Erich Segal, the author of Love Story, once put the phrase "Love means never having to say you're sorry" into the official collection of favorite American catch-phrases. Up until very recently, we've had to suffer under a latter-day perversion of that: "The 'War on Terror' means never having to say you're sorry." Now, however, comes a series in Slate called "Why Did We Get It Wrong?" five years after the start of the Iraq War/Invasion/Occupation. Slate invited what it called "the best known 'liberal hawks' and others" to weigh in on that question, five years after they were roaring and stamping their feet to go get Saddam. The compendium makes for some ironic and even sadly amusing reading.
One by one, they come with their mea culpas and their tails between their legs, explaining themselves, voicing contrition. Thus they attempt what nobody in the White House or the American Enterprise Institute or among the armchair warriors in the GOP (or in some corners of the Democratic Party) has yet been grown-up enough to do: admitting they were wrong. And I'm left wondering how to react. I probably should try to be forgiving. I probably ought to "take the high road" (which, in politics these days, seems to me to be the road that takes you straight over a cliff). I probably should open my arms to these prodigal sons and accept them back into the family with great love and generosity, putting all that nasty stuff and misguided behavior from the past behind me.
But a large part of me doesn't want to. Yes, I know, it's hard to 'fess up, especially in public, particularly when you put yourself out there loudly and vigorously, trusting your president and his many mouthpieces and advocates. We heard all the excuses -- about how the administration and its neocon friends obviously saw or knew or had heard more than we mere civilians did. We were told to trust, to give them the benefit of the doubt, never to second-guess Our President who knew better and was pushing this for all the right reasons. After all, we were repeatedly and falsely assured, he himself was dragged kicking and screaming into war -- a war of last resort. We should celebrate all these sorrowful schnooks and make it easy on them now that they've stopped drinking the Kool-aid. Allow them to go gently into that good, conscience-assuaged night, free as birds.
I'm sorry, too, because I'd like for some of these gentlepeople to know -- it's not enough just to say you made a mistake, and to assume by doing so that you still get to pass "Go" and you still get to collect your 200 dollars -- AND a free "Get Out of Jail" card. That's the easy way that allows you good folks to go skipping off to another carefree day of shopping and other assorted superficialities -- the remedy George W. Bush once prescribed to a nation desperate to recover from the shock and awe of September 11th.
These correspondents I'm sure were well-intentioned (with many of the same good intentions that pave the way to Hell). They wanted to believe. They wanted to trust their president and his many war-lusting advisors. They wanted to re-fight Vietnam and win this time. They wanted to show the world that jamming our way down other nation's throats was THE way to go, especially since we had all that power to strut around with. They yearned for the certainty that after such a blow as that which felled the World Trade Center, we could storm across the Middle East in the flower of our greatest virility to prove that we weren't neutered or knee-capped or otherwise humbled after all. The Fred Kaplans of the world admitted they'd fallen for Colin Powell's presentation at the UN, that they were mad not just at Saddam and al Qaeda and all those bearded boogeymen out there, but also Russia and France and other world powers that tried to cool us down and talk some sense into us. The Andrew Sullivans of the world admitted they'd misread Bush's "sense of morality," and swallowed whole every sales pitch about how getting rid of Saddam would be so quick and easy, and would magically solve all our problems in the Middle East! The Jeffrey Goldbergs of the world lamented that -- in the finest Condoleeza Rice tradition -- "NO ONE could have IMAGINED" how reckless, arrogant, pigheaded, and utterly incompetent the Bush people were, including all those nice, legendary, seasoned, veteran heavyweights of Republican regimes past.
Amazingly, many of these same newly-sobered writers also now admit with chagrin that they should have listened to the dissidents more, should have paid greater attention to their views, should have made time to consider their warnings. They rue the day they put people like Hans Blix and Scott Ritter on "ignore." NOW they regret that they couldn't have been bothered, back then, to research the motivations of the war-pushers and the greed and monopoly-hungry geo-sadism that propelled them, to look at who REALLY stood to benefit by this unilateral aggression and its constantly mutating rationales (to this very day), or made any room for the objections of millions upon millions of protesters on every continent. Easy for them to say.
Now, my memory may be faulty, but as I recall, not one of these sword-swallowers who've now "seen the light" ever backed up his convictions the way our soldiers did -- by putting their money where their big, judgmental, accusatory, more-patriotic-than-thou mouths were. None of them actually signed up or suited up for Iraq, themselves. It was far easier to let the smooth-talkers lull them to sleep by assuring them it wouldn't take much time, or that much of our military, OR that much of our money to accomplish this. All those billions in Iraqi oil revenues would pay for it all, remember? We could get in and get out painlessly, on the cheap, and then go have a nice day. No muss, no fuss. Somebody else would do the heavy lifting -- and besides, our troops volunteered anyway, so they obviously asked for whatever horrors befell them. No runs, drips or errors!
Could that same simplistic thinking, that gullible, surface-treatment reasoning, be informing these eloquent mea culpas now? Oopsie! I goofed. There. I said it. I'm done, okay? Next?
Not so fast!
What I want to know is -- now that the easy part is over, in which all these sincere and apologetic folks don their sackcloth and ashes for the length of time it takes to read their confessions, what do they intend to do about it that will put meaning and strength behind all those words. If they really seek absolution, they need to prove they're worthy of it. It's not enough simply to say they made a mistake.
I think the rest of us, especially those of us at whom they sneered when we tried so desperately to stop the war, are owed more than that. What about those of us who appealed, petitioned, phoned, emailed, marched, wrote, blogged, begged our representatives, and tried in vain to get a word in edgewise on tone-deaf talk radio, only to be laughed at, flipped off, vandalized, threatened, bullied, scorned, and demonized?
And never mind us! What do the chastened ones plan to do to earn the forgiveness of some four thousand nice new widows and widowers, grieving moms and dads, confused and disoriented -- and orphaned children? THOSE are hearts and minds that need winning, too. It's not enough to promise that their loved ones won't have died in vain -- by dooming more Americans to that same needless sacrifice too. It's not enough to keep repeating that abortive message as the survivors are forced to pick up the pieces of their broken heaerts and cope for the rest of their lives without that beloved husband or wife, or father or mother, whose loss the war-advocates helped make happen.
What do these newly-awakened converts plan to do, REALLY, to prove that they won't get fooled again the next time some war-crazed chickenhawk with unspoken financial interests in creative Middle Eastern destruction starts accusing them of being soft on terror? How do they plan to convince the rest of us that they won't fall prey to the idiotic notion that we can simply force our will upon other nations whether it makes sense or not? How will they prove that they will look harder and more critically at the sales pitches next time around, so they'll recognize when they're being lied to -- particularly when most of the liars never bothered with military service when they had the chance, never saw combat, whose only war experience included watching John Wayne movies or playing war videogames, and whose track record on all of the above was available for anyone to see?
Perhaps even more critically important, what do any of these well-meaning penitents intend to do -- to make sure the engineers of this epic debacle shoulder true responsibility, as well? Are those saying "sorry" now at all interested in seeking redress or accountability among those who unapologetically danced them down the garden path in the first place? Will there be any consequences imposed upon the deliberate deceivers? Will there be any lessons taught -- not only to the warmongers themselves but for the benefit of all future pampered war-pushers whose arrogant belligerence may only be curbed if they know there'll be a heavy price to pay for being wrong? If, say, a president and vice president hell-bent on war -- who willfully lead a nation astray and thousands of brave soldiers to unnecessary deaths -- knew they would be facing certain impeachment, indictment, prosecution, and perhaps even incarceration, how eager might they be to press their case the next time? And what if those who enabled this dreadful sin, whether they be saber-rattling pundits or intimidated reporters, also had serious penalties to face -- for malpractice or gross dereliction of duty at the very least?
It's mighty easy just to say you're sorry after you helped cause the carnage and the horrors and the waste, and helped to make us more hated and more vulnerable than ever before. How do we know you won't allow yourselves to be pressured, or sweet-talked, into being suckered again, and drag the rest of us down into the meat-grinder whose crank carries your fingerprints, also?
It was easy, way TOO easy, to get us into this mess. Getting us out will be anything but. And getting off with a mere "oops! I got it wrong" is a little too easy also. True redemption, as much of the world was reminded over the Easter season, takes a LOT more than that.