A few years ago, I met a great guy. He was warm and good-natured. He told funny stories. We hit it off immediately, which was good, since he was going to marry my sister.
And since the wedding, they have been blissfully happy. They gave the family a baby this year, a little boy. Last week, at Thanksgiving, we made fools of ourselves gurgling in baby talk.
Normally, I would not worry about this man, my brother-in- law, except that he is part of the military. Having spent 10 years as a Navy fighter pilot, he is now a high-ranking officer in the reserves. If the situation in the Persian Gulf gets any worse, he will be called upon to do that which every family dreads: kiss us good-bye and go off to war.
At least we used to dread it. I’m not so sure anymore. On Thursday, the United Nations gave its blessing to the use of American force, should Iraq fail to clear out of Kuwait by mid- January. It was, simply put, license to kill. And suddenly, there is this feeling of impatience, of people itching to pull a war trigger.
On a national radio program Friday afternoon, Americans were interviewed across the country, a man-on-the-street thing. Their responses were startling:
“I think we should get in there and do what we came there to do.” . . . “We shouldn’t leave our boys sitting in the desert. Let ’em fight.” . . . “Saddam Hussein is a madman and has to be stopped. If lives are lost, it’s worth it.”
Know what the fight is for
Isn’t it funny? Not long ago, even the mention of war sent nausea through the American psyche. Vietnam boiled in our blood. We were not lifting a rifle.
We would fight no more forever.
But slowly, things have changed. The unthinkable has become thinkable again. First, Ronald Reagan had his little exercise in Grenada, where war — and victory — was once again tasted and, by some, even rolled on the tongue and enjoyed. Now our troops pile into the Saudi desert, hundreds of thousands of innocent young men and women, and where is the horror? We are like a boxer whose head has cleared, we are standing again, curling our gloves and saying
“Come on, come on.”
But for what? I still can’t find anyone who is 100 percent clear on our intentions in the Middle East. Are we there to a) save Kuwait? b) protect Saudi Arabia? c) murder Saddam Hussein? d) nip a nuclear threat? e) keep the oil companies in big profits?
If there was any lesson from Vietnam, it seemed to be this: First, learn what you’re fighting for. Be skeptical of political speeches. Yet today, we hear the rantings of Hussein, a despicable figure, and we hear the promises of
President Bush — “We will not be intimidated” — we see gas prices going up and our troops in the desert and suddenly, we are agitated, impatient, we act as if this is a sporting event where the time-out is taking too long. Hey, we’re ready. Give us the ball. Let’s rumble.
But this is not sports. This is not a game. These are real bullets that leave men bent and paralyzed. Real grenades that sizzle flesh and split limbs from the torso. This is not Grenada, nor the Falkland Islands. This could be a war that drags on and on, with reports every night on someone’s brother, someone’s father, someone’s son, lying in a heap with blood trickling from his mouth.
Where is our horror?
Jumping the gun
Now, understand. There are certainly times when we have no choice but to lift a weapon. To me, that comes when our very lives are threatened, when our homes and families are in mortal danger.
Is that the case right now? Hussein is a cold-blooded dictator, but he has been for years, and we never stepped in until he turned his wrath on an oil-rich nation. People rumble about his rush to develop a nuclear weapon — but, to be brutally frank, Hussein would not be the only one with nuclear weapons.
So what is this about? Big business? Political power? How come the world is condemning Iraq, but it is mostly Americans sitting in the desert? Are we too impatient to wait for the effects of economic sanctions — the isolation of Iraq from food, supplies, outside income?
Or is it like that line from the movie “Reds,” in which an old woman says,
“Men like war. If they didn’t, they would have stopped it a long time ago.”
I, too, hate Hussein. I, too, hate the oil powers that make it so expensive even to heat a home. I feel furious at this stalemate, as if someone is poking me in the chest and I can’t respond. But then I think about my sister without a husband, or my baby nephew without a father. And I remember something: This is still war we’re talking about. And the first rule of war is that young men die.
Are we really in that much of a hurry?
Mitch Albom’s columns appear regularly in the Detroit Free Press sports section.