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Jewish World Review March 20, 2003 / 16 Adar II 5763

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Peace lover ponders the need for war | War would be so much easier to think about if life weren't complicated by our rueful pasts and our divided hearts.

But our plaintive memories mire us in regret, in qualifications, in hesitancy even when we would prefer to charge ahead with what author Kurt Vonnegut once called the brainless ecstasy of a volunteer fireman. Examples:

I remain profoundly angry at the terrorists of Sept. 11, 2001, and want those who supported and enabled them stopped and brought to swift justice. After all, one of the people they killed that fierce day was the son of one of my sisters.

But I have trouble seeing that Saddam Hussein's criminalocracy in Baghdad had anything directly to do with 9-11, although he clearly has supported terrorism and is willing to use terrorists tactics.

I am sick at heart because Iraq's people are living under the rule of a malevolent despot, and I wish them to be free to live out their true destinies.

But I know that any war inevitably will kill some of them and that we have no guarantee about what comes next. Will the government that emerges from the wreckage of Iraq be enlightened and worthy of praise? History makes me a doubter. And yet what could be worse than Hussein's rule of fear and death?

I want to trust what our government says about Hussein's having chemical and biological weapons, and about his desire to acquire nuclear weapons. In fact, I think the case for such statements is convincing.

At the same time, I know that the government often has lied to us, and it's hard to ignore that history. I remember Lyndon Johnson's sleight-of-hand that led to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. I recall Richard Nixon assuring us of his innocence. I remember Ronald Reagan insisting he didn't remember much of anything about the Iran-contra mess. I can't forget Bill Clinton shaking his finger at us and declaring that he never had sex with that woman. And that's just a small part of the list.

I want to believe our military leaders when they assure us they have considered every possibility and have a dependable plan to strike hard and quickly so as to minimize American casualties (and deaths among Iraqi civilians).

But I know military planners and generals in the field make mistakes. I remember smart bombs that weren't smart at all. I remember missiles hitting the wrong buildings because our maps were old or wrong. I recall times our troops have died in friendly fire, times we've bombed civilians, thinking they were enemy combatants.

I want to believe that we have a reasonable post-war plan to help not just Iraq but the entire Arab world lift itself from the darkness that has shrouded it for decades.

But I remember how we walked away from Afghanistan after the soldiers we backed (Osama bin Laden's among them) drove Soviet invaders from the country in the 1980s. And I know how hard rebuilding and reforming Afghanistan now is proving to be.

I want to imagine that war will be quick - and easily paid for. But I know how expensive bullets and bombs are. And I know that dollars spent for guns cannot be spent for butter.

I want to believe that peaceful approaches to settling disputes are best. In fact, I have a deep religious and philosophical commitment to peacemaking, because I know that violence rarely settles anything.

And yet I know that diplomats sometimes are naive and foolish. I think again and again of Britain's Neville Chamberlain and his preposterous belief that he had found "peace in our time" through negotiations with Adolf Hitler. What we learned then was that evil appeased is evil empowered.

I want a more secure, more peaceful, more prosperous world for my children and for my granddaughter, not yet a year old. I have visions of her as an adult experiencing terrible days when our country is at war once again.

But I am not a pacifist. I know that vigilance and duty are the price of peace and freedom, and that if we don't defend ourselves we may not have anything ultimately to defend at all.

I long for a simple world. But I find it's not this one.

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JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' latest book is "A Gift of Meaning." To order it, please click on title. To comment on his column, please click here.

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2002. All rights reserved