This is a reeeelllly long email that I wrote in October of 2002, in response to a bunch of impassioned emails that my family was writing to each other at the time, about whether or not we should go to war with Iraq (it was right after Bush's resolution, back when we still thought Iraq might have WMDs.)
The first part is my take on the pros and cons of going to war with Iraq at the time. The second part is the email my Aunt Jeanine wrote, which I've included with her permission. It includes snippets from some of the responses sent by various family members on the topic, which inspired/instigated my analysis of the situation. It is my hope that this will provide the necessary context. However, in order to respect and protect the privacy of some family members, I have not included all of the emails from my family's exchange. While my response does refer to some of the arguments made that do not appear here, I hope my minor edits to the original text provide the necessary continuity.
(FROM ALITA, WITH MINOR EDITS DUE TO PRIVACY CONCERNS:)
I will admit that my first thought when I saw all these emails was "oh no, this side of the family is just as dysfunctional as everyone else in my crazy extended family...somehow that had escaped my notice for 36 years. But as I began to really read, I came to realize that, while my initial realization did in fact hold some truth, I am grateful to be a part of a family whose members hold strong, impassioned values and beliefs...and have the intellect and will to express them.
On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry began his famous speech, which inspired Virginia to join in the American Revolution with words reflecting this tradition:
"No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope that it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen, if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve."
It is the very act of engaging in such a dialogue that distinguishes us from many other societies...not just because we are 'free' to (there are many over the course of the years since 1776 who could attest to the fact that their 'freely expressed' ideas led to their persecution, and sometimes even to their death)...but rather because we are a people who consider it a responsibility to stand up for our ideas and ideals.
I might not always feel proud of "America" as a government, world force or world leader...but I always feel proud to be an American. Nationalism, is a movement, sentiment I have come to distrust and even fear; as are most '-isms.' I think of nationalism as a curtain that governments draw, so that we cannot see what the 'wizard' is up to...as though we can not be trusted to understand or reason in the face of complex issues. I ask, not for the right to decide what to do about the situation in Iraq, but rather for the freedom to learn more about it, to discuss and to participate in a national debate without being labeled as 'Anti-American.'
There has been much talk of Hitler on both sides and; personally, I think that we should all learn more history...there must be other times, other monsters from mankind's recorded past, from which we can learn. Hitler was a manifestation of the particular circumstances that existed during that moment of our past. While there are many lessons to be learned from our interactions with Germany during that time, please remember that one of the most valuable lessons we have learned from our past mistakes is this: while history can help us to understand the present, it can never adequately define it.
The world stage and human condition continues to increase infinitely in complexity, making many of our assumptions and responses to a given crisis obsolete each and every evolving moment. We imperil ourselves, both physically and morally, if we try to define our leaders, villains and movements of today with analogies, which serve only as limited pieces of rhetoric, designed to win our respective arguments. This is made most evident by the fact that BOTH sides are using Hitler to quickly stigmatize each other. Yes, our world has been forged by our past. Each war, each momentous event, gives form to our thoughts, to our understanding. But who we are and what we do is a new and unique entity that merely resembles the progenitors from whom we have inherited this earth. In order to move forward wisely during this crisis, we must strive to understand, to the best of our abilities, the ways in which the unique circumstances of this place in time must be addressed.
Albert Einstein once said, reflecting this very sentiment at the dawn of the atomic age, "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking..." He knew that we must begin to comprehend the incomprehensible if we were ever going to survive in a world in which we were newly capable of the incomprehensible...this was back in the 1950s, when all the existing plans for the Vietnam situation included the use of nuclear weapons.
That said, I suggest we look to another part of our past for a better understanding of our present. At 7 p.m. on Monday, October 22, 1962, President Kennedy appeared on television to inform Americans of the Cuban missile crisis. In this speech, he revealed some of the internal struggle that guided his response to the crisis:
"The 1930's taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged ultimately leads to war. This nation is opposed to war. We are also true to our word. Our unswerving objective, therefore, must be to prevent the use of these missiles against this or any other country, and to secure their withdrawal or elimination from the Western Hemisphere."
Like others of his generation, Kennedy was a man profoundly shaped by lessons learned from WWII. In particular, he felt personal shame from the fact that his father had been an active supporter of the early policy of appeasement toward Hitler in the 1930s. By the time he was faced with the Cuban missile crisis, it had become conventional wisdom that Hitler could have been stopped short, and WWII avoided, had his aggression been checked years earlier. No one can know whether or not this is true. However, at the time, it remained a political reality, one that stigmatized the Kennedy name. Nonetheless, Kennedy wisely saw that, whether or not it was true, the situation confronting him had its own unique aspects, which called for a unique response. His belief in the absolute intolerability of a nuclear presence so near our boarders was countered by his fear of retaliation against the people of Berlin, should we act precipitously. There are many ways in which the Cuban missile crisis could have been resolved. I believe that it was Kennedy's determination to fully understand the various nuances of the situation, in order to respond carefully and appropriately, that led to a resolution that did not include a nuclear holocaust.
In another part of that same speech by Kennedy, he speaks to concerns that many of us have about Iraq today:
"Neither the United States of America, nor the world community of nations, can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security to constitute maximum peril. Nuclear weapons are so destructive and ballistic missiles are so swift, that any substantially increased possibility of their use or any sudden change in their deployment may well be regarded as a definite threat to peace."
I believe that, while the situation was different, these words reflect many of the concerns of those who consider Saddam's actions to similarly constitute a direct and deadly threat. While I agree that the mere possession of weapons of mass destruction by a country like Iraq constitutes a clear and present danger, I am not convinced that Iraq does have these weapons. One reason for this doubt is that I've seen the U2 surveillance photos of 1962, as did the entire world, when Adlai Stevenson argued our position at the UN. I find it difficult to believe that, forty years later, our technology cannot manage to supply us with comparable evidence...if in fact there is any. If it is indeed true that Iraq is a direct and active menace to our lives, where's the evidence? More proof, less rhetoric, please.
History is fraught with instances in which governments have alleged an unproven or exaggerated national hazard, in order to mobilize its citizens to do that which they would otherwise find unconscionable. For example, one of the ways our government got the scientists of the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb was to convince them (many of them Jewish) that Hitler was hot on the trail of developing the same weapon...which of course turned out not to be true. Regarding this, Einstein said in 1946:
"If I had known that the Germans would not succeed in constructing the atom bomb, I would never have lifted a finger."
Of course I think we should defend ourselves! But, from whom and how? I think we need to respect the complexity of the situation, and respond with a clear understanding of what is actually going on. Instead, all I hear is rhetoric that challenges my patriotism whenever I question the government. If there is anything I want to learn from the past, it is that we cannot react to situations because our leaders say "just cuz."
At the onset of the Cold War, our government told us that all communists were evil...so we blacklisted them, feared them and persecuted them. One of the byproducts of the 1950s red scares was that any person with history or understanding of Asia was branded a 'pinko' or a 'commie,' and was 'purged' from the 'intelligence' community and the government. This has been cited as one of the reasons that our government so terribly misjudged much of what happened during the years that we fought in Vietnam. Most of the people who could have knowledgeably advised the President had been weeded out of his pool of advisors. Do we really think that Bush is including men in his circle who understand all the nuances of the situation in the middle-east? Yes, he has people who have waged war there. But, does he have people who have spent the time to understand what it is to wage peace there? These are my concerns.
Ron Rosenbaum, in his New York Observer Article "Goodbye, All That: How Left Idiocies Drove Me to Flee," from October 13, 2002, he gets mad when people respond to Sept. 11th with the sentiment that, "maybe it's a wake-up call for us to recognize how bad we are, Why They Hate Us." But the truth is that we MUST wake up and endeavor to understand their legitimate grievances. Why? Because, there is no other way to begin to understand why they do what they do. How do we fight and win a war if we don't even understand what and whom we are fighting against? This desire to understand the enemy cannot lead anyone to conclude that I think the values of the terrorists are better than ours. To suggest that it does is disingenuous. I am in no way saying that theirs is a better way of life than ours...not even close. But my way of life has taught me to question, "Why?" I question because I have a belief that there is power in knowledge and danger in ignorance. If I am willing to support a war for anything it will be both of and for knowledge.
Some have quoted Aunt Jeanine as saying, "No wonder they all hate us," and have responded by saying, "what one wonders is, how much do the people who say that, HATE the USA themselves. Do you really think that Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and the rest of those people who hate us have a better form of government?" I argue that there is no point to reacting to Jeanine's effort to see the other side with a statement that you know to be false. Of course she doesn't think Iraq has a better form of government...and furthermore, I'm sure she doesn't think that anyone who died on Sept. 11th "deserved it" because of US foreign policy. But honestly, do you actually want to call off any real investigation into the complex dynamics of the situation by dismissing any questions as disloyal? That just doesn't sound like my family...and it certainly conflicts with many of the values you've managed to instill in me.
So anyway, let's have a trial...let's put Saddam on trial for crimes against our nation...and let's see what he's done, what he is planning. Did he participate in the conspiracy to blow up the World Trade Centers? Does he have nukes? Inquiring minds want to know! Pull back the curtain of nationalism and let's have it out like Americans...freely and openly, in pursuit of the truth and a better, safer world. If Bush can give us facts and evidence to march toward war...I'll get in line. But, I'm not willing to blindly and 'patriotically' accept that Bush knows what's best for me or my brothers. We're talking about asking our sons and even daughters to kill and die for something. To use your analogy...if we're going to send our children out to kill the guy who is threatening us...shouldn't we make sure that it isn't just a rumor...started by that guy up the street who never really liked him? Our constitution gave Congress the responsibility of declaring war, because war is a serious thing and; such a declaration from Congress involves a deliberative process that requires the participation of multiple points of view...a process which we have skipped in the past, with poor results.
I do believe that this is a struggle between good and evil...I just don't think that we can say that the US is absolutely good and Islam is absolutely evil...to me it is much more complicated. Furthermore, to the extent that any struggle against evil entails good...how can we "fight the good fight" without remaining mindful of what is good? Surely the sanctity of life, even Muslim life, is paramount. César Chávez once said of violent action that:
"...If you use violence, you have to sell part of yourself for that violence. Then you are no longer a master of your own struggle."
Don't let us loose what is good about America in our fervor to defend it. Chávez also said of violence that it:
"...just hurts those who are already hurt...Instead of exposing the brutality of the oppressor, it justifies it."
If we are really going to win a war against the 'Islamo-fascists' we must also win the war of minds. You can say to the guy in Baghdad that you're there to save him from the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein, but ultimately, it doesn't go over as well when you've just bombed his house and killed his wife and children.
All that said, I guess what I'm really saying in response to the family poll is that the jury is still out with me. I want to see more than just the opening and closing arguments of the prosecutor before I vote on the verdict. The whole thing scares me and; I hope we survive...sometimes I worry that we won't. Furthermore, the simplistic way in which the Bush Administration has handled this question thus far reminds me how lucky we were to have Kennedy at the switch in 1962.
In the end, perhaps no one and nothing can help the 'Islamo-fascists' and Americans to have a meeting of the minds. Voltaire said it well back in 1764:
"What can we say to a man who tells you that he would rather obey God than men, and that therefore he is sure to go to heaven for butchering you? Even the law is impotent against these attacks of rage; it is like reading a court decree to a raving maniac."
Indeed, what can one say to such a man? Nonetheless, the court of world opinion is populated by many who have yet to come to a verdict in regards to whether or not we should go to war with Iraq. All I'm saying is that the process is important...even if the maniacs don't get it. It isn't for them anyway, it's for us. Well, if you've gotten this far, you probably need a nap...I love you all and thanks for reading my rant.
SO THAT WAS MY TAKE.
FOLLOWING ARE SOME OF THE THINGS MY FAMILY WROTE THAT LED TO MY RANT:
On 10/10/2002 4:00 PM, my Aunt Jeanine wrote the following email, which included some of the responses from other family members. Parenthetical notes are from Jeanine:
I'm taking a poll. A quick "YES" or "NO" will suffice...although a paragraph would be great, too. Thanks.
Q. Do you agree with the passage of the president's Iraq resolution?
Answers as of 10/11/02:
"No. But I guess it is a done deed now. We'll just have to pray that he has sense enough to show a little restraint."
"No. I believe we need to take a strong position. However, we must build consensus and we should use the United Nations. We should do everything possible not to be viewed as an aggressor. I believe the benefit of taking out Iraq does not at this time overshadow the negative of world reaction and the possibility of setting off the entire Muslim nation against us. It will be a short-lived victory, solving little, unless we are reacting to outward aggression by Iraq. I fear that simple minded Bush either doesn't understand the risk, or is simply using this for political gain, trying to detract from other problems at home, such as the economy. Sorry this wasn't a short answer."
Alita's Cousin: (He is busy with school and admits he hasn't enough info to form an opinion, yet. I'll bias him!)
Alita's Other Cousin: (I don't have his email address. But I have reason to believe he would say "NO!!")
Alita: (No response yet.)
Alita's Brother Morgan:
"Nuke 'em, says I."
Alita's Sister In-law Julia:
"No. I do not agree. I don't believe we should wage war on Iraq without the support of the UN or the world community. . ."
Alita's Sister Mariah:
"No. I'd say more, but I don't want to convulse and foam at the mouth right before bed."
Alita's Sister Megan (taken a bit out of context):
"No. ...Our government is out of control. I think a riot is long overdue."
Alita's Aunt Jeanine:
"This resolution is more than the ok for Bush to bomb Iraq. It transfers the power vested in Congress (by the constitution) to the President (one man), giving him the right to declare war whenever and wherever HE sees fit—without discussion from we-the-people. It also sets an arrogant, outrageous precedent for other nations to violently aggress against their own enemies ("Well, the U.S. does it."). If this is not ok for other countries to do, why is it ok for us to do? Have we no shame? No wonder the world hates us!
Should we bomb Iraq right now? Absolutely not. Not without UN support. Not without proof that danger from Iraq is eminent. Not for votes. Not for oil. Not to distract us from the REAL risks to homeland security: an economy, education and healthcare system in shambles.
Can you tell which is the Terrorist Nation? Personally, I think the U.S. needs a regime change."
END OF FAMILY EMAIL SNIPPETS
OKAY, well...that's me and part of my family...at least when it comes to politics. By the way, in case you're worried, my brother Morgan's "Nuke 'em, says I" response was meant to be a joke...my family can sometimes display a dark sense of humor. At any rate, I hope you found this interesting.