My Turn: A veteran's perspective on the war

Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Almost 55 years ago I was drafted into the Army right out of high school. I served in France and in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium during the bitter winter of 1944-45. It was not a happy experience, but I was absolutely convinced, as were all of us, that our cause was just, and that we were fighting against a powerful and evil enemy, who without provocation, had attacked his neighbors and actually was a threat to world security.

I have some resentment now over feeling the need to declare that I am a patriotic American, that I love my country and that I honor and respect the young people who serve in our armed forces. From this perspective I must say that I consider the war just concluded to have been an unjust and illegal war. Even through the haze of propaganda provided by the television news outlets, it becomes obvious that the war was sold to the American people by use of untruths, perpetuated by people in authority in our government. It is not denied that forged and otherwise invalid documents were utilized in this country and in Britain to justify this war in the eyes of the public.

There is something almost bizarre about this president - a man who took pains to avoid serving his country in Vietnam and who was elected to the presidency despite receiving fewer votes than his opponent - ordering America's armed forces into this war. He did so in the face of overwhelming world-wide disapproval. He did so after deceiving Congress and intimidating the faint-hearted members of that body into passing a resolution giving him a free hand for adventurism in the Middle East. He did so in violation of international law. He did so even though reliable intelligence sources had determined that Saddam Hussein posed no danger to the security of our country, that Iraq was a long way from being capable of utilizing "weapons of mass destruction."

During the weeks leading up to the attack on Iraq, it became obvious that President Bush was devoid of interest in views not supportive of his determination to take the nation into war. There was to be no consideration of ideas unless they were in accord with the convictions held by the war-mongering group he has gathered into his inner circle. This tragic war and its ominous consequences might have been avoided. In his unwillingness to listen to alternatives, the president failed us.

I am profoundly grateful the fighting in Iraq has ended, that American soldiers and their British colleagues are no longer at risk from the dangers of combat, that bombs and missiles aren't falling on Iraqi cities anymore, and that an end has come to the killing and maiming of innocent people. Moreover, like everyone else who reads these pages, I am gratified that the murderous criminal Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge of that benighted country.

But I take no joy in the victory. We are already seeing chaos and disorder; we are seeing a nation shattered and the prospect of further suffering for thousands of Iraq's people. To consider the longer term consequences of this war is heartbreaking. The consequences that unfold over the months and years to come could be more devastating than the war itself. Devastation, suffering and disease inevitably follow when cataclysmic violence is unleashed. And it is naive to believe that the death and agony inflicted on thousands of innocent people - many of them children - will not be graven into the consciousness of millions of people throughout Islam, indeed, throughout the Third World. If we choose, we can close our eyes to the facts and declare total faith in the veracity of the Bush administration, but we need to understand that millions of people throughout the world hold an absolute conviction that this war would not have been launched had it not been for the oil under the sands of Iraq. For at least a generation to come, while our industries may hum and cheaper gasoline may be available for our SUVs, we Americans need to understand that we have taken up residence in the mill-race of a colossal reservoir of resentment and hatred.

Charles Campbell of Douglas served with the 17th Airborne Division in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.

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