I just read Patrick Mead’s recent post Another Tent Peg Pops Loose, and his fatherly angst brought to mind some that I felt a little over four years ago, and wrote about in my weekly column in the Abilene Reporter-News. I wrote it in the late autumn of 2002, when Matthew was about to turn ten years old, and pretty much everyone in the Western world believed that Iraq was brimming with weapons of mass destruction. I don’t write political commentary in this blog very often, but I do now strongly believe that the administration at that time pulled a stunt like the mythical Governor sang about in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas in his showstopper, “Dance a Little Sidestep.” I believe that some sleight-of-hand about this so-called WMD “intelligence” and Iraqi government sponsorship of Al-Quaeda was presented to distract Americans’ from the unsuccessful attempt to kill or capture Osama Bin Laden, the self-admitted mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Yet it is undeniable that Saddam Hussein practiced genocide within his own country and attempted to annex another. And while I rue my own credulity, and detest the catastrophe that has befallen Iraq and all armed forces there engaged in trying to establish peace, I can have nothing but the deepest admiration for the young people who are willing to serve at the President’s whim and protect their nation to the price of their own lives – even if he may be wrong about where or how that must be done – and admiration for the parents, spouses, children and friends who send them off with their ongoing prayers. If my son chooses to serve, I will not be able to be more proud of him. If he chooses to protest and oppose the war, I will not be able to be more proud of him. He will do it with all his heart, whatever he chooses. But if he chooses to remain silent and do nothing, I will be no more proud of him than I am of myself for having said nothing and done nothing all this time. So here is what I wrote then, and what I felt then, and what I mostly still feel ….
“What war now?” my son asked, appearing at the entrance to our den in his pajamas.
I fumbled for the remote and quickly shut off CNN.
“C’mon,” I redirected him, heading for the kitchen. “Let’s get water for you and your sister. It’s bedtime.”
“What war now?” he persisted.
Matthew’s question came some time back, when sabres were first being rattled in the direction of Iraq and CNN was already discussing strategy. He was already aware of the “conflict” in Afghanistan, which eventually was called “war.”
“It’s possible,” I said hesitantly, “that we will go to war with a country called Iraq, and soon.”
Why do countries ever go to war? I wanted to say, but it was a question beyond adult reason and certainly not an answer to an honest child. I filled two kid cups with ice and water.
“Their leader may have helped the people who destroyed those two buildings in New York and damaged the one in Washington.”
“And crashed that plane?”
“Yes, and crashed that plane.” I gave him his cup and we started upstairs. “He also tried to take a country next to his several years ago and said it was his. When we stopped his army, they set fire to everything they could so no one could have it.”
Matthew thought about it. “So we didn’t really stop him.”
I shook my head. “No, I guess we didn’t.” We were in his room now, and I picked up his globe to point out Iraq. “But if a war does happen, it will happen way over here, on the other side of the world. Nowhere close to us; we’re here. Their missiles can’t go that far.”
Yet, I thought. Yet.
“So we have to go to war to stop him?”
I hedged. “It will cost a lot of money. And a lot of young soldiers may die or be hurt really badly.” For one heart-stopping moment, I saw my little blond, blue-eyed boy very differently: all grown up, and yet just a teenager … wearing desert fatigues and carrying a gun. “But, yes, our president thinks it’s the only thing that will stop him.
“And the sad thing is, he may be right.”
“More than an end to war, we want an end to the beginnings of all wars. Yes, an end to this brutal, inhuman and thoroughly impractical method of settling the differences between Governments. The once powerful malignant Nazi state is crumbling; the Japanese warlords are receiving in their homelands the retribution for which they asked when they attacked Pearl Harbor. But the mere conquest of our enemies is not enough; we must go on to do all in our power to conquer the doubts and the fears, the ignorance and the greed, which made this horror possible.” – What would have been President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s next speech, had not a stroke taken his life the day before he was to deliver it. His son read the message April 13, 1945.