Over dinner recently, a friend of mine mused that “at least it’s not as bad as the McCarthy era.” Perhaps not. But granted that the war against terrorism presents challenges whose form we have not confronted before, the level of secrecy and aversion to rules of both domestic and international law is troubling. Here’s more in the ever-growing list of my concerns about what is happening to our nation.
1. Whose idea was it to make a deck of bad-guy playing cards, of all things? If what Gen. Vincent Brooks says is literally true–that those pictured are to be “pursued, killed or captured”–then this “collectible” deck is little more than a gussied-up hit list. As such, the poker-styled playfulness trivializes what those with no sense of humor might carelessly interpret as our own home-grown fatwa. It is chilling, hearing commentators speak not of Saddam Hussein’s death, but of “taking out the ace of spades.”
2. We must be concerned that Iraqi military casualties are still unaccounted for. One hears estimates of 7,000 Iraqi prisoners of war, 1,800 civilian casualties. But there is not even a rough guess of the number of deaths of soldiers or Republican Guard or paramilitaries or fedayeen or armed villagers. If we speak of “acceptably low” casualties for our side, must not we think about what would be an “unacceptably high” toll on the other? a hundred? a thousand? a million? We wanted to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Given the extraordinary superiority of our military force, does not morality demand that we ourselves not wreak massive destruction, massive injury, massive loss of life? We must know these things.
3. There must be some greater public debate about this new doctrine of “pre-emptive” war. It licenses unprecedented global adventurism. Yet discussion of it seems stymied by the Bush Administration’s rather skillful employ of the rhetoric of displaced agency. The war was repeatedly described as “Saddam’s choice.” Saddam left us “no option.” This is the moral equivalent of saying, “The devil made me do it.” The truth is, we chose to invade after a good bit of forethought, not under the threat of immediate attack. Whether one thinks this lowered standard is good or bad, we must not fool ourselves into thinking we were passive. We must take full responsibility for our role as agents and instigators.
4. Everywhere, it seems, there are unexplained disappearances and detentions. This week I’m in Indiana, where an item in the Bloomington Herald-Times reads, “One of our students brought us this disturbing news: her father, a naturalized American citizen from India, had disappeared from the New York airport upon his return from a business trip to Germany. It was verified that he was on the flight and his luggage showed up at the family home a few days later…. After frantic calls to hospitals, police, relatives, even the FBI, the family hired a lawyer.” Almost a week later, the FBI admitted that they had him; and after three weeks and the intervention of the Indian Ambassador to the United States, the father, a prominent advertising executive, was ultimately released. There were no charges and, still, no explanation.