Popular WarOctober 12th, 2009

There’s a poll out reporting that 60 percent of us are willing to drop bombs on Iran to keep the Ayatollah from developing atomic weapons. Obviously, poll respondents were confronted with a situation that doesn’t exist, and so the finding could be deemed suspect. Citizens of a garrison state like ours might be disposed to threaten armed attack in anticipation of some adverse event when they really have no intention of following through with actual violence. And then, of course, there’s the way the poll is designed. How do you reply when the pollster inquires, “Would you rather bomb another country or be evaporated in a mushroom cloud?” Still, despite its weaknesses, the poll is worrying.

It seems to suggest that most Americans have abandoned all moral reservations about killing people with bombs and bullets. In my USA, we don’t go for our gun over every political disagreement. We the people believe–most of us, anyway–in war only as a last resort. We express some reverence for the UN charter, which forbids us to bomb another country because our leaders (or the leaders of some allied country) think it might do somebody some harm sometime in the future. Not that we haven’t violated this principle time after time, but we’ve done it knowingly, and it stands to reason that the lessons of past transgressions would sink in after awhile. Not.

Today, it’s war at the drop of a hat, and we seem to be OK with that policy. We might balk at some point at the cost in dollars or even at the cost in blood, but we’re willing to hold our reservations in abeyance and allow our government—precipitously–to risk young American lives to end young Iranian lives. Persian tears would be shed without remorse on our part, if the poll is accurate. This after the destruction by the USA of a million Arabs of all ages and the displacement of four million more. Worrying.

The poll suggests that we have no problem sending other people’s kids to do the killing, and also that we require no national commitment or debate. Fact is that only about one in a thousand of us is now deployed. It’s pretty easy to say yes to war when nothing is required of you. The poll didn’t measure the strength of the respondents’ commitment to armed force, but it’s likely that they’d have thought harder if they believed they might find themselves in a uniform far from home.

True, this poll is not informed opinion. It might be useful to see a poll showing what percent of people who can find Iran on a map consider it a threat to mankind. A somewhat smaller slice than in this poll, probably. These pollsters might profitably have adjusted for bigotry, ignorance and imbecility.  There’s informed opinion, and then there’s superstition.

It’s also true that poll respondents in the USA survive as citizens on a diet of disinformation. This week, all the networks and NPR told news-consumers that Iran has a secret facility to make nuclear bombs, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. They pulled this on us with Iraq, and they seem to think we’re stupid enough to believe them again this time. If that’s what this poll means, somebody should be questioning our sanity along with our morality.

Disinformation and superstition may be an explanation for the survey findings, but they’re no excuse. Regardless of the reasons, many of your neighbors, relatives, classmates and co-workers are perfectly content to inflict death from above on innocents. If you disagree with that view, you might want to make your feelings known. “I got arrested at a peace rally,” is a good ice-breaker over a beer with your frat brother. If he says, “Idiot,” challenge him to find Iran on the globe. Ask whether he’d like to be at the controls of a missile-launching drone aimed at young Iranian soldiers, guys like him. If he answers that he would like to do that, suggest that he enlist. If he demurs to this, tell him his commitment to killing innocent people isn’t all that deep, and he ought to re-think his politics.

Risk making him mad. And get mad. And do it in front of other people if you can. Because your neighbor’s knee-jerk advocacy of murder is going to be paid for by you and your progeny and their kids after them. The sins of the fathers definitely are visited on the children, as history’s proved over and over again. You want to put a stop to this madness, you have to expose brutality and unreason wherever you find them, even in people near and dear to you.