America has never been of one voice when it comes to war.
Not all favored the Revolution. The prolonged agony of the Civil War produced anti-draft riots and a great number of men we today would call draft-dodgers.
Woodrow Wilson broke down in tears the night he won congressional approval for America to join the Great War, after years of seeking to avoid it. Vietnam, as we know, sundered the nation. Perhaps only World War II generated near-consensus, but that occurred only after Pearl Harbor evaporated a large pool of isolationist sentiment.
It would be unrealistic, then, to expect unanimity among Americans today as the clouds of war boil darkly over Iraq. And while the momentous decision of war or peace is divisive enough of itself, it comes amid a deep fracture in the nation’s political life.
As we well know, President Bush’s job-approval ratings soared in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The country was shocked, sickened and angered; Bush articulated its emotions well and became a symbol of national resolve.
That natural uniting behind the president, however, did not erase the underlying split that turned the 2000 presidential election into a political and legal quagmire.
Rather than mending the rift, the protracted Iraq debate has only exacerbated it. Invective flows from both sides: Bush the warmonger is grasping for Middle Eastern oil; peaceniks and wimps are traitorously aiding and abetting Saddam Hussein. Everyone has had their say, and then some.
Now the hour of truth has arrived, the pregnant moment before great and perhaps uncontrollable events are unleashed on the world. The debate is over.
We are going to war. It will not help if at this critical juncture we find ourselves mired in insults and civil enmity. Opinions will still be held and expressed, yes, as they should be. But a domestic truce is in order, lest the wounds sure to be inflicted by this conflict be made more grievous by our own actions at home.
It is a time to stand still and calm down. History is having its way, and history will be its own judge.