Diligence amid evil

Posted: Mar 11, 2003 12:00 AM

When two Harvard undergraduates in 1697 broke through thin ice and drowned, Puritan preacher Increase Mather suggested that God sometimes lets us know what's coming but at other times mercifully does not, so that we "may with diligence and cheerfulness" attend to our duties, which we could not do if we "knew what evil times and things" are coming.

Most of us saw last month an example of such mercy: a videotape of the smiling Columbia astronauts minutes away from a death they knew was possible, but diligently and cheerfully attending to their duties, not knowing what evil times were coming. The impending U.S.-Iraq explosion will not be sudden -- for 12 years Iraqi officials have done all they could to evade the agreement they desperately signed after the rout of Gulf War 1 -- but it will bring many evil things.

Who can deliver us from evil? Some people still have faith in our contemporary mini-god, the United Nations. I met with three German journalists on March 6, and they still expressed belief that if the number of U.N. inspectors were doubled, we could be saved from war. They said the obvious parallel -- U.N. today, League of Nations 70 years ago -- was not being discussed in Germany, home of the beast whose aggression blew apart what had become a pitiful, helpless, champagne-drinking league.

At this point, we can still pray that God will provide a good way out, one that does not sacrifice the future for the present. Apart from that it, seems that we will be relying on our soldiers, trained to expect evil times and things but to stay on task. One soldier in the war on terrorism will be a University of Texas graduate student, Mark Moody, who had to drop my writing class several weeks into the current term because his National Guard special forces unit will be heading overseas.

UT is typical of big state universities in that its neo-Marxists see the Iraqi war as a great opportunity to rejuvenate the aging left. But when one professor orated about "Bush's mad rush to war," Moody, who is putting his life on the line, did not hesitate to put his academic career on the line by challenging the conventional campus wisdom. In an email he distributed to fellow graduate students, Moody pointed out that the mad rush is supported by 16 U.N. resolutions; unlike the German journalists, he can see that the U.N. has become a joke.

Moody went on to acknowledge that bombing will probably kill some innocent civilians, but he pointed out the toll of life under a brutal regime with "no respect for individual liberty, human rights, or the suffering of the masses." Given that Saddam has already killed probably 2 million of his own citizens, the liberation of Iraq is likely to save many lives, Iraqi and American.

And that's what we should focus on: the toll of inaction at this point. I and many others wish we were at some other point. I wish the British and French had not constructed Iraq after World War I by artificially uniting three very different regions. I wish that Bush 41 had not stopped the Gulf War after a PR-pleasant 100 hours, that U.S. forces had not permitted Iraq's military helicopters to quash subsequent rebellions in the north and south, that Bill Clinton had not diddled while Saddam wriggled out of his promises. Sometimes I wish we did not have 250,000 troops assembled on Iraq's borders, so that any retreat now will be an enormous victory for evil.

But at this point that's all prologue. The battle against terrorism around the world must go on. Like Mark Moody, we should all now with diligence and cheerfulness attend to our duties, regardless of what evil times and things are coming.