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Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Nick Ut 

By David Podvin

A Vietnam veteran once described war as being the worst experience a human being can ever endure. Recall the darkest moment of your life – the most degrading, the most agonizing, the most traumatizing. War is worse, even for those who survive. Far worse.

The sanitized version of war that Americans will soon see on television is going to be a lie. Viewers will witness a clean, high tech victory designed to produce soaring presidential approval ratings and ticker tape parades. What they will not witness is war. War is panic and confusion, heartbreak and cruelty, suffering and death. It is not glorious – it is tragic. War is a pair of lifelong friends never seeing each other again. War is an inconsolable mother clutching an empty crib. War is a village of loving families becoming a village of rotting corpses.

War is barbaric. It is evil. Declaring war is the most serious act that can possibly be undertaken. It is an announcement that we are morally obligated to kill people, and an acknowledgment that many innocents will die in the process. When done in good faith, a declaration of war is made only after all other options have failed, and then with the greatest reluctance and lack of enthusiasm. This is the way moral leaders approach war, because they understand that war means doing something that is totally depraved until you consider the extenuating circumstances, and even then…

That is why war cannot be justified except in the most extreme situations. The difference between war and murder is the element of self-defense; absent that factor, there is no distinction. When the need to conduct a war cannot be easily explained, and the evidence to warrant a war is nowhere to be found, and the war happens anyway, then something is horribly wrong.

World War II is an example of a justifiable war. The United States was militarily assaulted, innocent Americans were killed, and a real axis of evil was vowing to conquer the world. That explains why President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not have to endlessly flail for justification – it was obvious. When you resolve to kill people, the rationale should be crystal clear.

Roosevelt chose to kill the people who had declared war on America. There was no sleight of hand; he did not have to embellish the threat or invent nonexistent enemy alliances. He did not use the war as a pretext to create an empire. He fought the war in the way wars should be fought on those horrible occasions when they are absolutely unavoidable – he counterattacked the forces that were aggressing.

FDR refrained from massacring civilian noncombatants in countries that were unable to harm us. He avoided annihilating nations that had not threatened to hurt us. And there certainly is no example of him preemptively attacking a sovereign state that had neither the proven ability nor the expressed intention to destroy us.

As a result, Franklin Delano Roosevelt must be classified as a “wartime president”, which is not to be confused with a “warlord president”.

While there is only one valid reason for going to war, there are numerous vile reasons. Craving another country’s resources is a vile reason to go to war. Diverting the nation’s attention from domestic problems is a vile reason to go to war. Seeking to prove your manhood is a vile reason to go to war. Avenging your father is a vile reason to go to war.

This nation despises Charles Manson, who never personally murdered anyone, but who organized the killings of several unarmed people in an attempt to expedite a race war that he believed was inevitable. People abhor Manson because he embodies the evil side of our nature, the brutal slaying of innocent human beings who pose no threat.

On February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell will publicly present the case for the United States to go into Iraq and kill countless unarmed people with what one Pentagon official has described as “an unprecedented high tech assault that will leave no safe place in Baghdad for anyone to hide.” If Powell cannot show compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction, it means that we are preparing to engage in the brutal slaying of innocent human beings who pose no threat.

War will be justified when Powell can present an evidentiary case that the people of America are facing imminent danger from Iraq. George W. Bush has never been able to offer any proof, which does not inspire confidence in the credibility of his subordinate's eleventh hour presentation. What should be required is indisputable evidence, not a cynical ultimatum to "side with us or side with Saddam” – such a gambit would merely confirm that the administration is desperate for an easy military victory to keep its poll numbers from plunging back to their pre-Osama depths. In the absence of new evidence, the upcoming war will be nothing but a mass murder conducted under the pretext of protecting this country.

The American people have a choice to make. We can risk being smeared as unpatriotic by now demanding honest answers from those who claim that war is the only true path to peace. Or we can play it safe, go along with the program, and obediently allow a slaughter of civilians to be committed in our name. It is finally decision time here in the home of the brave.

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Last changed: December 13, 2009