Fighting the war
By Steven Martinovich
In the final months and weeks before the American-led coalition launched its war against Saddam Hussein's regime, the world was held rapt by the international debate between world leaders. Thanks to the Internet, however, the debate wasn't merely confined to high-level officials or within nations. Arguably for the first time in history, citizens from around the world could debate each other about the impending conflict.
One debate was sparked by an open letter entitled "Hello America!" written by a Norwegian journalist and television producer named Peter Nome. Sent on January 6, 2003, the somewhat incoherent letter called on Americans to "get rid of George W. Bush" before he wrecked America's reputation over the war. The letter eventually found its way to ex-U.S. Air Force fighter pilot Jim Burho.
Where most of us would have deleted the email unread whether or not we agreed with its arguments, Burho decided to open debate with members of a mailing list that had sent it to his oldest daughter. Over the next few months Burho engages a number of correspondents around the world on a near daily basis. Burho has collected those emails in his engaging effort Hello America! An International Debate on the Events Leading to the War in Iraq.
Burho describes himself early on as a man who has never ran from an argument. It's a valuable trait to possess considering some of the people he clashed swords with. While for the most part Burho's emails are well argued and reasoned, his fellow correspondents range from serious opponents with justified concerns to those with, to be polite, a tenuous grasp at best of the issues. Even the more sober of his opponents seem more comfortable with inflammatory language and accusations than actually responding to Burho's points.
Were Hello America! merely a collection of emails it would wear out its welcome fairly quickly. Burho thankfully ties the emails together with his commentary on the issues they address and his thoughts at the time of their writing. Burho presents evidence backing up his original assertions and comments on the often increasingly bizarre claims and arguments made by his opponents.
Principled opposition to the war and American foreign policy in general is one thing but as Hello America! illustrates, there are many who oppose the United States due to a reflexive anti-Americanism. Although they proclaim that their disdain of America extends only to its government, the emails in Hello America! tell a different story. Opponents of America -- a constituency that can be found in and outside of the country -- are ready to believe the worst. Any charge, no matter how unlikely to be rooted in reality, was thrown at Burho as prima facie evidence of the Bush administration's foul intentions.
Of course, no one was converted during the debate but as Burho argues, the debate was valuable simply for forcing the two sides into acknowledging each other's arguments. With Hello America!, Burho has performed a worthwhile public service by allowing readers to consider the views of people not unlike them from around the world, an opportunity open to tens of millions but rarely acted upon. While Burho's debate didn't make the news, he shows that the debate of common people was no less serious, humorous, insightful and inflammatory as those of the elite.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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