The difference is more than semantic
Ray Jenkins, in his column in The Sun on Feb. 3 entitled PPrecision Devices vs. Weapons of Terror," is guilty of the same criminalization of the language for which he excoriates the U.S. armed forces. Clearly military expertise is no requirement for sensible war commentary. But before the writer begins to equate American and Iraqi military tactics and ethics in the gulf war, he must familiarize himself with the history of warfare and with the way modern weapons work.
Jenkins' main thesis is that the language of war is nonsensical. I don't agree. Soldiers speak differently than we do simply because they live vastly different lives than we do. I see nothing nonsensical about the term "air sortie," and certainly I know no one who views a sortie as a lovely Sunday stroll in the park. If Jenkins had bothered to look up the word in even an old dictionary, he would have seen that "sortie" has been an accepted English word ever since aviation began to play a military role.
When he declared that we undertook bombing raids in which 18,000 tons of TNT were dropped from planes for 10 hours, he really missed the mark. I calculate that 18,000 tons of bombs were not achieved in 10 hours but more like two weeks.
Suddenly the 18,000 tons become equivalent to the Hiroshima bomb. This comparison disturbs me. If the first 10 hours in the gulf was equivalent to the Hiroshima bomb, I would also expect Jenkins to state that with this equivalence is a slightly different death toll: 91 in Iraq (if the Iraqis are to be believed) as opposed to 78,000 in Hiroshima.
I was irritated by the argument equating Iraq's potential use of biological weapons with the possible spread of typhus due to the destruction of the water system of Baghdad by Allied aircraft. These two possibilities can simply not be compared meaningfully. The use of biological weapons is a specific military tactic. Even if one assumes that the spread of typhus among Iraqis due to the disruption of Baghdad's water supply is a possibility, this would be an indirect and clearly unintended result of our air attacks not a purposeful strategy.
I was also annoyed by the characterization of President Bush's "good vs. evil" statement as language abuse. If Jenkins wants to quibble over the words good and evil, fine; but if he refuses to see the distinction between bacteriologic weapons, terrorism and Scud missiles as opposed to our attempt to destroy Iraq's capability to undertake these tactics, he is misinformed. If that logic had been used during World War II, one might have equated the Malmedy massacre and concentration camps with our destruction of Germany's hydroelectric dams in order to cripple Nazi war production. During World War II, we liberated countries with medieval monarchies (as Jenkins derisively categorizes Kuwait) to save them from a man who was far worse.
Joseph M. Balkoski
I was amused by the report from the Ralph Nader Public Citizen consumer group (Evening Sun, Feb. 6), which claims that the cost of the Persian Gulf war effort will be $268 billion.
I was in medical school in the early 1970s when Mr. Nader came to Tennessee to help defeat the attempt to build a breeder nuclear reactor in that state. He said at that time that we did not need to build nuclear reactors to meet our country's energy needs. I can still see clearly see him saying, in that voice of self-assurance, that the way to meet these needs was to ". . . keep importing cheap foreign oil." Now, the bill for this oil is coming due, and it's much, much higher than Mr. Nader told us it would be.
War of empire
As the bombs burst in air in the Persian Gulf, the violence of the U.S. empire can no longer be concealed by covert CIA operations or channeled through foreign mercenaries. Training contras and death squads, testing nuclear weapons and exercising war-game skills cannot satisfy for long. We need a war to justify and maintain our huge military machine and keep the defense industry rolling in wealth. We need a war to unify our violence-addicted culture. We need a war to remind the world who's in charge. Japan and Germany may have surpassed us economically, but they need the U.S. to be their bodyguard.
The empire needed an enemy to hate and subjugate now that the Soviet Union's power has subsided. We could not have created a better enemy than Saddam Hussein. Since empires don't smile upon invasions, he should not have invaded Panama -- oops, I mean Nicaragua oops, pardon me, Kuwait.
A day of prayer was called for by President Bush. Yes, we need a day -- many, many days to confess and repent of the violence within our nation, violence now being exported because of our need to dominate and control under the pretense of creating or maintaining democracy. How democratic is this bloody war?
John D. Oliver
The writer is a Baltimore minister.