Waiting, One Hand Behind: Our History Books Say We Fight for Freedom. They Don't Say Anything about Going into Battle to Save Face. and Whose Face Are We Trying to Save?

Article excerpt

Byline: Anna Quindlen

I am waiting for something. I'm not sure exactly what it is until my father calls. He is equal parts exasperated and anguished, a man who reads history voraciously and yet is now flabbergasted by current events. "We don't attack first," he says. "That's a given. A professor of mine once said, 'Democracy fights its battles with one hand tied behind its back.' The nature of a true democracy is that it is never the aggressor."

My father's politics are more moderate than my own, although the poles are closer than they were 30 years ago, during Vietnam and Watergate. "You were right about Nixon," he says sometimes to describe the scales falling from his eyes. He is a veteran of the Korean War, a former master sergeant who suffered a skull fracture in a car accident en route to Fort Dix. When he is alarmed by American foreign policy it is worth paying attention, especially because I suspect he is part of a great uneasy silent majority, to use a Nixonian turn of phrase, on the subject of what seems to be an inevitable war.

We are waiting, both of us, for some good reason for a great nation--because it is that, despite all its shortcomings--to make the real argument, the irrefutable argument, the aha! argument for invading Iraq. We are waiting for the argument that requires the judicious hand of democracy to be untied, to strike first.

Saddam Hussein is a murderous dictator. Check. Saddam has made a mockery of the inspections process. Check. He either has developed or is inclined to develop weapons of mass destruction. Check. No world leader has ever so clearly asked to be punished by the world community.

But if Saddam asks, need the United States answer in kind? He lies about weapons; we overstate the link between his country and the Qaeda network that attacked America on September 11. He scoffs at our motives; we belittle any nation that dares to disagree with us. In this administration's zeal for this war, it has come perilously close to lowering the rhetorical standards of a democratic nation to the level of despotic hyperbole.

The New York Post, among others, has resurrected the term "peaceniks" from the Vietnam days; this is Australian for those who believe that war is a last resort (or for actors who have the temerity to think they are entitled to opinions). It is true that I came of age at a place and in a time when pacifism was a ruling principle, and it has become a part of my character. Perhaps it has gone deeper now that I am a mother and am therefore obliged to picture my own children as cannon fodder and Iraqi children as collateral damage. …