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June 6, 2007

War and Peace

Patricia A. Kelly

I am tired of the talk about withdrawing from the Iraq War that associates withdrawal with failure to support the troops. The concepts are not synonymous! It would be possible to withdraw and support at the same time.

A conviction that our country is wrong to be in Iraq does nothing to denigrate the sacrifices made by our loyal troops, doing their job, which is to implement the military strategy determined by our civilian government. We owe no greater gratitude to anyone, but to them and our police and firefighters, who risk their lives for us every day.

That said I spent the evening of the first day of the war with a friend, an "old fashioned liberal Democrat". He had lived in Egypt, spoke some Arabic, immersed himself in the local culture, and was appalled at the thought of our attacking Iraq. Not only did he feel it unjust and racist, but he also verbalized the conviction that we were opening a can of worms that we might never be able to close, that these people would never surrender.

I, more conservative to be sure, and, as a part-time Texan, comfortable that President Bush's colloquialisms do not indicate stupidity, was also dismayed, but for a different reason. My thought was, "It's not American to start a war, to invade another country without a direct attack on us. We are strong enough to defend ourselves without invading."

There might have been a reason or justification that I did not know about as a less informed civilian, I thought; so I also decided to give President Bush and our government the benefit of the doubt.

Four years later, many, many people do not approve of the war. The president is widely disliked. Democrats have become our majority party in Congress, and are openly fighting the administration on the war. The Republicans, with their disregard for their own principles, as in the Terri Schiavo debacle, own some of the credit for this. I want to thank the press, too, for carrying muckraking to new heights and generally doing all they can to prevent people from getting a balanced picture of things.

In the "red" states, there is support. There is also some prejudice against foreigners of any kind, and against religions which are not Christian. Along with these sometime faults, there is all that made America great.

There is self reliance, individual responsibility, ambition, hard work, and a sense of adventure along with a lust for personal freedom. Most of my family is red-state people, and I feel enormous love for and pride in them. They are good people. If your roof blows off, they will be there to help you build a new one - in a minute.

Whatever one's view of the rightness of the invasion, we have made many mistakes. In my view, we should have hit with overwhelming force, if we were going to hit, thus shortening the conflict and minimizing casualties. It was certainly always my policy when "taking down" a crazed patient in the emergency department. Just seeing all those security people often ended the conflict without a fight, and I never had an injury on my watch.

We should have maintained the Iraqi army, pardoning the less egregious offenders, and attempt to enlist the army into the cause of a new, more fair society. We should have enlisted the best experts to help us understand the culture and the existing social structure, respecting and enrolling the existing village chiefs, for example, into the cause. Rather than hiring contract workers from other countries like the Philippines at huge cost, we should be employing Iraqis to rebuild Iraq.

I wonder how it is possible that our government, with access to all the world's great experts, did not see this.

I still don't think we should have invaded, but rather used our energies to fight back fiercely, with as few casualties as possible, at terrorism. The only possible benefits of the war that I can see are that Saddam Hussein is gone, and the localization of fighting to an area outside of our land. Maybe.

The big question, though, is how we should act now that we're where we are, the past being past. It appears that the war plan is being reviewed, which can only be good. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is certainly out there, trying to re-build relationships in the world and build consensus. The president is addressing some other issues, such as the environment and the slaughter in Darfur. We can only hope.

I asked a friend the other day, a lifelong peace activist, what one should do if assaulted by another. Do you lie quietly, chanting, "I want peace?" Do you knock him out of his socks, knowing that, if you didn't, you would be enabling him to persist in violence? We know that the Gandhi/Martin Luther King passive resistance is a moral and effective tool against public injustice, but it's hard to apply in private, or in country against country disputes. She didn't know the answer.

Neither do I!

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