TCS Daily

Peace Is Hell

By Duane D. Freese - March 25, 2003 12:00 AM

"War is hell," William Tecumseh Sherman told the graduating class at the Michigan Military Academy in 1879, as he admonished them to "suppress" the natural desire to "use the skill" they had acquired for waging war.

With the pictures of apparently assassinated American prisoners of war, a downed Apache helicopter and other reports of Coalition casualties, Sherman's warning about the danger of war is apropos for allied troops. The battlefield is chaotic, mistake filled, ugly and deadly place, and it cannot be made "antiseptic," as a USA Today editorial noted on Monday.

But the United States is making a great effort to make war less dangerous for non-combatants, and with some success. After more than a thousand Coalition sorties bombing Baghdad, the International Red Cross as of Monday confirmed only one civilian death, not the dozens claimed by the Iraqi dictatorship for propaganda purposes.

Any loss of life is regrettable - that is what our socialization in America teaches us. And it is a good socialization to have. Because that very concern had led this nation to develop precision guided weapons. It encourages extensive training of troops to use them in the most focused way possible.

This is not what Sherman's attitude was on his march to the sea in 1864. His intent in dealing with the South was, as he made clear in a letter to the leaders of Atlanta justifying their removal, to bring the war home to civilians. "You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will," he wrote them. "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it."

In short, Sherman made war hell for civilians. He did so with a purpose - to pacify the people of the South. They had become the enemy because they supported the Southern insurgency. So he forced them from their homes, destroyed their crops and made them pay in ways that violated the very national Constitution it was his aim to restore.

Technology and Total War

His march was one of the first examples of the doctrine of total war enunciated early in the century by Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz. Under the total war doctrine, war was deemed a clash of societies and cultures in which causing civilian populations to suffer was part of the equation for victory.

That view was a shift from the mindset of previous generations, in which battles were decided mostly by the maneuvering of armies and navies away from population centers.

New technology abetted a terrible leap in implementing that view of total war in World War I. When Britain blockaded Germany, German U-boats then attacked neutral shipping, sinking the U.S. Lusitania - a great mistake as it brought the United States into the war in retaliation. Germany also used zeppelins for the first population bombing. The first use of chemical weapons of mass destruction in the war, targeting troops in the trenches, led to the first conventions against the use of those weapons in warfare.

Still, air power and bigger bombs only made total war worse in World War II. Beginning with the London blitz, there followed the firebombing of Tokyo, the bombings of Coventry, Dresden and Cologne, and the dropping of nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The siege of Stalingrad and Nazi policies of genocide also targeted civilian populations, as did Nazi tactics that moved their military units into urban centers, forcing allied troops into street fighting. In all, more than 20 million civilians were killed in the war.

International conventions in the aftermath attempted to further refine total war. But again technology from the previous war has played a role. Nuclear weapons provided the worst vision of what total war might mean. The doctrine of mutually assured destruction created a standoff between the two major nuclear powers - the United States and Soviet Union.

Those weapons forced upon military planners notions of limited war .The U.S. military engaged in limited warfare with limited objectives in Korea and Vietnam. Nonetheless, the dumb weaponry in those - in particular the carpet bombing and use of napalm in Vietnam -- created horrific scenes of destruction. The scenes on American television contrasted sharply with military reports about successful pacification of the Vietnamese countryside, essentially building a large anti-war movement that influences U.S. culture to this day.

Indeed, it is those images of war and the death of civilians that remain the staple of the anti-war movement, both here and abroad, in their marches against the war in Iraq. Bodies - dead or maimed - of noncombatants are what give the movement particular salience. War is hell. It is so awful and cruel that, as Sherman said, democratic countries should only go to war as a last resort, and maybe not even then.

The suggestion by the United Nations that there may be as many as 900,000 Iraqi refugees and a worst-case scenario of 500,000 deaths, many of them civilians, plays to those legitimate fears of war.

Technology Can Lessen Dangers

But if that many Iraqis were to end up as refugees or dead, it won't be because of U.S. and British arms and actions aimed at making war hell for them.

Gen. Tommy Franks' plan, as has been made plain repeatedly both by word and deed, is to avoid civilian casualties. And for a change, technology rather than endangering civilians more is helping make "collateral (innocent human) damage" less likely.

Computer assisted targeting through satellites, lasers and within weapons can level military and command structures in cities while leaving civilian structures next door shaken but unharmed. In particular, the JDAMS guided by global positioning satellites that have turned dumb bombs into guided munitions at a cost of 1/50 of the $1 million a copy cruise missiles has had a refining effect on air warfare. Shock and awe hit the regime; it did not target the people.

In addition, intensively trained U.S. troops are acting as much like a hostage-release force as a military assault group.

Hussein's thugs know this, and have used it to put U.S. troops at greater risk, dressing as civilians, pretending to surrender only to open fire upon their captors, all in violation of the rules of war.

Saddam's Total War

Indeed, it is the regime of Saddam Hussein that is threatening to practice total war on its civilian population in an attempt to save itself.

It has put civilians as human shields at key facilities, such as the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and television and communications facilities, in order to deter U.S. attacks. Iraqi troops have reportedly shielded themselves with women and children in a similar attempt to protect themselves.

This has not, thus far, hampered the Coalition's military campaign, which has reached the outskirts of Baghdad swiftly and now is targeting Saddam's so-called elite Republican Guard.

But what is reprehensible about the Iraqi regime, and something that peace marchers here and abroad have only given lip service to opposing, is its use of total war against its own population even in peacetime. In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, peace is hell.

There are people who oppose the war out of deep moral conviction. War is a terrible thing. It creates a host of uncertainties. And rational people can differ in their assessments of the potential gains and dangers. By raising their voices to raise questions, or to oppose honestly, they force a president to justify in terms that make plain what a war is for - what it is meant to accomplish.

And no president should send troops into battle without a sense that there is a moral mission - to make the world safe for democracy, to protect his own people, to end a despicable and dangerous tyranny, to defend liberty.

One can argue that President Bush hasn't fully met that fully met that test. It's a matter of degree. But no peace marcher can honestly claim that the Iraqi regime is anything other than a brutal, genocidal dictatorship that has impoverished its own people while maintaining it own grandeur.

The visual evidence of his use of chemical weapons on the Kurds and the killing of 50,000 to 100,000 in the late 1980s and early 1990s is appalling. The written record of his troops' rape of Kuwaiti women and torture of their men prior to the Gulf War is horrific. The accounts of refugees of his brutal treatment of everyone from athletes to farmers to poets are pure hell.

On top of all this, he holds his own people hostage, making non-military efforts to force his disgorgement of weapons of mass destruction more devastating than military strikes. While Hussein lives in palaces and his Republican Guard eats well, he starves his people into continued submission, with 60 percent of them reliant on food welfare. Despite an aid program that provided $51 billion in revenue for food from Iraqi oil sales between 1997 and 2001, one in eight Iraqi children do not reach the age of five. Diarrhea and acute respiratory infection from either polluted water or malnutrition cause seven of 10 infant deaths.

The bottom line of that deprivation is 60,000 deaths a year, mostly of children and the elderly - more than 700,000 over the last decade. That compares to a civilian death toll of 3,000 during the Gulf War bombing campaign, according to U.S. sources.

That is why the flash of a peace sign, as Susan Sarandon did at the Oscars, carries such moral ambiguity when applied to a war against Hussein.

That is also why the ranting of the pseudo-documentary gadfly Michael Moore at the ceremonies about shame upon the Bush administration for going to war against Iraq is idiotic.

The reality for peace advocates is that war now can be refined technologically so it is less a hell for some populations than the terrible dictatorships that they live under in peacetime. By providing cover for a regime as vile as Saddam Hussein's, pacifists risk making the world safe for dictatorships artful in the use of torture and terror. That would make "peace" a permanent hell for tens of millions of people. Don't they matter?

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