Listening to bombs fall in Baghdad

Don Williamson

January 21, 1991|By Don Williamson

IT IS WAR, and we listened to bombs fall.

There were no pictures Wednesday afternoon. But we could turn on our television sets and listen to the bombs fall.

After nearly six months of standing at the brink of war, of inching closer with each new provocation, with each new wave of soldiers, each plane, each bomb, each ship that arrived in the Persian Gulf -- we could listen to the bombs fall.

Hindsight says the fighting was inevitable -- guaranteed almost from the beginning and certainly from the time U.S. troop strength was significantly increased in November.

The placement of nearly 500,000 U.S. soldiers was a clear message not only to the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, but to the world. War, however, is a message that only the foolhardy accept willingly.

The months of preparation and talk of war did not prepare us for the first announcements that bombs were falling in Baghdad.

The sounds of shells falling and anti-aircraft guns blasting, and reporters talking about bright lights in the sky and plumes of smoke billowing into the sky, did not seem real. There was a dream quality to it all, a bad dream, a nightmare.

I stood in front of the television and heard what was going on, but it just did not connect. There was no feeling, no sense that those noises were really the sound of death and destruction, and that human lives were being taken while I listened.

I wanted to scream. For a fleeting moment I wanted to hit something, to feel and to inflict actual physical pain. It's odd how something as insane as war can trigger thoughts of violence even in people opposed to the use of force.

The urge to compound one act of aggression with another passes, but the anger remains, the frustration is compounded, the sick, empty feeling in the pit of the stomach spreads throughout the body.

For months, we've heard it is not a conflict over oil or money. We've heard all the reasons why Kuwait is worth fighting for, worth risking thousands -- maybe even hundreds of thousands -- of lives.

We were told the world is not a simple place, that the rationale for war is too complex for the average person to understand.

We often hear that things are too complex for us to understand. Doctors, lawyers, educators, social workers, musicians, computer programmers and members of almost every other profession have their own language, their own ways of making simple things too difficult for average people to understand.

It is a protective device. It maintains authority and control because only special people know the vocabulary of pipe fitters or taxi drivers or master chefs -- or of war.

But war is not so hard to understand.

There is nothing complex about old men so filled with ego, greed and the lust for power that they are willing to plunge entire nations into war and jeopardize innocent lives and the fate of future generations.

It does not take a special vocabulary to see that many current Mideast problems were created by flawed U.S. policies that sought to control oil supplies and oil money and failed to create renewable energy sources at home.

It doesn't require special certification to remember that Iraq was OK when it went to war with Iran, and we didn't like Iran and we helped the Iraqi war effort.

That doesn't mean Saddam Hussein is a nice guy or that he shouldn't be held accountable for the atrocities he has committed against Kuwait, as well as his fellow Iraqis. The concern is that war has no winners and it seems to make no one any wiser.

The Bush administration has not embarked on a sane energy policy, even though the volatile nature of the Mideast and the fragile nature of the environment demand an end to our #i addiction to oil and other fossil fuels.

We have taken the step and plunged the nation into war. Everyone wonders how much of a toll it will take. But length and severity of this conflict are not the only concerns.

We must consider what kind of world there will be when the fighting ends. A return to over-consumption, reliance on foreign oil, and propping up brutal dictators who happen to be on our side for the moment will only ensure an eventual return to the battlefield.

When the fighting ends, we must begin to heal the wounds. We must more closely question our candidates for elected office and raise our concerns for peace earlier than a day before the fighting starts. We must become actively involved in promoting policies that make assaults on human rights unthinkable anywhere.

We must never again find ourselves listening to the bombs fall.

Don Williamson is an editorial-page columnist at the Seattle Times.

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