We could try talking

This column was written in November, 2002 but events tended to outrun it, so it never did get published int he newspaper.

by Greg Stone


Iraq reminds me of Charlie and a fight nobody won.

Charlie was a pretty tough kid and I was - well, I'm not sure what I was, but I was about the same size as Charlie and we were on opposite sides of a pick-up football game in the vacant field behind Bart's house. I think we were 11 years old.

Anyway, Charlie offended me - perhaps he was "off sides" - or maybe I offended him because I wore one of the new hard helmets and other kids playing in that game didn’t have one. Shouting and threats lead to some flailing about and we ended up in a wrestling match. Pretty soon I was sitting on Charlie's chest, my knees on his arms.

That was about 3:30 in the afternoon. I had him pinned. But he wouldn’t give up. We had standards in those days, so you didn’t hit someone when he was down. Result: I just kept him pinned and tried to persuade him to give up. He refused. He was stubborn. And I, frankly, was scared. If I let him up, this time he might really hurt me.

The other kids tried to get us to resume the football game. Not on your life. I continued to sit on Charlie, and every once in a while he'd make a sudden attempt to free one of his arms and we'd struggle a little, but Charlie's case was pretty hopeless. The other kids got bored - wasn't much of a fight any more - so the game went on around us for a little while, then the kids headed home. Some of them stopped to offer suggestions and make attempts at persuading Charlie to be reasonable and give up.

Bart was the last to leave because his house was the closest. But after an hour or so it was just Charlie and I alone in that field glaring at one another. He'd still struggle every once in a while, and I still kept him pinned, and Bart came out of his house just before supper - and once more, a little after supper - and looked at us with curiosity and did nothing. It was getting dark. I knew I was supposed to have been home hours ago. But I didn’t want another stand-up fight with Charlie. I wanted him to stay down until he pledged not to fight again.

I don’t know how long this stand-off would have lasted. In 11-year-old time it had already gone on for half an eternity. Eventually my parents drove up, really angry at me for not coming home for supper. They yelled for me to get in the car immediately. I let Charlie up and he slumped off quietly and that was the end of it.

But maybe it wasn't such a good thing that my parents came along. Maybe Charlie and I would have both learned something if I had just sat on him until we both were too cold and tired and hungry to continue. Maybe we would have cooled off. Maybe we would have begun to talk. Maybe we would have figured out that we both liked playing football more than we liked fighting. Maybe one or both of us could have admitted that we made mistakes. Maybe . . .

Well, maybe my country will figure out that we're sitting on Iraq right now. We're not exactly an11-year-old kid, but as countries go we're pretty young, feisty, and certainly capable of making our share of mistakes - knowingly and unknowingly - while thinking we're always noble and right. We have Iraq pinned with no-fly zones, monthly bombings, and economic sanctions.

Maybe we think we have good reason for all these actions. Maybe we think if we get off Iraq it will come up fighting. It would be irrational - but then, all fighting is irrational. As we all tell folks who are fighting - "Cool down - you've lost your head." It means you've said and done stupid things. Not you alone, of course. It takes two to make a fight and seldom is the blame for hostilities evenly distributed. But people can work things out and trying to figure out who's really to blame just leads you back and back into a tangled jungle of mistakes made by everyone.

I wonder what would happen if we got off of one of Iraq's "arms" now? You know, withdrew the economic sanctions for example? They don’t seem to be hurting Hussein. They do seem to be making some of the Iraqi people see us as the enemy. We hope the Iraqi people will blame Hussein instead, but the bottom line is their economy is in shambles and hundred of thousands of people - half of them children - have died. For this we expect them to welcome us as liberators?

But then Saddam, with his press control, makes sure no one really knows what the Iraqi people are thinking. The only thing I'm sure of is that our parents aren't going to drive up and tell us to get into the car. So maybe it's time we grew up and started taking responsibility for our actions as adults are supposed to do. Funny how every "civilized" country condemns murder, but sends thousands of its people to war with a license to murder folks they'd normally sit down and have a beer with if they met under other circumstances.

Charlie and I never resolved our differences and we never were friends again. No big deal. But for nations the stakes are much higher. When was the last time we tried to talk to Hussein? I don't mean made demands of him. That's not talking. Talking is when two adults sit down and try to understand one another and reconcile their differences. And yes, sometimes one adult has to be more understanding than the other. Especially if that adult happens to be sitting on the other's chest with his knees pinning both arms.

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Many excellent background links on the Gulf War, Iraq history, and Hussein can be found here.