MOUNT DESERT ISLAND, MAINE -- Down the coast a day's sail away, George Bush has said that "our way of life" is under threat because of "that one man, Saddam Hussein."
A definition of "our way of life" has yet to be offered by the president, although the trappings of his vacation -- the speedboat and the golf cart -- offer symbolic hints. The U.S. encampment in Saudi Arabia, now double the original money estimate and in keeping with the Pentagon's fondness for cost overruns, is a statement to the world that we will kill Arabs to assure our wasteful, self-indulgent way of life. Americans are 2 percent of the Earth's population consuming 25 percent of the known oil reserves.
Leveling with the public about our energy gluttony, which Bush has been too cowardly to do, would mean a reversal: We're the problem, not Saddam Hussein. The Kennebunkport speedboat would need to be replaced by a sailboat. Bush would have to walk, not ride, the fairways of his country club. hard times a-coming.
Instead of introspection, Bush and Congress have called on the military for a solution, the one group that acts -- shoots -- before it thinks. If ordered, it will defend the oil-based American empire and never mind the high cost in lives if the cost of Iraqi crude lowers.
Bush's recklessness in sending troops to Saudi Arabia continues the lethal interventionism of the 1980s -- Grenada, Libya, Panama -- into the '90s. A high proportion of the deaths in those one-sided wars were civilians, as many as 3,000 or 4,000 in Panama by some on-the-scene estimates. In the Grenada invasion, a fearless achievement of the U.S. invaders was bombing a hillside mental hospital and killing some 20 patients.
In the Middle East, the Pentagon, ordered by Bush and praised by Congress, is ready to kill all the men, women and children unlucky enough to be in harm's way on the trajectory of slaughter leading to Saddam Hussein. If the bombing of Baghdad is decreed as necessary to sustain America's oil addiction, do it. The United States is a country that carpet-bombed Dresden and Tokyo in World War II and Hanoi and Cambodia in the Vietnam War. Henry Kissinger, who thought that the way to stop Ho Chi Minh was to bomb the men, women and children he ruled, now counsels "a surgical and progressive destruction of Iraq's military assets," as if civilians will know where to hide when the bombs fall.
On Mount Desert Island, Maine, a community in which the instinct for peaceableness is so strong that hunting is banned, the depravities of war seem remote. Henry Beston, a nature writer whose anthology "Especially Maine" ranks with the descriptive prose of Henry David Thoreau, offered this on the saturation of bombing of Berlin in 1943: "I find that my belief that the bombing of cities is evil no matter who does it, or what its foul and specious justification may be -- this I find so out of fashion that it is dangerous to hold."
The danger has been too great for anyone in Congress to condemn the massing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, whether to protect oil that we don't need or protect a government that is anti-democratic and antisemitic. The media have been as unquestioning in Saudi Arabia as in the Panama invasion, when 10 out of 10 of the country's major dailies supported the Pentagon's rape. This time, with stakes higher, media subservience to the military ethic approaches toadyism. Sam Donaldson spoke for homogenized television reporters when he did a stand-up before a U.S. military camp in the desert and called the speed and size of the buildup "impressive." Back in the ABC studios in Washington, Ted Koppel and Barbara Walters used "Nightline" to work over the Iraqi ambassador as if they were out to win a battlefield commission from Marlin Fitzwater, propagandist-in-chief in the war of words against the beast of Baghdad.
Saddam Hussein's takeover of Kuwait was a regional seizure that Bush elevated into a global war zone. The peace dividend became the war dividend, a post-Red Menace godsend for military contractors who feared they might have to produce something useful for once and a reveille call to the post-Vietnam military hot to redeem itself in the Big Sandy after the ignominy of the Big Muddy.
When Bush and Saddam called each other liars, both were right. Any leader who threatens or wages war -- organized murder -- and tells his public that with enough death and destruction to the other side peace will come is prolonging history's greatest hoax.