War should never be taken lightly

I think most of us will agree that we live in strange times, yes? We pick up the newspaper or turn on TV and we’re confronted with pictures of anti-war protesters in Washington — alongside scenes of troops in full military gear boarding airplanes bound for a potential war zone. It’s as if both these opposite, simultaneous activities are occurring in a vacuum, each side oblivious of the other. Only one side can be right. What’s wrong with this picture?

These days are a real challenge for the human traits of logic and reasoning. Not in over a decade has the U.S. military prepared so intensely, so publicly, for conflict overseas (and in the same country, no less). Sound logic would tell us that despite our government’s daily calls to avert war, we fully expect to go to war within weeks. Meanwhile, new wrinkles appear almost every week that seem aimed at avoiding military conflict, even as the planes and boats depart our shores for the Persian Gulf.

New possibilities like this week’s hints by the administration that, for the first time, the U.S. would consider the scenario of allowing Saddam Hussein and his family to flee Iraq and be allowed safe harbor somewhere else. Such a scheme is no longer out of the question, we’re told by Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell and others. This, as thousands of U.S. troops and Navy ships continue to head overseas every day at a cost of tens of billions of dollars.

Regardless of where we may stand politically on the question of war — for, against or undecided — you still may have gotten some sense of relief that nearly a quarter of a million people turned out to protest the war last weekend. If nothing else, at least some people are thinking about war’s consequences and, if nothing else, front-page anti-war headlines may put some pressure on Washington to further justify a massive military engagement. Are war protesters naive? Given a vacuum of information on Iraq, who really knows for absolute, dead certain?

Is we go to war (which still appears extremely likely), it should not come easily — nor should we automatically trust our leaders to do the right thing, of course. We’ve gotten burned badly trusting government leaders on other events in the past, and one hopes we’ve learned something from our collective mistakes. It’s noteworthy that a lot of war veterans seem to be either against war, or think we need a whole lot more justification for committing tens of thousands of Americans to a bloody conflict. What do you think they know that the rest of us don’t? Quite a lot, I suspect.

If we place the infamy of 9/11 aside (since there appears still no evidence that Iraq had any direct role in those horrendous events), logic and reasoning become even more severely strained for attacking Iraq now. Logic and reasoning still appear to cry out — even at this late date — for concrete, irrefutable evidence that stopping Hussein at this point in history is vital to our public interest. What was it Jerry McGuire’s lone client kept yelling on the phone, “Show me the money?” Those among us who do not attend anti-war protests and would love to give the administration the benefit of the doubt, still need proof of Iraq’s dire threat. Some proof. Logical proof. Show us the evidence. Put up or shut up. It’s really that simple.

There used to be a popular slogan a few decades ago: “What if you held a war and nobody came?” That’s not going to happen this time because we’re already coming — from Northern Virginia, from Ft. Stewart and Camp Lejuene, from Baltimore and Norfolk, from San Diego and Ft. Bragg. The odd part is, if given some tangible proof that Iraq is a serious and overt threat to the free world, tens of millions of Americans would rally ’round Washington without hesitation. That’s the really odd part, because no doubt the White House fully realizes this, too. Which leaves perhaps only three possible reasons why so little pertinent evidence has been forthcoming.

Washington is waiting, for some reason, for the right time to show us something we don’t already know. Secondly, there is no smoking gun but the administration is desperately trying to locate one. Or, finally, the government knows there is no logical reason in a traditional sense to commit to all-out war. But we’re going anyway. Meanwhile, American planes and ships leave our shores every day by the thousands for overseas. Like I said, what’s wrong with this picture?

John Merli has been a Prince William County resident since 1984, and a Potomac News columnist since 1985. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years. E-mail him at: [email protected].