American Good Will

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Bullying will snuff world's good will

By Jim Wright

Celebrating the season of "Peace on Earth, good will to men," let us pray that our leaders may rightly appraise the long-term consequences of their decisions.

For months, it has been clear that George W. Bush intends to attack Iraq and with sufficient force to drive Saddam Hussein from power. Without doubt, we have the military capability to do so. At what cost, we must ask, and is it worth it?

Not alone the price in human lives in what, considering our military superiority, should be a relatively short war, but at what cost to our long-term relations with that great, spreading segment of humanity called Islam that today numbers more than 1 billion people?

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Do we suppose that by showing muscle and pounding Iraq's government into the ground, we will impress on the Arab lands and peoples the fact that the United States is to be respected? Or will they simply see us as a bully to be feared?

What of that mad handful of violent terrorists who hate us enough already to risk and even invite death just to kill Americans? Is beating up on Iraq likely to deter them? Or will it give them new fodder?

Israel has tried for years to dissuade Palestinian suicide bombers by massive retaliations against their villages.

Yet the increasing force and vehemence of Israeli retaliations, instead of intimidating or snuffing out the fanatical enemy, have only induced more intense hatred and expanded recruitment of "martyrs."

Who shall be next? If our criterion of attack be not proof but suspicion, do we next invade Iran? North Korea? Syria? Pakistan? Don't think that Muslims aren't asking this question.

The evil of war lies not solely in the lethal toll that its weapons inflict but in what war does to the human spirit. War is the ultimate dehumanizer, leading people on both sides to hate, to crave vengeance and ultimately to glorify killing and destruction.

There are times when war cannot be avoided. If external military aggression jeopardizes a nation and its way of life, its people have no choice. But are we there?

The 20th century's greatest improvement in international behavior was the clear-cut differentiation between armed aggression and self-defense, between the aggressor and the aggressed-upon.

Statesmen, striving for a civilized world community, outlawed aggression and pledged common purpose with aggression's victims everywhere.

Our country has prided itself in its peacefulness. We were the nation, we told ourselves, that didn't start wars, didn't strike the first blow.

We respected the sanctity of human life, honored the rights of people to disagree, never sought to impose our ways on others by force. That, at least, was our self-image and our public profession.

In the aftermath of World War II, instead of humiliating fallen foes and demanding reparations, we offered financial, material and technical assistance in their rehabilitation. Winston Churchill called our Marshall Plan "the most unsordid act in history."

We would be different. If we didn't always fully live up to our principles, at least we had some and felt shame if we failed to exhibit them.

Sadly, some others came to mistrust us, and a few came to hate us because they envied us.

But if our riches make us the envy of the world, at least some of our behavior made us an inspiration to developing nations everywhere.

The cruelest thing that any self-appointed enemy could do to us would be to rob us of our character.

The little coterie of crazed fanatics who planned and carried out the bestial Sept. 11 slaughter of innocents cannot defeat us unless they can make us abandon our principles and be as they are.

If they can make us hate, if they can make us obsess over "getting even" by inflicting injury on other innocents - as they have done to some of us - then they, the haters, will have won.

If they can make us sacrifice constitutional rights or mistrust one another in our consuming fear of them or abandon our efforts for a more egalitarian society, then they will have damaged far more than the World Trade Center.

They will have distorted our fundamental character.

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Mediocre times produce the very worst that the world has to offer: Reagan, Bin Laden, Bush, Hussein, Sharon, and Blair. None but the feeble minded could draw inspiration from such a ghastly lineup of "leaders".

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