Letters

Readers respond to "Liberation Day" by Gary Kamiya.


Salon Staff
April 16, 2003 2:47AM (UTC)

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Wow. Gary Kamiya's essay is without doubt the single finest piece of writing about this war that it has ever been my privilege to read. At the risk of sounding trite, the essay has power.

This is what Salon is for: the nuanced, intelligent -- and more important, honest -- analysis that the mainstream media has totally failed to provide us. My hat is off to Mr. Kamiya.

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-- Will Martin

I was literally disgusted after reading Gary Kamiya's column. I have read the following paragraph several times and still cannot believe what I read. Mr. Kamiya asserted as follows:

"I have a confession: I have at times, as the war has unfolded, secretly wished for things to go wrong. Wished for the Iraqis to be more nationalistic, to resist longer. Wished for the Arab world to rise up in rage. Wished for all the things we feared would happen. I'm not alone: A number of serious, intelligent, morally sensitive people who oppose the war have told me they have had identical feelings."

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Are you kidding me? And you antiwar folk wonder why many call you un-American.

It's one thing to disagree with American policy, but quite another to come out and state that you wish your own country experienced greater casualties. This is truly a terrible piece of anti-Americanism. Kamiya should be quite ashamed of himself.

-- Joseph Pritzky

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Kudos to Gary Kimaya for his heartfelt opinion, "Liberation Day." He captured the schizophrenia that many of us feel as well. I particularly admire his courage in admitting a wish that things go badly for the coalition. I'm sure he'll catch a predictable crap load of highly indignant moral outrage for this remark.

The thing is, everyone has "morally" ambiguous feelings from time to time. If you don't, you're either simple-minded or a sociopath.

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How many Americans, right after 9/11, had some variation on the fleeting thought that if we bombed the Middle East into oblivion, things would be better and safer for everyone? I'd say all of us, even a leftie like me. I'm not proud of it, but I thought it.

It's important that we recognize the complexity of the action we're taking and its ethical consequences. I would beware of anyone who claims no doubts, no fears, no questions.

-- Cate Kortzeborn

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Gary Kamiya's insightful column unfortunately did not include the foundations of what he describes as moral schizophrenia.

I was opposed to this war from the start, way back when the media pretended that the decision to invade had not yet been made. But since I was a kid I thrilled at pictures of dictators fleeing countries -- the Shah of Iran, Somaza, Baby Doc, Marcos, etc. The sight of ruthless bastards scurrying to planes in the dark of night to run from the people who would no longer tolerate them was beautiful. It is the same feeling I get as I watch statues of Saddam Hussein tumbling to the ground. I don't care if this reflects well on Bush. I don't care if he gets a boost in the polls from this. I'm glad the active war appears to be over, even though I'm convinced this day of jubilation will be stained by a lot of blood yet to flow.

So far, Kamiya and I appear to be making the same argument, but he has forgotten something that I haven't -- that almost all of those dictators, Saddam included, were once our allies. And that back when I hated these bastards, most of America's right wing was sneering at me for being naive about world affairs.

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These are the roots of the schizophrenia that Kamiya describes. While the total focus on Saddam's brutality by Bush and Blair worked wonders at stifling criticism and changing the goals into a noble pursuit, it was never anything more than the cynical and calculated use of rhetoric. Bush has no intention of freeing oppressed people across the globe. The triumphalist braying of his supporters would quickly turn to scornful lectures on world reality if a Democrat were to suggest a war of liberation.

The triumph of Karl Rove's strategy to focus entirely on human rights is less important than freeing people from a totalitarian ruler. But please don't suggest that Dubya gives a rat's ass about liberating anyone from anything, other than his wealthy supporters from those cumbersome taxes.

-- Bernard Gundy

Gary Kamiya has perfectly summarized the internal conflict this conflict entails. Reason is against the war; compassion is for it. The whole thing's backward.

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It comes from the paradox built into the very idea of a war that takes only weeks and costs few lives. I have heard it said that the death rate among American soldiers was lower than the average for the same age group among males in civilian life, though I haven't seen that confirmed. And while Iraqis have deeply suffered, much more than American media have been willing to show, can we say that this suffering is worse than what they would have continued to endure under Saddam Hussein?

The existence of a force as overwhelming as the American military changes the whole moral calculus. If the military cure were much worse than the political disease, if the war lasted for years and could be won only through incremental and costly advances as wars have traditionally been fought, then it would be easy to condemn -- win or lose.

But if you can make people do what you want almost with the wave of the hand, do you have a duty to force others to do what you think is best for them? Or is it an enormous arrogance to assume that you know what is best?

Do good intentions justify any act? Or, more confusingly, does a happy outcome justify any intentions, including those rooted in ignorance or self-interest?

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Perhaps the best analogy is this: If you see someone with his leg caught in a trap, maybe unconscious and unable to speak for himself, what is your right or the duty to cut off that leg in order to free him? If someone else amputates the limb, and you suspect it may have been done as much from a desire to maim him as to free him, how do you celebrate that freedom?

What we do next will matter most. That will be the proof of our real intentions, and it remains to be seen.

-- Mary Messall

Gary Kamiya writes of the antiwar camp's dirty little secret: "dialectical pessimism." But that pessimism is well-founded.

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Lest we forget: The murderous tyrant Saddam Hussein was our murderous tyrant for many years. We funneled him $5 billion in direct military aid, and another $1-2 billion in U.S. taxpayer-backed loan guarantees.

The people who supported Saddam through the 1980s are still very influential in the halls of government. It seems highly likely that our choice will have some very Saddam-esque tendencies.

Folks in the 12-step movement like to define "insanity" as "repeating the same behaviors and expecting a different outcome." Well, the people who gave us Pinochet, D'Aubusson, Duvalier, and Suharto (and, yes, Saddam) are now about to turn loose another national leader. Should a sane person be optimistic?

-- Michael Treece

"Call that celebration a leap of faith, if you will -- but you could also call it a binding contract, American to Iraqi, human heart to human heart. We smashed your country and we killed your people and we freed you from a monster: We are bound together now by blood. We owe each other, but we owe you more because we are stronger and because we came into your country."

What is this? Thousands of people were killed in Iraq in the most immoral war ever. Your government and enterprises were signing contracts for rebuilding things even before those things were destroyed. U.S. "evidence" to justify the war at the U.N. was absolutely pathetic. And all this should be put aside to celebrate? Celebrate that your army "freed" Iraq from a monster that previous U.S. governments supported?

I live in Argentina, where our government has done the most incredible things and gotten away with it. I don't feel that I'm in a position to judge you.

But what I can say is that it seems that none of you in the United States have paid attention to what your government has done in the past. In Argentina we know what our governments did. (Unfortunately, we don't react at all and they keep doing it, but that's another question.) In the U.S., most of you really seem to believe that your government is inherently good, and wishes nothing but freedom and prosperity for everybody.

I think you should start researching your government's actions just for your own good. It can't be denied that bin Laden was given money and training by your CIA, with money coming from your taxes. Bin Laden's father was an oil partner of your president's father. How can any of you ignore this?

I don't hold you responsible for your government's actions, even though many of you seem to be supporting this war. But realize that your country is not a symbol of democracy and freedom.

-- Leonardo Pose

I want to point out how some of us who are anti-tyranny (called, incorrectly, pro-war) felt.

It wasn't that we wanted death and destruction. We knew it would happen regardless of whether or not we went, as it has for a quarter-century. We thought it was more important to bring down the worst living tyrant than to allow him to continue to oppress his people.

Of course we all understand that there are a number of others, most of whom we will never touch, from Kim Jong-Il to Fidel Castro (whose new wave of oppression has caused nary a ripple on the left). But there is one thing that most anti-tyranny pro-liberationists knew before the war: The Islamist nations are already in full hatred toward us. They proved it on 9/11. We do not need to fear that they will hate us more.

That's why we have a different perspective on the aftermath. Otherwise, we are as concerned as the antiwar people about getting Iraq back on its own two feet as soon as possible.

-- Edmond Wynn

Gary, you are one of my favorite writers and you are the reason that I will always remain a member of Salon. However, you missed a key point.

The belief that Saddam as a wicked leader needed to be replaced was almost universally held in all circles. The question has always been the method. This war was engaged in by the Bush administration, on their timetable, in a way that at times showed little more regard for the Iraqi citizens than Saddam showed.

It was no happy coincidence that this invasion was scheduled for the midpoint of the Bush regime, and that cannot be forgiven. There were ways to accomplish the toppling of Saddam with patience and the assistance of the Iraqi people.

I for one will not celebrate anything about this blood bath and political adventurism by the Bush administration.

-- Mark R. Wagner

Kamiya is to be lauded for his honesty and his willingness to admit what all of us, both in favor of intervention or opposed, knew: Much of the left was inwardly on the side of Iraq.

While this says much about the divisiveness of the Bush administration, it says far more about the left. The debate over this war has finally shown how much the left has abandoned traditional optimistic, energetic American liberalism and instead embraced an isolationist, pessimistic view of the world.

FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ wouldn't recognize their party. And to tell the truth, neither do I.

-- Mark Levine

I have been hard-pressed to read much of your site's vitriol against the Bush administration. But I keep coming back because of the sort of reasoned moral argument that this piece exemplifies.

As an Annapolis graduate and a lifelong student of political and military history, my predispositions run counter to your editorial thrust. But whether the piece is a rant or an educated, intelligent, thoughtful one like this, I always benefit from listening to your arguments.

-- Jim Powers


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