Honest doubts good for health of nation at war


January 22, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

The people on the radio have the sound of machine guns in their voices. They want the war protesters taken out and shot at dawn on "Good Morning, America." I couldn't agree with them less.

Am I against this war? Don't ask me that for a few more paragraphs, OK? It's not the war I'm talking about, it's people's memories. I think they were shot off in the last war.

"Why doesn't one of his own people kill him?" I heard a woman say on the radio.

She was talking about Saddam Hussein. Her thinking seems to be: If it's so clear to everybody around here that Hussein's a barbarian, then why isn't it clear to someone in Iraq, someone close to Hussein or someone in one of those little manufactured street rallies they tape for TV consumption, one lousy person in that whole country who can see the destruction he's wreaking and has the courage to end it instead of marching lock-step with all the other Iraqis?

And that's precisely why I couldn't agree less with the callers on the radio, the ones who want to machine gun the anti-war protesters.

In America, we don't march lock-step. We're allowed to disagree with the government, and to be loud about it. Or, if we choose, we can disagree with those disagreeing with the government, and yet still love the fact that they're out there disagreeing.

This tells us that democracy still works. It says we're still forced to pay some attention to each other, still forced to think things through, which means that our leaders have to be accountable, too. In the course of conducting a specific war, they must also remember citizens who are in a constant anti-war movement.

"Anti-war movement?"

Dr. Eric Belgrad raised his eyebrows quizzically when the question was put to him. He is a political science professor at Towson State University, and we'd been talking for several minutes about the war.

Belgrad was speaking words that have begun to sound like a kind of military mantra: Easily won air war. Knock out their missiles. But then . . .

"They'll take the blows and take the blows and then wait for us to attack," he said. "And then comes the blood bath. We can cut off their lines of supply and their lines of communication, but

they're well dug in. We may be stuck with going in after them. If we are, then comes the bloody part."

In the last major war, as the bloody part lengthened, so did the protests at home. Much of it came on college campuses, where the war wasn't merely something played out on television sets over dinner but a shadow of death hanging over every healthy male.

On college campuses around here, the anti-war movement hasn't really sprung to life -- in part because many students are still on semester break. But what happens when they come back?

The immediate possibilities aren't what they used to be. There is no draft. The government still talks of a relatively swift conclusion to the war. In fact, there are only detached signs of war in our community meeting place, the television set.

Instead, we get "Star Wars" diagrams. We get military men telling us the type of planes they are flying, and the number of sorties flown, but nothing indicating humanity in trouble. We might as well be watching the radio. We don't see bodies, we don't see pain. It's war, yeah, but it's also carefully orchestrated to keep us from actually seeing very much of the war.

One military man warns we're not going to get into a body count game like the last war.

Another military man warns we're not going to allow photographs of men coming home in body bags like the last war.

There are reporters in the various Persian Gulf capitals and military bases, but their movements are limited. They interview soldiers, but military public relations people hover a few feet away. It wasn't always like this in the last war, which is one reason support for the last war came apart.

And so there is more than an anti-war movement to remind us of the last war. There is also the memory of lies being told to the nation at large.

And it means that, this time around, each of us wonders: Do I know everything I'm supposed to know about this war, or are things being kept from us?

The idealist in each of us says Hussein needed to be stopped. Kuwait falls today, and who knows what other place falls tomorrow? On that count, yeah, let's go get him. And so we hear of the military victories, and our blood races.

The technology seems to protect us. Human beings are hidden from us. After the second night of air attacks, Representative Helen Delich Bentley reminds us how the once-slandered defense industry should be praised for these magnificent weapons. In fact, though, that's where we begin to smell a setup. These weapons were designed for potential war with the Soviet Union. If they can't finish off a war against Iraq, what would they do in war against the Soviets?

The last war taught us to question each new war. Do we support the troops in the Persian Gulf? Of course. What we question, though, is whether the troops are being used as pawns. Could we have kept talking longer? We simply don't know what the government knows. We don't know because the government won't tell us everything it knows. It won't tell us, because it's conducting a war. OK, but exactly why did we get to war?

And so, even as we marvel at some of the technology, even as we cheer on our countrymen, even as we agree Saddam Hussein is a barbarian who must be stopped in some way, a little voice is calling in our ear.

It's the voice of protesters, reminding us to keep questioning.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.