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Herb Rothschild Jr.: Why we love bombing

I keep returning to the subject of bombing. At some point my editors will tire of it, and so may you, my readers. But it keeps intruding on my consciousness.

The most recent intrusion was a poll to which I was alerted the day after Christmas by an Ann McFeatters column in the Mail Tribune. Public Policy Polling, based in Raleigh, N.C., had just released its tabulated responses of likely presidential primary voters to the following question: “Would you support or oppose bombing Agrabah?”

Agrabah exists only in fiction; it’s the name of the kingdom in the Disney film “Aladdin.” Nonetheless, 30 percent of Republicans said they support bombing it, 57 percent said they weren’t sure, and 13 percent were opposed. My Democratic-leaning readers might take comfort from knowing that of the Democrats polled, only 19 percent said they would support bombing Agrabah, while 36 percent were opposed and 45 percent not sure. I’m not comforted. As I interpret those numbers, a majority of Democrats as well as Republicans will seriously consider taking the lives of people they can’t possibly believe pose an imminent danger to us.

As long as I can remember, my nation has been bombing other nations and peoples. Administrations change, but the practice doesn’t. So it can’t just be “the government.” It must be us. What is it about us that feeds this murderous habit? I can only speculate.

I start with the fact that, apart from one horrific day at Pearl Harbor 74 years ago, the U.S. hasn’t been subjected to aerial bombing. We Americans never huddled in shelters as the explosions roared above and around us. We never saw our cities lying in ruin. In those regards, the experience of most peoples in Eurasia is foreign to us. So when we say, “bomb them back into the stone age,” (oblivious to its self-reflexive irony), we’re unlikely to have any idea of what that would mean to our targets.

But lack of that experience can’t be our motivation. Having had it would only give us pause. Our motive, I suggest, is our overweening pride as a people, a pride that regards any resistance to our will as an affront to the obeisance the world owes to the U.S.A.

How dare the Cubans establish a government not to our liking only 90 miles off our coast! How dare New Zealand declare itself a nuclear-free zone and exclude our nuclear-armed ships from their ports! How dare France refuse to join our invasion of Iraq! How dare Hugo Chavez challenge our leadership in Latin America! How dare Iran back warring factions in the Middle East other than the ones we support!

We join our assumption of entitlement to the arrogance of the schoolyard bully. We can inflict whatever violence we wish on most nations with no fear of military retaliation. In those few cases when we’ve committed ground troops and have suffered losses, true to the mentality of bullies we quickly sour on the fight. Who would have thought those pipsqueak Vietnamese would prove so tough? Between our defeat there and George W. Bush, presidents had the good sense to invade nations like Grenada and Panama or carefully limit our troop commitments, as George H.W. Bush did in the first Gulf War.

Drone warfare promises us our ultimate satisfaction. Will its use bring any lasting gains? To the American psyche that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter if our antagonist lives in Agrabah. All that counts is knowing that we’re still No. 1.

Herb Rothschild's column appears in the Tidings every Saturday.