Hersch column thoughtless, immoral
Matthew H. Hersch '94's column on civilian casualties is a bizarre mix of immorality, misinformation and illogic ["A kinder, gentler war," Feb. 22].
It sounds like he advocates responding to Saddam Hussein's contempt for life by emulating it. Does it occur to Hersch that any claim we have of being the "good guys" (as he puts it) must be based on how we treat civilians and how we treat enemies?
Are the children who die from US bombs responsible for Iraq's government? How does Hersch know that Iraqis, who live in
a country with no independent press, were even aware of such atrocities as the slaughter of the Kurds?
Does Hersch know about similar actions by US proxies? Should these American crimes be avenged by bombs planted in the Infinite Corridor? Wouldn't that teach us to stay away from the guilty military industrial complex?
In view of recent US behavior, it is curious that there is as much stated concern about the death of innocents as we have seen. In Panama a year ago, many more slum dwellers than Panamanian soldiers were killed.
Even under Jimmy "Human Rights" Carter, the United States sent weapons and other aid to the Salvadoran military, against the pleading of the archbishop there, as it murdered about 1000 unarmed people a month.
Unlike Hersch, I hope this is actually a sign of moral progress on our part. Unfortunately, it is probably motivated more by fear of the political repercussions in the Middle East of US slaughter than by humanitarian concern.
The fact remains we do not know how many have been killed by the bombing, so any talk of US restraint is premature. On Feb. 23, National Public Radio quoted a figure of 20,000 civilians and soldiers killed, with 60,000 wounded.
The Christian Science Monitor [Feb. 19] reports that former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark saw so much damage in Iraq when he visited there in early February that he thought Iraqi figures of 6000 civilians killed were plausible.
We do know that American bombing has wiped out running water and sanitation in Baghdad, and the International Committee of the Red Cross "fear[s] epidemic could erupt at any time" [NPR, Feb. 23].
If Saddam spread anthrax to Saudi Arabia, I expect (and hope) that Hersch would be among the first to protest, but American destruction of Iraq's infrastructure may have the same result as direct biological warfare. We also know that Iraqi casualties dwarf American casualties by orders of magnitudes.
Hersch argues that worrying about civilians prolongs wars. His examples are so muddled it's hard to even pick out something specific to criticize.
But his version of the Vietnam War is especially removed from reality. There is evidence that the "Christmas bombings" of Hanoi achieved absolutely nothing for the United States (see Noam Chomsky's Toward a New Cold War).
Since the enemies of the United States ended the war in possession of all of Vietnam, it is hard to point to the bombings as leading to any long-range success for American policy.
I don't know how Hersch could dismiss earlier US attacks on villages, towns and cities throughout Vietnam, when the whole futile basis of American policy was the killing of civilians who supported or tolerated the Viet Cong. By the way, I. F.Stone's Hidden History of the Korean War uses American and British sources to show that saturation bombing, napalm attacks on villages, etc., were typical American tactics in Korea, also.
Any war constitutes a policy of mass murder, and one could well argue that killing civilians working in a munitions factory is no better or worse than killing draftees stuck in some foxhole. But we should strive to limit the murder as much as possible, not expand it.
For every Iraqi (or Vietnamese, Salvadoran, etc.) who is scared away from participating in the conflict by American bombs, perhaps many more will only hate the Americans more after the war. Maybe mass slaughter shortens some wars, and maybe it prolongs others. We don't really know if there are benefits from trying to protect civilians, but
we can be sure that killing and maiming them is a horror from which we should all recoil.
Barry Klinger G->