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A World of Beauty

A trip to Italy underscores how beauty and peace are sometimes protected by war.

6:00 AM, Mar 31, 2003 • By LEE BOCKHORN
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WHEN THE WAR IN IRAQ began nearly two weeks ago, I should have, ideally, begun boning up on my Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, so as to have something meaningful to say about the conflict. Instead, I found myself sitting in a hotel room in Rome at the beginning of a long-planned and rather ill-timed vacation.

I went to Rome and Florence to see beautiful art, beautiful people, and beautiful churches and to eat beautiful food; Italy did not disappoint. Politics and war were easy to forget, though admittedly the sense of detachment necessary for my tourist pursuits was disquieting. I tried to track the war's progress as best as I could from deciphering headlines in Italian newspapers and watching a few minutes of television in my room late at night. In between snatches of Italian-dubbed broadcasts of "The Simpsons" and "Quincy," I managed to catch some of the BBC's putrid war coverage. I heard Senator Daschle's disgusting comments, and a bit of Michael Moore's Oscar tirade.

Other than that, the most prominent signs of war opposition I saw during my trip were the ubiquitous rainbow-colored "PACE" flags in Italy and a few demonstrations. The half-dozen times I was asked about my nationality and replied "United States," people were friendly and pleasant to me. One young man working at a lunch counter did tell me I should do something to oppose "President Bush's war," but he said so without rancor. Though young Italians may not like American foreign policy, they still seem to like Americans well enough. And for better or worse, they eagerly consume American culture, whether it's junk food for the body (McDonald's) or the mind (Eminem).

I'm no expert on European politics, but I got the sense during my trip that Italian opposition to the war doesn't emanate from a deep-seated hatred and fear of the American "hyperpower," as it does in France. It's more of a fashion--what any right-thinking person there believes. In the same way that no self-respecting Italian woman would be caught dead strolling on the Via Condotti without her Prada handbag, no Italian wants to be for war and against "peace." It would be gauche.

I FINALLY LOST whatever sense of detachment remained from my trip last night when I saw NBC's "Dateline" interview the wife of Marine second lieutenant Fred Pokorney. Pokorney, 31, who was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was killed during the war's first week, leaving behind his wife and 2-year-old daughter. As I watched, I was astonished at how well Pokorney's wife was holding up. Like her fallen warrior husband, she is, in her own way, brave and strong.

I thought back to all the carefree young Italians I saw wearing and waving those garish rainbow "PACE" flags at the Spanish Steps in Rome and near the Duomo in Florence. If they could, surely they would say to me that Fred Pokorney's death proves the rightness of their cause; that war, no matter what its rationale, takes husbands from wives, fathers from children, and cruelly disturbs the rightful order of things.

But despite that truth, Fred Pokorney knew--and, bless her heart, even his wife knows, despite her terrible loss--that some things are worth fighting and even dying for. "Peace" or pace, in whatever language, is an abstraction, and the mere incantation of the word is not a sufficient argument, for it can only be realized when certain conditions are met, and certain prices paid. A "peace" that leaves brutal dictators in power to terrorize their own people and develop monstrous weapons that threaten the world is hardly deserving of the name, and not worth the cost it demands in ignorance and unchecked danger.

I wonder what will have to happen before the Italians I met will remember this--if some lunatic will have to fill the subway tunnels in Rome with poison gas or blow up the Uffizi gallery in Florence. I hope not. But they seem to be mesmerized, even paralyzed, by the beauty that surrounds them. And that's why, after nine lovely days in Italy, I was glad to come home to America. We may not have the works of Michelangelo, Raphael, or Bernini in abundance, but we have men like Fred Pokorney, whose selfless devotion to the cause of freedom and true peace makes a world of beauty possible.

Lee Bockhorn is associate editor at The Weekly Standard.