Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 Benign Bombers 

March 27, 2003

At risk of being called a liberal — defined as one who won’t take his own side in a fight — I must enter a few demurrals at some of the American press coverage of the war on Iraq.

The Iraqi army is putting up surprisingly tough resistance to what is, after all, an invasion of their country. Many hawks thought the war would be over by now. So did many doves. Now we are told it may go on for months.

One of the New York tabloids describes the Iraqi soldiers as “savages” and “hardcore fanatics.” Really? Is it possible that at least some of them might be more fairly seen as brave men — and boys — defending their country to the death against an awesomely powerful invading force? Invaders often regard the natives as savages; when has an invader ever thought of himself as an aggressor?

We are constantly told that Saddam Hussein is a moral monster, and no doubt he is. But do his troops know that? The very fact that he is a tyrant means the Iraqi press is tightly controlled and no criticism of him is permitted. The gruesome facts that are familiar to us are known in Iraq only to his victims and their families. What most Iraqis do know is that their country is under terrifying attack.

It used to be a mark of chivalry to honor your enemy for his bravery. That spirit is notably absent now. We hear of the courage of American soldiers, which may be real enough; but surely, given the huge advantages they enjoy in training, technology, and other resources, the most remarkable courage is on the other side, among the soldiers who fight when they are apparently doomed.

Yet much of our coverage treats them as cowards and villains for refusing to surrender, for resorting to ambushes against an inconceivably stronger foe, and for generally refusing to follow the script. After all, they were supposed to throw down their arms and welcome their “liberators.”

[Breaker quote: And valiant Iraqis]These are people who remember the last American attack, which destroyed water and electrical plants (in breach of international law), producing widespread death and disease. You and I may think America means freedom, but their experience has created different associations. Why should they welcome another American visit?

Can’t we even imagine how the situation appears to simple people on the other side? Many of them are helpless conscripts, like our own soldiers in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. They go into battle knowing it is likely that they will never see their families again, or that they may come home horribly mutilated. The terror they must feel is nothing more than realism. But they have to suppress it and fight.

Soldiers often comment on feeling the moral absurdity of being required to fight other young men, strangers who in different circumstances might have been their friends. But such reflections usually come too late. Normal humanity is out of place on the battlefield.

It also disappears in wartime propaganda, where life becomes crude melodrama. And wartime news tends to become propaganda. Civilians too are expected to get caught up in the spirit of war. The national religion becomes Mars-worship.

The perspective of the naive Iraqi may be hard for Americans to imagine, but the rest of the world understands it very well. From France to Indonesia this war is seen as an American invasion, pure and simple; the word “liberation” just doesn’t fit. Having made much of the world hate us, President Bush thinks he can make the Iraqis love us?

Americans are used to basking in the world’s admiration, but we had better get over that. It will be a long time before this country is regarded with anything but fear and loathing; and we had better learn, if not to see ourselves as others see us, at least to understand why they see us as they do. The time for national self-congratulation is long gone.

The louder our jingoism gets, the wider the gulf between us and other countries. They marvel at American arrogance. They might grudgingly come to terms with mere power; but insolent power combined with moral vanity is too much.

Invade and bomb another country if you must; but don’t insist that you are doing it a favor. People could easily get the wrong idea.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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