We can feel safe, even if we question war PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

Dan Rodricks

January 24, 1991|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,Staff Writer

AN OLD WOMAN called me on the phone Monday night to tell how, when she was a young girl, she lived near a town that was bombed by airplanes. She was terrified. Her family huddled in their basement for hours at a time. It was a nightmare. Now, when the old woman watches the television and hears about the bombing missions over Baghdad, she relives that frightening time of her life.

The woman who called me was born in Poland. Her family moved to Germany during World War II.

Bombs and war are foreign to Americans at home. It's probably a good bet that, unless your parents or grandparents lived somewhere in Europe, Africa, Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East or Central America during the last 50 years, no one in your family ever lived in a country torn apart by war. It has been 126 years since a war was fought in the United States. Since then, when Americans fought wars, they went thousands of miles from home to do the fighting. We are very lucky that in our life, war has never come to our neighborhoods, our farmland, our beaches.

A lot of boys and girls in other countries know war in very real ways. The guns are real and the jets are real and the bombs and rockets are real. That's what boys and girls in Baghdad are probably hearing now -- bombs and rockets. I can't tell you what they are seeing, but it must be very scary.

There are many reasons grown-ups give for the war in the Persian Gulf.

People say that, unless we stopped Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he would try to attack and invade more countries and develop weapons that could kill lots of innocent people, maybe even people at home in America.

That could be true. Hussein spent a lot of money buying weapons and building up his army. We do the same thing in the United States. We spend billions of dollars on weapons, but it's ++ mostly for the defense of the country. We don't invade countries unless we don't like their leaders (Grenada and Panama).

Saddam Hussein is a dictator. In Iraq, no one is free to challenge him. In the United States, if we don't like what the president does, we can vote him out of office. If, for instance, the president threatened to do something stupid, like invade Canada, we could use our democratic powers to control him or show him the door.

A lot of people -- but far from most people -- are protesting the war in the Persian Gulf. You have probably heard that these people are hurting our country.

This isn't true. Many of the people who protest this war -- aside from the really far-out goonies who burn flags to get on TV -- do so because they hate war. They don't think war is an answer to problems. In some really extreme cases, like World War II, the only answer was for the United States to get involved. Americans who lived through World War II believe we saved the world.

This time, it's a lot different. People compare Saddam Hussein to Hitler and they're right; both were evil. But Saddam Hussein's country was not a growing industrial superpower like Hitler's Germany. Iraq needed the help of other countries to get weapons. While Hitler invaded many countries, Hussein has managed to invade only one country -- Kuwait.

And we stopped him there!

President Bush brought together a group of countries against Saddam Hussein. We stopped him from invading Saudi Arabia. And by refusing to buy his oil, we prevented Hussein from getting more money for more weapons. A lot of people think we should have waited longer, surrounded Iraq and cut it off from the rest of the world. They think that would have worked.

Now, unfortunately, we'll never know because now we are at war.

It's a sad thing for everyone on earth. So many people have been hurt by war over the last 100 years, you would have thought grown-ups learned a lesson -- that war is not an answer, even when some mean dictator practically begs for it.

When you're young, you have to have dreams. You have to think BIG. So isn't it possible for smart and civilized people to think BIG and come together and isolate the world's bad guys and put them out of power without dropping a lot of bombs, without killing a lot of people? It would take longer, but it would sure be a more peaceful way of achieving the goal. We'd have an even better future because of it.

Many people believe that in their hearts.

That's why some people protest, why some people are confused and sad, why a lot of people have questions about the war, why some people support the troops but aren't sure they support the war.

Remember, it's OK to feel that way. It's OK to ask questions. In fact, in the United States, it's your right.

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