Patriotism Reconsidered

“Dissent is the Highest Form of Patriotism.

Thomas Jefferson

War having been advocated in an e-mailroom full of good folk,, and given my reasons for opposing the war, I was inspired to write these lines. Those troubled by Pacifist perspectives, of course, needn’t read on.

I share with family members of those serving in the US Military in Iraq wishes for the health and safety of their loved ones. I want them home, now. I wish their families strength and comfort in their absence. While I oppose the war, I do not hold our troops responsible for it, nor for their failure to oppose it. As a chemical weapons officer from Fort Bragg explained to me, to publicly oppose this war while in service is to risk prison or worse. Many service people do question why we are doing this, but you will not hear from them publicly. As a young woman said on NPR this afternoon, the fact that her sister was in Iraq increased her opposition to the war, and the fact that her sister could not speak out meant that she was further compelled to protest on her sister’s behalf. Earlier today, also on NPR, I heard the surrogate father of a Marine who died in Iraq saying: “I hope George Bush can sleep at night, and I hope he has a good reason for what we are doing. I don’t see it. Especially now.” Opponents of this war have included Senators, Members of Congress, former Presidents, decorated veterans, and the Pope. Some military people and their families do, of course, support the war. I disagree with them, but not with their right to their opinion. Virtually nobody, though, would be clamoring for this war had it not been marketed by the Bush administration.

Concern has been expressed about the abuse some Vietnam veterans experienced when they came home, and the fear that this practice could be employed against veterans of this war. The fact that we have a “volunteer army” now might heighten those concerns. This war, like Vietnam, is unpopular. This war, like Vietnam, risks high casualties on all sides. This war, like Vietnam, has the potential to fail to meet acceptable objectives. Bitterness may run high again among Americans.

Most who protested the Vietnam War were not abusive of soldiers coming home. Most were sympathetic with their suffering. I will do what I can to discourage disrespect for our soldiers coming home, and to encourage sympathy for their suffering. I will be supportive of the benefits they will need. Those looking for appreciation for the part they have taken in carrying out this mission, however, will have to look to someone else. I support the troops absolutely, but not the mission and not the president, not at all.

Here are some of the reasons I oppose the war:

     The invasion of Iraq is a violation of international law. The UN Charter states that the use of force is only allowed when a country is under immediate or imminent attack, or when the UN Security Council has specifically authorized the use of force as a necessary means of maintaining or restoring world peace. Our Congress ratified the Charter, so this is coined in US law as well. I believe in the rule of law.

2)     President Bush is lying to the American people who will pay dearly for this war in many ways, and who deserve the truth from their president.

a)     Bush says the war is about Iraq’s violations of UN Security Council resolutions, yet he ignores the UN Charter and the opposition to the war by the UN Security Council. If UN Security Council resolution violation were our “gold standard” for triggering warmaking, why does the United States offer weaponry and diplomatic cover to the state of Israel which is violating more UN Security Council resolutions than has Iraq? There was no evidence of sufficient violations to move the UNSC to declare war.

b)     Bush says the war is about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, but a CIA document made public some weeks back indicated that Iraq would only use whatever bio or chemical weapons it might have left in the event of a US invasion of Iraq. Former chief weapons inspector Scott Ritter, whom I have personally interviewed, has stated repeatedly that Iraq is functionally disarmed, posing no real military threat of any kind, even to its neighbors, let alone to us, halfway around the world. Nothing revealed by the inspectors in the run-up to war has contradicted Ritter’s statements. In fact what was made clear was that robust inspections could have a useful supervisory effect.

If significant quantities of bio or chemical weapons are discovered in Iraq, I will not accept their presence as after-the-fact justification for an invasion. The way to encourage non-proliferation everywhere in the world is through diplomacy, and by example, not by invasion.

c)     Bush says the Iraqis might share their alleged weapons of mass destruction with terrorists. Bush is well aware that terrorists have access to material and expertise from individuals and groups which are not as closely observed by the intelligence community as is Iraq. The only thing which our sanctions and war and occupation of Iraq will give some terrorists is further motivation to attack us. That motivation will grow every day US troops are on Iraqi soil.

d)     Bush says the Iraqi people want us to overthrow Saddam Hussein. My late sister-in-law, an Iraq-born neurologist, died of colorectal cancer several years ago. I am as close as family to her brother and sisters who live in the United States. They are all physicians. Politically, they are Democrats and Republicans. One of my favorites was even a fan of Jesse Helms! They came to the US to get away from Saddam Hussein. They see him as a tyrant. They have families and in-laws living in Iraq. To a person, they oppose this war. Iraq has had Saddam Hussein and his wars, then our sanctions. Do you think our bombs and attacks, our foreign language and religions, and our ethnicity and strange habits are going to sit well with families who lost young children due to sanctions we imposed? Try to imagine a reverse situation, and imagine how you would feel and behave. We have been told to expect less resistance than we have already seen. This dark night is very young.

e)     Mr. Bush (who got a minority of the popular vote and who achieved office by appointment by a Supreme Court ruling) says we should give Iraqis the democracy they deserve. You can’t “install” democracy (it is not a muffler).

f)     If Mr. Bush is deceiving Americans with false reasons for war (democracy, helping Iraqis, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, security council resolution violation), he must also be hiding the real reasons for his actions. The rule of thumb is: Follow the money. Probable backers for the aggression of George W. Bush include the oil lobby, the weapons lobby, and the Israel lobby. Also, the war is keeping our minds off the economy and the environmental compromises the Bush administration advocates. Some have even suggested that “clearing the Bush family name” for failure to “get the job done the first time” is another “reason.”

3)     The war may precipitate more terrorism against the United States. In the war on terrorism, it is counter-productive.

4)     The increased risk of terrorism will probably be used to increase “national security,” which could involve really Orwellian invasion of privacy and repression of American freedoms.

5)     Our collapsing economy will not be helped by the economic waste. Nobody knows how long the war will continue or what it will cost. Those who suffer economic pressure the most, in the US, will be our poor. We have many needs here which are not being met. The deficit continues to rise. Airlines, already in financial trouble, are experiencing a 20 percent cutback in passengers. Had the US negotiated an inspections regime that included an end to sanctions, the world might willingly and compassionately have pitched in to reconstruct Iraq. After this war, the world will (quite rightly) tell us, “You broke it, you fix it.”

6)     Our relations with the world have never been worse in the half-century I have been living. 90 percent of the people on the planet opposed the war. Ten million took to the streets in nearly every major city on the planet. Some of those most angry with us will be the citizens of the “coalition-of-the-willing” (sic) whose governments ignored the will of their own people to support the invasion of Iraq. Bad international relations is not in the best interest of Americans, either individually or as a nation. If we want people to respect our flag, we have to be careful what is done while waving it.

7)     The last, not least, reason I oppose the war is the simplest: It is the death and suffering that wars cause. We don’t hear much on the personal level about the people we kill and wound in wars. This one is going to be different. I also remind people that, although international law allows the killing of combatants in a legitimate war, we should remember that combatants (on all sides) are people, too.

My prayers are for the safety of all human beings who are affected, directly or indirectly, in this American and British invasion of Iraq, and for an end to the war. I especially pray for an end to the suffering of the Iraqi people who have suffered enough.

All of that having been said, we, as Americans, whether we support the war or not, need to consider what we expect of our government at the end of this conflict. If I were an advocate of the war, I would be asking myself questions like this: What outcome would, in my book, constitute success? How many American casualties will be acceptable? How many Iraqi casualties will be acceptable? What regime will “regime change” install in Iraq? What living conditions for the people of Iraq will be acceptable? Who will pay for reconstruction?

As an opponent of this war, and for the reasons cited and others, I have a bigger problem. I believe that Iraq is not the big issue, the US government is. My questions include: What can we do to make our government more responsive to the needs and will of the people, instead of the other way around? How can we compensate the people whose lives we have ruined in the Middle East? How can international law be upheld if the US is quite literally a loose cannon?

George W. Bush presents himself as “the law on this here planet,” but this isn’t the old west and the world is a bit more complicated than Dodge City. We have lost touch with our own principles. Remember the words in the Declaration of Independence that held “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as self-evident? The Declaration was referring to all humanity! Even without war, the sanctions regime, more than Saddam, has denied these things to the Iraqi people. Are we able to put ourselves into the shoes of the people of Iraq, military and otherwise, and consider what we would want the US to do or how we would receive occupation troops from a country that subjected us to deadly and impoverishing sanctions followed by invasion?

Regardless of ones religion or point of view, the Golden Rule is a good rule of thumb: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Mr. Claiborne M. Clark contributed above perspective to Media Monitors Network (MMN) from Durham, NC, USA.