Civilizations and the cultures that shape and define them are fragile. They must be safely transmitted to every new generation. Their institutions and habits must remain robust, flexible and attractive enough to secure both survival and continuing adherence. If this fails, then everything that a civilization or culture has done is at risk.
There have been dozens of civilizations in history. Some have been able to reinvent and retransmit themselves and some have collapsed utterly with little to show but some picturesque ruins and the odd documentary on the Discovery Channel. Cultures are even less survivable and many have vanished altogether – often because they simply were not viable.
There has been no more robust or exuberant civilization that that of the Western World. From its roots in Classical Greece and Rome, through its tenuous transmission to the successor kingdoms of erstwhile barbarians, then the growing confidence of the Medieval Ages and on into its expansion over much of the globe, the Western World has a set of characteristics that have allowed the more dynamic cultures within it to thrive.
These characteristics include concepts of individual freedom, the rule of law, civic responsibility, rationalism, free inquiry, a tradition of pluralism, property rights, technological innovation and an acute dislike of absolute authority. These have lead to formidable accomplishments: Diseases have been beaten, slavery driven back into the darkness; women have become emancipated; and even our poor live better lives than almost every human being who ever came before them. We have walked on the moon, gazed at the edge of the Universe and are examining the very building blocks of life and all matter itself.
All of these magnificent deeds and discoveries shall be nothing if the Western world lacks the will to defend itself. There are disturbing signs that the will to defence, even the will to survive, is weak or absent. The reluctance of many citizens for defence (let alone for stability abroad) has been most evident with the widespread disapproval for action against Saddam Hussein.
Sundry critics keep droning on about the need for the United States (whose government seems almost alone in being willing to take up arms for the common good) to make a better “case” against the Desert Despot of Baghdad – which means that none of these critics has been listening at all for the last 20 years. Since 1979, Saddam Hussein has been largely responsible for the deaths of a million people through government terror, two wars of aggression against neighboring states, depraved indifference towards the needs of his own people and the savage suppression of restless communities within Iraq.
A century ago, such behaviors would have prompted an invasion by Western troops – one of the main impulses behind 19th Century Imperialism was a humanitarian desire to see most people freed from such bestiality. Nowadays, we pay little heed to massacre unless – heaven forbid – Western troops use violence to prevent worse bloodshed. Our contemporary inverted ethics somehow mean more excited commentary results from the accidental death of ten civilians by a Western missile, than from the murder of tens of thousands of civilians by their own government.
In the 20th Century we have unfortunately learned to tolerate mass murder elsewhere so long as it doesn’t represent a direct threat to our own societies. Today’s problem is apathy towards our own protection – as attitudes about Iraq (which is a danger to the peace of the world and even to our own lives) clearly demonstrate.
The evidence about Saddam Hussein’s interest in weapons of mass destruction is clear and unequivocal. He has made them and used them – Iranian soldiers were sprayed with mustard gas and nerve agents in the 1980-88 Gulf War and unruly Kurdish communities were gassed. The attack on the Iraqi-Kurdish town of Halabja was particularly ghastly – the town was first sprayed with mustard gas and nerve gas to kill anyone in the open and to drive the citizens into cellars and shelters; where they were subsequently inundated with other gases designed to seep into sheltered areas below ground level. The photographs taken in the stricken town a couple of days later show the corpses of women and children wrenched by the convulsions of their dying agonies with their clothing splattered by the vomit and feces induced by the nausea of terminal nerve gas poisoning. Must we wait to see women and children on our own streets so stricken?
UN weapons inspectors found ample evidence that Saddam’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capabilities were far advanced. They did manage to find and destroy much of his material abilities to produce these weapons – but materials can be readily replaced once the basic scientific and technological knowledge behind such weapons is established. Hussein’s scientists are more than capable, they have rapidly passed from the simple nerve gases like Sarin and Tabun to producing VX, and there is no doubt that similar progress has been made in the production of biological agents. Moreover, the UN Inspectors made it clear that considerable quantities of stocks had been kept hidden from them. Iraq has made weapons of mass destruction, can make more in the future, and is probably making them now.
Those who refuse their support for military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq tend to press for the primacy of the United Nations in settling international disputes – a noble idea to be sure. However, Saddam Hussein has repeatedly flouted the UN Resolutions that demanded he change his behavior. He has long since called the UN’s bluff. Moreover, it has long been clearly evident that he only reacts to the use of force – his standard reaction to a threat of force is to push back hard enough to see if the threat has resolve behind it. For those who hope (despite what must be so much bitter disappointment) that the UN can operate efficiently against threats to the World’s peace must surely see that, if the UN is to amount to anything, it must be ready to resort to immediate, firm and effective force against the Tyrant from Tikrit.
Critics of the American President’s intentions declare that there is no clear proof that Saddam Hussein supports terrorism. Truly there are none so blind as those who cannot see. Saddam Hussein was a terrorist in his own youth – once being injured while attempting an assassination — and served his apprenticeship in the Baath Party he now controls by using torture and murder against its own dissenting members. He has sent his agents abroad to murder exiles in different countries. At times, Baghdad has hosted the Abu Nidal Organization, and Abu Abbas’ Palestine Liberation Front. It still provides shelter and training for the Mujahedin-e-Khalq.
In more recent days, there have been reports from the Kurds (underscored by footage from a BBC camera man) that Al-Qaeda operatives cooperate with Iraqi paramilitaries. Saddam Hussein also provides substantial financial rewards (about $15,000 US) to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers – as opposed to the more paltry awards of a thousand dollars or so provided by the PLO. Finally, the American National Security Advisor has confirmed that the Iraqis helped provide chemical and biological weapons training to Al-Qaeda in their Afghan sanctuaries.
When it comes to dealing with Saddam Hussein, casus belli has been established, and it will be a Just War in the long-standing traditions of the Western World. A refusal to operate against him is to imply that the people of Iraq deserve the tyranny he has imposed on them, and to hope that passivity and good luck will somehow limit the growing risk of terrorism with chemical and biological weapons.
The refusal to act is also tantamount to that most fatal of sins a culture or civilization can commit – the refusal to defend itself and protect its members. Failing to do so endangers every legacy of that society and makes them meaningless. Let us avoid making it.