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The signs of gathering war have increased lately, if in no other way than by the number of people opposing it. Driving into Key West a few days ago I saw some genuine peace protesters. The look hasn’t changed since my college days. Sincere folks, dressed with a hip youthful flair, carrying handmade signs and yelling slogans. There were just three of them waving at passing cars instead of 100,000 trying to levitate the Pentagon, but give it time.

I saw a couple minutes of mega-liberal Susan Sarandon on Donahue. She was stumping against bombing Iraq. I agree with her for once. But her motives are suspect with a Republican in office. Bill Clinton could bomb eastern Europeans to his heart’s content with nary a squeak from the big bucks Hollywood political groupies. If Bill, or even better, Hillary Clinton wanted to kill Arabs Susan would be on Donahue telling us we should do it “for the children.”

Even Andy Rooney has weighed in on peace or patriotism. He isn’t keen on the idea of war. But he ended by suggesting Saddam was exterminating millions of innocents so maybe we better go in there and stop him — just like Andy and his generation did with Shickelbruber in The Big One. How he knows about the Iraq genocide he didn’t say. It was the first I have heard that SH is exterminating innocents any faster than the other thugs the U.S. Government has supported around the world. Maybe Andy has inside information.

And finally, in what surely portends imminent military cataclysm, my wife badgered me into erecting an eight-foot peace symbol on our lawn for the holiday season. Candy cane stripes, twinkle lights and a fringe of evergreen sprigs mitigate the political implications. The look suggests hippy-dippy barbershop. I thought leaving the fringe of greenery a bit thin on top would add a timely authenticity to the look, but was voted down on that and the alternative ponytail of twinkle lights idea.

Despite mounting but still minor and polite protest, Baby Bush retains a high approval rating.  What is not clear is that his approving majority is willing to go to war on his say so. The evidence that Saddam is a global menace is still pretty thin.  Cynical opinions of economic motives aside, I would liken much of our government’s warlike attitude to circumstances similar to our city’s acquisition of a SWAT team. Before we had one, we never needed one. Now the SWAT-team-equipped KWPD has to stage a military style assault every month or so. Big hammers make lots of things look like nails.

Our government has a mighty big hammer. We are conducting a one-country arms race. The current and rapidly growing military budget is $396 billion. The combined total military budgets of Russia, China, Japan, UK, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, Brazil, India, Italy, South Korea, Iran, Israel and Taiwan is $336 billion.

Israel, surrounded by hostile neighbors and fighting against determined guerrillas inside its borders, gets by on a measly $9 billion. Britain and France with the tribulations of a host of former colonies manage self-defense on just $60 billion.

On what are we spending $5,000 for every household in the country? I surely don’t know. I doubt anyone could grasp the whole of such a vast expenditure let alone figure out where it goes. But I’m sure we could defend ourselves for a whole lot less if we would just bring home the troops we have antagonizing the locals in over 100 countries across the globe.

There would probably also be savings in abandoning the Defense Department’s uniformly disastrous policy of arming “enemies of our enemies.” We spent over 3 billion arming the Taliban against the Russians. In 2001 alone, before 9/11 made them the evildoers of the month, we sent over $125 million in aid to Afghanistan. We armed Saddam himself when he was fighting Iran. We had already armed the Iranians when the Shah was in power. We sent hundreds of millions to arm and aid the Somalis before they became our enemy and sucked us into a disastrous “police action.”

The “arm-the-enemy’s-enemies” policy would be funny if it weren’t so expensive and dangerous. It shows the truth of P.J. O’Rourke’s observation that “Giving money and power to politicians is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenagers.”

Our military is now so large that in a world where we have no enemies of even vaguely comparable strength, we can afford to create enemies and arm them at our own expense.  A horrific crime becomes an act of war and off we go in search of someone to wage war against.

Here are three questions that I believe will help individuals clarify a decision to go to war.

First, would it be right for the United States to kill a number of Arab civilians equal to the number of Americans killed on 9/11 even if those civilians had no connection to the 9/11 crime?

Second, if you knew that going to war against Iraq would get rid of Saddam, would you be in favor of it if you also knew it would cost the life of a family member?

Third, would you want go to war against Iraq if you personally had to shoot every man woman and child that would die as “collateral damage” in bombings?

If you can answer yes to all three of these you are ready to go to war.