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War of Choice


The arguments for and against the war have all been made, and nothing will be gained by repeating them, so let me begin instead with an old movie sequence, featuring the Indian comedian Johnny Walker at a halwai dukaan (sweetmeat shop).

“Let me have some laddus“, he says. As the shopkeeper begins to pack them, he says, “No…instead, I think I’ll have a pound of burfi.” The shopkeeper starts on the burfis. “Forget the burfis“, says Johnny Walker, shortly. “I think I’ll take the jalebis instead”. The shopkeeper suppresses his irritation and quietly packs the jalebis, which Johnny Walker takes and coolly walks out – without paying.

The shopkeeper runs after him, enraged.

Johnny Walker turns to look at him, puzzled.

“What about paying for the jalebis?” demands the shopkeeper.

“What about them?”, responds Johnny Walker. “I got them in place of the burfis.”

“Well, then pay me for the burfis“, says the shopkeeper.

“But those I exchanged for the laddus, protests Johnny Walker.

Says the shopkeeper, “So pay for the laddus“.

“I didn’t buy any laddus“, says Johnny Walker, and turns to saunter off, leaving the shopkeeper dumbfounded and mildly confused.

It is the opening day of America’s Iraq war, and one cannot escape the feeling that President Bush has pulled a Johnny Walker on the American people.

First he said it was the Iraq and Al Qaeda connection.

No no no, said the shopkeepers. There’s no evidence of that.

Well, he tortures his people, said the president.

True…but so do many other countries, and some of them are our good friends.

But he has nuclear weapons!

So they sent the Do Jasoos – Blix and Baradei, to check it out. While they were still rummaging, they were am-Bushed by an American administration which, like the White Rabbit, was in a great hurry.

We haven’t exactly found anything.

That only proves he’s hidden them well.

Well, we’ll find them if he has them. Just give us some time…

But he has connections with Al Qaeda! We can’t wait!!!

And this is the candidate who called Al Gore a ‘Serial Exaggerator’.

Like the shopkeeper, the American public has been left scratching its head – it knows there is a flaw in the argument somewhere, but before it can spot it, the administration has let loose the dogs of war.

What a difference a few chads make! An unelected president, leading a lame coalition, defying the overwhelming mass of world opinion, ignoring the counsels of innumerable wise Americans, has launched a war against a sovereign nation which had never threatened it. It has done so, it would seem, only because the opponent is an emaciated country led by a cruel tyrant. A robustly armed entity (North Korea) headed by an equally cruel tyrant is treated with all the assurances that America has no aggressive designs on it.

When it is pointed out to the administration that such unilateral aggression is unbecoming of the United States of America, Bush gives an answer roughly equivalent to, “But Osama does it”.

Little wonder, then, that Sen. Robert Byrd, the hero of the Senate whose impassioned warnings against giving the president unfettered authority fell on deaf Democratic ears, said that he “weeps for his country today…We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance…After war has ended the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America’s image around the globe.” (Read more of his magnificent speech at The Washington Post). A war is not justified alone by the certainty that we can win it.

Sen. Byrd called this a “war of choice”. What a great irony – the anti-choice president making a war of choice. Unfortunately, the American people, and the world itself, may be paying for their choice (or non-choice) for decades. As I type this, television reports as country after country condemns the attack. I recall another day, September 11, 2001, when the entire world rushed to America’s side.

To paraphrase Peter, Paul and Mary, “Where has all the goodwill gone?

Originally written March 19, 2003.

Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast. His new book, Reading Gandhi in the Twenty-First Century, was published recently by Palgrave-Macmillan. He can be reached at

/>Niranjan Ramakrishnan is a writer living on the West Coast.  His book, “Reading Gandhi In the Twenty-First Century” was published last year by Palgrave.  He may be reached at

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