Published on Monday, December 9, 2002 by
Was It For This?
by John Liechty

The really singular thing about the coming war with Iraq is the phrase just employed, the "coming war with Iraq." If I've read it once, I've read it a thousand times. Like Gulf War I, Gulf War II became a given the moment it left a Bush tongue and went to press. There has since been abundant speculation on what will happen when (not if) we invade, and on what we will do after (not if) we fight the war. There has not been so much as a speculative peep about what we will do when we refrain from invading Iraq, what we will do after we've poured our best energy, thought, diplomatic verve, and money into avoiding a war with Iraq, or similar notions of inconceivable heresy.

The tone of the media and the tone out of Washington have remained unswervingly hopeful -- for an invasion that is. If only those feckless and annoying UN inspectors will hurry up and either A) Find something, or B) Not find something, we can (C) Get on with the bombing. While we're waiting, we've stepped up the bombing of Iraq’s southern no-fly zone and quietly overseen the movement of a quarter million troops to the Gulf and the establishment there of command centers and bases. The world may not be entirely blamed for wondering whether America's energies are dedicated more to the prevention or to the invention of war.

So what will happen when (not if) we invade Iraq? In the first place, we will win. There has been no speculation at all about what we will do if/when we hit a stalemate or lose. In the second place, we will effect a regime change. Saddam Hussein will be extinguished like a rogue cigar butt and all will be well. If not, recent experience suggests we can simply wave a magic wand, change captions on CNN, take a big collective blink, issue a pronouncement that one man isn't all that important, and proceed to bomb Somalia. Something else that will occur when (not if) we invade Iraq, is that people will die – a point some in the media have been acknowledging with something like excited anticipation. How many deaths? Between a thousand and ten thousand, according to the punditry. Or put another way, an “acceptable figure”. That’s Us. What about Them? If the kill ratio is as skewed as it was in Gulf War I, somewhere between a million and ten million of Them would be shorn of their lives. That figure is probably extreme. But in any case, if you consider it unacceptable it may help to consider that we have nothing against the people who will die when (not if) we invade Iraq, and that the blame for their deaths can be laid squarely on one anachronistic dictator. And what will happen after (not if) we invade Iraq? There have been hints of a protectorate or military occupation or... But we can afford to be vague, as it seems a safe bet there will be someone around to drape a green robe on who can run the place for us, and some kids available to fly kites for CNN. Then off to North Korea or Iran or Canada, or whatever other threat to American democracy needs fixing.

There are several things I would like to see happen in the "coming war with Iraq", since the possibility of its not coming at all is apparently not an option. For starters, I would like to see us pick an appropriate name. Operation Just Cuz, as unbelievers in the State Department dubbed it, was used already back in Panama, so that's out. Operation Nothing Against the Iraqi People seems too long. Operation Finite Justice might serve as a relatively modest variant to last year's Infinite Justice, though Operation All-Too-Human has perhaps the homier feel. I tend to like Operation Whatever. It's just vague enough to suit our intentions, and flexible too – if we have to abruptly shift gears and bomb Iceland or Sierra Leone, at least we won’t be groping for a name. To reflect the moral rectitude we claim to carry into Iraq when (not if) we invade it, I would like to further propose that our tanks be fitted with armored bumper stickers that read 'What Would Jesus Drive?' Appropriate stickers could be adapted to all branches of the invading force. 'What Would Jesus Drop?' might bring comfort to the pilots, for instance.

Come to think of it, what would Jesus do? It does not seem at all far-fetched to suppose that if a party of conspiring hawks was to approach and bait him with the question of what to do about Saddam Hussein, Jesus would respond by bending down and writing with his finger on the ground. If he chose to speak, it might be to say, “Let him who is without sin among you launch the first strike.” And the party of conspiring hawks would retreat murmuring and conspiring to their offices and board rooms to pray for a certain someone’s death by lethal injection, crucifixion being too unsophisticated for this civilized age.

I guess it was unsophisticated of my parents to teach me that war is a mistake, and of me to take them seriously. Yet I doubt I’m alone in thinking that war is less often an indication of rightness, righteousness, courage, or historical necessity than an indication of failure. We might try, just for a second, to regard Gulf War I as a screw-up. While it offered some Americans an unprecedented occasion to gloat, it also put the anti-American burr up Al Qaida’s backside, culminated in an abattoir of 100,000 dead in 100 hours, and accomplished nothing so certain as the present sequel. Of course, like all mistakes, wars happen. If they happen as a last resort, at least there is that – you can say you tried. If they happen as a first resort, it is a sign of foolishness, avarice, malice, or false pride. The prospect of war casualties should prompt far more from us than eager speculation on an “acceptable figure”. “Was it for this the clay grew tall?” asked Wilfred Owen, in reference to the youthful lives thrown away in World War I. The media do not address that bitter question, suggesting instead that any lives lost when (not if) we invade Iraq are an inevitability. To think of a human life, whether one of Ours or one of Theirs, wasted because the Bushes and Hussains couldn’t work things out is cause for something other than this anticipatory air of countdown.

John Liechty teaches in Muscat, Oman. E-mail:

Published on Monday, December 9, 2002 by the Toronto Star

Peace Movement Growing Below U.S. Radar
Anti-war protest hits Washington streets tomorrow `We're not about to send children to die for oil'
by Allan Thompson


WASHINGTON—Jane Coe says she cannot sit home any longer and listen to the drums beating for war against Iraq. So, tomorrow, she'll take to the streets of the U.S. capital to join this country's growing anti-war movement.

"I'm not an activist really. I much prefer letter-writing to marching,'' the 64-year-old anthropologist said this weekend. "But I just couldn't sit at home any longer amid this drift, and all the buildup to a war in Iraq that we don't need."

Coe is helping to organize a peace march in downtown Washington on International Human Rights Day, a rally expected to bring together faith groups, seniors and peace activists.

"The public discourse is: `Bomb 'em. Gear up for war.' But in terms of Iraq, they didn't have anything to do with Al Qaeda, so linking them to terrorism is stretching it. And we need to give weapons inspections a chance to work. That's a chance, that's a hope,'' Coe said.

(The Bush administration blames Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terror network for the Sept. 11 attacks against America that killed about 3,000 people in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania last year.)

Saturday morning, Coe attended a meeting of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Gray Panthers, a group dominated by seniors that has lobbied for decades on social justice issues. It's part of a growing coalition against war with Iraq.

In an auditorium foyer at the University of the District of Columbia, about 20 people pulled their chairs in a circle for the meeting; the Gray Panthers moved their chairs closer together when one complained she could not hear.

"My motto is health care, not warfare,'' said Abe Bloom, 89, from his wheelchair, a magnifying glass hanging on a cord around his neck to help him read the handouts.

"It seems to me that Bush is determined, no matter what, to get a war out of this; but we're not about to send our children to die for oil,'' said Ethel Lubarsky, 85, who sat next to Bloom and leaned on a cane.

As the Gray Panthers met, President George W. Bush used his weekly radio address to make clear he believes Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, despite its submitting thousands of pages of documents disavowing such weapons to U.N. inspectors last week. "Inspectors do not have the duty, or the ability, to uncover terrible weapons hidden in a vast country,'' he told listeners.

Largely below the radar of mainstream media, the anti-war coalition is gaining momentum and members. They range from key labour unions, religious movements, campus groups and such groups as Black Voices for Peace to traditional Marxists.

John J. Sweeney, president of the 13-million strong AFL-CIO labour union has joined the movement, as has the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Council of Churches, representing 36 Protestant and Orthodox denominations.

United for Peace ( ), the Web site a San Francisco-based human rights group set up to track events commemorating Sept. 11, now has evolved into a clearing house for anti-war groups.

Pat Elder, who owns a real estate title company in Bethesda, Md., says he got involved with a Quaker group after attending an anti-war protest in October.

"A third of the people there were over 50 and I thought, `Jesus, man, that's not what I remember from Vietnam. I'm 47 and I was a teenager when the big Vietnam demos were going on."

Now, he said, it merges "the person in the suburbs, the conservative crowd and the traditional activists ... to strike a tone that is more palatable to middle America. So we're not 20-year-olds in bandanas, shouting that Bush is a bastard."

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