Report on aftermath of war is preachy


October 29, 1991|By Michael Hill

Tonight's edition of PBS' documentary series "Frontline" has some important things to say -- too bad it couldn't just say them instead of preach them.

"The War We Left Behind," which will be on Maryland Public Television, channels 22 and 67, at 9 o'clock, is among the many efforts aimed at determining the lasting effects of Operation Desert Storm.

The quick, decisive military victory over Iraq and the expulsion of its occupying force in Kuwait resulted in so few casualties among the U.S.-led coalition forces that the war has been viewed from this perspective as a virtually painless act.

Indeed, with war coverage dominated by the images of the laser-guided "smart" bombs destroying their military targets with amazing precision, many in this country undoubtedly saw the entire operation as a surgical procedure that removed the enemy's army without damaging any other vital organs.

As this hour shows, such is not the case. As has usually been true throughout mankind's history of warfare, it is all too often the innocent who suffer the most. That's because those too weak to fight -- the children -- are also the ones too weak to survive the bleakness that follows.

"The War We Left Behind" shows you the faces of those victims, kids suffering from malnutrition and typhoid, the legacy of an industrialized country trying to make do without an industrial infrastructure.

Among those military targets were Iraq's facilities for producing electricity. Many were destroyed. Indeed, this program documents that a central facility was put out of commission just as the war began, but was then bombed a dozen more times, ensuring that it could not be put back into operation for years after the war was over.

Without electricity, water cannot becleansed and pumped. Without water, fields cannot be irrigated, crops cannot be grown, babies cannot be fed. Without electricity, sewage treatment plants cannot be operated and the spread of infectious disease will soon follow. The loss of plants to produce things like fertilizer and vaccines further complicates the picture.

This documentary effectively makes its case that tens of thousands of children, and many adults, will die directly as a result of what the coalition bombers did to Iraq during the war, and that little is being done to correct these deplorable conditions because of the continuing economic boycott of the country.

But the impact of this strong reporting is muted by the approach taken by producers Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, who seem to have gone into this with a clear agenda -- to bash the American military.

lTC For one, if the Cockburns have a problem, it is with the policy makers who told the military what to do, not with the soldiers who did it. Yet the only Americans interviewed are military personnel, and they are juxtaposed with images clearly designed to embarrass them.

For another, never do the Cockburns address the essential enigma, not just of this war, but of all wars: Was it worth it? Few people question that it was a good thing that Iraq was driven out of Kuwait, that Saddam Hussein's goals of militaristic expansion were checked, that his program to develop atomic weapons was halted.

Yet the Cockburns never mention these factors. When interviewing Iraqis, they ask them about the bombing -- which of course they think was terrible -- not about the invasion of Kuwait that led to the bombing.

And because you are always irritated by the Cockburns' refusal to address this fundamental question, at times you fail to appreciate the magnitude of the disaster they effectively document.


Tonight's CBS movie, "Locked Up: A Mother's Rage," which will be on Channel 11 (WBAL) at 9 o'clock, has yet another of this season's many recognizable female stars in jeopardy. In this case, it's Cheryl Ladd, wrongly doing time on a drug count, unable to raise her three kids.

"Locked Up" has trouble deciding what it wants to be. It starts out as an outrage at the judicial system, turns into a women-in-prison exploitation film, and has traces of a domestic drama. Finally it develops into a message movie about the damage done by separating incarcerated parents from their children.

Though it breaks no new dramatic ground, this film does pound away at its many cliches in an unabashed, straightforward manner that allows it to develop a surprisingly strong emotional wallop.

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