America in dismay

April 14, 2003|By Donna M. Owens

I WISH for sweet dreams, slumber free from shouts of war. But the nightmare in Iraq has me tossing and turning until the dawn.

I know I'm not the only one.

Now there are multiple casualties. POWs. Now comes the horrific human toll war caustically demands, and no easy refuge from the anguish we first only imagined but surely knew was imminent.

It's upon us, resounding as loudly as The Star-Spangled Banner at an all-American baseball game.

Oh say can you see soldiers marching headlong into the valley of the shadow of death? By the bombs' early light, broadcast live on CNN, do you see the crimson carnage?

Do you hear mothers weeping for their sons and daughters? The faint sigh of a nation deadlocked in protest, resignation and patriotic pride?

Not since Sept. 11 has the country prayed so fervently. The faithful and not so, fall down on knees turned red, white, black and blue, pleading and negotiating with God.

Let this be a "microwave" war, we pray. "Bring our troops home soon," we repeatedly say.

We earnestly pledge to become better individuals, practice more good will to our fellow man - the very acts of humanity that might have prevented conflict in the first place.

We are a citizenry busy with our own peculiar brand of wartime penance.

Riveted to the video-game sounding "shock and awe" air assaults on television, yet mindful that another "reality" show is just a click away.

Easily slipping words such as Baghdad and Republican Guard into the nouveau war lexicon, while treating peace and harmony like foreign concepts.

To maintain the normal routine, we still drive our SUVs and pickups, chat on cell phones, mindlessly shop and eat. Instead of serious debate on democracy and free speech, we ponder whether to have another brew or tall vanilla latte.

I apologize for the cynicism. The American public deserves to be cut some slack. We are understandably edgy about everything from potential terrorist attacks to the sludge-like economy.

Fear has not only permeated the nation's collective psyche, it has stepped inside our homes, pulled up a chair and eaten a sandwich.

This gnawing uncertainty has served as a de facto clarion call, emboldening our leaders to forge ahead with war regardless of protests, international covenants and future repercussions.

I am neither a George Bush basher nor someone who routinely criticizes our Congress and other public servants. My father is a veteran. I support our courageous troops and their families.

But as a reporter who has covered local and national politics, even interviewed a commander in chief or two, I can't help wondering whether the limousine and Secret Service crowd has somehow placed us in a quagmire that has less to do with diplomacy than reckless arrogance.

America loves to preen and posture on the world stage, more like a haughty peacock than the noble eagle that represents us.

Ours is a proud country, rightfully so. But common sense also dictates that if nations are anything like people, intimidation will only breed resentment, while respect will enable our friendships and alliances to thrive.

How in the world can we drop smart bombs, follow them with humanitarian care packages and blithely assume no irreparable damage to our standing in the global village?

It's a theory as lethal as those precision-guided missiles we launch, but with even more at stake.

In 1991, we fought the Persian Gulf war to liberate the Kuwaitis from Saddam Hussein. In the new millennium, we are fighting, ostensibly, to disarm Mr. Hussein and bring freedom to the Iraqi people. But who, then, will liberate the American people, free us from the vague sense of unease suspended over our homeland, from sea to shining sea?

Battered, shattered by 9/11, we were slowly beginning to heal. Now this?

Don't we deserve an end to the anxiety wrought by the vagaries of hate? Will our legacy to the next generation be duct tape purchases and fretting over Code Orange alerts?

Cannot a nation of decent, mostly God-fearing folks wipe the fairy dust from our eyes and commit to making this war the very last we start or finish? Will we fashion the types of victories that do not dull the luster of this nation's soul or the beautiful world we all inhabit?

I don't pretend to have all the answers. I don't envy our leaders.

I only know I want an America where war widows will not have to clutch neatly folded American flags instead of their beloved spouses.

I yearn for the day when our children have Mom and Dad alive and well to tuck them in, rather than glossy heroes' photos that will make for a sad show-and-tell at school.

I desire a nation where families are not gathered in grief but celebration. And where our raindrop tears denote mostly joy.

I dream of an America where we no longer spend sleepless nights grappling with the heady rituals of war.

Donna M. Owens is a free-lance journalist. She lives in Baltimore.

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