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Let's change the language of war

Reader comment on item: War's New Face

Submitted by Garry Prior (Malaysia), Apr 17, 2003 at 02:58

Your article has prompted me to articualte some impressions I have been developing recently.

Why are "civilians" always innocent and members of the armed forces or police somehow less deserving of that ephithet? Does an 18 year old son who is in uniform suddenly become "guilty" and more deserving of violence as compared to his "civilian" siblings? It is one thing to attack "legitimate" targets, and soldiers or police may be so deemed in some circumstances, but "innocence" or "guilt" have nothing to do with it.

Lets cut the cant. War today is about hurting people, in or out of uniform, and pious protestations on either side about guilt or innocence are irrelevant and insulting.

The nature of modern warfare is dispassionate despatch and mega-explosive receipt. Technology has removed all honour from the conflict ( where it was always a consolation anyway) and the test of courage now is not how well attackers behave on the offensive but subsequently. I imagine American regiments value their honour as highly as any other nations' and their battle honours are as prized as elsewhere, and are not mere touristic pennants signifying a past presence in the location. That being so, there seems to me to be a need to reflect more fully the courage and dignity of the defenders, regardless of the cause they served. There is no honour in clearing rabble, and if American troops are to sustain their pride, they need to have more respect for the courage of their opponents.

To hear complaints about the tactics of militia and fedayeen from the US leadership made me revolt against my own support for their efforts. To put 16 cats against one mouse is not a level playing field, and yet that is pretty much what we have just seen. To put one cat against one mouse is not a level playing field either. The miracle is that the resistance was as fierce as it was, even though sporadic, as there was no doubt about the outcome or the consequences on either side.

Far from dismissing the resistance as "dead-enders", the Americans should acknowledge the extreme bravery of those fedayeen against hopeless odds, and in so acknowledging these timeless qualities, they would give some compensation and consolatiuon to those in Arab countries and elsewhere who sympathised with or supported the resistance, and who see in an American technological victory an implicit racial opposite parallel, which only adds salt into their already deep wounds.

Respect for and understanding of the tribal nature of the peoples of Iraq and the Middle East would not only help to explain their non-idealogical courageous behaviour but also serve to restore honour not only to those whose culture demands it, but also to the Americans who need it just as much, if only to preserve their personal self-respect and pride -in-arms, not just technological superiority.

Lastly, while I welcome the rescue of Pvt. Jessica, and applaud the rescue operation, being captured is not of itself a ground for heroism, and the appellation undermines the many true heroes whose courage and self-sacrifrice are the real inspiration for emulation. America has long debased its linguistic currency, but it does so at its peril. America has plenty of real heroes, not least the firemen at the WTC, and the term needs to be preserved for the deserving. Jessica may have behaved with great personal dignity and courage, but we cannot assume that and the circumstances of her capture and hospitalization do not command the automatic assumption of heroism.
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