Scott Ritter, at Suffolk University Law School, Boston, MA, July 23 2002
Thank you very much for coming. We live in very interesting times, times that find our nation, particularly those who lead us, talking more and more about war, war with Iraq; and I’d like to emphasize right at the start of this presentation that I’m not a pacifist, I’m not someone who is afraid of war, I’ve been to war, I’m a veteran of the US Marine Corps and I’d go to war again if required to defend my country. But I would say it’s never something to be undertaken lightly, war is never something to be trivialized, and I’m fearful that’s what happening in the debate and the discourse in the US today in regards to the war on terror and also in regards to the possibility of war against Iraq we have trivialized the subject of war, it is something that I believe the American people are taking lightly. War is not a game, war is not something that we might think it is, it is not a video cursor on a grainy black & white image following a building while a silver shaped object comes in and blows up the building, war is about death, it’s about destruction, plain and simple, and I think we should understand that when we talk about war, the reality of war.
We should understand that there is no such thing as a good war. War is never good. War is about death, destruction, kill or be killed. And I think that when we talk about an American war we are talking about the American military: the most well trained, well equipped, well led killing machine in the history of the world. And I don’t say that with a negative connotation, because understand that, when we talk about war we’re talking about killing plain and simple. As a Marine Corps veteran I have to tell you: when I took my Marines out to the rifle range and we shot at shoot-up targets at 300 meters it wasn’t because we like to kill paper, because I was training my marines to put rounds accurately down range so that sometime, when called upon to do so, the would put these same rounds into the flesh of a fellow human being, terminating that life. When I spent hours on the range calling in air strikes and artillery strikes on the radio it wasn’t because I really had that thing about blowing up stacks of rubber tires; it’s because a some time I and other Marines would be called upon to bring in those air delivered munitions, those artillery delivered munitions on targets that would include vehicles filled with human beings, thereby terminating their life. That’s what war is about, killing, plain and simple. Don’t trivialize it; don’t make light of it. It’s real, it’s awful, it’s the most awful thing you will ever experience once you’ve been through it. It’s something you would never wish on anybody else. War represents the ultimate failure of mankind to exist as human beings because it’s about killing fellow human beings.
Now, there’s no such thing as a good war. There are however times in which war, however tragically, is justified, because we are human beings and we live in an imperfect world and especially in a nation such as the United States where I actually believe we have something worth defending, we have something good here, we have something great, we have something with potential, we have something worth fighting FOR. Therefore there comes a time when it is justified to fight for our country, to wage war in defense of our people. And in that case while it won’t be a good war it could very well be a just war, a just war. So, let’s examine that concept of why we as a democracy go to war, and I think in my mind one of the best reasons why democracies such as ours go to war was put forward by our president Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address when he said that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the face of the Earth. We go to war when our national existence has been put at risk, plain and simple. We go to war in defense of America, in defense of the American way, in defense of our way of life. We are talking about going to war with Iraq. And what I would ask each of you in that room to consider when thinking about such a war is: Does Iraq pose a threat to our national existence? Now, if you listen to the rhetoric coming out of D.C., out of the Bush administration - and I need to say right up front, out of fairness, you know this is fairness in advertising, I’m putting all my cards on the table: I’m a card carrying Republican, of conservative/moderate leanings who voted for George W. Bush for President.
Okay, I can hear the hisses in the background but the fact is, I’m just being right up front with you, I’m not here with a political agenda, I’m not here to slam the Republican, I am one, I’m a Republican, I voted for this guy, and yet when I listen what he and his administration say about Iraq - if I were uninformed on the subject of Iraq I would be concerned. Because we are being told that the Administration KNOWS that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, biological weapons, is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and they might achieve this nuclear weapons capability in the near future, long range ballistic missiles, heck, we just had a republican senator on TV with me a couple of weeks ago who said Iraq is on the verge of developing a 2 and 3 stage missile that will enable them to reach America. And that this missile could be tipped with biological and chemical weapons, and it could make September 11 pale in comparison when the inevitable attack comes. We have also been told that Iraq is a nation that has clear links with international terror organizations that have it in for America. Iraq is a state sponsor of terrorism; Iraq is in cahoots with Al Quaeda. Based upon this briefing that the American people have been given by their administration the threat is obvious. Saddam Hussein, one of the most evil men on the face of the Earth has at his fingertips weapons of mass destruction and he means us no good. Now, Saddam is not dumb enough to launch this attack himself, noooo, Saddam is a wily character: Saddam will use as his proxy the forces of international terror, Al Quaeda and those who perpetrated the events of September 11. He will equip them with weapons of mass destruction and then these nefarious characters will proceed to launch an attack on America that will devastate us in a manner which will even look September 11 seem like a picnic by comparison.
I have to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, if I were the average American, ill informed as we all are on Iraq I would be concerned. Therefore, when my senators stand before me and say: We need to consider a preemptive strike against Iraq! We can’t sit here and wait until Iraq reaches it’s strength and then launches an attack, strikes out and damages the American people, no! , If we see that threat materializing we must unleash the American military in defense of our nation, preemptively, because we cannot stand by idly while the threat materializes over the horizon and I have to tell you: that’s a compelling argument. Especially after September 11 because I can guarantee you, not too many American would like to see a repeat of that horrible day, not too many Americans want to stand by and wait for more buildings to collapse, wait for thousands more Americans to perish, especially when they are told by their elected representatives that we can prevent this by cutting of the head of the snake and the head of the snake is Saddam Hussein. Seems sort of cut and dry, doesn’t it? Hell, I’m ready to go to war right now, based on that presentation, and that’s a presentation that - while I might have overly dramatized it is made almost verbatim day after day after day after day.
Especially on Sundays, there’s this thing called the Sunday talk shows and if you turn on the TV you’ll see a parade of government officials, senators, administration officials and representatives getting before the American public, making this very argument. But trust me, the tool of democracy, the machine of democracy is working, you see, we also have senators here who say: You know, Mr. President, you can’t go to war unless Congress gives you the authority to go to war. We live in a democracy, we live in a nation governed by the Constitution of the United States of America and the constitution clearly says that only Congress has the authority to declare war, so Mr. President, don’t think about going to war until Congress passes a resolution authorizing you to go to war. Fair enough, Senator Byden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he has just called a hearing on Iraq. Now, this hearing is supposed to provide that congressional oversight constitutionally mandated where the legislative branch has oversight over the executive branch. So they are now going to hold to account the Bush administration in regards to their Iraq policy. This is going to be a detailed hearing in which they will determine: Is there a case for war against Iraq?
But wait a minute, there is other stuff they want to talk about, too. It seems to me most of the things they want to talk about include: What will a post Saddam Iraq consist of? Now, excuse me, I know, I’m a simple Marine and I don’t have grasp of this complex issue but if you are talking about a post Saddam Iraq - haven’t we therefore already said, we are going to war to get rid of Saddam? You can’t talk about a post Saddam Iraq until you talk about the case for war against Iraq itself. And the case for war seems clear: You have to make a case that Iraq represents a threat to the United States of America. Now, the administration has said, this case is black and white