The war at home

War in Iraq is coming. Whether we want it or not, it is all but inevitable that U.S. forces will invade the country to depose Saddam Hussein and rid the country of its illegal weapons. The war, most analysts agree, will come by mid-March, just as the desert moon goes into hiding and before temperatures begin to rise. But with the question of war all but settled, save for any 11th-hour grace, what are we as citizens now to do?

The first responsibility is to engage the political process. Through letters to congressmen and women, protests, letters to the editor and other avenues we execute democracy. It’s far from a perfect system, but it is the one we’ve got. And it can work. Although he was largely dismissive, President George W. Bush was forced to acknowledge opposition to war plans due to the sheer size and impressive coordination of last week’s global protests. Public opinion matters – all politicians must listen to it, even if they “respectfully disagree.” So as war comes, let your voice be heard.

A second responsibility is to support the troops. A clear line must be drawn between those who fight in war and the war itself. The United States shamefully forgot this lesson in Vietnam and, sadly, some veterans of that war never fully recovered from the disorienting effects of returning from hell to a nation that viewed them as monsters. Because they are the ones who actually serve on the front lines, U.S. troops tend to be among the most reluctant to use force. Many in the military feel this war in Iraq is misguided. But nearly all understand that it is their duty to go where called. Americans must challenge policy where appropriate but support troops as called for.

A third responsibility is to help efforts to relieve the human costs of a war. War inevitably brings civilian casualties – collateral damage, as the Pentagon calls it. No smart bomb yet has been able to reduce to zero the potential for mistake. In response, human rights organizations are amassing their own armies outside Iraq, ready to handle the refugee crisis and vast health problems, and to help rebuild the country after a war. Many of these organizations are grossly under-funded and understaffed. Donations and service are two ways Americans can help alleviate the human toll.

War, in the past, has demanded national sacrifice. War materials rationing and the collective efforts of Americans at home have helped us win past conflicts. Times have changed and curiously sacrifice is no longer demanded of us. The charge from our president is, instead, to buy duct tape and take vacations. But as this war comes, we still have a responsibility to be engaged in the process. This war, after all, will be waged in your name.