September 12, 2001
Editor, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
34 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Last night, I had a dream.
As with many throughout the world -- Palestinians and Israelis, Irish Protestants and Catholics, Afghans, Cambodians, and Rwandans -- and now New Yorkers -- I had nightmares.
But I also had a dream.
During the day, I was caught up in the rush of events. I heard initial reports of attacks on New York and Washington, DC. I fought my way past orderly streams of cars and people on foot evacuating the city center to get to my duty post at the hospital. I struggled with the everyday chaos of injury and illness in an inner-city trauma-center Emergency Department with inadequate staff, expecting to be bombed at any moment, later expecting a nearby building to be hit by an aircraft and collapse, and still later realizing that, except for few people with psychological stress from the news, most of the emergencies that confronted me were the everyday kind.
During the evening, I watched news on television. I saw that Islamic Jihad, Hammas, and Osama bin Laden all disclaimed responsibility for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I saw the President tell us that "those who harbor terrorists" will be treated the same as terrorists.
During the night, I had nightmares. But I also had a dream.
As my body tossed and turned, my mind finally turned from the day's events to the future. What did all this mean -- for me, for my family, for my country, for the world? Sometimes conscious, sometimes dreaming, my mind worried the topic as a dog worries a bone. My mind spent all night constructing this dream. I couldn't find any rest.
In my dream, the President made a speech. And in this speech, the President committed us to a terrible and bloody and lengthy war. But with this speech, the entire country, and most of the world, came to his and our support.
"My fellow Americans, a great tragedy has occurred. A great evil has been done. Many Americans, men, women and children, innocent of any crime, have been killed by a terrorist act. I ask all those around, the world, especially those who have been the victims of such violence, whether Palestinian or Israeli, Jew or Muslim, Protestant or Catholic, to extend their sympathy and understanding and prayers to the victims of this attack.
"We must avenge them -- but most importantly, we must do our best to make the word a place where such things don't happen. Where such things don't have to happen.
"We have reliable evidence that yesterday's attacks were carried out with the cooperation of the government of Iraq. Therefore, today, I have ordered attacks on the military installations of Iraq, and I will be asking Congress to declare war on Iraq. I do not take this action lightly.
"I intend to pursue this course of action to its logical ultimate end, which is the destruction of Iraq. But don't jump to conclusions. Let me explain what I mean by the "destruction of Iraq" first. In the past, I and others have called Iraq a "rogue state." But it is worse than that.
"Many have compared yesterday's attacks on the World Trade Center with Pearl Harbor, which drew American into World War II. And many have compared Saddam Hussein with Hitler, and his regime with the Third Reich in pre-war Germany. Certainly, he has used chemical weapons to attempt genocide of his Kurdish minority, and uses his secret police and his propaganda ministry to delude his citizens and create support for a corrupt and repressive nationalist one-party government reminiscent of the Nazis. And, he attempted to invade and annex nearby territory as did Hitler during the beginning of World War II, something my father thwarted with Operation Desert Storm.
"And there will be another parallel between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Hitler's Nazi Germany of the 1930's and 40's. The parallel is in what we will make happen. For too long, we have been appeasing Saddam Hussein, and allowing this master manipulator to use the plight of the Palestinians to cynically advance his own power. It is now time to do to Iraq what was done to Germany and Japan during World War II -- not in terms of destruction, but in terms of occupation and reconstruction. We helped these countries develop their economies, and their democratic institutions, to where these are two of the most prosperous and free countries in the world. Japan and Germany are now part of the democratic world, and this is due to what the U.S. did during the postwar years.
"We must do the same for Iraq. We must invade, occupy, but then reconstruct Iraq. Once the corrupt and repressive power structure of Saddam Hussein's party has been removed, we must plant and nurture democratic institutions. Once these have grown to stand on their own, the people of Iraq will once more be able to defend themselves against not only external but more importantly internal enemies of what will come to be known, after the current Iraqi power structure has been demolished, as the Republic of Mesopotamia.
"Mesopotamia gave the world civilization. And part of civilization has always been the striving for better forms of government. From the beginnings millennia ago with the Code of Hammurabi, through Greek democracy, the Roman rule of law, Britain's Magna Carta, and the American Constitution, we have not perfected, but certainly improved, our ability to have a government by the people, for the people, and of the people. And now it is our task, and our sacred duty, to repay this debt from long ago, and return to the people of Mesopotamia the best government that civilization has to offer.
"All who hope for justice and equality, whether the leaders of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, or Simon Bolivar and other South and Central American revolutionaries, or American schoolchildren, admire the writings and actions of great American revolutionaries such as Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. And the ideas of these American revolutionaries -- democracy, republican representation, checks and balances, separation of church and state, separation of powers, freedom of the press -- are what will allow Mesopotamia to flourish and endure after the war.
"We must destroy the evil regime in Iraq. We must restore to the area a government that respects traditional Islamic and Christian family values, preserves Mesopotamian culture, and provides the benefits of Jeffersonian democracy. In order to accomplish this task, we will need all Americans. In particular, we will need the support of our Arab-American community, and specifically our Iraqi-Americans. These loyal Americans will be the key to our occupation and reconstruction.
"The road to this will be difficult, and some of us will lose our lives along the way. Nonetheless, the goal is one that will protect America, and will protect and nurture the cause of freedom and stability in the Middle East.
"As we embark on this long and tremendously difficult path, we always must keep in mind our end goal -- to make the world a place where such things don't happen. Where such things don't need to happen. Where the progress of civilization, from its earliest beginnings in Mesopotamia, continues.
Last night, I had many nightmares. But I also had a dream. I know that my dream will not come true. But there are important truths in my dream, and it offers an escape from the nightmares. And, finally, with the chill, still light of gray false dawn creeping in the windows, I can sleep.
Keith Conover, M.D., FACEP
Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh
One isn't supposed to talk politics or religion in a polite medium, like this web page, right?
Well, since September 11, 2001, it is necessary to talk about such things in all media.
So, let me set down my base views on politics and religion here so nobody will have any questions about where I stand.
First, religion. I am not a Christian. If you want to know why, please don't ask me -- instead, consult the words of Bertrand Russell's famous essay on the topic (Amazon.com link, online text link). If I were to have to classify my views into a simple "denomination" I would point to the book that contains Christian morality without what I view as Christian superstition, the "Jefferson Bible": The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (Amazon.com link, online text link), and, in common with George Washington, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson, and call myself a Jeffersonian Deist with Confucian leanings (i.e., the idea that philosophy and tradition may serve instead of religious superstition and dogma). This is just an approximation, as my views don't coincide 100% with Jefferson's, but close enough for government work (i.e., writing a "denomination" on a government form). The "Jefferson Bible," which was for fifty years handed to each member of Congress on arrival, is Jefferson's extracts from the bible, trying to winnow it down to the moral teachings of someone he regarded as a great moral teacher, while dropping all of the later accretions designed to build a religion around the historical person of Jesus.
Second, politics. I am a conservative, in the true sense of the word -- and therefore I regard most people who call themselves "conservative" as reactionaries. I think it is true that "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other ones." And I have found that, when liberals accuse the government of doing something wrong, and are accused of being "anti-American" a decade or two later it turns out that the liberals were right and those who accused them were at worst criminals and at best deluded. Examples just off the top of my head:
Sounds thus far like I'm a bleeding-heart liberal, doesn't it? WRONG! I am in many senses a strict constitutionalist -- I think that over the years the Federal Government, in the way of any government in history, has gathered much power to its breast at the expense of states' rights. I think the founding fathers would be aghast at the idea that we have a standing army -- though after learning about today's world they would probably accede to the need.
It is the strength of the U.S. Constitution and our system of government that certain rights are preserved for individuals, in the Bill of Rights and elsewhere. And that is what allows the evils of government -- such as the above bullets -- to be exposed, eventually, and keeps our Federal Government from gathering even more power to its breast. I think one of the other features that protects us from an overweening government is the strength and independence and respect accorded to the Federal judiciary. The balance of powers is delicate and crucial -- if our judiciary were in the same state as that of, say, Columbia, then we would live in a police state.
And, further, I feel certain paternalistic, colonial, and perhaps even Jingoistic tendencies. The U.S. has the best system of government in the world -- bad as it may be. I think it is our manifest destiny, our burden -- to impose this system of government, or one like it, on all of the other countries of the world, by persuasion or by force. As described in the letter above, we in the U.S. are the recipients of a long historical development of the democratic, republican, and constitutional government we now have -- from Mesopotamia and the Code of Hammurabi, from the Democracy of Athens and the Tablets of Solon, the Roman rule of law, the Magna Carta and British parliamentary democracy and balance of powers, to the Enlightenment philosophers and statesmen who crafted the type of government we new benefit from.
In today's globalized society, we will not be safe at home until others around the world have the benefits of American constitutional government:
Perhaps what we need to do is to establish a secret government agency whose goal is not just to protect the person of the American system, but to work clandestinely to destabilize repressive governments and bring about, by peaceful change or violent revolution as needed, American-style governments everywhere. The goal would be that the majority of the world's population enjoy the benefits of our governmental system, and thus there is little if any pressure to espouse or conduct terroristic acts. Too long has the U.S. been seen as a protector of the rights only of U.S. citizens -- it is time for us to be, and to be seen as, working to extend this to the all the peoples of the world.
"All formal dogmatic religions are fallacious and must never be accepted by
self-respecting persons as final. Reserve your right to think, for even to think
and be wrong is better than not to think at all."
--Theon, Librarian of the Library of Alexandria (the greatest library of the ancient world), who was subsequently murdered by, and the library burned by, the fundamentalist Archbishop of Alexandria, St. Cyril, and his followers.