"Daddy, What's a War?"

by Charles Alverson

Some of the faint hearts in the United States Senate claim that de facto President George W. Bush should have the 'informed consent' of the American people before waging his much-advertised war upcoming against Iraq. (Coming (sooner or later)to an Axis of Evil far from your own neighborhood). This sounds like a good idea. But, sadly, I rather imagine that a high percentage of Americans would answer in the affirmative to the question: 'Should the United States go to war with Iraq?'

'Why not?' many would answer.

I suspect, from the American point of view, this attitude makes sense due to the fact that Saddam Hussein is reportedly developing some pretty nasty Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and you never know when he might take it into his head to unleash them.
But, but before Mr. and Mrs. America get carried away with their lust for war, I'd like to be the one to write the questions for they have to answer. For instance:

1) Would you still want the U.S. to wage war against Iraq if it meant that your home town would be bombed in return?
2) How many American civilian casualties would be acceptable in a war against Iraq: A) 100; B) 1,OOO; C) 10,000; D) 100,000?
3) Do you want a war with Iraq enough to send your son (or daughter) over there to be killed?

Now, hold on just a minute! American casualties? Who's talking about killing American civilians? My Billy? My Jane? That's not a very nice way to think at all. The great majority of Americans who support the idea of 'war' against Iraq or other countries (My old employer, the Wall Street Journal, seems to want to extend the action to Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan as well.) seem to consider war something we Americans do to other people without them being unpleasant enough to do anything back. Even the events of September 11, 2001, don't seem to have seriously dented the illusion that the United States exists in a sort of bubble that can't really be burst by nasty foreigners. America's martial engagements in living memory-from both world wars to Afghanistan-have encouraged that sort of thinking. Sure, a certain number of military get killed, but the rest of us (and our property) are okay. Even the smoking hole that used to be the World Trade Center hasn't really convinced Mr. and Mrs. America that 'war' can be a bloody, give-and-take business, and the next sound may be the chickens coming home to roost (and drop bombs) in Anytown, Your State, U.S.A.

Speaking as an American who lives in a country bombed day and night for 78 days in 1999 by Uncle Sam and the 18 NATO dwarfs, I can assure doubtful readers that bombs can really mess up a neighborhood. Walking down one of the main thoroughfares of Belgrade, one comes to an intersection at which Cruise missiles turned three of the four corner buildings into burnt-out houses of cards. Not to mention shattering windows for blocks around and the ear drums of newly born children at a nearby hospital.

These were 'military' targets-or at least military office buildings that had been presciently emptied before the missiles struck. But when the American flyboys-riding three to five miles up where no spoilsport Serbian artillery could hit them--couldn't find anything military to bombs, they had plenty of civilian targets to fall back on: sixty-six bridges-one with a civilian train crossing it as bombs fell-a TV station cheek-by-jowl with a children's theater and a Russian Orthodox Church, a convoy of Ethnic Albanian farmers and their families riding on tractors and trailers. Now, this was war-at least for those on the ground.

You probably already knew-and have already forgotten-all that, but I would like to remind Americans that they cannot expect their country to be able to go on attacking others without-someday-getting a dose of the same bitter medicine. Some people take being bombed-even by Americans-hard and tend to hold a grudge. I recall the grim satisfaction I felt when one of the Serbian anti-aircraft units got lucky and shot down one of Uncle's high-flying 'invisible' airplanes. It may sound unpatriotic, but it occurred to me that anyone who-uninvited-goes bombing a country that can't bomb back, deserves whatever he gets.

But, you might ask: Who's going to bomb America? I hate to pop your collective balloons, but there are other ways to deliver bombs than by multi-million-dollar airplane, invisible or not. Mr. Bush repeatedly reminds us what a nasty man Saddam Hussein is. But, either he doesn't have WMDs (see above),or Saddam just isn't nasty enough to smuggle them through the U.S.'s many thousands of miles of scantily protected borders

I think that Uncle Sam has been very lucky-so far-in his choice of enemies. But some day, if current policies continue, he is going to pick on someone with the capability and nastiness to decide that it was about time that Americans got more than a bit of what they have been dishing out around the world for more than half a century. I assure you that if I were Saddam Hussein and had the goods, the moment the first American bomb or rocket hit Baghdad, the biggest WMD I could muster would go off in New York or Washington or both. But then, Saddam is probably a nicer guy than I am.

Charles Alverson, after an eclectic career ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Rolling Stone to the co-authorship of the film 'Brazil', lives in rural Yugoslavia and is not interested in bombing or being bombed, thank you.

Charles Alverson encourages your comments: chas@eunet.yu