A kinder, gentleer warfare
If there is one quality that makes the gulf war stand out from all the others in history, it would have to be the good guys' obsessive compulsion with sparing the lives of civilian bad guys. That this concern has gotten so much press is also unusual because comparatively, civilian deaths in this war have been exceedingly light. In World War I, deaths numbered in the millions, but the wide-scale bombing of civilians that was commonplace in World War II has yet to occur in the gulf war.
The West, it seems, has a fascination with the theory of popular innocence -- that wars are fought between governments, not peoples, and that only a nation's leader can be held accountable for the actions of the nation he leads. "Spare civilians," advocates of this doctrine shout, "we have no fight with the people of Iraq." So strong is this sentiment accepted among coalition nations, that reports of civilian deaths in the bombing of an alleged Iraqi command center provoked momentary chaos and disharmony among allies.
While the humanitarian civility of popular innocence sounds too good to hate, I, frankly, have my doubts.
Popular innocence is exalted as the humane way to fight a war. Waged according to these rules, even the conquered nation will suffer the destruction of only military resources, saving its culture and the majority of its population. This is only fair, many say, because most of the tyrants and dictators manipulate and force their civilians into fighting, and are as much the victims of the tyrant as the soldiers fighting against him. Even better, some pragmatists say, a nation spared from the trauma of civilian massacres will be less likely to start up trouble in the future.
Unfortunately, in this war, popular innocence is a belief shared by one side and not the other, and it may be more a myth than a statement of truth.
Popular innocence is shockingly naive. No dictator can lead a nation into war by brute force and manipulation alone -- the fall of the Russian czar during World War I proves this. No matter how evil Saddam Hussein may be, he is a monster that the Iraqi people created themselves, who came to power because he gave the Iraqis something that they wanted -- pride -- at a time when they needed it. The allies gawk at Saddam's use of chemical weapons on the Kurdish minority in his country. At the time, however, the Iraqi people really didn't care -- Saddam was winning the Iran-Iraq War. When Saddam called for holy war against the West, most Iraqis were delighted.
Saddam, in addition, is not playing by popular innocence rules even though we are. Attacks on civilians in Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as terrorist assaults, reveal a morbid fascination with psychological terror and war on civilians. A fascination, which, to no small extent, is shared by the Saddam supporters who run in front of CNN cameras in Baghdad moaning about allied strikes on Iraqi civilians.
In a war where the opposition isn't playing by the rules, holding to popular innocence doctrines is tactically stupid and gets people killed. Wars in which civilian execution was met with likewise response have usually ended more quickly and with less loss of life than wars, like World War I, in which opponents tried to observe the rules of war.
Contrary to popular innocence theory, nations that have suffered large civilian deaths have become less belligerent than those like China and North Korea that were spared such onslaughts. Germany and Japan are still shell-shocked from their attempts at world domination in this century. Nations that take a beating are not as quick to go for seconds. This does not mean that civilians should be targeted indiscriminately -- only that civilian risks should not rule out military assaults.
If civilians are killed because of their proximity to a military facility, this should not be an example to the attackers that they should be more careful, it should be an example to those on the ground that they should. For eight years in Vietnam, psychopathic communist massacres of South Vietnamese civilians were met with military-centered responses only, and for eight years we ran around in circles ripping up the jungle, dropping Agent Orange and cluster bombs and laying waste to the area. In the end, two weeks of B-52 raids on Hanoi in December 1972 succeeded in doing what eight years of ground war could not -- bring the North to the bargaining table.
If civilians know that they will be killed if they are caught near military targets, then air assaults are working. Civilians should be scared to get within 100 feet of a soldier, let alone help one, and soldiers should be so frightened to wear a uniform or hold a gun that they desert their units. Wars end when people are afraid to fight anymore.
In a world where everyone can agree how to fight a war, popular innocence and gentlemanly conflict is a gem of a concept, and one that I fervently and unequivocally support. Then again, if all nations could agree how to fight a war, and be trusted to keep their word, wars would never happen in the first place.
Matthew H. Hersch, a freshman, is associate opinion editor of The Tech.
In a world where everyone can agree how to fight a war, gentlemanly conflict is a gem of a concept. Then again. . .
In a war where the opposition isn't playing by the rules, holding to popular innocence doctrines is tactically stupid and gets people killed.
No matter how evil Saddam Hussein may be, he is a monster that the Iraqi people created themselves, who came to power because he gave the Iraqis something that they wanted at a time when they needed it.