In this week’s issue, along with printing the results of the ‘controversial Harbus Poll’, in the special “HBS at Wartime” section, we asked several students, as the start of a continuing dialogue on the topic, what their initial opinions of the war have been. As far as my personal initial feeling about the war, I’m still torn. The entire experience is surreal, and I feel a lot of anxiety for our soldiers and for the Iraqi people and our future as a country. I, as much as anyone, don’t want weapons of mass destruction in the hands of the dangerous and irresponsible. I also understand that financial and commercial motives may lie beneath certain countries’ reluctance to support the war. But in spite of that, I have to wonder, why are there so many citizens and nations against the war if Hussein is so dangerous? I also have trouble resisting a conflict that presents the specter of not only thousands of U.S. deaths (some Defense Department estimates predict that 1 in 3 American soldiers could die in large scale urban combat during the siege of Baghdad), but a loss for Iraqis (many innocent, some not) in the tens of thousands. I understand that Iraq perhaps is in violation of UN resolutions, but I also understand that other countries have been in violation of UN resolutions for decades without repercussions for equally pernicious reasons. This question of our presence in Iraq will probably not be resolved in my mind for years. In the short term, it’s very important to me that we find weapons of mass destruction to show the world that we were justified in launching a preemptive attack.
Additionally, against what we have demonstrated in the past, it’s key that we install a stable, secure government in Iraq that respects cultural sensitivities, maintains dignity for the Iraq people, and allows us, the States, to maintain long term relationship with the new government. We have to remember that Hussein was once our ally in spite of his brutal use of chemical weapons against our former enemy Iran; what we are searching in terms of chemical weapons is a legacy from that program, weapons we supplied Iraq. We can’t repeat the same mistakes, or we are going to have to continue to have to clean them up, with increasingly higher and deadly stakes. We have to make decisions that are better for our long term interests, and obviously, better interest of the people we are promising to liberate.
Given these stakes, I am troubled by our administration’s argument and message about why this destruction is necessary, and why this alternative is best for our soldiers, the region, and the Iraqi people. In the field of vision of the most highly televised war in history (a note that we mentioned during Vietnam, the first Gulf War, again today in our invasion of Iraq, and certainly into the future), the Bush Administration has failed to make a compelling argument for the war, not only to the world wide stage, but also to the American people. The early days of the war have reveals several widespread massive protests in the world’s biggest cities led by the usual suspects, but also veterans of U.S. wars and families of those that died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Many, especially current and ex-military here at HBS, have made the argument that given that the war has started, we need to give our troops our full support. I hope that every American is pulling for our soldiers who make tremendous sacrifices that non-military people don’t even comprehend. I have two brothers that currently serve in the U.S. Army, the older of which fought and was wounded against Al-Queda in Afghanistan, allowing me to fully understand not only the anxiety of potentially losing a loved one, but also the need to convey to our soldiers that at home we are unquestionably pulling for their safety and success.
But, I’m not sure if displaying support for the troops is paramount to the main question, which is – is this war good for the U.S. and good for the world? Display of support for the troops lives should be a default response. Alternatively, if someone was to feel that the war was wrong, maybe their interpretation of support of troops is working to bring them home quickly.
I feel that at these heightened moments, we as citizens need to remain vigilant and critical of our government’s motives, adherence to prescribed agendas, and actions, especially given the unpopularity and controversy surrounding the current operation. I’m not ready to give unconditional loyalty to our administration, even and perhaps especially in times of war. I need to make sure the war is fair and just. Herman Goering, arguably the second most powerful leader within the Nazi leadership once said:
“Naturally the common people don’t want war: Neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” [ -Hermann Goering, during the Nuremberg trials – excerpt from: Gilbert, G.M. Nuremberg Diary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Company, 1947 (pp. 278-279)]
Not that the same is true today, but it could be, as exacerbated by the strong call to loyalty after the 9/11 attacks. Given the awesome and nearly unlimited power and influence of our government, we need to perform in this role to perform a check and balance that sometimes will not be performed by other governmental branches or the media.
Is it so un-American to protest? It’s not only American, it’s a basic right that we should enjoy and use as guaranteed by our Constitution. It seems contradictory that we should suppress a basic constitutional right under certain conditions. Vietnam was a horribly planned and executed, hugely inequitable war, but through that experience, we have learned the value of protest in the light of displeasure with foreign policy. Vietnam was a largely racist war from the African American perspective. 30% of the ground troops in Vietnam were African American while we made up only 12% of the population. Draft deferments were another huge controversy. How can anyone expect my undying loyalty to that cause? Had protests not occurred and voiced public dissent from the government’s agenda, the war could have been even worse.
I’m not suggesting such is the case today by any means, however, it’s not far fetched that the government will launch a military strike that I fundamentally disagree with. I’m not also suggesting that anyone should protest the war or show support for the war in the form of a demonstration. I’m meaning calling for the understanding that this is a way to be active in the process and that it’s fundamental to the freedom that we enjoy in the United States. We, and the media, should support our troops, but absolutely should not give the government card blanche to operate under the blanket of reactive patriotism.
Editor In Chief