Editorial: HOW I CAME TO LOVE THE WAR
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Can anyone imagine Muhammad Ali saying just after the Sept. 11 attacks o= n New York, "I don't have any quarrel" with Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaed= a network, as the champ famously said of the Viet Cong 30 years ago?
I can't imagine it, but a growing number of people in the UnitedStates= are starting to say just that. If this is the legacy of the Vietnam War, = we have learned very little since then.
There is an enormous difference between a war that was instigated by fal= se reports of a patrol boat encounter in the South China Sea and one that b= egan with the other side flying hijacked airplanesinto the World Trade Cent= er and the Pentagon.
The fact that some people still treat these two wars, rather than just= the first, with deep suspicion is a sad commentary on the ability of such = people to think outside the boxthey have constructed around their lives and= minds.
I was shocked as anyone by the events of Sept. 11, but my awareness may = have begun a little earlier. On the day President George W. Bush was inaug= urated, a powerful word kept pulsing from my center of being as I listened = to the Inauguration ceremonies on radio. The word was "War," and it just came welling up from within me again and = again as the day progressed. I felt enormous certainty at the end of that = daythat we would soon be at war.
In all honesty, I presumed that it wouldarise from sort of effort to i= ncrease the sale of oil -- nothing does thatlike armies in motion.
But my presentiments didn't stop there. Either on the day beforeor on t= he day I wrote an Aug. 12 editorial called "There's No Moral Side In the Is= raeli-Palestinian Conflict," I woke up from a terrible dream.
It was not a dream in the usual sense because it was extremely brief a= nd although the scene I saw appeared as a living image and not a still one,= there was just that one image and no movement. I saw a huge gray office bu= ilding that had been crudely chopped down, sheared from high on one side al= l the way to the ground on all three others.
It was instantly clear to me that America was going to suffer a terribl= e act of terrorism that I said aloud on waking would take tens of thousands= of lives.
I felt gutted like a fish.
For days, then weeks and then months I had watched the new violence in I= srael grow steadily worse. I had avoided taking a side, or even taking a p= osition. My conscience urged me to write to help stop the violence, but I = could not get myself to do it. That image broke the impasse within me, and= that day, or the next -- I don't recall which -- I wrote.
It occurred to me that the image that had seared me so deeply would make= a good way to start the editorial. My naysaying brain put a damper on tha= t, though; I argued against myself that it would seem like a self-fulfillin= g prophecy, and for some people, it would be very hardto take the least bit= seriously. In the end, I simply tried to write aboutthe sense of "dread, = anticipation and sorrow" with which we could now await the future.
"Dread= ," I wrote, "because we know that the ultimate resolution of this spiraling= conflict could involve a regional war, an energy embargo or even the use o= f nuclear weapons; anticipation because we constantly await intervention on= the side of peace -- divine, American, or multinational, or, God forbid, I= raqi, Iranian, Syrian, Libyan on the side of war, even as we also await the= next bombing, bulldozing, rocket attack or assassination in the region; an= d sorrow because we know it is so unnecessary."
I wrote with all the passion I could summon, trying to make the words bu= rn in the minds of those who control that conflict. "The Israelis and the = Palestinians also endanger, all by themselves, virtually all of human civil= ization," I said. The same morning, I faxed the piece to the LA Weekly and= the Los Angeles Times.
How easy it must have been to laugh about, and how hysterical it must = have seemed, on Aug. 12.
Calling on the conscience of all good people, trying to summonthe words = that stir brave souls to sacrifice for peace, I wrote: "Except for the sile= nce of the rest of the Middle East -- or at least its silence in the Americ= an press -- we would certainly be worried to distraction that another war i= s imminent. We know that Israel would probably win, yet we know, too, that = the whole world will pay the price of victory in new terrorist attacks, ene= rgy disruptions, military deployments and the loss of diplomatic contacts -= - communication, that is -- with nations that become party to such a war. =
"Whether merely hundreds or tens of thousands died in such a conflict, i= ts tragedy would be all the greater because of the efforts of good men like= Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, of the sacrifices of Yitzhak Rabin and men= like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak... . Brave men have struggled and d= ied with courage in the battle for peace in the Middle East, but the upward= journey of their souls to the Heaven they'll have to share is profoundly b= etrayed by the violence, blood-lust and obstinacy of their successors. Any = posture of moral right and wrong is lost on this supposed religious conflic= t."
Words do not move this world very far. I got no letters about the piece= , which came out just a day before the terrorists met, according to the = New York Times, in Las Vegas to plan the Sept. 11 attacks. In fact, tw= o weeks later I finally decided to go to Las Vegas myself to help shake off= the terrible feeling in my gut that had started with that dream.
In Henderson, Nev., just 12 miles outside of Las Vegas, we stayed in a = small Best Western on S. Lake Mead Drive and spent the night walking around= the Strip. On Labor Day, when I finally got going about one in the aftern= oon, I met three dark-skinned men from Asia, who were looking at maps and b= rochures in the office as they planned their itinerary. I thought they wer= e Indians, so I tried to strike up a conversation with them in Hindi. They= weren't having any, so I left with my coffee and carried it back to my roo= m. Ours was the only car in the parking lot.
During the last four or five days beforte the attack, I kept thinking of= the name "Atta." I said it aloud as I walked through my house, and kept c= oming back to the dream. I felt they were connected. The irony of the old= phrase, "Atta boy!" kept recurring to me.
The phone rang on the morning of Sept. 11 about 7:30 Pacific time. It w= as my wife's friend Elva calling, and I was irked until my wife convinced m= e that we had to turn on the radio. I think I turned it on just as one bui= lding was collapsing. Planes were still in the air; the Associated Press, = unaccountably, reported that a car had blown up outside the State Departmen= t, too. You know the rest.
This is how I come to the war. Each of us approaches it in a different = way, but we all arrive at the same recurring horror that the great John Kno= wles once said was caused "by something ignorant in the human heart." I ha= ve no ignorance in my heart, although I once did.
I want those who perpetrated a grievous crime against my country and m= yself punished as severely as they have punished us for what they understan= d to be our crimes. I am not going to take their side against the wives an= dchildren of hundreds of brave and innocent New York City firemen and polic= e officers, or against the tears of thousands of families and friends of pe= ople killed on that day.
Muhammad Ali was one brave man in and out of the ring, and his declarati= on of conscience in stark and simple words has stuck with me through decade= s of war and change. It is a fundamental call to the unity of the entire h= uman race, an acknowledgement of the same life force that animates every hu= man being. It is the starting place of consciencefor me, the catalyst of t= he "good fight" of people who would wage peace. So I must ask myself if I = have "something against" Osama bin Laden and Mohammed Atta and al-Qaida's t= errorists around the globe.
I do. They not only took a man of my name, the managing director of Can= tor Fitzgerald, Joseph Patrick Shea, but also thousands of other innocent l= ives. They have nearly destroyed several key American industries. They ha= ve cost hundreds of thousands of Americans their jobs and livelihood. They= have left millions of Americans living in fear. They have engendered new a= ttacks against us. They have threatened our fundamental rights in the effo= rt to respond to the attacks. And they have done so without just cause.
= Yes, I have a quarrel with al-Qaida. Almost all Americans do. Those who d= o not have little of their own heart invested in loving our country, and I = have a quarrel with them, too.