First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Evil and the "Phony War"
There are certain segments of our society, and huge swathes of our supposed "allies" in Europe and elsewhere, where President Bush is regularly mocked for having called our enemies an "axis of evil."
They think the use of the word "Axis" is mere propaganda, trying to compare our enemies with Hitler and Mussolini.
And the word "evil" seems to them to be something out of the middle ages. Sophisticated people don't talk that way nowadays. To call our enemies "evil" shows intolerance, naivete, and a refusal to admit America's own crimes that provoked our enemies to attack us.
But just because the word "evil" has become unfashionable (at least when applied to our enemies) does not change the fact that it still exists.
No rational person has any doubt that Hitler and his minions were evil, or that Stalin's deliberate murder of millions of his own countrymen proved him to be Hitler's equal.
There have been evil governments before Hitler and Stalin, and there is no reason to think that there has been some radical change in human nature that would make it so that evil governments no longer exist.
Haven't we watched as Serbia's Milosevic encouraged genocide in Bosnia? As the Hutu government of Rwanda incited their own people to attempt -- and nearly accomplish -- the massacre of all the Tutsi men, women, and children in their nation? Has everyone forgotten Idi Amin? The Argentinian government that slaughtered the desaparecidos?
If those governments could be evil, in what possible way can it be ridiculous or naive or neanderthal for President Bush to notice that our present enemies are also evil?
Evil -- the eagerness to kill, torture, terrorize and destroy in order to force one's will on everyone else, while lying constantly and blaming one's enemies for everything -- has always been present in the world.
Evil is observable all around us. It is always with us. From the vile monsters who steal children to torture and kill them, to ruthless businessmen who let no law or ethic block them from getting what they want, from tyrannically abusive or controlling parents who have no mercy on their own children, to the petty tyrants of bureaucracy who lie and destroy while pretending to be "good workers," we have all met people who have, to one degree or another, embraced evil in their lives.
Often we do not realize it. Often, wishing to believe the best of others, we persist in putting the kindest possible interpretation on their actions because we cannot accept the idea that someone could be so utterly ruthless, selfish, and cruel.
But whatever excuse we put on the actions of evil people does not change the nature of what they are -- it only changes our ability to respond, to protect ourselves and those we love from their depredations.
And when evil people get control of a government, that nation becomes evil, not because every citizen of that country is evil, but rather because all the wealth and power of that nation are turned by its leaders to serve their evil purposes.
The only sense in which President Bush was wrong about the "axis of evil" was that he did not yet recognize what is becoming increasingly clear -- that the axis of evil actually includes more nations than he named.
It even includes a few nations that we thought, in our naivete, were our "friends" -- because they sell us oil, and because we have helped them so much in the past.
They are evil, not because the men who run those countries are evil, but because they are so terrified by the evil Islamicist-terrorist forces within their own borders that they are essentially under their control and serve their purposes.
That is why we see Saudi Arabia openly encouraging terrorism in Israel, and Kuwait and Saudi Arabia refusing to allow U.S. forces to use their territory to launch an attack against Iraq. The leaders of those countries aren't evil, they're merely greedy and pathetic. But because they haven't the courage or strength to resist evil, they end up serving as evil's tools.
It's hard to keep people interested in a war that has no battles.
When the bullets aren't flying, some people become confused and think that the lack of dying is the same thing as peace.
That's why we're seeing the spectacle of members of the President's own party urging him not to attack Iraq.
They don't want him to "provoke" our enemies into attacking us. They don't want him to break the "peace."
But what we have is not peace. What we have is merely an interlude of inaction, during which our enemies are regrouping and strengthening themselves, and the longer we delay, the more terrible the fighting will be when it resumes.
During the "phony war" period of World War II, between Germany's assault on Poland and the blitzkrieg that toppled France, there were many months of inaction in which "nothing" happened.
Oh, German U-boats were sinking British shipping at an alarming rate, and Denmark and Norway fell to Germans who needed to guarantee their access to Swedish iron. And the people of Poland and Czechoslovakia and Austria were under no illusions about Hitler and his intentions, for they felt the iron heel of Germany pressing against their necks.
But because there were no pitched battles of the kind that the French and British people had come to think of as typical of war, their governments actually thought that by refraining from attacking Germany, they might still "prevent" war.
Instead of preventing war, their inaction merely guaranteed that when it came, the war was far worse, and their own defeat far more likely, than it would have been had they acted sooner, and decisively.
The analogy with today is not exact, for the simple reason that there is no nation on earth that has the power to land an army on our shores.
But this is not 1939, and our enemy does not want to "conquer" us. It wants to destroy us, and it doesn't need armies to do it.
Furthermore, we are just as stupid about defending ourselves as the French and British were. We think we have some kind of Maginot Line of security, when in fact the security precautions we have taken are utterly incapable of protecting us from a determined -- and evil -- enemy.
What if the next wave of suicide "bombers" consists of fifty fanatic Muslims who have deliberately infected themselves with smallpox and then wander through the subways and movie theaters and sports stadiums of America, coughing, sneezing, touching with mucus-covered fingers, breathing into the faces of unsuspecting American men, women, and children?
People of my generation were vaccinated and might still have some immune defenses. But two generations of Americans have not been immunized. And our government's preparations depend on the absurd premise that a smallpox outbreak would be centered in one location.
The only sensible defense would be to immunize our entire population, right now, without delay. We know how to do it, and it must be done, because we know our enemies would not shrink from such an attack.
But smallpox vaccinations would not protect us from anthrax or other bio-agents released in the same way. And we know that Iraq is perfectly willing to use terrible weapons against civilians.
So when people call on President Bush not to launch a "first strike" against Iraq, not to "widen the war," they are being, to put it as kindly as possible, unbelievably stupid. The war is already far wider than our own government is willing to admit.
Our conquest of Afghanistan was necessary, but only the first step in destroying our enemies' ability to wage their kind of murderous war against our people. It is absolutely vital that we destroy the governments that are rushing to prepare the weapons that our enemies will use against us. Foremost among them is Iraq.
And there is no reason to think that Iraq would be the last nation we would have to fight before this threat was erased from the earth.
You can't fight implacable evil with half measures. And you certainly can't protect yourself against evil by trying not to "provoke" it and hoping it will go away.
I hope we are not as tragically naive as the French and British were. They found out that their war was not "phony" only when their enemy nearly destroyed them.
Do we have to wait until millions of Americans are slaughtered before we understand just how unavoidable and desperate this war really is?
Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.
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