I am reproached by my e-mails -- dismissed as a fool, condemned as a warmonger. How could I, a supposed liberal, support the war in Iraq? I have several reasons, but the most important has to do with a recurring dream I used to have. In it, I am entering Auschwitz.
The dream is vivid. I am wearing a three-piece tweed suit, cut in the style of the period. My shirt is white, the collar tips turned up a bit. My tie is a brown, muted plaid. I enter the death camp along with hundreds of others, including the beautiful woman accompanying me. In the dream, I know we are doomed, but I am, for some reason, serene.
I no longer have this dream, but that hardly means that I don't -- maybe once a day -- think of the Holocaust. For all I know about it -- book after book, article after article, movie after movie -- I cannot quite grasp that it happened and that people let it happen. To some, the Holocaust rebukes God. For me, it is enough that it rebukes man.
The year 1945 remains pivotal in recent world history. That was the year the Nazi extermination and concentration camps were liberated -- and the world had to confront what mankind was capable of doing. It was an evil on a scale that would take years to sink in. That was also the year that the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. Now the world had to confront two awful truths: Mankind was a monster in waiting, and it had a weapon to match its most depraved ambitions. Nothing has been the same ever since. Nothing will ever again be the same.
I don't know -- and I somehow doubt -- that George W. Bush spends much time ruminating on the Holocaust and pairing it with what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I do think, though, that he thinks about evil. He does so, we are told, in religious terms, and in that he is different from me. But we both come out in the same place: Evil must be confronted. Since Hiroshima, there is little room to maneuver. Bad guys can do an awful lot of damage.
I know -- and French President Jacques Chirac reminds us -- that the world is full of bad guys and you cannot take them all on. I agree. It was for that reason I once thought the United States ought to steer clear of the Balkans. I had been there. I was daunted by the terrain, the climate, the heavily forested countryside. This was a vertical Vietnam -- a quagmire in the making.
So thousands died. They were killed individually in battle and individually in latter-day concentration camps. They were murdered by the hundreds in massacres. Women were raped. Unlike the Holocaust, the world could not pretend ignorance. We all knew what was happening at Srebrenica in July 1995. You and I must live with the shame of inaction. When we were going to the mall, the Serbs were murdering more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims. United Nations troops were nearby.
A year earlier, we had done nothing in Rwanda. Maybe 1 million people -- Tutsi and some Hutu -- perished in about three months. Again, United Nations troops were in the area. Again, nothing much was done.
The Serbs did not have weapons of mass destruction, and the Hutu killed often with nothing more than machetes. But Saddam Hussein represents a marriage of evil with technology. He has already used poison gas. He has developed biological weapons. He once was developing a nuclear weapons program, and maybe still is. Pardon the cliche, but he is the perfect storm -- a conjunction of forces that the meteorologist in all of us can see coming. He has the desire. Unless he is deposed, he will get the wherewithal.
I grant Chirac his point: We cannot take on everyone. Already, it may be too late to do anything about North Korea. Soon it may be too late to do anything about Iran. I grant the war's critics some of their points as well. The Bush administration has been inept in its diplomacy, arrogant in its approach and a bit slippery in its rationalizations for war. The Muslim world may shrug or it may explode, sending human shrapnel -- terrorists -- our way. It is a scary prospect.
But the Holocaust shows us what mankind is capable of doing. It shows us also what mankind is capable of ignoring. I support this war not for oil or for empire or, in case you should ask, for Israel -- but because of a dream I used to have.