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A Question for the General: Who is the Enemy?

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It seems necessary now, post-Basra, to be concerned about what is going to happen in Iraq whether we should send more money, troops, advisors, whatever kinds of ammunition and supplies. We aren’t just talking in the abstract here. With good reason, discussion should center on those nouns and the unbelievable costs of this war.


If I could be a Senator for a day, I would ask: Who is our enemy in Iraq? I seem to have lost the total thread if not threat of this war. As the war of words will occur on Capitol Hill, I need to know precisely who it is we are supposed to be fighting and why this fight is necessary.


If like me, you wake up confused by what you hear on the news and what you read in the papers, it must seem that confusion is meant to be the order of the day. Somehow our government has decided what you and I should know and should not know about this war.


So, my question to the general would be: Who are we fighting? What will we gain by defeating this enemy and after that glorious victory what will we have accomplished? I mean, Saddam Hussein is dead, his party has been destroyed, the country is destroyed as well and we have gained exactly, what?


By considering some elements of what occurred at the end of World War II as an example for us to consider today, we can begin to ask some pointed questions about what will happen after we leave Iraq. First of all, there seems to have been a need for a learning curve on war and the economy that we never mastered. We did not learn that war is addictive to an economy and to those whose business it is to be at war. We should have learned what roles diplomats can play and how to honor that profession. We should have learned as well that diplomats need to be involved and informed and not political appointees. We should have learned that a world we divide up according to our resource needs and into our friends and our enemies will never get us any closer to a peaceful and secure world. We never learned that when all of us have enough to eat, clean air to breathe, the best medical care possible and a good education that we have made that world possible. What we seem to have learned instead is that we are special and more deserving of everything than anyone else.


We walked out of the European and Asian theatres of war in 1945 like a bloodied giant. The giant had greatness heaped upon it but also assumed it. Yet the citizenry was unprepared for it and elected governments that then went blundering around the world wielding some of the biggest sticks of all—economic assistance tied to military occupation. We see the results of that learning curve today when candidates for president talk about carrot and stick techniques for dealing with other countries. Does it ever occur to us that we are not the only ones whose agenda matters? Do any of these media stars ever ask the candidates why we assume this Skinnerian technique should be pursued? I would have thought that technique died with the doctor who tried to teach children with it.


What we are not looking at is who we became after that war and the kind of scars it left on us. We became frightened of all things foreign and refused to openly debate how to deal with that fear and what it meant. As a nation, we became more interested in our greedy nature than in our kind nature, we pursued the strategies that perpetuated our feelings of entitlement to the detriment of the rest of the world we were a part of but would not acknowledge. We believed that making money was the highest good an individual could achieve and that owning everything was our true national purpose.


Today we look at the results of this and what do we see?  We are badly beaten in Iraq and Afghanistan because we were totally unprepared to do what we wanted to do. We are faced with a growing economic crisis that is not going to disappear just because the media has trouble describing it as well as their admitting to their complicity in it. The planet is suffering too from all of this excess and destruction. We can blame this on our national hubris and perhaps should. If this were a Greek tragedy, once we had acknowledged our own hubris we would then do the right thing even if it cost us our life or our sight. If there were an avenging God who might want to step in at this point, He or She might tell us that we are so off course that we will, like the Israelites who escaped Egypt with Moses, roam the desert for 40 years, and are not deserving of the Promised Land. We will be forced to wander in this desert of unknowing until the new generations are born who will be pure enough, untainted by their forebears sins and thus able to enter into a better time and place.


But given what may be asked of the General now about why our troops are doing what they are doing, perhaps a senator will have the courage to ask him how will we stop the killing and the destruction without causing more killing and destruction?


Maybe the general will go home and take those questions seriously and answer them with the charts and graphs that will show us how to get the American troops out of all foreign countries and bring them home to tend to this one. Will this general be brave enough to answer the real question with real answers?


Maybe if he does that, the media know nothings will shut up and stop labeling everyone who is not rabidly pro-war as a traitor and answer some questions about their motives as well for fostering a war mentality rather than a peaceful one. Who knows where all these questions might lead us but I think it might frighten even a general to begin that march toward truth. We shall see, won’t we?

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Deborah Emin is the founder of the publishing company, Sullivan Street Press (www.sullivanstreetpress.com). She is also the impressario of the Itinerant Book Show as well as the program director of the REZ Reading Series in Kew Gardens, NY. Her (more...)
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