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26 March 2003

I am not a pacifist. I do not believe that war is never appropriate. As hard as it is for me to accept, I do feel that there can be some situations when it is necessary to sacrifice innocent lives to the hell of war if there is no other way to avoid a great horror.

But my standards are pretty damn fucking high.

War is one of the worst, if not the worst, things humanity can engage in. War makes killing and death utterly acceptable. The ends justify the means more than at any other time, and normally sane and ethical people accept killing as part of those means with barely a blink of an eye. And war is unpredictable. It involves powerful and brutal forces that can never be fully controlled and can lead to all sorts of unintended consequences. You don't know how much death is going to occur, or to whom. You try new strategies of killing, not knowing what the results will be. The death of the innocent becomes tolerable, whether it is regrettable collateral damage or the purposeful exploitation of innocent lives for your cause.

War is hell, they say. No one should ever forget that.

So if you're going to put millions of people through hell, you can't go ahead and do it and assume that because you support a just cause, your war will be a just war. Not only must it be the last resort, with all other options explored and exhausted, but even if nothing else will work, you still have to measure the costs against the benefits.

Just some of the costs of this war, this way:

-- First and foremost, the Iraqi civilians and American and Iraqi soldiers who have already and will continue to die and be injured.
-- The establishment of the preemptive strike doctrine. (It doesn't take a lot of thought to realize how frightening this is. It says, "We"--any we; we can't limit this to the U.S.-- "have the right to attack any country that we think may attack us in the future, in order to stop them before they attack. We don't need any international approval; it's self-defense." No one who hears that needs even 10 seconds to come up with a horrible way or three or five in which it could be applied.)
-- The loss of legitimacy of weapons inspections as an important tool for the future, at a time when they're becoming more and more necessary.
-- The message to countries that seek to develop nuclear weapons: "If you don't have weapons yet, you're vulnerable, like Iraq was. But if you get nuclear weapons, you'll be safe, like North Korea. So hurry up and develop them!"
-- Ignoring North Korea, and whatever consequences that may end up having.
-- The destruction of what good feelings people in other countries have had towards us, in a general sense. 78% of Germans had a favorable view of us in '99-00, now 25%. 50 percent of Spaniards then, now 14. 52 percent in Turkey then, now 12. (This lists 8 countries, and who can doubt that this trend is occuring elsewhere?)
-- Increasing anti-Americanism, in its worst and most dangerous sense.
-- Pushing more people over the line from simply hating America to wanting to give their lives to attack America and Americans.
-- The complication on many levels of our attempts to defend against terrorist attacks by tracking down terrorists through cooperation with other nations.
-- The destablization of governments across the Middle East, with unknown consequences.
-- Possible ethnic tensions in post-war Iraq, both internally and with Turkey and other countries.
-- The actual monetary cost of war, $75 billion plus, which could be put to countless better uses. And the monetary cost of fixing the damage done by war in Iraq.
-- Any number of additional unpredictable consequences.

The benefits of this war:

-- Certainly, the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
-- Almost certainly, the removal of weapons of mass destruction from Iraq.
-- Probably, a government under which the people of Iraq are better off than they have been under Saddam Hussein.
-- Possibly, increased good feelings for the U.S. among Iraqis and others in the Middle East over the long term.
-- Possibly, an increase in democracy in the Middle East.

Other ways to get those benefits, both short and long-term, not only for Iraqis but for others:
-- Tough weapons inspections, based on the knowledge that a largely united Security Council and international community is willing to back them up with force, but also on the knowledge that cooperation will result in the ability to live in peace and thus the weapons are not needed for self-defense or deterrence.
-- An end to double standards and to the support of countries which are just as cruel to their citizens as those countries against which war is waged on the justification of the people's well-being.
-- An international consensus on how to deal with the dozens (if not more) countries in this world in which citizens are severely mistreated and repressed, in order to create the eventual understanding that the only way governments can possibly thrive will involve treating their people decently.
-- A U.S. foreign policy which is sensitive not only to American (short-term) interests but to the well-being of the other people of this world (which is in the U.S.'s long-term interest).
-- Foreign aid (from the U.S. and the rest of the world) to countries which work for the good of their citizens as well as refrain from hurting others, and only to those countries, and in degrees proportional both to need and to respect for human rights.

Sure, these would hardly have immediate effects, although if inspections had been done the right way and continued to be done, that's fairly short-term. But sometimes when you're working for the best outcome, it's not always based on things that will show up today or this year or before the next election. Sometimes you have to run the risk of patience, instead of panicking and acting now and causing great costs for the gamble of possible good results. But if patience and diplomacy and peace is what will really help the Iraqis and people throughout the Middle East and around the world, we need leaders who will stand up for that instead of being sucked in by the glamour of Shock and Awe and a wartime boost in approval ratings.

--

It's a hard thing to be living through right now, glued to the TV. My natural reaction is, of course, to want this war to be as painless and bloodless as possible, to end quickly with few deaths and little damage. The way for that to happen, of course, is for the U.S. to win overwhelmingly, for the Iraqis to surrender en masse soon, for the fighting to stop. I think about children in Baghdad and other cities afraid to fall asleep at night and then awoken by the thunder and rumble of bombs, of janitors cleaning the presidential palaces as they're hit, of millions of ordinary Iraqis like Salam. And about soldiers, too, people that could be ROTC Matt or Autumn or the Air Force people who we did our Habitat trip with last year. People aren't meant to kill and to die like this, from explosions or rubble or bullets or grenades (or, God forbid, biological or chemical weapons), and every cell in my body cries out, "No! Stop!"

But I'm scared that if it's so quick and easy, we'll feel like we can do it whenever we want, and it'll be much worse in the long term. For me, it's important for people to understand and remember that war is horrible because it can lead to very bad things, but unfortunately the easiest way for that to occur is for very bad things to happen, which I definitely don't want. (Obviously, since I was against this in the first place, for that very reason.)

In the end, I'm still hoping it'll be over very very soon and that no one else will have to die, regardless of what message that sends to the people who made this happen. What would be ideal would be if it ends quickly but they don't actually find any weapons of mass destruction, since then Dubya&Co would learn their lesson but no one else would have to suffer to teach it to them. (Not that I'm holding my breath waiting for that to happen.) But regardless, even though I'll go out and protest the war to make my voice heard (not only to our government, but to tell the world that not all Americans wanted this to happen), I desperately want the coalition forces to hurry up and end this-- or, more, for the Iraqis to hurry up and surrender, since the American way of actively ending this, I'm sure, is more bombs and more death. I understand why the Iraqis don't want to give in, but that doesn't mean that I don't hope every day that I'll turn on the TV and find that the entire Republican Guard's negotiated a surrender.

I wish this war had never started. I wish that this nation, and the other nations of the world, had a more principled and humane approach to foreign policy and international relations in general. I hope that somehow this war will end quickly but that we will nonetheless hold back or be held back from doing this again to other people. War just reminds us what an ugly world it is out there. But it's ugly enough in peacetime, too. Nothing like a war to depress you... all you can do is try to somehow hold on to hope.

 

Last updated 27 March, 2003

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