Having been breast-fed as a baby, I've lived most of my life as an incurable optimist, blithely trusting that in the long run everything will be hunky-dory.
I've been a lot like Pangloss, Voltaire's pathologically cheerful philosopher whose mantraalways in the face of godawful evidence to the contraryis that "All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds."
But lately, I've been having doubts. I wake up each morning, sucking my thumb and hiccuping, vaguely convinced that something awful is about to happen.
Then I read the morning paper and I remember what it is.
It's our forthcoming war with Iraq.
Well, OK, it's also our president. I've got some personal issues with himthe funny way he walks, the bellicose way he talks. Maybe he can't help the way he walks, but does he have to say some nations are an "axis of evil"? Does he have to say he "loathes" certain heads of state? Did he learn that at Andover and Yale?
But mainly it's our forthcoming war with Iraq that's giving me the fantods.
I know it's cowardly and un-American and not very patriotic, but I worry about large numbers of people being killed.
Since this is the day set aside to honor Martin Luther King, I'm devoting part of it to worrying about large numbers of underdog Iraqis being killed.
But mostly I worry about Americans.
My inner therapist reminds me that twelve years ago I had the same ghastly premonitions about what the president's daddy was doing in the first Gulf War. And while that war played hell with the Iraqi population, military and civilian, our combat dead came to 148tens of thousands fewer than Iíd feared.
And maybe, I keep telling myself, we're just bluffing. Maybe the president has it figured right: If we sound crazy enough, maybe Saddam will be sane enough to give us whatever we want. An apology for the assassination attempt on the president's father. Convincing evidence that Iraq has disarmed. Guaranteed access to cheap Iraqi oil.
And so on.
But then I read the newspapers and I get the heebie-jeebies again.
The A. P. reports on Jan. 9 that there are "serious holes" in our defense against nerve gas, plague bacteria, and "viruses that cause brain infections," all of which our experts say Saddam has.
And the Jan. 9 Denver Post runs a story about Gary Hartyou remember, the ex-senator from Colorado who can't be trusted because of his sexual adventures. He's warning us that "we will inevitably be attacked in this country" if we go to war with Iraq.
The Truth, Mainly
A commission led by Hart warned ustwo years before 9/11of coming catastrophic terrorist attacks. So, my paranoid self tells me, we might want to listen to him now.
"We are about to kick open a hornet's nest," Hart says. He guesses that this time around, a war with Iraq will kill more than 5,000 Americans and 250,000 Iraqis, and he predicts that will provoke a series of "al-Qaeda-like" attacks on the U.S. mainland.
But surely, my calmer self says, we can handle all those nasty problems with our new policy of pre-emptive strikes. You know, the policy that says if we feel threatened by another country, we get to strike them before they strike us.
And that's when I look again at a clipping taped to the wall over my computer. Itís a quotation from Salman Rushdiewho knows a thing or two about the Middle Eastwarning that "if the U.S. reserves the right to attack any country it doesn't like the look of, then those who don't like the look of the U.S. might feel obliged to return the compliment. It's not always as smart as it sounds to get your retaliation in first."
A majority of Americans seem to be less gung-ho than the administration. A Knight-Ridder poll this month showed 68 percent of us agreeing that we should "take more time to try to achieve our goals in Iraq without going to war."
Which sounds a lot less impatient than the president sounded last week when he said "Iím sick and tired of games and deception."
Made me notice again the funny way he walks, the bellicose way he talks.
And, even though it's hard to get numbers on things like this, I'm guessing that despite having been breast-fed as babies in this best of all possible worlds, more and more of us have been waking up, sucking our thumbs and hiccuping, vaguely convinced that something awful is about to happen.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail