Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Here lies Modern Diplomacy, b. 1945 d. 2003

I've been meaning to find the time to write all day today. In the end, I decided to drop what I was doing to take a few moments to reflect.

First, my friends Mike and Tara have spent some time today collecting their thoughts on the imminent Gulf War II and I encourage you all to read what they have to say. They're both very talented, thoughtful writers and I expect they will have a great deal more to say about this issue in the upcoming weeks and months.

As for me, I'm unsure how to put into words the exact feelings that I'm experiencing right now. In the past, as recently as during armed conflicts in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia, I have followed warfare with fascination rather than fear. I spent hours glued to my television or hitting the refresh button on my browser to make sure that I had as much up-to-date information as possible. I wanted to know what kind of aircraft were involved and what kind of ordnance was being dropped. I wanted to know the players involved and tracked successes and defeats. I watched press conferences and listened to reports from senior Defense officials. But through it all, I had the luxury of detachment. They were all places that were far away and the chances were very small that these conflicts would affect me personally.

This time around, something feels different.

I study news releases less with fascination and more with an impending sense of dread. I think, more than anything else, that for the first time in my life I have realized that, politically, something is going terribly wrong in the world. And it surprises me because I know that it shouldn't have taken this long to realize it. I am aware of many recent atrocities: Rwanda, Chechnya, Israel and Palestine, East Timor. They have all suffered in the name of political will and paid in blood. But even as terrible as events were or continue to be in these places and many many others around the world, I don't know very much about them. They don't affect me as much as they should because I don't have a large personal stake in them.

Does that make me a bad person? I'm not sure. Am I at fault or is it the mainstream media, which filters what we hear and talk about by presenting its biased and self-serving interpretation of world events? But even if the media were to blame, the information is still available if you spend some time looking for it. As a thinking, compassionate human being and, in many respects, a pacifist, shouldn't I be more aware? The answer, of course, is yes. I should be. And yet, I only tend to take notice when the United States is marching off to war again.

Is this war justified? As many people have already said, it's too late to debate justification. It's going to happen. Yet feelings are still strong on both sides of the issue. Over the past few weeks, it has become increasingly clear to me how emotionally-charged it really is. Many of my friends have asked me not to discuss it with them because they are so tired of people arguing about it, and worse, getting angry at them if they had a differing point of view. I can relate. The other day, someone started screaming at me in their living room because I made an argument about the potential war that he refused to recognize. Even more perplexing, another heated argument started the day before when someone else suggested that it was okay for innocent men to die (as opposed to innocent women and children) because "it was men who started the war."

It amazes me how public opinion can be so divided and polarized on this issue. How is the upcoming war so different from other recent military actions? And worse, how are our opinions becoming skewed towards blindly fighting for one side or the other of a very loaded debate to the point that we would say such terrible things to one another?

In just over 24 hours, bombs will start to drop on Iraq. Innocent people are going to die. In a matter of weeks or months, the United States will most likely prevail, and a new, American-sponsored "democratic" Iraq will emerge. Time will tell what will happen after that. What role will the United Nations play in the future? Will it reclaim some of its former authority once the dust has settled? Will Iraq be managed, rebuilt, or supported? Will Iraq become a shadow state like Afghanistan is today? What will the legacy of the war be? Will it be another minor event in world history or will it lead to much greater, and potentially, much more deadly events?

That's a lot of questions to ask all at once. And maybe that's part of why I feel so unsettled. The future, at this point, seems very unclear, and I'm nervous about some of the possibilities. I'm nervous about what's going to happen to innocent Iraqi civilians. I'm nervous about what's going to happen to other innocent civilians around the world in backlash attacks. I'm optimistic about removing a cruel dictator from power but I'm also nervous about the potential destabilization in world politics that it may cause. I'm nervous about any state acting recklessly and invading another state under the pretense that the enemy state may, at some future time, do the exact same thing that they are proposing as a preventative measure. I'm nervous about India and Pakistan, about the Middle East, and about North and South Korea. I'm tired of being nervous.

My heart goes out to everyone who may be directly affected by what's about to happen. Take care of yourselves, and don't forget, especially at times like these, to recognize what's really important in your life and to find joy in as many things as you can. Even the little things can make all the difference.


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