Washington — As I estimated, this war will take about a week, perhaps a few days more. Then the mopping up begins. I stand by my original hunch.
Our forces have performed superbly. Our weaponry really is as precise and devastating as we were told it would be. And Saddam Hussein is as evil as reported. Moreover his regime and its supporters are equally evil. Their dominance of Iraq for so many years is probably the malign consequence that will be the most difficult to overcome in the months and years ahead. The honorable values of our coalition forces are easy to overlook. We take them for granted. Others, the trendy and the progressive, dismiss them as antiquated or a sham. Yet, when we see our troops adhering so scrupulously to the international conventions of warfare that they place themselves in danger; and when we see Saddam’s animals rely on our troops’ scrupulosity to ambush them, the contrast should enlighten. There is a radiant difference between honor and evil.
In the German army during World War II, there were many soldiers and officers who took pride in being fine soldiers, for instance, those who took part in the bomb plot against Hitler. Not all German soldiers were of the sort who herded the helpless into concentration camps and gas chambers. In the Iraqi army there may be some honorable soldiers, but I do not see any evidence as yet. They all seem to be either pathetic wretches or Saddam’s automatons with an inexhaustible taste for cruelty. In the German army there had been a venerable tradition of soldiership. In Iraq there has only been thuggery. It is going to take time to create a civic sense in a country run by such primitives.
That the community of Hollywood “artists,” as they called themselves during the Academy Awards the other night, is so obviously unmindful of the dispendious evil of the Iraqi regime is notable but perhaps not all that surprising. The level of intellect and of sophistication displayed by Hollywood’s assembled artists was pretty pedestrian. Mediocre “artists” miss important marks of distinction in politics and history all the time. In 1938 Gertrude Stein and a circle of her “artists” had what we might now call the “innovative” idea of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Adolf Hitler, or was it the Nobel Prize for literature that they had in mind? After the war two other mediocre “artists” Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir became very famous international heralds of peace and progress. Subsequent research has revealed that these renowned opponents of the West’s prosecution of the Cold War were virtual Nazi collaborators, as they lolled around Paris Café Flore during the Nazi occupation. Their works of “art” were published without impediment from the authorities. They flourished as nicely under Nazis as under French democrats.
Still, the less arty among us thought Sunday night might be a time when all might agree that Saddam is deserving of Mussolini’s final act, to wit, being hung by his heels from a lamp post. By the night of the Academy Awards it was apparent that his so-called soldiers were using women and children as human shields. Others were dressing in civilian clothes to take advantage of our military’s respect for the rules of warfare to ambush them. I wonder how many of Saddam’s thugs dressed in women’s clothes. Did they wear burkhas? Did they dress as old ladies?
Some members of the press were temporarily rendered almost defeatist by the ambushes of Sunday. They talked of our young soldiers and Marines as if they were distressed kids. Actually the Marines and the members of our volunteer army have proved themselves to be splendid fighters. Many are right where they want to be, in the middle of a tremendous fight. While some in the press were turning weepy Sunday I thought of a Marine I knew named Dutch, who died in Vietnam. He was on the swim team with me at Indiana.
He joined the Marines in the middle 1960s and went to Vietnam. The last I heard he died there. Then in the middle 1980s after a handball game, my opponent, a former Marine, told me he had written an unpublished novel about a battle he was in somewhere in the Mekong Delta. He had just set out to relieve a guy named Dutch from a position under fire. Artillery hit the position, and when he went down a hill to get Dutch, Dutch was dead. We compared notes. Over twenty years what we both remembered about Dutch was that he loved a good fight. My handball buddy knew him in the service. I knew him in college. Like a lot of young men he was, shall we say, a fighter. The Iraqi animals who while dressed as civilians ambushed our forces are going to meet a lot of Dutches in the days ahead.
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