It is time to speak the unspeakable. But we should get something straight right from the start. To us, there is image more searing, heart-rending an image than that of women and children who have become, in the antiseptic phraseology of war, collateral damage. But equally so, in the awful arithmetic of war, it doesn’t make sense, if a trade-off there must be, to equate the lives of people close to you with the lives of those who are not. It would be patent hypocrisy for a man to say that he equates the death of his mother with the death of the fellow who drives the bus that takes him to work every day. Similarly, we cannot easily abide equating the death of a young American in the Armed Forces with the death, cruel though it may be, of an Iraqi civilian. It is true any death is a tragedy. In 1624, John Donne wrote:
“… any mans death diminishes me,
because I am involved in Mankinde;
And therefore never send to
know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”
But better than tolling for thee is if the bell tolls for somebody else.
As it is now, we have drawn an exquisite line in Baghdad: the military, we believe, on one side; allegedly innocent civilians on the other. With precision we bomb only the side of the line behind which we believe stands the military. We bomb in this manner in an effort to protect the Iraqi civilians and hopefully only injure those Iraqis involved in the war effort, assuming, in the process, that all the Iraqis on other side of the line are good Iraqis, and no member of the military would be dishonest enough to avoid bombs by crossing the line. In so doing, we are certainly putting American young men and women, and the pilots who perform this surgical bombing, at risk. The bad Iraqis who take advantage of our policy to live to fight another day are an on-going threat to our troops. Our troops are accompanied by lawyers whose duty it is to make sure none of our targets violate the Geneva Convention. There are already 10,000 Iraqi targets that have been declared off-limits. While we create the conscience-saving device of a line of demarcation separating the combatants from the civilians, our enemies do not. Sometimes the enemy hides behind civilian skirts until our guard is down, and then strikes. Sometimes the civilians are utilized against their will but less often, we suspect, than we would like to admit.
There is another point that fits into the category of the unspeakable. People end up with governments they desire or, at least, allow to happen. There never was a dictatorship in the history of the world that sprang up by spontaneous generation like Minerva arising full blown out of the sea. Certainly, if it ever did happen, it could not sustain itself without the support of the people. From Castro to Hitler, dictators have been put in power by the people of their country. One can remember Castro’s triumphant entrance into Havana to the adulation of tens of thousands of Cubans. Similarly, some might find it convenient to forget the fact that in July 1932 and March 1933 Hitler was elected in free elections by the German people. Saddam Hussein and his thugs could not have been in power but for the will of the Iraqi people.
There are reports of unexpected stiffening of resistance by Iraqi soldiers, not just the elite guard units or the civilian clothed Iraqi SS troops. These thousands of ordinary foot soldiers could not have all supped at Saddam Hussein’s table, nor only performed their duties because revolvers were put to their heads.
Recent television images have depicted the American troops dispensing foods to crowds of Iraqis. At the same time there were interviews from rabid Iraqis who refused to take food from the Americans, preferring dead Americans to live ones, even live ones who were offering them food. Further, there are numerous stories of thousands of Iraqis who have previously fled the country now paying their own way to return to Iraqi.
Every limitation and control we place on the U.S. military has been done for humanitarian reasons, and every precision bombing that is attempted to protect the Iraqi civilians is truly translatable into added deaths of American soldiers.
What should happen in Iraq is simple and swift. Leaflets should be distributed to Iraqi civilians informing them that they have 48 hours to evacuate Baghdad. They should be informed that the coalition forces are prepared to open a safe corridor for their egress from the city. Then it becomes Saddam Hussein’s problem. He will be dealing with a Hobson’s choice: if he does not let the civilians leave the city there will be massive unrest and perhaps even forceful activities by the population directed to undermine or overthrow his regime. If citizens are allowed to leave the city because of the safe corridor, Saddam would be left in town with, basically, his own thugs. After that, the city should be leveled by the MOAB’s (Mother of All Bombs) massively destructive non-nuclear bombs that America now possesses. Perhaps this is not a perfect solution. By doing this there will weigh on America’s collective conscience perhaps dead Iraqi civilians who for one reason or another did not take advantage of our offer of safe passage. But by pursuing the present policies there will certainly be more dead Americans.
Our present war policies of humanitarian precision bombings might allow the bleeding hearts among us to go to bed with clearer consciences or feel justified in their demonstrations, but the young Americans would still be dead.