We Are Not at War

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2013-09-01 – My mother is 85 years old. She lives 2,000 miles away in an assisted living home in Los Angeles. She is losing her memory. She sometimes gets disoriented.

Friday evening, she called me in a bit of a panic. She was worried about all the talk of war she was hearing on the TV. I could hear Secretary of State Kerry speaking in the background. I told her not to worry. I told her we are not at war. I told her that a war in Syria was seven or eight thousand miles away, even if war comes. She wasn’t soothed.

Is she the only person in this country who understands the gravity of the threat?

My wife Kit and I talked about Syria on our walk the night before. My position was that we can’t get involved everywhere. While the atrocities are undeniable, I didn’t see how we could take any action that wouldn’t make things worse. Kit felt that we had a moral obligation. What can we do, I asked, that wouldn’t make the Syrian people’s lives worse.

Still, I had two reservations about my isolationist position. The first was a realization that, when the United States refused to help Jews in Europe during World War II, the justifications for the refusal were similar to what I was arguing. The second was a concern that US inaction in Syria increases the risk of war with Iran (and even North Korea, though I’m less concerned about that).

It’s a judgment call. And I’m waffling. War is a tricky business. And there are very few ways to get it right. And there are risks of inaction, just as there are risks of action. We’ve seen it all too often.

Before I talked to my mother, I was beginning to come around to Kit’s way of thinking.

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