Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Winning a war one child at a time

Virtually every soldier that comes back home has some. Not photos of enemies they have vanquished or insurgent strongholds they have taken.

Photos of children. Soldiers crouched down in the dirt, high-fiving kids going to a new school, or carrying a child to medical help, or maybe just sharing the treats sent to them from home in a care package.

Perhaps they miss their own children, younger brothers or sisters or nieces and nephews. Or, perhaps they just know what people like George W. Bush may not.

If we win this war on terrorism, we are going to do it not with bullets, humvees and planes, but one child at a time.

The smiles in the pictures are no different than they would be on American children; a kid is a kid. They react to kindness. And for each one that has had a personal experience, there should one day be one less man or a woman less inclined to corrosive hatred.

It is too late to change the minds or direction of the terrorists of today, they are too many and too polluted. Can you imagine a so-called court thirsting to kill one of their own because he changed his religion to Christianity? Such pure hatred is hard to fathom, and it follows no religion, including Islam.

We can't win a war on them, especially if too many places in the rest of the world will harbor them and fail to denounce their cowardly actions. As quick as you kill them, the action may spawn more.

In New York, politicians fight over what to build on the 9-11 site, and achieve nothing. One plan is an ugly steel tower to be 1776 feet tall, a meaningless bastardization of the Washington monument in beer-can skin. I like to think of it as "the finger" for terrorists, a sentiment that, I admit, is not unattractive.

Better to bring a child from every country to plant a flower in a simple little garden there - Lord, do we need something living.

I feel sorry for Mr. Bush. He seems to become more alone by the day, louder, more defensive, more myopic. The tone is somewhat frightening to hear your president assert that it will be up to future presidents to end the war he started. All along he has asserted that it would be strategically foolish to reveal an ending timetable - but is it any less so to reveal that you have none?

Where is a point to declare completion, to define victory in such a war on the shifting sands on inhumanity? We are building bases complete with Burger King to last a generation... will we use them to attack Iran? Or will it be North Korea that attacks us while we are preoccupied? Or, perhaps will the very same new government we create in our own image turn on us, as has been known to happen in history? We must wonder where it ends.

Of course, it is easy to speak of complex problems in simplistic terms. We know that one day of voting is not going to change a couple of thousand years of conflict, nor is a change in the form of government, at least not as rapidly as we would like to think.

The greatest weapon, I suppose, is opportunity.

There are exceptions, but in general, people with some hope have less room for hatred. In hopelessness is the ultimate danger - nothing to lose. Jobs, education for their families, food in their bellies, a bit of a chance to determine their own destinies, a little disposable income in the pocket, and fanaticism perhaps does not seem so attractive. And gender or racial division gets a lot harder to perpetrate. I hope we are working toward that.

China was once considered our great emerging threat - now it threatens to conquer in economic terms. People who might have been bitter peasants not many years ago now drive new cars and wear suits down to the Starbucks or Wal-Mart on their corner in Beijing. A taste of opportunity changes a lot.

Right now, about 30 more young people from Storm Lake, Spencer, Cherokee are shipping out into harm's way for yet another year after a few months of training. We can only hope that they all come home safely. Some of them, it seems, are hardly much older than those children we spoke about.

Hawks wanting to occupy and dictate with bullets forever will not get the job done, I expect. Neither will doves using the war to try to bring down a president. It is shameful how political parties twist the truth to their own purposes, which has much more to do about power in Washington than it does our goals in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet we stand for it...

It won't be bitter old men who finally decide an outcome and direct the future on the world stage. It won't be Bush or Cheney, not Saddam or Osama. Our best bet is to hope to outlive them all.

God bless the soldiers who reach out with a high five, or a pencil and paper, or a precious bag of cookies from home. It is such a small gesture, yet it speaks volumes about their true mission. You read a lot about the very few who make bad decisions in dealing with prisoners and so on. We can be confident there are a hell of a lot more doing the right thing every chance they get.

Some of the local guys have arranged for school materials, t-shirts and whatever they could get to be shipped to hand out to the children they encounter, and they are laying the groundwork for a generation to come that may be above terrorism and war.

In the long run, it is our best hope. And right now, the deciding factor is toddling around in the dust of a middle eastern village somewhere with a snotty nose. A future that is as yet uncorrupted, but also perhaps yet unreached. It can go either way.