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Awaiting the surge

"Picture the person you love most in the world," wrote David Brooks at the start of his Sunday Times column


Urban journal

"Picture the person you love most in the world," wrote David Brooks in his New York Times column on Sunday. "Now imagine that person shredded by a bomb or dropped off one morning in the gutter with holes drilled through the back of the head."

Imagine your rage, said Brooks, and your terror, "not knowing who will die next." That's what Iraqis are living with.

We brought about this terror, replacing the horrors of the reign of Saddam Hussein with those of a brutal civil war. We have sacrificed 3000 of our own military men and women, and the Iraqis have sacrificed much more.

And the situation grows worse, not better.

This week, President Bush will announce formally what the media have already reported: we will send still more Americans to Iraq.

David Brooks, a Bush apologist and war supporter, is all for it. If we had sent in enough troops to begin with, he says, "history would be different." Maybe. What matters now, though, is whether a ramp-up --- tossing "fresh American troops on the pyre," as Frank Rich put it on Sunday --- will help or hurt.

We're about to find out. Democratic leaders in Congress are arguing for the start of troop withdrawal, not a ramp-up. But the president is still the commander in chief. He is determined to send more troops to Iraq, and it's hard to imagine that Congress will deny him the money to do it.

January 15 is the anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. The country needs his wisdom and his prophetic voice now as much as we needed them the day he was killed. We need his preaching about issues of racism and poverty. And we need his preaching about war.

Near the end of his life, King was urging peace and cautioning about the arms race --- particularly the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This was during the Vietnam War, but his message is just as relevant today, as the Bush administration prepares to escalate our involvement in Iraq and, Seymour Hersh and others warn, is considering attacks on Iran.

All of this is being done in the guise of spreading democracy, protecting the homeland. Seeking peace.

"The stages of history are replete with the chants and choruses of the conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace," King wrote in "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" a year before his death. "Alexander, Genghis Khan, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and Napoleon were akin in seeking a peaceful world order, a world fashioned after their selfish conceptions of an ideal existence. Each sought a world at peace which would personify his egotistic dreams."

King was sick at heart about the US involvement in Vietnam, about our "leaving broken bodies in countless ditches and sending home half-men, mutilated mentally and physically...." To many of us, the Iraq War's resemblance to the tragedy of Vietnam grows with each passing week. And now, we wait for the president's announcement. And across the country, families prepare to send loved ones into the chaos of Iraq.

Some day, this will all be over, as Vietnam was. Our troops --- those who have not lost their lives there --- will get out of Iraq, eventually. And whenever that happens, it seems likely that they will not leave with their mission accomplished. It seems more and more likely that their leaving will be in circumstances similar, if not in exact reproduction, to those when we left Vietnam, with men and women pleading, arms raised, as the last of our helicopters lift up toward the sky.

We will leave behind great pain. And we will have to live with a terrible knowledge: that we caused that pain. And that we let it go on for far too long.


No country should be engaged in war unless its people are willing to look it in the face. And as the new year begins, Rochesterians have a unique opportunity to do that, thanks to the George Eastman House and several other local institutions and organizations.

Our cover story this week focuses on that opportunity: a group of exhibitions, lectures, and other events called "Witness: Know War/Know Genocide." This newspaper is privileged to be the print sponsor, a commitment we made because of the importance of the subject, and because of our respect for the involvement by the Eastman House and other participants.

"Witness" is not a political statement. It is not, for instance, a protest against US involvement in Iraq. The exhibits and events cover much more than this current war: Darfur and Nazi Germany, to name two horrors. But war itself is a political act, and the "Witness" participants may well receive criticism for their involvement. At the least, the Eastman House must worry about audience. The subject is a serious one, to put it mildly, and photos like these are tough to see.

But we hope you'll see them, regardless of your political views and your feelings about this current war. War is killing thousands of people, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Darfur, in Somalia. The least we can do, safe here at home, is to pay witness.