“War” or Slaughter?

As the United States continues its preparations for a strike on Iraq, we hear the word “war” endlessly repeated — on TV, in the newspapers, around the water cooler, the dinner table, and even in church. But is “war” really the right word for what the US — the mightiest power the world has ever seen — is about to do to Iraq, a small, impoverished, isolated nation where malnutrition and even starvation are commonplace?

No. War is not the right word. Maybe “slaughter,” “massacre,” “bloodbath,” “carnage,” “butchery,” “annihilation,” “extermination,” “obliteration,” “mass murder,” or “mass execution.” But definitely not “war.”

The word “war” carries a very specific kind of association that brings to mind the great and noble wars of the past, such as World War II, World War I, and the Civil War. When you hear the word “war” it clearly brings to mind a conflict between nations where the outcome is far from assured. When we use the word “war” on a personal scale, we think of two rather equal combatants squaring off, like Ali-Frazier, or La Motta-Robinson. A guy with a .357 magnum blasting holes into a guy with a penknife is not a war. That’s called murder.

And that’s what this “war” against Iraq really is: murder on a mass scale. It is no more a war than Hitler’s invasion of Belgium was a “war.” In fact, even Hitler’s aggression against the small nations of Europe was never as lopsided as this. At least Hitler’s army was willing to get themselves bloodied, unlike the US, which allowed itself zero casualties in its last “war” (against Yugoslavia), and only a few hundred dead or wounded — mostly from friendly fire at that — in its previous “war” against Iraq. These “wars” are hardly the stuff of which legends of valor are made. Legends of shame perhaps.

Yet the media insists on calling this imminent aggression a “war.” Why? Because the word “war” is freighted with connotations of courage, patriotism, and daring — a kind of righteous struggle for admirable ends. Does that image fit this proposed “war?” The United Nations has prepared preliminary casualty estimates that indicate that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis will likely die. Most of these will be innocent civilians. Many of those civilians will die because the US will have deliberately targeted civilian infrastructure like water supplies, sewer systems, electrical power grids, etc.

“We want them to quit. We want them not to fight,” explained top military strategist Harlan Ullman on CBS recently. “You take the city down. You get rid of their power, water. In 2,3,4,5 days they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted.” This is all part of a US military doctrine known as “Rapid Domination,” where the idea is to inflict Hiroshima-type “shock and awe,” and thereby sap the enemy of their will to resist. Ullman, the Navy’s former head of extended planning, and a former professor at the Army War College, explains: “As the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki finally convinced the Japanese Emperor and High Command that even suicidal resistance was futile, these tools must be directed towards a similar outcome.”

Does this deserve to be called a “war?” And what about the illegality of targeting civilian infrastructure, which is expressly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions, to which the US is a signatory? Well, the US has recently said that those rules of war may no longer apply in today’s world, because “traditional” warfare is no longer the norm. Yet, the traditional word “war” still fits? How ironic.

  Mr. Gordon Arnaut is an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker in Canada. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN).