There probably will be a war this week and as an ancient philosopher first observed 2,600 years ago, the destruction of our enemies should not be an occasion for joy, but a time of mourning.

Going to war, like striking your spouse or child, is by definition a failure even if provoked or brought about by a perception of great necessity. Of all options, war nearly always is the most expensive in every sense.

There were ways this could have been avoided. Our government has often given support to the loathsome Iraqi dictator. Inconvenient though it may be to this administration, photos of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield laughing with Saddam Hussein years ago reveal, at least, our long acquiescence in his rein of terror.

This President Bush is, to some extent, having to clean up after past U.S. leaders who helped create this ugly mess, and he deserves some credit for dealing with it at all.

But he still must be held accountable for his administration's incompetence at defusing this crisis by less destructive means. Few sensible Americans will regret the death or imprisonment of Saddam and his henchmen. But all others who fall in this war - Americans soldiers and Iraqis alike - will be innocent victims of a situation not of their own making.

This breakdown in international order will haunt us for generations. It will result in a loss of faith among many who have been, or may have become, our friends.

The bill for this war on credit, launched at the same time as huge tax cuts for the richest Americans, will worsen a federal deficit that has swollen into hundreds of billions these past two years. Our grandchildren will still be making payments.

Sending our young men and women to the other side of the planet to a grim struggle over a hypothetical threat is the most awful cost of all. Even in our little neighborhood of communities, daddies and sons have been torn away from their wives and infants, their parents and friends. This experience will be burned into each of them.

Let's hope and pray the president and his generals are right, and this all is over in days. Maybe few lives will be lost and we can rejoice in a quick victory. But even so, we must remember and regret the failure of reason.

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