THE KILLING FIELDS

The television in the saloon was tuned to CNN as the first wave of American bombers struck Baghdad.

The crowd, mostly men, gathered in front of the screen erupted with shouts of joy and pumped the air with their fists, woofing encouragement in the style popularized on the Arsenio Hall Show.

Two men in their fifties with caps that identified them as sports-fishermen agreed that the war against Iraq would not be another Southeast Asia.

"George Bush is a veteran. He knows what it's all about. He won't tie our hands the way Johnson did in Vietnam," said the one.

"It wasn't just Johnson. The real blame was with Kennedy. Most people don't realize that Kennedy was a capitulator."

Tapes no one will ever forget were repeatedly broadcast, showing the Arabian nights lit up with a thousand points of light from antiaircraft fire and explosions.

There is an atmosphere of depraved euphoria that rides shotgun with the outbreak of fighting. In the Civil War, ladies and gentlemen from Washington, D.C., rode out to Manassas Junction in horse buggies packed with picnic baskets and champagne in order to watch the slaughter at Bull Run. As the "smart" bombs fell in the Middle East, America cozied up to the ridiculous notion of gunpowder that spared the innocents.

Of course the war would be over before we knew it.
On January 18, the pundits on the McLaughlin Group assured America that the troops would be home before Valentine's Day: Pat Buchanan, "No more than two weeks from day one"; Fred Barnes, "Eleven days from now"; Jack Germond, "I suspect it's going to take a little longer than that. Three weeks"; Morton Kondracke, "Thirteen days"; and John McLaughlin, "Three weeks from day one."

In Congress, California's war-whooper U.S. Representative Bob Dornan predicted fighting would last only two days.

As the cheerleading for war continued, President George Bush uncorked his simpleminded Rain Man, Vice President Dan Quayle.

The poster boy for the National Guard charged that the networks spent too much time covering dissent against the war.

That's rich.
Media watchdog FAIR conducted a survey of the nightly news networks and discovered that, from the initial deployment of American troops on August 8, through January 3, approximately 1 percent of the coverage was even remotely related to opposition to the coming war.

One percent.
Today, if the occasional demonstration for peace is covered, it is broadcast from stations like Channel 10 where bouffants of yellow ribbons on the set nearly bury the news anchors.

From the Persian Gulf, we get reports only from correspondents who have been neutered in an unprecedented campaign of censorship presided over by General Colin L. Powell, chairperson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

This past May, General Powell addressed the last class to graduate from West Point before the killing started in Kuwait.

"The way of the future is clearly democracy," preached General Powell. "Why? Because it works. That's why it is sweeping Eastern Europe. But it goes beyond Europe. It is light reaching into the darkest corners of oppression in the world. It works. It works because it frees the human mind and the human soul to reach their full potential.

"And so we are at a watershed in our history. Strength, determination, resolve--all in service of our ideals . . . ."

Does anyone really believe that we are in this war "in service of our ideals"?

President Bush has attempted to kindle the spirit of General Powell's sentiments by comparing Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler and warning that we cannot afford a Munich-style appeasement.

The rhetoric of President Bush championing the feudal, antidemocratic royal family of Kuwait is a recent phenomenon.

In July, after President Bush was briefed by the CIA on the massing of Iraqi troops on Kuwait's border, Congress was reassured that we weren't going to war.

Assistant Secretary of State John H. Kelly told Congress in a prepared statement, "Historically, the United States has taken no position on the border disputes in the area nor on matters pertaining to internal OPEC decisions."

Hours before invading Kuwait, Saddam Hussein informed American Ambassador April Glaspie of his intentions.

Ambassador Glaspie, parodying administration policy, assured Saddam that America would not intervene in Kuwait. Hussein must have expected as much. It has been a long time since the White House assumed the role of strong cop in the Middle East. For 23 years, the United States has tolerated Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; Ronald Reagan and Bush not only overlooked Saddam's gassing of the Kurds, but repudiated congressional attempts to rebuke the butcher in Baghdad. Iraq could do no wrong as long as it was the enemy of Iran.

Bush's more recent invocation of World War II platitudes rings hollow.
As the initial war fever passes, the grimmer realities will confront us.
We know that in Panama mass civilian graves eventually were exposed following our "surgical strike" against Manuel Noriega.

In Grenada, we bombed and killed the mentally ill patients in an island asylum.

War is like that, even when you tell yourself you're the good guys.
As the ground war expands, as the killing continues, we will wish we were in the service of our ideals instead of in the pursuit of oil.

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