By Sherman Alexie

I have little doubt that the United States will soon go to war against Iraq. I hope I'm wrong. I hope we find alternative and nonviolent methods of kicking the crap out of Saddam Hussein and his sociopathic regime, but I don't think the current president and his administration are philosophically capable of nonviolent action.

Instead, the latest war with Iraq will last a week or so, a few dozen U.S. soldiers will be wounded or killed in action, tens of thousands of Iraqis will die, and Saddam Hussein will be dead, exiled, or disappeared. The United States will then occupy Iraq for an indefinite period of time as we install a new government and leaders who we hope will become democratic and progressive. However, I have serious doubts about our ability to choose moral leaders, considering the fact that the United States funded and helped create the political and military careers of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and a few dozen other dictatorial Frankensteins.

No matter our choice of Iraqi leaders, the Islamic terrorist groups, inflamed by the Iraqi war and occupation, will grow in size and power and continue to attack the United States and its interests all over the globe. I fear it's only a matter of time before a suicide bomber races into a Chicago football stadium or a New York restaurant or a Los Angeles museum and kills dozens, or hundreds.

Enraged and revenge-minded after another attack on home soil, the United States will increase its efforts to hunt down and punish those terrorists we can find. And we will certainly be successful in stopping most terror attacks and will likely destroy most terror groups, but we will find it impossible to find and kill the very last terrorist, because, well, he's only a metaphor. And it's impossible to kill a metaphor; we can only turn it into a cliché.

We will only win the metaphorical and clichéd war on terror when George W. Bush proclaims a metaphorical and clichéd victory over terror, and that proclamation will only be uttered if the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee creeps within three percentage points. But I doubt George W. will have to worry about the Democrats. If the math works out--if more terrorists than Americans are killed in the next few years--then George W. Bush will enjoy high approval ratings. And those approval ratings will grow if the United States, as a global police force, threatens and possibly attacks all those other countries that may or may not support terrorists and that may or may not pose a real threat to the United States.

That's one serious and simple way to describe George W. Bush's preferred method of international diplomacy. But we can also talk about his warmongering with humor, irony, and satire. After I attempted to do that during the peace rally in Seattle on February 15, I have been regarded with equal amounts of appreciation and scorn. In his damning review of my speech published in last week's issue of The Stranger, Josh Feit called me a moronic, starry-eyed, absurd, banal, and contradictory boob--though not in the same sentence, of course. I included all of his insults in one sentence because it's funnier that way. Because of Feit's review, The Stranger has been bombarded with letters that are currently running 50 percent pro-Alexie and 50 percent anti-Alexie. It doesn't seem that anybody is undecided about Sherman Alexie, though the negative numbers will certainly grow if I continue to talk about myself in the third person. Now I'm sure a good number of the letter-writers are idiots who think Feit is a racist for slamming on a Native American, and I'm equally sure a good number of the letter-writers are racists who think I'm an idiot who only enjoys fame and power because I'm Native American. But most of the letter-writers are smart and concerned folks who have valid opinions. Fair enough. I'm happy to live in a country where hundreds of people enjoy the freedom to criticize Josh Feit and me for valid and invalid reasons. I can be just as full of shit as the next person, so I celebrate all of the shit-sniffers in the world!

I think Feit's review is just as funny and biting as it is shortsighted. By focusing his review on my admittedly general speech, he ignored important details offered by other speakers. In one important example, Representative Jim McDermott spoke of Gulf War syndrome and cited the horrible and mysterious number of injuries, diseases, and deaths suffered by the U.S. soldiers who fought in Iraq in 1991. Our troops will not face much resistance from Iraqi soldiers in 2003, but they will be exposed to unknown quantities of toxic pollutants. As McDermott cited the health statistics, I realized how few anti- or pro-war folks have discussed Gulf War syndrome in a pro- or antiwar context. I think we ignore Gulf War syndrome because we're not quite sure it exists, and if it does exist, Gulf War syndrome might be the result of biological and chemical friendly fire, and that is a possibility too dangerous and disturbing for many folks to consider.

In the same way we all want to believe in the honesty and goodness of our mother and father, we also want to believe in the honesty and goodness of our president and his military. I want to believe George W. Bush and Colin Powell when they tell me stories about this latest Gulf War. I want to feel safe in their care. But I know other U.S. presidents and their military leaders dropped Agent Orange on our troops in Vietnam and lied about its effects. And there's ample evidence to prove that Clinton, Bush the First, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, and all of the other U.S. presidents, conservative and liberal alike, told small and large lies when it came to war and its aftermath.

As a Native American, I am intimately familiar with the long history of American lies in times of war and peace. Simply stated, the United States' executive and legislative branches have broken every treaty signed with every Native American tribe, and only the occasional and unpredictable intervention of the judicial branch has resurrected, redeemed, and protected Native American tribal sovereignty. Thus, as a Native American, I find it ironic that the United States wants to go to war with Iraq because it keeps breaking treaties, and I mentioned as much during my speech. Contrary to Josh Feit's implication to the contrary, I am outraged that Iraq has flouted UN resolutions for 10 years, but I'm also outraged that the U.S. dares to take a position of moral superiority when it comes to treaty-making and treaty-breaking. Josh Feit may not think that Native American history is important when discussing this Iraq war, but plenty of world citizens think that it is vitally important in any discussion of the United States and its international politics. Saddam Hussein is certainly a genocidal maniac, but how can the United States honestly continue to pass judgment on him and those like him without admitting to its own genocidal roots?

This American genocide began when Christopher Columbus landed on these shores, and was made official when Thomas Jefferson, genius and slave-owner, proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that the King of England had "excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes and Conditions." Thus, the United States was founded, in part, on the demonization of Native Americans, and it's damn easy to justify the mass extermination of demons, isn't it?

Of course, time has turned Jefferson into a moronic boob when it comes to the subject of Indians and their allegiance to this country. According to the fall 1995 Army History: The Professional Bulletin of Army History: "The annual enlistment for Native Americans jumped from 7,500 in the summer of 1942 to 22,000 at the beginning of 1945. According to the Selective Service in 1942, at least 99 percent of all eligible Indians, healthy males aged 21 to 44, had registered for the draft. War Department officials maintained that if the entire population had enlisted in the same proportion as Indians, the response would have rendered Selective Service unnecessary. The overwhelming majority of Indians welcomed the opportunity to serve. On Pearl Harbor Day, there were 5,000 Indians in the military. By the end of the war, 24,521 reservation Indians, exclusive of officers, and another 20,000 off-reservation Indians had served. The combined figure of 44,521 was more than 10 percent of the Native American population during the war years. This represented one-third of all able-bodied Indian men from 18 to 50 years of age. In some tribes, the percentage of men in the military reached as high as 70 percent. Also, several hundred Indian women served in the WAC, WAVES, and Army Nurse Corps."

More than 12,000 Native Americans served in World War I, despite the fact that they weren't yet official citizens of the country. Over 50,000 Natives served in the Vietnam War, and 90 percent of them were volunteers. Forty-three members of my tribe, the Spokane Indians, served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. That's an entire generation of people for a small tribe like the Spokane. How can so many Native Americans fight for a country that has so often lied to them? I don't know. It's a profound and serious contradiction that makes me laugh out loud.

The presidency of George W. Bush is also filled with profound and serious contradictions that make me laugh out loud. George W. lost the 2002 election by over 500,000 votes and was still elected president! Ha, ha, ha, ha! At 2:16 a.m. on election night, Fox News announced that George W. had won the Florida vote, thus securing the 271 electoral votes needed to win the presidential election. The other television networks followed suit in a matter of minutes. The individual responsible for recommending that Fox call Florida for Bush was John Ellis, who led the network's decision desk. Ellis is the first cousin of George W. and his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Ha, ha, ha, ha! George W. graduated from Yale with a 77 average and was admitted to Harvard Business School based on that stellar academic achievement, but doesn't believe quotas should be used in college admissions. Ha, ha, ha, ha! George W. is the leader of the free world, but he doesn't hold press conferences unless the questions are limited in number and delivered to him in advance. Ha, ha, ha, ha! The White House emphatically states that George W. personally writes many of his speeches. Ha, ha, ha, ha! The United States and the so-called "axis of evil," Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, are four of the leading practitioners of capital punishment in the world, while France and Germany, our greatest obstacles in the war against Iraq, abolished capital punishment in 1981 and 1949, respectively. Ha, ha, ha, ha! The United States is the only country that has used the ultimate weapon of mass destruction and wants to build more of the same! Ha, ha, ha, ha! The United States is the freedom-loving country where Americans fought each other over the right to own slaves! Ha, ha, ha, ha! The United States is the democratic country that didn't allow women to vote until 1920! Ha, ha, ha, ha! The United States is the moral country that accepted Jim Crow laws until 1964. Ha, ha, ha, ha!

Of course, Josh Feit and others may not believe any of these contradictions are relevant when it comes to the Iraq war. But I think they're relevant and goofy and hilarious and painful and tragic. I believe we have to judge every American decision in the context of every other American decision. The United States is a country that has progressed greatly since land-holding, slave-owning white males created it and excluded everybody else from enjoying their freedoms. Of course, almost every American citizen enjoys those original freedoms now, but only because of two centuries of social and legal activism. The United States should receive the Most Improved Country award! But I believe we have improved despite our limited, immoral, and inept politicians. I believe the greatness of our country is not measured by its willingness to go to war or by its ability to win wars, but by its painters, construction workers, poets, factory engineers, novelists, chefs, filmmakers, architects, musicians, social workers, actors, teachers, and other nonviolent dreamers. I believe our country is great not because we've often been fundamentalist and isolationist in our thinking, but because we've gradually and often reluctantly learned to celebrate the complex chemistry of immigration and assimilation. The average American citizen in 2003 is more educated, kinder, and more progressive than the average citizen of any other time in our country's history.

It's because I am a cautious optimist who believes in this country's continual and hesitant progress that I also believe George W. Bush's presidency is a decided regression. I truly believe we have elected an illiterate and indecent man, and that drives me batty. His obvious lack of intelligence and contradictory amount of power have turned me into a moronic, starry-eyed, absurd, banal, and contradictory boob. Josh Feit is right! I was an incompetent idiot on February 15! But he doesn't realize that I was purposefully trying to be a foolish clown, rude trickster, and goofy contrarian. I wanted to be a world-class coyote, but I failed. At the last moment, in the presence of so many earnest and righteous antiwar folks, I lost my nerve and gave a speech that was a timid and unsuccessful mixture of humor and seriousness. I wasn't as moronic, starry-eyed, absurd, banal, contradictory, and boobish as I wanted to be. I wanted to be the bastard love child of Voltaire, Emily Dickinson, Lenny Bruce, Edith Wharton, and Richard Pryor, but I ended up being Miss Congeniality in the 2003 Peace Rally Open-Mic Comedy Laugh-Off.

You see, I believe there is honor and grace in treating an illegitimate president and his immoral administration with riotous and ridiculous contempt, and I have done it successfully in many venues, but I didn't do it at the Seattle Center on that rainy Saturday. For that failure, I apologize, and I promise to never lose my nerve again. I don't believe that we can stop the coming war with Iraq, but I absolutely believe that we can separately and collectively employ intelligence, passion, humor, satire, irony, and boobish, starry-eyed, idiotic hope to end the reign of George W. Bush in 2004. And I want to depose W. because I want our leaders to be perfect men and women. And by perfect, I am thinking of Hugo of St. Victor, a 12th-century monk from Saxony, who wrote: "The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his."

As difficult and romantic as it may sound, and as much as Josh Feit and others might mock me for my brittle idealism, I want to help elect a perfect man or woman in 2004. I want all of us to pledge that we'll elect such a person--and though we will certainly fail in the next election and in many after that, let us keep making that pledge until we make it come true.