Thursday, March 27, 2003
My phone interview with Admiral Henry H. Mauz, Jr., started off poorly. Although I was upfront about my lack of military expertise, I still bungled it. My first question to Mauz, retired commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic fleet and recipient of three gold stars, went something like this: "Was the United States'' initial attack on Iraq and attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein...."
Mauz immediately cut me off. "I don''t think we are going to be able to continue this interview," he said forcefully. "I''ve had training on how conduct a press interview. One thing we learned is you never start off with, ''are you still beating your wife?''
"An assassination is an illegal act violating international law, and this country does not participate in illegal acts."
After I apologized, Mauz agreed to continue talking with me. His authoritarian tone was intimidating and I found myself trying not to get in trouble with him again.
Mauz''s immediate premise is this: that recent world history with Iraq, and especially Iraq''s refusal to disarm and cooperate with weapons'' inspectors, authorizes the use of force against the country.
"The United States and United Kingdom, with the support of 35 other countries, has clear authorization to use force to disarm Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction," Mauz says. "Of course in order to do that, a regime change must occur. The United States and the president rightfully concluded that this country has no choice but to embark on a military campaign."
I ask Mauz what he thinks war protestors are missing-what point aren''t they getting.
"I don''t think they are informed about the background of the strife," he says carefully. "I don''t think some of them know that in the ''80s Iraq attacked Iran in the Seven Year War, and won because of the use of chemical weapons. They don''t reflect on Iraq''s invasion of Kuwait and Iraq''s brutality towards minority groups and the mass murders and genocide and the sponsoring of international terrorism. There is clear data linking Iraq to Al Qaeda."
"There are clearly threats against the United States," he continues. "Not a physical invasion but threats against our economic well-being. That includes everything our economy depends on. We depend on trade and a secure and stable global market. We don''t want anybody else''s oil, but we want an international oil market that people can benefit from.
"Most people have an open mind that Iraq is a menace to the civilized world and us in particular-we are their sworn enemies. If the protestors have all that in mind and still protest...we exist in the United States military to protect that right."
I ask Mauz: "Why a war now." He answers that we are late in starting a war with Iraq-that it could have better happened five years ago, when it became clear that United Nations'' inspections were not producing results.
"It was an impossible task to begin with in the absence of Iraqi cooperation," he says of the inspection process. "They were withholding information, falsifying reports and trying to confuse and deceive the inspectors.
"Some people have fallen back on [the belief that we need more time to inspect Iraq] as a crutch to support the idea that we should maybe wait [to start war]. The truth is, the longer we wait, the greater peril there is.
"There were clear grounds for doing this in the late 1990s-our inspectors were tossed out of the country and that was grounds for taking the next step. It would have been easier and a little more straightforward then, but [at that time] this country lacked the will and leadership."
"I will tell you that other potentially hostile countries who have interests are watching this with great care. It''s clear that if we are successful and forceful and united as a country in this action that other countries will be less likely to engage in [acts against us.]"
Dr. Jay Cook, a Monterey chiropractor and former commander of American combat units in Europe and Vietnam, is decorated with bronze stars and numerous other medals. Several weeks ago, we were making small talk in his office as he worked on an old shoulder injury of mine. As he stretched my arm, he paused and looked me in the eye.
"Do you know anyone who''s in favor of war with Iraq?" he asked.
"No, personally, I don''t," I replied. Cook nodded. "Well now you do."
In a subsequent interview, Cook echoed Mauz''s position, that the war in Iraq is necessary.
"I think it''s a moral war," he says. "It''s about self-defense for our country. And I think that self-defense is a recognized legal reason for fighting. I think that Iraq is a big player in the international terrorist business and we are a prime target."
Cook, like Mauz, feels that even without a United Nations consensus, our country is justified in starting war with Iraq.
"I think the United Nations is showing itself to be almost besides the point," he says. "If the UN is going to be relative, I think it needs to be willing to back up its words with deeds-and it''s shown itself not able to do that."
"I think in the final analysis, the people of Iraq are going to be delighted once they are liberated," he says. "I think we are going to hear stories that are going to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up-stories of daily harassment and daily tortures-just horrible stories."
In an attempt to clarify my earlier confusion with Mauz, I ask Cook why the U.S. attempted attack on Hussein is not termed an assassination.
"It was a preemptive strike, but it followed a last-chance-to-get-away offer," Cook explains. "He failed to take us up on the last-chance-to-get-away, and therefore as commander in chief of the Iraqi army, he becomes just as much a target as anybody else in the army."
Cook needs to get back to his patients. I ask him if there''s anything else he wants to add.
"I want to make it a point that military people do not really enjoy going to war," he says quietly. "But I think that we realize somebody has to do it, and we are the ones who are willing to do it when it has to be done."
Phillip Butler spent eight years of his life living as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He has two silver stars, two bronze stars, two purple hearts, and two Legion of Merit awards, among others. Butler is vice-president of the Monterey Chapter of Veterans for Peace, a national organization of 4,000 members that he joined in 1991, after years of anguish over his military experience.
I ask him why he joined the organization. He laughs, a strong, real laugh at what probably sounds like a too-obvious question.
"I don''t like war," he says. "I felt like I was sent as a young man to do a job and I did it to the best of my ability. Like a lot of my fellow soldiers, we performed selflessly, although it turned out at the end of the line that the so-called liberation of Vietnam was really wrong. We were sent to do the wrong thing. Our country sent us to an awful mission to a war that this country is still recovering from."
After coming home, Butler spent years searching for answers, studying up on military history, and finding a calling as a peace activist.
"The United States has been involved in 75 foreign military interventions around the world since World War II," he says deliberately. "We want to educate people about peace and work towards the abolishment of war."
Butler says President Bush is acting "off on his own" from the rest of the world, and notes that the president has withdrawn from many international agreements, including the global treaty on non-proliferation.
He says behavior like this is creating a dangerous situation with the rest of the world.
"I think that everyone who serves in the US military is sworn to uphold the constitution. I do not believe that this president, [engaging in] a war with no international support, is doing so. People all over the world think we are a pariah.
"We never gave the weapons'' inspection process a chance-both Clinton and Bush did everything to undermine the weapons'' inspections-they discredited them and undercut them by not supporting them. Between 1992 and 1994 they destroyed thousands and thousands of pounds of chemical and biological material in Iraq-and dropped the weapons [at that time] to zero."
Butler believes that the current news coverage simply serves to glorify "war-making."
"The CNN media coverage is abominable," he says. "It makes it look like a big video game the way they play it out. It doesn''t show the blood and guts and the gore."
I ask Butler if war is ever necessary.
"I personally am not a pacifist," he says. "I''m a peace activist. If the enemy came marching down Alvarado Street, I would use whatever force is necessary, but I''m not in favor of 75 military interventions.
"War doesn''t solve a problem because war actually causes the opposite of what we are trying to do. It''s going to cause Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
"Any country with any sense at all can read the tea leaves and see the only way to keep the United States from invading is to develop weapons.
"I''ve been through everything-I was horribly treated as a prisoner of war. I believe [the United States'' policies] are going to bring war into our own cities and homes through terrorism. The way to stop terrorism is to deal with the roots of it through diplomatic relations, education, communication, and economic inequalities that exist-not war."
"We are spending our lifeblood and wasting all of our resources and our best talent on warmaking."
We have troops and bases in over 50 countries throughout the world. War has become a big business."