What happened? After Sept. 11, Americans were united in a way rare in the country's history. The world mourned with us and pledged to fight terrorism. But now, only 18 months later, the United States is the most bitterly divided since the Vietnam-era, and much of the planet holds us in disdain.
Even more amazingly, we are in the process of doing the seemingly impossible: turning a murderous thug into a regional folk hero who dared to stand up to the imperialistic bully.
So, as bombs are about to fall on Baghdad, why war?
President George W. Bush says Iraq is a direct threat to the United States and we need to protect ourselves. He adds that Saddam Hussein must be disarmed, and that the United Nations inspections weren't working. So off to war we go.
What do Tucsonans think of those justifications? Those opposed are passionate in their opinions.
"There is no imminent threat to the United States," says Patricia Morrison, staff person for the non-violent action works committee of the American Friends Service. "It is totally unnecessary. There is no reason to kill and be killed. This war will only benefit military contractors and oil companies."
Another view is presented by UA political science professor--as well as a former mayor and a current mayoral candidate--Tom Volgy. Last fall, he predicted a war with Iraq wouldn't be waged. As of a few weeks ago, he still held that opinion, but admitted he was in a very small minority. So why was he apparently mistaken?
"I was completely wrong about why we were threatening war," he says. "I thought we were trying to send a message to the 68 countries with terrorist bases they needed to take them out."
But Volgy believes the war with Iraq negates that message. "I can't think of any other reason for war," he says. "It makes no sense to me. Sixty other countries have similar weapons and 60 to 70 are run by bad guys. Plus, North Korea poses a more direct threat to us. The war itself makes no sense, only the threat does."
The outcome of the conflict, he believes, will make things much worse for the United States, and he can't think of any good consequences, only bad ones.
"There will be horrible turmoil in the Middle East, we'll spend $200 billion, lives will be lost, gas could go to $3 a gallon, and there may be a spurt of new terrorism," he says. "I can't see any good reason for this war."
As for the president's assertion that he wants to "liberate" Iraq, the Democrat concludes, "Nobody has brought peace to the Middle East by taking out a dictator. There are still all those bad guys out there."
University of Arizona history department faculty member Julia Clancy-Smith has other criticisms, believing the American public is being lied to by its government concerning the war. She blames the mainstream media for failing to inform people about what is really going on.
"We're planning genocide," Clancy-Smith says, "by dropping the equivalent of seven and one-half Hiroshima bombs in 48 hours. The first Gulf War was a massacre, and this one is immoral and we will pay a really big price for it."
So why is the President pushing for war?
"The Bush plan for Iraq," Clancy-Smith believes, "is to invade the country, kill 200,000 people and create 900,000 refugees. Then we will turn Iraq into an armed camp to attack other counties in the region."
But that scenario, she thinks, could result in unintended consequences. "Some of those countries may lob nuclear weapons at Israel, which would respond. Thus, based on past history, we can see this so-called war with Iraq could lead to World War III and end life on this planet as we know it."
Maybe, though, there is another reason for war, one that has more do to with personal perception than international politics. Some people think George W. Bush casts himself in the Gary Cooper role in High Noon: the strong, quiet sheriff, abandoned by all his friends, facing down three gun-slingers alone.
That analogy, however, is way off the mark. There is no heroism in ordering a fight in which almost all the casualties will be on the other side. The real act of courage would be to find a way to prevent conflict.
But that's not going to happen given the revengeful, bloodlust mindset now prevalent in Washington. Bush more appropriately fits the character of General Jack D. Ripper from Doctor Strangelove, a madman intent on world domination in order to protect his "precious bodily fluids."
Unfortunately for Ripper and the planet, the actual result of his folly was some rather serious unintended consequences. But he hadn't considered that possibility.