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Taking Your Gun to Town

More Than One Moment of Truth.

by Barnabas
March 19, 2003

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Taking Your Gun to Town_Barnabas-More Than One Moment of Truth.
Bush said that it was "the moment of truth" for the United Nations to live up to its responsibilities. He said that even if the United Nations refused to enforce its own resolutions, it would be invited to assist in the rebuilding of "post-Saddam Iraq."
–International Herald Tribune, March 17.
“Billy, don’t take your gun to town,” Mother advised in the old Johnny Cash hit. It’s doubtful that the elder Mrs. Bush is giving similar advice to the President; she is too mature a politician to do that, even if she were to disagree with her son. Besides, he is no punk teenager in the Old West, too big for his britches; he is, at least at the present moment, the most powerful man in the world.

If a land invasion of Iraq indeed occurs by the time this is posted on the The Partial Observer, the President will have taken his gun to town. When you do that, there is always more than one moment of truth—at least one for every participant and observer of the gunfight and its consequences. The President focuses on the moment of truth for the United Nations, which is an accurate description of that body’s plight, by any measure. I will limit myself to that one and just one other.

I was still in middle school when I learned that a few countries — including the Soviet Union — were given permanent seats on the Security Council, with the power of veto; that seemed odd to me, young as I was. I didn’t know Orwell yet, but it was an application of his Animal Farm dictum, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” I once read that the United States was a proponent of the permanent veto power; if that is correct, we were the author of our current frustration.

This moment of truth for the U.N. would have occurred over fifty years ago, when the North Koreans invaded South Korea. The moment was delayed because just at that time the Soviets were boycotting the Council, which met in their absence and authorized U.N. resistance. Had the Soviets vetoed that resolution, President Truman would have been the same situation as President Bush today — but with fewer options. For the U.S. to act without the consent of the UN in those days would have made World War III a certainty; there were two super-powers back then. Today it is not certain. But possible.

The other moment of truth is the moment of humiliation. The rhetoric has been such that military defeat is no longer a sufficient goal. Somebody must be humiliated. In combat between unequal powers, however, all the underdog must do to escape humiliation is survive, while the stronger power is humiliated if it cannot achieve its announced objectives. As an ancient king once said to a boastful enemy, “Let not him who puts on his armor boast as one who takes it off.” We have been bragging a lot about what we are going to do to Iraq, and Saddam has been responding like that king. His words are probably empty. But if we go to war without accepting the risk of humiliation, we are emotionally unprepared for war.

The United States will not be humiliated if we succeed in humiliating Saddam beyond recovery. But if the conflict is very bloody, the world may perceive us as bullies and thugs.

To take your gun to town and lose is to lose everything. But winners may also lose big.

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