Bmj Usa: Editor's Choice

Being unpatriotic for our country

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 19 November 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:E195
  1. Steven H Woolf, MD, MPH

    From BMJ USA 2003;Mar:118

    Lyndon Johnson was displeased in February 1968 when Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, spoke out against the Vietnam War. Johnson later said, “If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America.” Perhaps it was unpatriotic to not support the White House, but Cronkite was being unpatriotic for his country.

    Now, 35 years later, Cronkite has done it again. In an interview on CNN, he spoke out against war with Iraq. “We might win a war and never establish a peace again with those people.”'

    Cronkite's views on terrorism are interesting. “We have been warned by terrorist attacks of the dislike for us… The problem is this great division between the rich and the poor in the world… The people in those countries who don't have adequate hospitalization, don't have adequate medical care, don't have adequate education, they are not going to live forever in the shadow of the riches that we display constantly in our movies, in our travels around the world, in our airlines, and in our shipping… We are suffering from a revolution of the poor and have-nots against the rich and haves.”

    Setting aside the debate over whether a preemptive strike on Iraq is moral, necessary, or urgent, a larger concern is that the invasion of an Islamic country by hundreds of thousands of American soldiers is likely to turn the already intense anger of the Islamic world into uncontrolled rage. President Bush says this is necessary for the “war on terrorism,” but the act itself may incite terrorism and make bitter enemies of those who once admired American ideals. How tragic that this might ultimately sacrifice more lives than are threatened by weapons of mass destruction.

    Skirting these questions, the news media embrace the bravado of old Westerns (“Showdown with Saddam”) and limit their reporting to deployments and diplomatic maneuvering. Some concerns are discussed, such as potential US casualties, impact on our economy, and the time and treasure it will take to rebuild Iraq. Stories about gunships and urban combat are surreally silent about the innocent civilians we will kill.

    An open letter to Tony Blair in the January 25 issue of the BMJ (p 220) brings welcome attention to the impending human tragedy. Citing several projections, the letter warns of up to 260 000 deaths during the war and the ensuing three months, 20 000 deaths from civil war within Iraq, 200 000 deaths from postwar adverse health effects, 500 000 people with injuries, 900 000 refugees, and 2 to 3 million people requiring shelter and food.

    Some claim it will cost $95 billion to rebuild Iraq. How many lives could that money save? What if it were invested in health care, education, and job training in poor countries? Would less deprivation bring less resentment, less anger at the rich, and less terrorism? Firing missiles instead of addressing root causes could be the greatest mistake of our time. Perhaps it's time to be unpatriotic for our country.

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