Going to war is where things went wrong

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May 23, 2004


   An article on the front page of the Midland Daily News (5/9/04) asked the question, "Where did it all go wrong?" I don't fault the paper for asking that question or putting it on the front page, in light of the abuse scandals in Iraq.  But I feel compelled to write an answer.

   Chris Hedges in his book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, wrote on page 3, "The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug…. It is pedaled by mythmakers - historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists, and the state - all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power, changes to rise above our small stations in life, and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has a grotesque and dark beauty."

   President Bush appealed to that "drug" when he led us to war in the aftermath of 9/11. War was a chance to make meaning of that disastrous day. War was a way to be excited again about our country. War would give us a sense of power that was damaged by the attack on this great country.

   And so we went to a "glorious" war to rid the world of terrorism. It reminds me of the "war to end all wars" that only resulted in a war of much greater consequences and disaster. The glory of war is soon shattered by the realities of human life and fortune, the evil tendencies that are in all of us and are expressed if given the right opportunities and hopeless situations.

   The short answer to the question posed by the paper is that what went wrong was the belief that war can solve problems, that war is the righter of wrongs, that military power can change a people and force them to think and believe the way we do. Unfortunately in that thinking lies an arrogance and hubris that has been the fall of many a leader and nation in the history of the world.

   The longer answer is that President Bush and his advisors were too focused on their own agenda of imposing our military muscle around the world that they lost sight of the overall objective after 9/11. They failed to listen to other views on the world situation, especially our allies and the United Nations, and millions of people around the world who protested against going to war.

   They failed to understand the weakness of Iraq's infrastructure and economy. They failed to appreciate the worldview of the Arab and Muslim worlds. They failed to plan for the aftermath of the war and a sound strategy of security and reconstruction in Iraq. They failed to win the hearts of the Iraqi people, many of whom were glad to be rid of Hussein as their leader.

   And now they fail to understand the horrible mess that we are in because they think that the only solution is more war and more killing and more destruction. They also failed to calculate the cost to the American people, not just in dollars but in the tragedy of lives lost, maimed, and disrupted; families destroyed; the cost of going into national debt that hasn't been experienced in this generation; the cost of ill-will around the world.

   So what went wrong? It starts at the top. President Bush has no one to blame for any of this but himself and his policies. He is ultimately responsible for the deaths of nearly 800 Americans and 10,000 or more Iraqis. He is responsible for the servicemen and women who have been injured and maimed for life, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually as well.

   If a person is morally responsible for the consequences of his actions, then this President is responsible for all the evil this war has generated and he must be held accountable. Please do not misunderstand me: I am not saying he is responsible for the abuse that is currently in the news, but by going to war, he has set in motion the process for such things to occur. War is like that. There is a reason for the phrase, "war is hell". War is not to be waged lightly. In this case, it was. That's how it all went so wrong.