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The Parades Were Worth It

WAS it worth it? After the mammoth parades in Washington and New York, the mountains of ticker tape are being swept away, the trash is being collected, the gouges from tank-tracks are being repaired, and the organizers are paying off the multi-million dollar bills. It was America's biggest celebration to mark the end of its shortest war.

There were those in Washington and New York who demonstrated against the glorification of war. They were few, but they were within their rights. Others, who did not demonstrate, questioned the cost and the scale of the festivities. New York is in budgetary crisis, and Washington is presiding over a recession that has brought hardship to many around the country. There is irony in the patriotic profligacy of these cities.

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Still others question whether the American victory in the Gulf was as valid as once thought. Saddam Hussein, after all, is still in power. Kuwait may have regained its sovereignty but has not become the democracy once promised. The Kurds are enduring yet another harsh chapter in their history of travail.

If all the hoopla in Washington and New York was a clever political manipulation, designed to distract us from problems at home and abroad, that would be a cynical betrayal of the principles our servicemen thought they were defending.

But all the evidence is that it was a genuine outpouring of affection and appreciation for the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who served not only their country but also the principle that tyranny should not go unchecked.

It was the same principle that motivated Margaret Thatcher, when prime minister of Britain, to mobilize an armada and send it thousands of miles into the south Atlantic to take back an inconsequential piece of territory called the Falklands from occupation by Argentina. Like George Bush in the Gulf war, Mrs. Thatcher gambled her political career on the outcome in the Falklands. Had either of them lost, they would have been finished politically.

In the aftermath of victory, some of his critics are suggesting President Bush's victory did not entail much risk. The ground war lasted a mere 100 hours. American casualties were light. Is not then, the massive victory celebration in Washington and New York overplayed?

The Iraq that Bush went to war with was the most significant military power in the Middle East. It had unknown nuclear weapon capacity. It had chemical weapon capacity. It had had months to fortify Kuwait with deeply dug-in Republican Guards. The ominous risk of American casualties caused many to vote against Bush's decision to oust the Iraqis.

That the war turned out to be short, with relatively minor allied casualties, did not diminish the risk of disaster and failure. Nor does it diminish the courage of those who fought, and the sacrifice of those who were wounded and killed.

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I believe it was this that millions of American civilians were honoring at the recent parades; it was not an exhibition of American bombast and militarism. We know now that Bush prayed on the eve of ordering his troops into battle. That is comforting. We know now that Gen. Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had reservations about the campaign but took his orders to march from his civilian commander-in-chief, Bush. That, too, is reassuring; it was not, as some critics suggest, indecisio n at the top, but a welcome expression of alternative views. And clearly there was no overriding of civilian authority by a runaway military.

So now the parades are over. Those who fought have been honored. It is time to put away the desert fatigues.

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