TCS Daily

Civil War

By Brian E. Finch - April 8, 2003 12:00 AM

"War," Gen. William T. Sherman once wrote, "is at best barbarism." Having lived through (as well as having engineered) some of the bloodiest campaigns in world history, he certainly knew what he was talking about. Sherman would no doubt have stuck to his opinion if he had the unfortunate honor of witnessing up close the two World Wars in the 20th Century, much less some of its nastier civil wars.

And while countries, scholars, soldiers and humanitarians have toiled quite hard to make warfare more restrained through the refinement of the law of armed conflict, the world is currently witnessing barbaric warfare ever in Iraq. As the U.S. military speeds its way through the Iraqi desert and into its cities, it does so with a brutal efficiency never before seen. Aside from a few stragglers and die-hards, the U.S. military has little opposition from the Iraqi military, tearing it apart in a well-orchestrated campaign. For all its incredible acts of violence and destruction, however, the U.S. military has been remarkably restrained in its actions. The true barbarity has flowed - not surprisingly - from the desperate Saddam Hussein regime.

In the Action Reports filed by U.S. commanders after the Pearl Harbor attack, one phrase was constantly repeated. Nearly every ranking officer reported that his men had acted "in keeping with the best traditions of the service." By that, they meant the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen had acted with incredible courage and honor, putting their own lives at risk in order to defend the U.S. Pacific Fleet and aid their fellow servicemen. The same can be said of our servicemen and women in the Iraqi campaign. Story after story has emerged of U.S. restraint - for instance soldiers refraining from wholesale engagements in cities in order to avoid civilian casualties. In Najaf, U.S. troops subjected themselves to harassing fire from Iraqi militiamen rather than shoot into a holy Muslim shrine. The U.S. Air Force and Navy drop precision-guided munitions onto targets inside cities, trying their utmost to avoid striking civilian targets.

Meanwhile, our British allies patiently encircled the city of Basra, engaging only in precise artillery duels with militia forces and lightning raids into the city in order to avoid bloody urban combat that would cause untold numbers of civilian casualties. Everywhere Coalition forces go, they bring with them relief rations and medical supplies, providing food and medicine to a country that has for years suffered while its leaders grew fat off of money intended for the general population. At all times, Coalition forces observe the laws of armed conflict by traveling openly as a military force and doing their utmost to avoid impacting civilian populations.

Our Iraqi foes have not been so honor bound. With its conventional forces pounded into a hollow shell, the Hussein regime has instead chosen to rely upon fear, intimidation and outright criminal attacks in its attempts to resist Coalition forces. Troops and militia units regularly shed their uniforms for civilian clothes, deliberately mixing with the general public in order to sneak close to Coalition units and deliver a few cheap shots. Those Iraqi units that continue to don their uniforms often feign surrender, ambushing U.S. soldiers who have been taught to respect the white flag of truce. Suicide bombings carried out in civilian automobiles are fast becoming a common event. As Coalition forces advance they also discover innumerable heinous acts committed by the Hussein regime, including the torching of oil fields, deliberately withheld humanitarian supplies and sabotaged public utilities.

What this war has reaffirmed is that the Saddam Hussein has run a loathsome regime, and that no law or more is immune from his criminal ways. His people are sacrificial lambs, objects to be slaughtered in order to preserve his greedy gains and twisted objectives. Hussein and his supporters will stop at nothing to make themselves appear as victims, all the while victimizing their brethren on an incredible scale.

One can only hope that the world will understand how restrained the actions of the Coalition have been. The U.S. has shown significant restraint in its military assaults, and considerable generosity in its treatment of the Iraqi people. When civilian casualties (such as the accidental shootings at checkpoints) have occurred, they have happened not because of American propensity to violence but rather because of the shameless way Saddam Hussein has decided to use his people to his own ends. Is the loss of civilian life in this conflict terrible? Absolutely. Would it have been right, though, to let the criminal regime of Saddam to continue its brutal ways, particularly if it was armed with weapons of mass destruction? Absolutely not.

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