Tennessee has criminalized drag shows that might be seen by children. I am relieved. This will stop a major danger to our society that I had not known existed. On the other hand, will the vigilant Tennessee guardians stop there? Will Chattanooga women continue to be able to wear pants on the street and perhaps even button-down shirts? But if they are concerned about kids encountering cross-dressers accompanied by sexual innuendoes, they should be concerned about what streams or is broadcast into homes. Even if it makes best-ever lists, Some Like It Hot should never be watched by parents with their offspring. Any parent that allows such a thing should get solitary confinement. Go watch the last two minutes of it. That final line by Joe E. Brown, “Nobody’s perfect,” surely must have corrupted many. Preventing children from watching Some Like It Hot would return Tennessee to its good old days of 1960, which seems to be the goal of the anti-drag legislation. When the movie came out, Memphis did not allow children to see it. (Kansas, ah Kansas, actually banned it for people of all ages.)

Does anyone still serve wheatgrass? I am happy that I have not seen it for a while.

His father had been imprisoned in Poland as part of the Solidarity movement. When he was released from jail and granted an amnesty, the father was given a choice of countries where he and his family could immigrate. He chose the United States and was settled in Boise, Idaho. The son felt at sea, he told me; The language, the culture, the TV shows. But that changed when he was able to understand and appreciate the opening sequence of the sitcom Night Court, which he still admires. He lit up at the name Harry Anderson, but I forgot to ask him whether he likes Mel Tormé.

Only once in my life have I met a person who was in a low dudgeon.

He met her in Berlin on his junior year abroad. She was Romanian. She complained that while she knew a lot about the United States, he knew almost nothing about her country. I told him that when I was his age, I knew a girl from Brazil, and I felt bad that while she knew a lot about America, I knew very little about Brazil. But, I continued, I realized that people from all over the world learn about America from their studies, the news, and popular culture, and there is no way I can learn as much about every other country in the world. I doubt, I said, that my Brazilian friend knew any more about Romania than you did, and that your Romanian friend knew no more about Brazil than I did. I concluded to him, however, if you want to get laid, you have to at least pretend you are interested in her country. His eyes twinkled. He told me that he had gone home that night and read every article he could find on Wikipedia about Romania. He then gave a satisfied smile.

China is the traditional gift for a twentieth anniversary, and I am told that platinum is the more modern thing for that commemoration. But the first seems ironic and the second inappropriate for acknowledging that it was two score years ago that we invaded Iraq. What?! You aren’t celebrating that event? Don’t you remember? We accomplished our mission (or so we said). Surely you must feel more secure and safer because of our actions. And don’t you delight in the spread of democracy that we achieved?

A couple from Alberta, Canada, and a man from Wisconsin I met on a recent trip to southern climes fit the snowbird cliché. They talked about the freezing temperatures back home as they sat around the sunlit pool. While I try to avoid trite discussions about the weather, that does not mean that I do not look at the Brooklyn weather when I am in a tropical setting. And this time I was more than a little irritated that it was unseasonably warm and dry — springlike, in fact — in New York City while I was out of town.

The woman from Alberta said that she had been to New York City for one day and had been amazed by the number of people. I did not know how to respond and simply smiled.

The Humanitarian War: An Oxymoron?


          A few postings back, I asked readers to compare and contrast the Russian invasion of Ukraine with America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. Some who responded saw nothing to compare. For them, Russia was evil and the U.S. good. Others took a diametrically different stance and saw the two events as fundamentally the same since both were based on lies, or–as those more generous towards America put it–on premises that should have been known to be false.           From a smart, learned, and thought-provoking friend, however, I got a more detailed and nuanced response about the two invasions in which he listed more than a few similarities and differences that I had not thought about.

More of his comments may be explored over the coming weeks, but one of them made me think about how extraordinary our Iraq invasion was. He wrote that while Russia invaded a bordering state for purposes of territorial expansion (or, at least, for creating a “neutral” buffer), the U.S. invasion did not contemplate a territorial expansion. However, my friend continued, protections of oil supplies may have been one (unstated) consideration for our actions.

          This is a difference between the two, and I have been grappling with whether this is an important distinction. In invading a neighboring state, Russia’s action is similar to many previous conflicts. Most wars I could think of started out at least as a border conflict. The boundary is in dispute or, as my friend suggests for Russia, one country wishes to increase its size by taking land next door or sometimes is acting to remove what it sees as an unfriendly neighboring government.

          On the other hand, the examples of one country leapfrogging thousands of miles to invade another nation were comparatively few. The World Wars started out with conflicts among neighboring countries. Others, such as the Falklands/Malvinas war was over disputed sovereignty of distant lands. Other long-distance conflicts were justified as defense of colonies. Some sought to spread religion—often Christianity, the religion of peace—while extracting riches, such as Spain in the Americas. Our Iraqi invasion, unless its goal really was just to control oil, was different.

          The stated reason was a humanitarian one. Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction—biological, chemical, and soon, we said, nuclear; history indicated that he was willing to use such weapons; and so he needed to be stopped, even though he was not a threat to the invaders, i.e., us. (Not even faintly credible evidence was presented that Iraq threatened the United States.) Instead, Hussein needed to be stopped because he was a danger to peoples and lands other than the United States. Our action was not in self-defense; we were only seeking good for others. Let’s all sing: What a comfort to be sure, that our motives were so pure.* We were going to war, we said, only with the most magnanimous of motives.** Oh, and besides, we were going to bring Jeffersonian democracy to what had been a dictatorial regime.

          However, the words of Francis Bacon come to mind: “A just fear of an imminent danger, though there be no blow given, is a lawful cause of war.” Although Russia claims that Ukraine is a threat to itself and to the Russian minority in Ukraine, only deluded people can believe that Russia has a just fear of those possibilities. Those “reasons” are only pretexts.

          Although we supposedly had “humanitarian” reasons for attacking Iraq, a country thousands of miles away posing no threat to us, they could only be good grounds, Bacon might say, if the United States had just fears that Iraq posed an imminent threat to its neighbors. However, we know that this was not true; Iraq did not pose such a threat. Unfortunately, U.S. leaders were acting something like Putin has: They first decided to invade Iraq and subsequently looked for justifications for that decision. If the Iraq war was not based on bald-faced lies as Putin’s invasion has been, it was based on the conjectures of fools who could not acknowledge the lack of evidence for the military action.***

          My friend has concluded that it is hard to justify an invasion of a sovereign state for any purpose other than self-defense or, perhaps, an internationally recognized humanitarian threat. That said, he continues, bad as the invasion of Iraq was understood to be at the time (and understood now to be even worse), the Russian invasion of Ukraine reflects a far greater violation of accepted norms and poses far greater dangers to world safety than our Iraqi actions.

          I agree that the Russian invasion of Ukraine poses a greater global danger than our invasion of Iraq, but that is because of the fear that Putin might use nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. If, however, Russia continues to use only conventional weapons, is the Russian action a greater danger to the world than our Iraq invasion was? We are seeing death, destruction, and millions of frightened refugees resulting from the Ukrainian invasion, but of course, that was also true of our action. The number of deaths resulting from our invasion and occupation vary widely. Nevertheless, Iraq Body Count, an organization that carefully sought confirmation of reported deaths, concluded that over 160,000 people died from the Iraq invasion with over two-thirds of them civilians. Other sources report much higher numbers: 600,000, 460,000, and 1,033,000 deaths. Refugee numbers also vary, but many sources have concluded that 2 to 3 million Iraqis became refugees because of the war.

          Moreover, the Iraqi invasion helped foster terrorism in places outside of Iraq. Shortly after the invasion of Iraq, I had occasion to meet with officials who had been in Israeli intelligence services. They were mystified by our action. They said that Iraq was not a state sponsor of terrorism in the Mideast. But Iran was. They said that an invasion of Iraq was sure to increase the influence of Iran in the Mideast, and this would be detrimental to Christians and certain Muslims in the region as well as a threat to Israel. They were right. Furthermore, while ISIS was formed before 2003, it came to prominence and gained strength soon after our invasion of Iraq, and it continued to flourish in the chaotic milieu that our military adventure helped to create. The Ukraine invasion has caused deaths and an extraordinary number of refugees, but I doubt that it will spawn international terrorism anywhere near the extent that our Iraq invasion has.

          What is happening in Ukraine is both a tragedy and frightening because the conflict could spread and/or escalate. Our Iraq invasion may not have produced the same fear of escalation, nuclear or otherwise, but it was also a tragedy.


*In Man of La Mancha two women who will benefit if Don Quixote is locked up in a nuthouse, sing that they desire that result only because they are after his best interests. The Padre sings:

They’re only thinking of him.

They’re only thinking of him.

How saintly is their plaintive plea.

They’re only thinking of him.

What a comfort to be sure,

that their motives are so pure.

As they go thinking and worrying about him.

** Margaret MacMillan notes in War: How Conflict Shaped Us (2020) that humanitarian interventions such as our Iraq invasion “raise questions about who decides what is just and suspicions about the motives and goals of the intervening powers. Critics have argued that Western powers are simply cloaking their deeply-rooted imperialistic attitudes to the rest of the world in the fashionable new language. ‘Hypocrisy,’ as the Duc de La Rochefoucauld remarked, ‘is a tribute vice pays to virtue.’”

*** Before we launched our invasion of Iraq, I saw a TV interview of a congressional leader who had just emerged from an intelligence briefing. The congressman said that the briefing had given him an “intuition” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He had just met with intelligence officials and had nothing more than an “intuition”?! That told me that the intelligence agencies did not have solid information showing Iraq had those weapons. Nevertheless, that congressman voted for the war. He had made up his mind to support the invasion and was only looking for grounds to justify it. I am sure that he was viewed as a “good” man, but he voted for death because he had an intuition.

The Pope Goes to the New Iraq

          The Pope went to Iraq. Because of all the news coverage, I learned that Christians in Iraq had once been able to live and worship with reasonable freedom, but in the last two decades many Christian communities and neighborhoods had been decimated. Many reports have ascribed the devastations to ISIS in Iraq, but, of course, the invasion by the United States was a precipitating cause. Before 2003, a sizeable Christian minority lived in Iraq, but since then many Christians have been killed or forced to flee the country. Americans in general, and American Christians in particular, do not want to think of the United States as part of the cause of the death, dislocation, and destruction of Iraqi Christians and their communities, but it’s hard to avoid that conclusion.

We should remember that we invaded Iraq even though Iraq posed no threat to us, and our government gave justifications for our invasion that were false. And what did we accomplish? Our military action helped cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and perhaps millions of refugees. The country and the region are more unstable since our invasion and occupation than before, and we will pay trillions of dollars to pay for this war long after I am dead.

So how should we think of this war? Do a little thought experiment and swap out other countries for Iraq and the U.S. Assume, for example, that Argentina invaded Pakistan arguing – falsely – that Pakistan had trained its atomic arsenal on Argentina. This theoretical invasion resulted in the death of 350,000 Pakistanis, the migration of 500,000 Moslems to refugee camps in India followed a few years later by terrorist groups from Kashmir attacking and killing Northern Indians by the thousands and destroying ancient palaces dating back to the 1350’s. We would talk about war crimes. We would talk about reparations and sanctions on Argentinian rulers responsible for the invasion. But we don’t talk about those things when America is the instigator. We still believe America is exceptional. We don’t apply the same standards to ourselves that we would to other countries.

          Before we launched our invasion of Iraq, I saw on TV an interview of a congressional leader who had just emerged from an intelligence briefing. The congressman said that as a result of the briefing, he had an “intuition” that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He had just met with intelligence officials and had nothing more than an “intuition”?! That told me that the intelligence agencies did not have solid information showing Iraq had those weapons, but the congressman chose not to be skeptical. He voted in favor of the war. I am sure that he was viewed as a “good” man and a good “Christian,” but he voted for death because he had an intuition. And, of course, Colin Powell presented mere drawings and mockups, not photographs or eyewitness presentations, to justify our invasion. Why didn’t he ask where the hard intelligence was? And Powell is a “good” man.”

          Shortly after the invasion, I had occasion to meet with various officials who had been in Israeli intelligence services. They were mystified by our action. They said that Iraq was not a state sponsor of terrorism in the Mideast. But Iran was. They said further that an invasion of Iraq was sure to increase the influence of Iran in the Mideast, and this would be detrimental to certain Muslims and to Christians in the region and threaten Israel as well. They were right. Did none of our analysts realize this?

          I met a graduate of a distinguished college a few years after our invasion. He was a regular churchgoer, and he maintained that Christian principles supported our invasion. He was not alone in that opinion. I heard it said from religious people on TV many times. At the time I wondered what those Christian principles might be since they seemed to be radically different from my own. That made me want to get a WWJB bracelet—not a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet, which were then popular in certain circles. No. I wanted a “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” bracelet.

          And I wonder when these American Christians say their prayers at night, do they contritely ask for forgiveness for having encouraged this war? Maybe God can forgive them; many others cannot.