Last week in Port Chester, in Westchester County, a stranger and I shared a television set and watched the Detroit Pistons beat the New Jersey Nets.
The stranger was a black man in his early 30s. Unlike me, he was a Nets fan.
"How come you're for the Pistons?" he wanted to know.
"I was raised in Detroit," I told him. "But I've lived most of my life in Israel."
"Israel? It's a mess over there right now."
"Yeah, well, the Nets aren't doing too good, either."
"No, for real," he said. "What about that air strike on the demonstrators in Gaza?"
I nodded and kept watching the game.
"What did you think about it?" he asked.
"There's a war going on," I said.
The stranger looked at me. "Kids got killed in that air strike," he said in a tone that invited me to share his ... what? Outrage? Empathy?
I was tempted. Here we were, two strangers, one black and one white, a young blood and a graybeard, a Nets fan and a Pistons lover. I was being offered a bridge across those gaps, a chance to share a moment of human solidarity.
I knew the right words: Same thing as in Iraq, American planes wiping out all those women and kids at a wedding party. Killing isn't the answer. There's got to be a better way.
Knew them but didn't say them.
Instead I said, "Terrible things happen in war. But that doesn't make the war wrong."
The stranger frowned. "Man, that's cold."
He didn't mean it as a compliment, but I took it as one.
No war is worth supporting if it can't be supported in cold blood. Revenge, honor, glory and other such hot-blooded impulses aren't good enough reasons to go to war, or to sustain one.
Americans are learning that now. Many of the politicians and commentators who beat the drums for invading Iraq have begun beating their breasts instead. They didn't bargain for the pictures from Abu Ghraib or reports of the accidental slaughter of innocent villagers.
They didn't think about how unpopular war would make them with the friends of their enemies or how unpleasant it would be to watch the evening news. They no longer want to be associated with war's terrible inevitabilities.
Their sudden scrupulousness is not a badge of moral superiority. On the contrary, it is a mark of cowardice and a sign of bad character. Every grownup who supported sending troops to Iraq (and Afghanistan) knew that they would wind up unintentionally killing or injuring some civilians and abusing the rights of others. The question was, and remains: Is the war worthwhile despite what it entails?
The answer, at least in my opinion, is yes. The worldwide fight against Islamic fascism whose hottest theaters are presently Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza is a good cause in the same way that World War II was a good cause.
It is not about payback for 9/11 or other acts of terrorism. Rather, it is a wholly necessary struggle against a debased, xenophobic and aggressive ideology.
This war can be won, but only with patience and self-confidence and the willingness to inflict as much punishment as necessary. In other words, in cold blood.
I didn't say any of this to the stranger in Port Chester, though. I got the feeling that he wasn't a great fan of the war (he subsequently told me that the beheading of Nick Berg was ordered by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the CIA), and I didn't feel like getting into an argument.
Besides, the guy was a Nets fan he was already taking enough punishment. So I just said, "Speaking of cold, what's the matter with Jason Kidd?" and left the war talk for another time.