Patience: The willingness to wait for what is good…Anything difficult in our lives requires patience…patience also requires courage.”
versus, on the facing page,
“Passivity: The unwillingness to act for what is good…passivity is close to despair. Snce I am indifferent about the value of anything, I conclude there is nothing worth doing…passivity lacks hope and may also involve cowardice….Common enterprises will fail if their member are passive.
What is the correct course of action?