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Thursday, March 27, 2003 02:20 pm

War as tradition

USAF lieutenant Sean Teague at Bill Shea's Gas Station Museum
Tom Teague

My son's leaving for Iraq this week. I wish him well. For years I've told him what his generation needed was a good war. It would be a wonderful character builder. See how it worked for mine? But I meant that more as irony, as paternal joshing, and not as wish. Whatever--Sean is going. And he's looking forward to the trip.

Remember the last good war? Me neither. But every year on June 6, I call my friend Bill Shea and congratulate him. He made it across Utah Beach alive on that late spring day in 1944. It still gives me chills to think of Bill wading chest deep through the waves, rifle over his head. Aside from his stroke and heart attack, he says that's the closest he's come to dying. It was certainly on his mind at the time. Jars of Utah and Omaha Beach sand in his office serve as constant reminders.

Next came Korea. This was another good war, if such words can be used consecutively. But it was also the first in a series where our parochial national interests weren't so clearly at stake as they had been in WWII.

Then came my war. On childhood Saturdays, I remember theater newsreels about the French having such a nasty time in Indochina. By the time I turned draft age, Indochina was Vietnam and America was about to get Frenched. Please pass the liberty fries. After I passed my induction physical, the Marine Corps sent me a letter. "Congratulation," it opened. Not many congratulations. Just one. Reluctantly, I enlisted in the Army. When I returned, my teaching job had gone to a person of another gender and color. I never got it back. Still, I am proud to be a veteran.

Now comes Sean's war. And I don't know what to get chills about or feel proud of--except my son. It shouldn't surprise any American that we're over there. After all, we have a hymn about fighting battles from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli. And we have an anthem that asks God to crown our good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea. It just doesn't name the seas. So now we're liberating Iraq.

It's hard to oppose a war when it gets this personal. But, pardon my French, I don't for one damned second believe this one will enhance our national security or reduce terrorism. At best, we'll get symptomatic relief. Drop two MOABs and call me in the morning. Better yet, print I Corinthians 13 on the other side of those surrender instructions. I'll help pay the expenses. However Iraq turns out, though, we'll still have bin Laden, North Korea, the Philippines, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and a multi-billion dollar, self-inflicted state budget deficit to deal with. The satisfaction that comes from destruction is transitory. For long-term satisfaction, we must create. And to do that, we must wage peace as well and as aggressively as we wage war.

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