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Highly in danger of losing it


This is a dangerous day for writers, hung on the cusp of war. Near-term predictions and short-range analyses will err, and speaking out is certainly due to become more hazardous as the iron fist of tyranny closes around my homeland.

For a few hours yesterday I hoped Saddam Hussein might choose a quick, minor victory over a long-term triumph, but this morning my confidence has failed. In the pre-dawn darkness there is little to lighten my mood.

Saddam could have exited as a heroic peacemaker, albeit a cruel one. (With 14 hours remaining, I suppose he still could.) He could spare his people the fiery destruction headed their way and the unfathomable aftermath of a modern blitzkrieg. He would have won the immediate public relations battle, and left George Bush grasping for new straws to justify his intent. World opinion would have swung more solidly in favor of continued inspections and disarmament in Iraq.

However, if reports can be believed (no small leap of faith in this era), Saddam intends to bring down America. If he stands and fights he will engage in a war he will not win against an enemy who cannot possibly avoid losing.

This year, perhaps this week, will become etched in all our minds. When the bombs begin to rain on Baghdad, mark your calendar, check your watch. This is the day, this is the hour, when America failed.

I am reduced to tears as I reread that last sentence. It is a tipping point in history too terrible to contemplate, too imminent to ignore. It won't be apparent in the first months as we declare victory after victory. It may not be fully clear in the first year. But the end will have begun.

The beacon of liberty we have held aloft for two and a half centuries is being purposefully extinguished. We will have moved from exemplar of self-determination and human rights to become a terrible colossus, imposing our will by force of arms. The high moral ground of our Declaration of Independence and Constitution will have been blasted into rubble. Lives sacrificed for freedom will stand defiled.

There is a cure for terrorism, for those who seek a cure. It is called justice. But the power-crazed men who have seized control of our country want more terror, not less. In the aftermath of the bloodbath they crave, they will surely get their wish. This war will breed terror as no act of government has done before. As the calculated destabilization and invasion of other Middle Eastern nations plays out, the terrorist assault will grow.

Our civil liberties, already threatened, will crumble under the perceived need for Homeland Security.

As a child of the Cold War I grew up afraid of nuclear weapons that might be launched by a nation bent on world dominion. My schoolbooks told me about an oppressed land where rulers were only accountable to their party, where elections were a sham, where neighbors spied on neighbors and government agencies compiled secret files, where the good of the people was ignored in favor of the needs of the military, where those who spoke out could be arrested and held without charges or executed without trial.

And now I live there.

My reflection in the window at my right gazes back at me while the overcast sky slides into morning gray, and I find a straw of my own for grasping.

The pace of change is accelerating, for better or worse. The Soviet empire plummeted more rapidly than anyone could have imagined. The Berlin wall came down in a historical instant. The world-around opposition to the madness rampant in Washington coalesced in a heartbeat.

We are confronted with despotism and horror, yet I clutch a kernel of faith: this evil empire will also fail, and sooner than we can presently imagine.

I do believe this. I must.

-- Cecil Bothwell is managing editor of Mountain Express, an alternative newsweekly in Asheville, N.C., and the author of The Icarus Glitch, a collection of his Duck Soup columns. Domestic Bliss will return next week.

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