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War is a deadly serious business. If you have any doubts, ask the families of the fighters who either didn’t come home or came back hurting.

It should never be entered into without every citizen examining the reasons for pulling the trigger, as if a son or daughter were tasked with leading the charge, and then asking: Is this war necessary? Am I being told the truth? What are the consequences? What’s the price our nation will have to pay?

Unlike Nazi Germany, where people were force-fed party propaganda and then marched to their own destruction after wreaking havoc on the world, we are a democracy where citizens and political leaders can – and should – publicly debate the pros and cons of going to war.

Here in America, we’re free to engage in a healthy national dialogue in which the war hawks can offer up every available shred of evidence to make their case against Saddam, and in which the anti-war crowd can just as aggressively question the wisdom of employing the military solution.

But lately, political passions have gone nuclear. Even though it’s the responsibility of all true patriots to challenge a leader’s directives, especially if he might be about to lead the nation off a cliff, those pushing for better justification for a pre-emptive war are being attacked personally – painted as bleeding-heart liberals, unpatriotic or both.

Many of our national politicians need to cool their jets and stop the name-calling. Their energy would be far better spent on detailed analysis than in steamrolling a divided nation by using a partisan agenda.

As former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai E. Stevenson Jr. said when other hot-bloods were screaming for war during the Cuban Missile Crisis: “Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

Fortunately, it’s much tougher to stack the deck today than when Lyndon Johnson got us stuck into the bloodbath of Vietnam or when Harry Truman threw our soldiers into the Korean killing fields without fully understanding the consequences of Gen. Omar Bradley’s earlier admonition that our Army “couldn’t fight its way out of a paper bag.”

Since it will take a minimum of three more months before our ground forces now moving toward Iraq are in place – and we’re not yet ready to launch a concerted air, land and sea attack – there’s still lots of time for clearheaded talk before we slap leather. Sure, we can rush to start bombing, but then we’ll have crossed the Rubicon and should be prepared for Iraqi bugs and gas – and Saddam perhaps blowing the dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, turning our march to Baghdad into a swampy, long-term operation.

We have nothing to lose and everything to gain if, before we jump off, we see if Saddam will allow the U.N. inspectors to do their job. And if he won’t, we need to ask whether the risk of further tightening the containment screw to include shutting down his gas station is less than the risk of going to war.

We need to know our commanders have enough aircraft, munitions and troops, and that they can do the job without the support of the sort of coalition Bush 41 so cleverly stitched together before Desert Storm. We need to know that our combat soldiers have the iron discipline needed for combat; that they’re sufficiently trained; that we’re fielding an Army properly prepared for battle and no longer crippled by the social experiments of the past decade that so seriously degraded combat readiness.

We need to know, too, that our warriors are ready for chemical and biological warfare and that the right measures have been taken to protect them from the 300 million grams of U.S. depleted uranium munitions – with a shelf life of 250,000 years – that were scattered across the Iraq desert in 1991. Red-hot munitions so deadly that the tiniest dust speck might eventually kill you.

We must do our duty by insisting that our politicians get real and deal with all the facts before allowing the first shot to be fired. When all is said and done, American lives will be out on the line in a fight against a brutal opponent who’s proven that he will stop at nothing to survive.

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