What Price Victory?

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by Stephen Phillips

Friends and colleagues of mine will tell you that I'm not normally at a loss for words. I can always be counted on to say something--maybe not the most appropriate of responses, but a response nonetheless.   This past week, though, I have been stunned into silence by the terrible images flashing daily across my TV screen. 

Welcome to the Gulf War Part Deux...live at five, coming to a station near you!

I'm not old enough to remember World War II, and I can just about recall seeing the tail end of Vietnam, but both these conflicts produced images and pictures that conveyed the absolute senselessness of war:  the wanton destruction of property, the shattering of innocent lives, man’s singular ability to inflict pain and suffering on his fellow humans, death in all its bloody glory.

I hang my head in shame as I watch a new human catastrophe unfold before me, powerless to affect the outcome, wringing my hands in despair as I see the power and might of the U.S. and coalition forces unleashing hell on the peoples of Iraq--for what?  So that one man can prove he's the biggest, meanest dog on the block, and he's going to do what he’s going to do regardless of the consequences, and everybody else better put up or shut up!

As we enter the second week of this unprovoked, unsanctioned and by most accounts, unpopular war, it is becoming blatantly apparent that the Iraqi regime is not yet prepared to roll over and play dead, and will not give up its grip on power easily. We may be in for a long and protracted conflict that will claim many more lives before it reaches its conclusion.

Granted, there is little doubt in anyone’s mind that Saddam and his regime have proved themselves to be despotic leaders with little or no regard for their citizens.   They continue to rule the Iraqi people with an iron fist, wantonly destroying any opposition, engaging in bloody struggles that have cost many hundreds of thousands of lives. 

One has to ask, though, what will be the final cost of removing him and his cohorts from power, and giving democracy the chance to take root? 

How many more “smart bombs” will it take?  How many more times will we have to hear politicians praising the “brave soldiers who have had to make the ultimate sacrifice?”   How many more images of starving, terrified children wrapped in bloody bandages will be required to make the protagonists stop?  At what point must we, as civilized species, stand up and let our voices be heard above the roar of battle?   

Before this conflict started, much was said about how the Iraqi people would welcome the Allies with open arms, regarding them as liberators who would help throw off the shackles of oppression and tyranny.  But where are those scenes of rejoicing from the population today?  The cheers of joy as the mighty allied army marches triumphantly toward its final destination?  All the things that we were told would happen the minute we crossed the Kuwaiti border?  I, for one, am still waiting to see them.

Instead, this is what we have seen so far:

Frightened, confused people desperately hoping that salvation will soon be arriving. POWs--haggard, tired, scared, uncertain of their fate.  Bodies, broken and bloodied, lying in the street as weeping mothers mourn the loss of their children.

This is not the picture the planners wanted us to see, but seeing it we are--in glorious Technicolor.  The devastation this war is wreaking not just on the combatants, but on the innocents who get caught up in the maelstrom, should cause us all to seriously question the legitimacy of the campaign.

We have heard time and again that the coalition wants to avoid causing any unnecessary “collateral damage.” (That's what it’s called these days--sounds so clinical doesn’t it?)  But there has been collateral damage, and plenty of it.  We’ve seen pictures of huge explosions rocking buildings to their foundations, and images of burned-out shops and houses--shocking scenes of devastation and destruction that, instead of forcing the Iraqis to capitulate, have had quite the opposite effect. Many ordinary citizens are now resentful and fearful of their purported “liberators.” 

The battle to destroy the military machine may take some time, but the battle to win the confidence and trust of the population will take considerably longer, I fear.

Meanwhile, there is growing concern in a number of countries over a looming humanitarian issue that threatens to overshadow everything else.  Why is it that nobody who was involved in the planning of this war had the foresight to see that winning over the people of Iraq would require much more than just a display of military and technological might?  Why wasn’t it understood that it would also take food, water, medicine, and clothes--and that these would be needed the minute the Allies launched the offensive, not nine days in?  If the allies can move vast quantities of men and machines to within 50 miles of Baghdad, why are they having such a hard time providing basic and urgent humanitarian supplies to a population that is suffering more with each passing day?

To just assume that this would be a cakewalk, a tour de force of American military might that would sweep all opposition effortlessly before it, shows just how ignorant and arrogant the Bush administration is.

As the war drags on, George Bush is starting to sound more and more like a desperate schoolyard bully, seemingly vacillating on an almost daily basis about when this conflict will be over and what the final cost will be. I, for one, believe that the cost of this foolhardy venture will in the long run be far greater than most people imagined.  Not just monetarily, but in human terms as well.

I heard a telling summation of the effects of the war to date by a retired senior British Air Force officer, who was being interviewed on Sky TV about claims that one of the Iraqis’ own missiles may have been responsible for the recent devastation and loss of fifteen civilian lives in a Baghdad market.  His response should make us all stop and think about the price of empire building.

“It doesn't matter who is to blame for this terrible tragedy,” said the officer.  “In the eyes of the Arab world, and especially the Iraqi people, there is only one aggressor--and that's George W. Bush.”


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