Blood Bath

April 02, 1991|By DANIEL DYER

HUDSON, OHIO. — The aqueduct took a year to complete. From the cool mountains in the North it traveled 1,000 miles, transporting life-sustaining water to the sweltering South. Every 100 yards, gargoyle spouts permitted people to draw sustenance from this river of life. It was an engineering marvel.

But all was not well. On the day of completion, no water ran in the aqueduct, and the people in the South were dismayed. Would relief never come?

A courier arrived with grim news: War had broken out in the North. More than 100 million people had been slain. And now the people in the South were certain their crops would wither, their animals would die, the merciless sun would parch their already-arid lives.

When all appeared lost, news from the North: It was coming! Euphoric, the people from the South opened the gargoyles, filled their glasses and jugs and tubs, irrigated their fields, and celebrated their good fortune.

It was a child who had the temerity to complain: ''But Mother!'' said the child. ''This isn't water! It's red. And it's thick.''

The mother silenced her child. ''Here's the soap, wash yourself, don't ask questions, shut up,'' she said.

And all across the South, the grateful people bathed in the blood from the North -- and instructed their president to make certain the war would continue.

Last week, my eighth-grade students read this story, ''The Aqueduct,'' by Ray Bradbury. It appalled them in a couple of ways. For one, the image of a 1,000-mile river of blood was horrifyingly sanguinary, even for a generation accustomed to the sight of fountains of gore spouting from the bodies of movie villains.

But Bradbury's tale shocked them in another, perhaps more fundamental way. They could see (with very little prodding) that the story is a fable (or cautionary tale): 1,000-mile rivers of blood exist only in fabulous, symbolic worlds, not in actual ones.

The blood represents the benefit -- the horrible benefit -- which the South derived from the war; the Southerners are those who fail -- or refuse -- to recognize that the spoils of war are stained with the blood of its casualties. With our own most recent war winding down, my students were curious: Does the fable apply today? Does it apply to us? In what ways are others benefiting from the war in the Persian Gulf?

They were quick to recognize the obvious: The destruction of the enormous Iraqi army means Israel now has little to fear from its bellicose neighbor. Syria and Iran emerge as stronger military powers in the region. And the Soviet Union, by playing peace-maker, burnishes the image it tarnished with brutish behavior in the Baltics.

Near the end of our discussion, a handful of students had begun to realize that the aqueduct is much more lengthy than a first glance can encompass; the conduit of blood extends far beyond the Middle East, spans continents and oceans, and empties copiously into the United States of America.

So many of us are benefiting in so many ways from the carnage in the gulf.

Everyone is writing and talking about the psychological value of the war. We've heard repeated declarations that we have ''exorcised the Vietnam demon.'' Reclaimed our self-respect, pride and patriotism. Re-emerged as the military and moral leader of the world. To hear some analysts, one would think that renewed American power and pride may in fact have been the primary value of the conflict.

Others point to the political windfall. President Bush, once and for all, can remove the decal of ''preppy wimp'' which his opponents have long sought to affix to him. Generals Powell and Schwarzkopf emerge as eminently electable (should they desire run for office) with the clout to command impressing speaking fees. Pro-war politicians can laugh all the way to re-election. (Democrats? Liberals? Didn't this country used to have some?)

Career adjustments (up and down) are also in store for non-combatants involved in the war, especially journalists and other writers. Peter Arnett and Bob Simon have best-sellers to compose. Ghost writers and film producers will queue up to bid for the memoirs of POWs. War-related books already dominate the best-seller lists.

In an even more mercenary way, many others have tapped into the aqueduct from Iraq. Four Texas companies specializing in oil well fires are now in Kuwait, lucrative contracts in hand. (One recent estimate for putting out the fires: $20 billion.)

Scores of American construction companies are bidding for their share of the billions it will take to rebuild Kuwait; IBM and AT&T are vying with foreign competitors for the rights to restore Kuwait's computer and telecommunications capabilities.

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