Was It A Good War?

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The war that we saw on TV during the past month was a “good war.” No wonder that a majority of us feel the war would be justified even if no weapons of mass destruction were to be found in Iraq. A future terrorist attack on the US has been prevented, with minimum loss of life.

Our bravest sons and daughters in uniform put their lives at risk to liberate the 24 million people of Iraq from the stranglehold of an evil regime. They used high-tech weapons to kill the bad guys professionally and cleanly. Iraqis cheered as a US tank recovery vehicle pulled down an oversized bronze statute of Saddam Hussein in central Baghdad.

The war resembled a made-for-TV movie with a PG-13 rating. There were battle scenes, but no blood or gore. Buildings were demolished with precision bombs, and there were no human remains. This “beautiful” war was very different from the ugly war that the rest of the world saw.

More than 10,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in less than a month. This compares with 26,000 Soviets killed in Afghanistan in ten years or 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam over 14 years. At least thirty thousand Iraqi soldiers were injured. Each of these human beings was someone’s son or brother or husband, and was fighting to defend his country. The number of Iraqis with war casualties in their families or friends must number close to a million. Their grief will linger on long after the Marines have come home. At least two thousand Iraqi civilians were killed and countless more injured. Some of the survivors lost arms or legs or both. Others had burns over their entire body. Some will never see again while others will never hear again. Many will die in the months to come.

American viewers were spared the carnage of war. On April 8, a single hospital in Baghdad treated at least 200 civilians and a surgeon performed 12 operations in the afternoon, including two amputations. Hospitals struggled with shortages of equipment and performing operations without anesthesia. The caretakers ran out off coffins and had to reuse them for multiple victims.

More than a dozen civilians in the residential district of Mansur were killed as a B-1B bomber dropped four JDAM bombs from 30,000 ft above a cloudy sky. The Saa Restaurant, which Saddam Hussein had visited a day earlier, was gutted. The blast shattered windows of virtually every store lining the nearby boulevard. As recovery efforts got underway, a man found the mauled torso of a 20-year-old woman in the rubble. Moments later, he found what was left of her head, her brown hair matted with blood. Sitting in a chair down the road, her mother cried uncontrollably into her hands, and then vomited.

Another man found his six-year old nephew buried in the rubble. Wrapping the body in a blanket, he wailed, “Is he a military leader?” His eyes red, he went back to work. Six other nieces and nephews were still under the rubble.

In the Arab world, these images were broadcast live. Week after week, Arabs saw scores of badly wounded and mutilated Iraqi civilians being rushed to ill-equipped and already-crammed hospitals. While American viewers were shown beautiful images of fighter aircraft taking off from aircraft carriers, Arab viewers were shown the ugliness of death caused by the bombs dropped from these fighters.

A journalist in Lebanon said U.S. forces had conducted a TV war to impose their military supremacy. Another said, “With the push of a bottom the Americans sent a cruise missile into a residential area killing 100 people. Is this civilized? How can someone have a clear conscience about that?”

This war was hardly a good war. It has alienated us from much of Europe and global public opinion. It may have caused irreparable harm to the image of the US in the Arab and Muslim world, which feels humiliated and oppressed by our arrogance. As the war began, Egyptian President Mubarak feared that it would create a hundred bin Ladens.

It is a tragedy that the American people were never shown the real pictures of this war. Given their sense of justice and fair play, they would have stopped supporting it. Buoyed by their success, the neo-conservatives in the Bush administration have now placed Syria in their cross hairs. If they get to have their way, the Middle East would soon be converted into a Jurassic Park.

The author is an economist in Palo Alto, California.  He lived in Pakistan during the 1965 and 1971 wars.  He has written on Pakistan’s Strategic Myopia in the RUSI Journal, and reviewed Mazari’s book, Journey to  Disillusionment for International Affairs. He has authored “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan.” He is a Fellow of the American Institute of International Studies in California.

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