At the risk of becoming very unpopular in this time of heightened nationalism, I have to say I don't think we should be talking of war. Like everyone else, I am scared, and I am so very sorry for the people who lost loved ones in the plane crashes and building collapses.
I am upset to see my youngest child's playtime turn into a Lego re-enactment of the World Trade Center destruction, complete with a rescue helicopter, which flew in only to find no survivors. The other day he built a Playmobil version of Osama bin Laden's mountain hideout. All this, even though we've strictly limited television viewing in our house since Sept. 11.
But war? Who, exactly, is the enemy? It seems to me that the United States, especially in the latter half of the 20th century, has done plenty to create antagonism against us in the wider world.
In my lifetime, there was the fiasco of the Vietnam conflict, never officially called a war though the casualties were terribly high for such "undeclared" hostilities, and the emotional scars have yet to heal.
I still haven't figured out what Operation Desert Storm proved, except that we could temporarily halt the public anti-U.S. grandstanding of Saddam Hussein while starving the innocent civilians of his country. Medical supplies, normally a humanitarian effort exempt from wartime prohibitions, were cut off. Do many Americans know the terrible toll this took among Iraqi children, who died by the thousands of intestinal diseases?
And yet our public officials spoke only, as always, of the loss of American life, as if no other lives on this planet are so valuable.
This is the arrogant face of America we show the world. This is the face that turns away from worldwide efforts to stem environmental assault, the face that closes its eyes against an international conference on racism. This is the face, cloaked in plenty, that looks so smug to the rest of the world.
None of this excuses the senseless slaughter resulting from attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I, too, recoil in horror from the images and the daily tolling of more and more victims. I, too, have sought solace at candlelight vigils and religious services. And I feel tears welling when our national anthem is played.
But there's another song that is more meaningful to me, more thoughtful than "God Bless America." I prefer the lyrics of "America the Beautiful," especially the part that cautions, "Confirm thy soul in self-control. . . ."
I urge President Bush and his advisers to ponder those words. Let's not be so quick to whip up mob sentiment and toss loaded words like "war" about as if this were a sporting event and the United States is vying for the world title. With nuclear capability spread like a seeping poison around the globe, there can be no victors.
We would do better to deliberate, to consider what has led to this sorry state in our national history. Perhaps we have too long been beholden to corporate interests in this country.
Perhaps it is time to say no to the big oil companies and the overweening notion of profit, as if capitalism were our national god. Perhaps it's time to revisit the storied ideals that led to the birth of our country.
Do we still believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or is that just for a privileged few and only in America? In the words of another anthem, the Byrds in "Turn, Turn, Turn" talk of a season and ". . . a time for peace, I swear it's not too late."
MARIA SCRIVANI lives in Buffalo.
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