March 27, 2003
risk of being called a liberal defined as one who
wont take his own side in a fight I must enter a few
demurrals at some of the American press coverage of the war on Iraq.
The Iraqi army is putting up
surprisingly tough resistance to what is, after all, an invasion of their
country. Many hawks thought the war would be over by now. So did many
doves. Now we are told it may go on for months.
One of the New York tabloids
describes the Iraqi soldiers as savages and hardcore
fanatics. Really? Is it possible that at least some of them might be
more fairly seen as brave men and boys defending their
country to the death against an awesomely powerful invading force?
Invaders often regard the natives as savages; when has an invader ever
thought of himself as an aggressor?
We are constantly told that
Saddam Hussein is a moral monster, and no doubt he is. But do his troops
know that? The very fact that he is a tyrant means the Iraqi press is
tightly controlled and no criticism of him is permitted. The gruesome
facts that are familiar to us are known in Iraq only to his victims and
their families. What most Iraqis do know is that their country is under
It used to be a mark of chivalry
to honor your enemy for his bravery. That spirit is notably absent now. We
hear of the courage of American soldiers, which may be real enough; but
surely, given the huge advantages they enjoy in training, technology, and
other resources, the most remarkable courage is on the other side, among
the soldiers who fight when they are apparently doomed.
Yet much of our coverage treats
them as cowards and villains for refusing to surrender, for resorting to
ambushes against an inconceivably stronger foe, and for generally refusing
to follow the script. After all, they were supposed to throw down their
arms and welcome their liberators.
people who remember the last American attack, which destroyed water
and electrical plants (in breach of international law), producing
widespread death and disease. You and I may think America means
freedom, but their experience has created different associations. Why
should they welcome another American visit?
Cant we even imagine
how the situation appears to simple people on the other side? Many of
them are helpless conscripts, like our own soldiers in World War II, Korea,
and Vietnam. They go into battle knowing it is likely that they will never
see their families again, or that they may come home horribly mutilated.
The terror they must feel is nothing more than realism. But they have to
suppress it and fight.
Soldiers often comment on
feeling the moral absurdity of being required to fight other young men,
strangers who in different circumstances might have been their friends.
But such reflections usually come too late. Normal humanity is out of
place on the battlefield.
It also disappears in wartime
propaganda, where life becomes crude melodrama. And wartime news
tends to become propaganda. Civilians too are expected to get caught up in
the spirit of war. The national religion becomes Mars-worship.
The perspective of the naive
Iraqi may be hard for Americans to imagine, but the rest of the world
understands it very well. From France to Indonesia this war is seen as an
American invasion, pure and simple; the word liberation
just doesnt fit. Having made much of the world hate us, President
Bush thinks he can make the Iraqis love us?
Americans are used to basking in
the worlds admiration, but we had better get over that. It will be a
long time before this country is regarded with anything but fear and
loathing; and we had better learn, if not to see ourselves as others see us,
at least to understand why they see us as they do. The time for national
self-congratulation is long gone.
The louder our jingoism gets, the
wider the gulf between us and other countries. They marvel at American
arrogance. They might grudgingly come to terms with mere power; but
insolent power combined with moral vanity is too much.
Invade and bomb another country
if you must; but dont insist that you are doing it a favor. People
could easily get the wrong idea.