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War replaces war of words

For some time now, American planes have been dropping leaflets over Iraq printed with translated tidbits from President Bush's speeches.

On Monday night, Bush made it clear those planes will now be dropping more than participles.

Addressing the nation, the president ticked off a list of Saddam Hussein's sins — his "reckless aggression" and "deep hatred" — declared "This danger will be removed" and promised to "apply the full force of our military" to remove it.

In other words, the war of words is over.

The war of warheads has begun.

In his typical bold, blunt American speech, the president said the United Nation's Security Council had failed in its duties and America was left to take matters into its own hands.

Speaking to the Iraqi people, the president promised aid and comfort, urged soldiers to defect and gave Saddam and his sons a "leave it or lose it" proposition. If the regime doesn't flee the country within 48 hours, America will drive it out.

What was once "a matter of weeks, not months," became a "matter of days, not weeks." Now it is a matter of hours. Desert Storm has been called the "The 100 Hour War." Americans are hoping for a similar result.

The wild card, of course, will be terrorism. The nation is now on high alert. Given the "new world disorder," even experts are skittish about predicting behavior. Prayers abound.

And the stakes, needless to say, are enormously high.

Unlike the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when the Kennedy administration stared down Communist Russia, the risks of an immediate cataclysmic event may not be as great, but the risks are still monumental.

At "risk" is the viability of the United Nations as a world body.

At "risk" is the concept of "collective security."

At "risk" is America's image in the world and the president's political future.

And every war has its own dynamics, its own surprises and shocks.

In the weeks to come, hundreds of opinions will bubble to the surface. For now, however, Americans would do well to take a cue from their representatives in Washington. There, despite their stark differences, leaders closed ranks behind the president and presented a united front to the world.

American citizens should follow suit.

The die has been cast. In the months and years ahead, historians, politicians and voters will be able to weigh in with their interpretations and dole out praise or condemnation.

Today, however, America is at war.

It behooves the nation's citizens to join hands and pull their country through.