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Our country depends on your answer
by Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press columnist
Detroit Free Press
February 1, 2004

Shrugging is not an option.

You can blame the CIA and demand an investigation or you can blame President George W. Bush and demand his accountability. But you cannot shrug. You cannot walk away. You cannot say, "Oops." Not unless you're the kind of person who sees a dead man in the street and steps over him.

That's not the kind of person I am. And that's not the country I live in.

The most stunning sound in America last week was silence -- an echoing silence after chief weapons inspector David Kay, a man put in charge by the president, announced that he could not find any of the biggest reasons we went to war in Iraq -- weapons of mass destruction.

He used four simple words.

"We were all wrong."

That sentence should have brought down the walls. Wrong? You can be wrong when you project interest rates. But when your intelligence says bombs, vials, gasses and poisons, and the truth is a lot of empty holes, and you kill thousands of people and lose hundreds of your own and cost this generation maybe the next hundreds of billions of dollars, well, that's not a small mistake.

You don't just shrug it off.

Where does the buck stop?

On the first day of war, the president's press secretary announced that "the disarmament of the Iraqi regime has begun."

Before and during that war, Bush warned of "mushroom clouds" and "vials and canisters" and biological terrorists "armed by Saddam Hussein."

Colin Powell, his secretary of State, said Iraq, by a conservative estimate, "has between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agents."

But "we were all wrong." And a lot of people died for it. And it is not unpatriotic to demand an accounting. On the contrary: It's the most American thing you can do.

You may feel the intelligence let the president down. The CIA misled him. Fine. Then how could he not demand an independent inquiry? What about the next international crisis? Don't we want to be right?

And if you feel that the buck stops at the White House, then doesn't Bush owe America an explanation? Doesn't he owe something to the families who lost loved ones in combat -- and who lose more every day?

It's this simple, folks: one or the other.

You can't choose "Oh, well."

Why do we go to war?

Why is there such silence? Several reasons. First, it's an election year. What matters most to politicians now is damage control.

Second, the hangover from Sept. 11. The browbeating that anyone who questions Bush is a traitor still goes on, particularly by zealot broadcasters whose multimillion incomes depend on the right hating the left. They don't want a united country.

But you should. And if there's one thing we agree on as Americans, it's this: We don't kill for no reason. We don't make war unless it's unavoidable. And our leaders don't take us down a primrose path.

Sure, it's good that Saddam Hussein is captured. But we lost more than 500 of our kids to get him. And we killed an unknown number of Iraqis -- and not all of them were Republican Guards. Many were simple peasants shoved into combat under threat of death.

And yes, Hussein harbored dreams of hurting us, something the Bush administration is now spinning to justify a preemptive attack. But if we went to war with every demented dictator who dreams of attacking us -- and having the weapons to do so -- we'd be at war all over the globe.

Here's our mistaken illusion: People sleep better knowing Saddam is captured. But you should not sleep well with an intelligence agency that can call the sun the moon.

And you should not sleep well with politicians who feel you are too numb to care.

An independent investigation, or an apology. There is no middle ground. If we can simply shrug over a war, then America is not the country we thought it was.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. "The Mitch Albom Show" is 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

Posted: February 3, 2004


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