Volume 2, Number 56
18 October 2002

The War in Iraq: A Threat to Democracy

Dear Friends,

One hundred years from now historians will still be questioning how we got into the war with Iraq (if we did). They will debate how a country so far on its way to democracy — yet also far from arriving there — reversed course and gave to a single man the power we had taken away from the king. They will also debate how the world, as far as it had come toward democracy (even less than in America), allowed the United States to dominate its thinking, destroying those fragile pieces of peaceful resolution that pop up occasionally.

Democracy is not the voting system, nor who is in charge, but it lies instead in the hearts and minds of people. It permeates those hearts and minds, so that no one allows them to be usurped by force or in any other way. Iraq will not become a democracy just because Saddam Hussein is overthrown — indeed, the manner of overthrow will lead it even farther away. Democracy is a condition in which the vast numbers of people who comprise a nation — and ultimately the world — submit themselves to institutions of law of their own making, and in which they care about each other and the planet on which they live. You can't bomb people into this kind of submission.

The West has moved much closer to democracy than any other part of the world. We have fashioned our own law and courts, our own banking structure, our own checks and balances so that, until now, no one overwhelms the rest. We have configured societies that care about ourselves and each other. Only in the West is there as much care for the poor and disadvantaged, as much concern for Mother Earth, and as great a concept of fairness as has been achieved anywhere. We have now put all that to risk.

The people's reaction to the act of terrorism on September 11, 2001, tests what we have learned over centuries. Instead of the proud independence we were creating, instead of the feeling that we can lick anything the future throws at us, we are now a scared nation. The worst is that we have allowed one man — just one person — to scare us so much that we may use our great military force to crush segments of the world and sow dissent and mistrust everywhere.

This is not the first time.

In "Congress Lets Slip the Dogs of War" (New York Times, 10/13/02), Neil Lewis writes: "Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. But while presidents have sent troops into action perhaps 200 times, Congress has declared war on just five occasions: the War of 1812, the Spanish-American War, the Mexican War, World War I and World War II." The first such resolution occurred in 1798.

Three weeks ago I saw how Vietnam had moved toward the freedom we thought we were fighting for. We had lost the war, but Vietnam was winning the peace. (See TQE #55.) Will it be the same with Afghanistan, Iraq, and all else? Will the force of democracy be so strong as once again to overcome the force of the United States?

I hope so. But it would be a lot easier if we went democratic in the first place. Instead, we are supporting one nation — Israel — in the terrorism that it commits to overcome the terrorism of another — Palestine — when we should be opposing terrorism everywhere. Instead also, we are allowing one man to overwhelm the checks and balances that we and our ancestors have so painstakingly created.

We do face the problem of Saddam Hussein, just as we also face the terrorism of India and Pakistan, of Rwanda, Burundi, and the Congo, and of Northern Ireland. I don't know how these cases (including Israel-Palestine) will be "solved," but in each one the world should keep its calm, proceeding step by step, handling emergencies as they come. We should not be trying, by force, to forge the world that "we" want, as if we were the blacksmith and the whole world a horseshoe.

Life is a risk, whatever we do. We cannot be sure that "no war" will bring us peace. But let us not enhance the risk by deciding on war, as our President would have us do.

In the next issue, I plan to question whether economic or political democracy comes first, historically, or whether they arrive at the same time, and if so, which may lead the other.

Sincerely your friend,


Readers' Comments

Please send comments on this or any TQE, at any time. Selected comments will be appended to the appropriate letter as they are received. Please indicate in the subject line the number of the Letter to which you refer! The email address is tqe-comment followed by @quaker.org. All published letters will be edited for spelling, grammar, clarity, and brevity. Please mention your home meeting, church, synagogue (or ...), and where you live.

This letter is one of the most eloquent summaries of what I would want our "leaders" to understand as they work on political and social solutions. Thank you. It will remain in one of my file folders under "peace initiatives" as well as being sent on to others.

— Barbara Seidel, Gwynedd (PA) Friends Meeting.

WOW! How glad I am, dear F/friend Jack that you say so succinctly the ideas that roll and tumble in my head in bits and pieces. King W. indeed he is! I rejoice you are part of my life. And that dear Robin too, who can comfort and nudge with her warmth!

— Nancy Dolphin, Durango (CO) Friends Meeting.

Jack, you stand on firmer ground when you comment on economics.

— Tom Cooper, Lincoln (MA).

I don't blame our president alone. There is a widespread culture that is shared by many businessmen, our legislators and many who answer the public opinion polls. We talk about free markets and democracy but we ignore these high principles when they aren't adding to our power and wealth. To see were our nation is headed I think we need to consider what Arnold Toynbee learned in his study of twenty some civilizations. He found that when the leaders of a civilization cease to lead by example and inspiration and the mass of people no longer think their interests are being served by the civilization, that civilization is on the way toward decline.

— Lyle E. Smith, Motor Friends Church, Milo Iowa.

Please consider recent revelations about North Korea nuclear arms program when you write next about the "triumph of diplomacy." President Clinton abandoned a hard line toward North Korea in 1994 in favor of reliance on personal pledge of Kim Il Sung to Jimmy Carter that North Korea would halt its nuclear arms programs. Carter gets a Nobel prize, and North Korea gets nuclear capabilities. Win–win?

— Paul Laskow, Chestnut Hill (PA ) Friends Meeting. Vice President & General Counsel, AAA Mid-Atlantic Inc.

The opposite of a chicken hawk is a jungle dove. After 58 years, I still have jungle rot scars on my legs. As a combat infantry soldier, I made the amphibian landing at Sarangani Bay, Mindanao, Philippines. We fought our way up in the mountains. When I was not on patrol, I cooked chicken and eggs that I presume were stolen from people that had suffered since the Japanese invasion. Women appeared. I guess they were so destitute that they were driven to prostitution. Memories are long. Mindanao, today, is largely controlled by extremists. If we invade Iraq, I think the same thing will happen. Suffering will increase and we will be blamed for everything whether Saddam or Americans are really responsible. Now you know why I am a part of the Louisville, KY Friends Meeting.

— Lee B. Thomas, Jr.

"Life is a risk, whatever we do. We cannot be sure that 'no war' will bring us peace. But let us not enhance the risk by deciding on war, as our President would have us do."

Hear, hear.

— Chuck Fager, Director, Friends House, Fayetteville (NC).

Your letter TQE#56 about Iraq really speaks my mind. I hope it is published widely.

— Con Sawyer, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends.


RSVP: Write to "tqe-comment," followed by "@quaker.org" to comment on this or any future Letter. (I say "followed by" to interrupt the address, so it will not be picked up by spam senders.) Use as Subject the number of the Letter to which you refer. Permission to publish your comment is presumed unless you say otherwise. Please keep it short. Letters will be edited for spelling, grammar, clarity, and brevity. Any letter over approximately 100 words may be returned without being read. Please mention your home meeting, church, or synagogue, if any (this is not required), and your location.

To subscribe or unsubscribe at no cost, please visit our Home Page.

Each letter of The Quaker Economist is copyright by its author. However, you have permission to forward it to your friends (Quaker or no) as you wish and invite them to subscribe at no cost. Please mention The Quaker Economist as you do so, and tell your recipient how to find it.

The Quaker Economist is not designed to persuade anyone of anything, although viewpoints are expressed. Its purpose is to stimulate discussions, both electronically and within Meetings.

Publisher and Editorial Board

Publisher: Russ Nelson, St. Lawrence Valley (NY) Friends Meeting

Editorial Board:

  • Roger Conant, Mount Toby Meeting, Leverett (MA).
  • Carol Conzelman, Boulder (CO).
  • Ann Dixon, Boulder (CO) Friends Meeting.
  • Virginia Flagg, San Diego (CA) Friends Meeting.
  • Merlyn Holmes, Unitarian, Boulder, Colorado.
  • Janet Minshall, Anneewakee Creek Friends Worship Group, Douglasvillle (GA).
  • Jack Powelson, Boulder (CO) Meeting of Friends, Principal Editor
  • J.D. von Pischke, a Friend from Reston, VA.
  • Geoffrey Williams, Attender at New York Fifteenth Street Meeting.

Members of the Editorial Board receive Letters several days in advance for their criticisms, but they do not necessarily endorse the contents of any of them.

Copyright © 2002 by John P. Powelson. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for non-commercial reproduction.

The original title of this letter was simply "Iraq." —LC, 30 May 2005.

Previous Letter | Home Page | Next Letter