A local newspaper published a letter I wrote about Iraq, along with a rather startling and intriguing reader-response. Here is my letter, followed by the response:
“Our Enemy Is Fear” (The newspaper titled my letter, “Our enemy is fear; the result, Haditha.”)
Inflamed by nationalism, demagoguery and fear, we deploy our brave grandchildren halfway around the globe, pushing them to act out our own worst nightmares, to create the very tragedies they would themselves kill and die to resist, to become the very terrorists they despise, monsters from afar who interfere, invade, oppress, exploit, torture, and slaughter innocents.
Up is down now, and black is white, as long as we continue to send our sons and daughters to distant nations to fight insane wars so morally ambiguous that even our own citizenry, even world opinion, even our own brilliant Supreme Court justices and political and military leaders cannot agree upon them.
Then we pound these same selfless young soldiers with so much confused political, psychological and military paranoia and machismo that they're half-crazed with vengeance, anger and desperation … and then goad them into untenable situations where they drop bombs on civilian populations and break down doors, killing unarmed strangers–husbands, wives, teenagers, children, and babies alike.
May the tragedy in Haditha teach us “to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” (A. Lincoln)
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Five days later this fascinating response to my letter was posted in the newspaper:
“Haditha critic has already passed judgment on troops”
I have seen some outrageous letters to the editor about Iraq from liberals, but a (recent) letter (“our enemy is fear; the result, Haditha”) is by far the most disgusting.
First of all, to call our troops monsters who exploit, torture and murder innocent civilians before there has been any proof is appalling. There is an investigation going on about the incident and I think our troops should be given the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Second, I can imagine that letter writer is the same type of liberal who would demand that a person in this country who went on a mass murder spree has the right of due process. However, she will not give that to the brave members of the military fighting in extremely difficult circumstances to give up their freedom to provide her the freedom to spew such garbage.
Granted, there may have been misdeeds in Haditha. If there were, the perpetrators will be punished in a military court. There is no such justice in the terrorists' world.
That letter writer is a perfect example of the left wing eager to stain our military without any proof. Thank goodness the majority of Americans are more fair-minded.
If the two letters could have been republished side-by-side, I would have liked to point out to my responder that, to the twenty-four Haditha slaughterees, and to the rest of the hundreds of thousands of civilian and military victims of the American invasion and occupation–many of whom were innocent of any political involvement, and the rest guilty mostly of harboring opposing political loyalties and beliefs, or of needing to make what seemed like an honest buck soldiering–to all of these victims, if the American soldiers were not terrorists, they must at least have looked like terrorists as they were climbing in windows and breaking down doors, bristling and blazing away with high-tech weaponry on women and children, or raining down indiscriminate bombs from above….
It doesn't take a military court focusing on a single narrow case like Haditha to “prove” that the west has used their military to exploit, torture and murder hundreds of thousands of middle-eastern innocents during the gulf wars. Any “just” investigation could only be about the motives and methods of the war itself, not the single “incident” at Haditha. I prefer the word “tragedy” here; I doubt whether an unexplained slaughter by “foreigners” of whole families of American women and children in their homes would have been referred to in American papers as an “incident,” had it occurred in some little rural midwestern village on “American soil.”
We Americans are too defensively insistent on being “right” and loyal, to the extent that we can't accept the possibility that we could ever make a wrong turn. We need to be more conscientious about taking the time to put ourselves in another's shoes when deciding on fairness. Turnabout truly is fair play; how would we feel about having exactly the same things happen to us?
It shouldn't matter whether something happens in Iraq or America … or Timbuktu; people everywhere have a right to live in peace, to quietly pursue life, liberty, and happiness, and to receive due process of law during conflicts. That is the only “America” worth fighting for, the America worthy of our loyalty and patriotism–the “America” that embodies our beloved American ideals. We can certainly understand and forgive the confusions of Americans, or anyone else, when they've been wrong. It's very easy to get things wrong. I'm not big on placing blame or punishing, but I do take seriously my responsibility to redirect our American course when we stray too far from our precious democratic values.
Loyalty that says “wrong is right,” as long as that wrong is an American wrong, is misguided loyalty. In the long run, misguided loyalty will always prove more harmful to our beloved country than helpful.
Could the two letters be printed side-by-side, I would also have liked to have pointed out that my responder jumped to the conclusion that I was passing hasty judgment on Haditha troops. On the contrary, I was describing how all our gulf war soldiers must appear to their victims and to the rest of the world in general (most of whom already stand in judgment of our illegal invasion, occupation, motives, and methods.) Long before Haditha, the world would have laughed uproariously at the suggestion that gulf war occupiers in general should be “presumed innocent” until “proven guilty” by a military court weighing niceties about the particular rules of engagement allegedly applied in Haditha. (And where was the “process” “due” to those innocents in Haditha?)
But because I knew our two letters could not be printed side-by-side, because I had nothing to defend, and because I hoped to use my response opportunity peacefully, I wrote the following response to my reader:
“Honor the Warrior, Not the War”
Rather than rushing to judge soldiers, I hope to slow our rush into yet another ill-conceived war, this time against Iran, a country which has not attacked us and is not an imminent threat. I also urge military consensus upon unambiguous and consistent moral and tactical guidelines for acceptable behavior during both war and peacetime. Too often, when irrefutably accused, soldiers are marginalized and victimized as “aberrant” by unaccountable leaders. We must bring our soldiers back home to defend their homeland and way of life, as others elsewhere wish to defend theirs. I am grateful that we are all still free to stay informed and engaged, and to respectfully debate the best ways to keep our beloved country free, prosperous, respected, and safe.
Wars are politics carried out by other means; they are always a failure of diplomacy. Those who fight wars aren’t responsible for this failure; their courage and sacrifice renews our faith in humanity—which is one difference between wars and those who fight them.
Ben Franklin said, “There was never a good war or a bad peace.” And President Eisenhower said, “Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of their way and let them have it.”
I am profoundly impressed by the vision of the many courageous women and men in our Defense Department working to find peaceful, effective, and far less costly alternative approaches to our nation’s defense, demonstrating the admirable tradition of leadership and high ideals historically associated with our military.
Together with such patriots, we can work to establish a U.S. Peace Academy, equivalent in honor, distinction, and service to our proud military academies, and to support the 73 Congresspersons who have already signed remarkable legislation (see www.thepeacealliance.org) to establish a cabinet-level U.S. Department of Peace (H.R. 3760 and S. 1756), which can provide proven and effective strategies for diminishing violence in our country and in our world.
Thus we honor our warriors, not the war.
The night before he died, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence. It’s nonviolence—or nonexistence.” Albert Einstein warned us: “I cannot tell you with what weapons mankind would fight WW3, but I can assure you that WW4 would be fought with sticks and stones.”
I received the following thoughtful and reasonable letter from the newspaper's Editor….
Thanks for writing, but your letter … is a response to a response to an earlier letter from you, and we try to avoid doing that, too. If we publish this letter, (the writer) could reasonably request that we publish a response to it from him. Letting two letter writers go back and forth in the letters section doesn't work very well, so we try to limit it to an original letter and response(s). …You are, of course, welcome to submit letters in the future that don't relate to this exchange….
So instead, I posted the letters here, and I hope to write a letter to the Editor next month promoting the legislation establishing a Department of Peace….
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