HAVING MADE the mistake of agreeing to "debate" the war before a college campus audience, I ought not to have expected much beyond emotional appeals from the antiwar participants. But I did, and of course, I was disappointed.
The Rev. George Regas was one of three antiwar voices, the others being the Rt. Rev. J. John Bruno, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, and my colleague and friend Professor Don Will of Chapman University's Peace Studies program. Canon Regas was by far the most impassioned of the three, though Bishop Bruno's experience as a combat veteran gives him a unique authority on such panels. The bishop and Professor Will were concerned with matters of the intellect, but Regas went right for the heart in his opening remarks, repeatedly invoking the children of Iraq and their suffering.
Regas is a veteran of the antiwar left, back to the good old days of Vietnam, and he turned aside my repeated references to the aftermath of every major war of the past century, whether Hitler's camps, Stalin's gulags, North Korea's starving peasants, Ho's boat people, or Pol Pot's killing fields. His focus is fixed on the children that American bombs are killing, and his concern for Saddam's victims was, at best, muted.
As is always the case with the left, uncomfortable facts are best ignored. If you want to argue the safety and well-being of children, Saddam's record is not very compelling. So Regas countered with the canard about the oil embargo leading to the death of Iraq's children. If you have any doubts on the absurdity of this claim, Claudia Rosett's wonderful update on the administration of Saddam's oil program in the current issue of The Weekly Standard should put them to rest.
Perhaps Regas is concerned only with the children whose pictures he can see--and there have been some pictures from the front lines of the war that are full of sorrow. Such a reflexive response dooms the left to never seeing or hearing the suffering of the victims of quiet extermination, no matters how large their numbers. All of the marchers against this war are marching to preserve a regime that butchers tens of thousands. Ritual denunciations do nothing to end Saddam's grip, and the close-up view of his fanatics that we have been receiving these past two weeks should confirm that this regime would never have "evolved" away, no matter the number of inspectors or the duration of their stay. I brought along the Sports Illustrated from last week with the sickening account of Uday Hussein's torture and murder of Iraq's athletes. My antiwar colleagues ignored that as well. It is unfair to horses to call Regas's view blinkered. Horses at least sense the wider world around them.
Perhaps if Sports Illustrated is too low-brow for his taste, Regas will read the Atlantic Monthly, which is rapidly becoming the indispensable monthly. The indefatigable Robert Kaplan is back on the road again, and his reports from Yemen and Eritrea in the April issue should not be missed. He provides background on both countries, including the startling--to me--fact that Yemen's civil wars of 1986 and 1994 killed 10,000 and 7,000 respectively, and that the Eritrean-Ethiopian war of 1998 to 2000 left 19,000 Eritreans and 60,000 Ethiopians dead.
These are staggering figures, though nothing like the horrors of Rwanda. Still, where was the "peace movement" and its concern over children in those years?
This is not an argument on behalf of American intervention in the vicious wars of the remote parts of the globe. It is just a reminder that moral posing is a whole lot easier when only selective facts are admitted into debates. The value of every life is the same, and arguments against the war in Iraq that count only the loss of life among civilians because of American arms do not deserve even a passing hearing. Opponents of the war who fear political benefit for Bush from a victory, or bold revolutionaries of the left that are naked in their hatred of the awesome combination of capitalism and freedom, are at least awake to the world around them. The sorry example of "men of faith" ignoring suffering and injustice on such a vast scale is injurious to the very faith they proclaim.
The archives of Iraq will soon be open. Like the archives of Cambodia and other totalitarian states of the last century, these files will be impossible for any real conscience to ignore.
Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.