The war has a face: It is pulpy and bruised.
That Americans are outraged by the apparent abuse of the captured pilots in Iraq points out a fascinating paradox: War is supposed to have rules. Even violence of this magnitude is supposed to be conducted according to ethical principles and protocols. Forget that old saying that all is fair in love and war. Love, maybe.War is governed by stricter conventions. It just looks like unbridled barbarism.
"The general conception of war is one of no holds barred," Kenneth Roth, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said yesterday. "There is a sense that the goal in war is to inflict the maximum amount of damage on the enemy by any means possible. But in fact, perhaps the most important innovation in the past century in the conduct of warfare has not been technological, but has been the creation of strict limits on the appropriate targets and correct means and methods of warfare. To the point that today over 160 nations worldwide have subscribed to what is in effect the bible on the limits of warfare, the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.
"So at the level of rhetoric at least, there is no nation in the world that feels free to ignore these important rules of warfare, including Iraq."
That's why Iraq has tried so hard to justify its actions against the captured airmen. Notice that the Iraqi spokesmen do not say they are moving the prisoners to military sites for use as human shields. Instead they say they are moving them to scientific and educational sites. For the pilots, such a difference is probably mere semantics; but it shows, at least, that Iraq is conscious of the laws of war.
The U.S. military certainly prides itself on killing the right people in the right manner, to put it crassly. "Your Conduct in Combat," for example, is a rather thin, comic-bookish pamphlet provided by the Army to its soldiers. The cover shows an enemy soldier with his arms raised in surrender. The features of the captive, on close inspection, are faintly Asian. The pamphlet lays down rules that are obvious (refrain from "needlessly ravaging private property and terrorizing civilians") to somewhat obscure ("only an officer may order you to take money from a captive, and the officer must give the captive a receipt").
What you can't take are the prisoner's parka, military medals, personal jewelry, mosquito netting or gas mask. And civilians must never be targeted. "Do not start fires in civilians' homes or buildings or burn their property unless the necessities of war urgently require it."
There are tricky distinctions. What do you do if you see someone parachuting to the ground? You can't shoot if it's a pilot parachuting from a burning plane. But you can shoot if it's a paratrooper landing as part of a combat tactic.
"We take these rules very seriously," says one Pentagon official.
"There are going to be violations," says another, "but it's better to have the rules than not have the rules, because most nations of the world are going to say that they follow the rules, and there's enormous pressure to observe the rules."
The Army handbook says that proper conduct of war has practical benefits. For instance, humane treatment of prisoners "gets results," the handbook says. "Combat experience has proven that useful information has been gained from captives who have been treated humanely, while information gained through torture or coercion is unreliable."
For forgetful soldiers, there is something in the back of the pamphlet that can be carried around at all times. It is labeled at the top: "The Laws of War Wallet Card."
The Wall Street Journal has reported that deaths in the United States will increase because of the war overseas. The reason is that many doctors on military reserve are being called to duty. Knight-Ridder Newspapers reports, for example, that the only full-time physician in the 1,500-person rural community of St. John, Kan., has been called to Fort Sill in Oklahoma. He was given two days to report.
A psychologist in Savannah, Ga., is recommending that families of men and women serving in the Persian Gulf not watch too much television. A new form of neurosis is being treated, according to James T. Turner.
He calls it: the CNN Complex.
"We're very concerned about people getting virtually addicted to news," Turner told the Associated Press, "afraid to miss every little thing that might happen."
Children of service members should be allowed to watch only "brief news updates." And people who are overly anxious about the war should turn off their sets, according to Turner, and return to normal life.
About six months ago, some weird T-shirts arrived in the mail, addressed to Thomas Riley and his company, Eureka Van & Storage in Herndon.
Across the front of each shirt was a drawing of a firetruck -- so it seemed -- with a big slashed circle over it. Along the top it mysteriously said, SCUD BUSTERS.
A defense contractor sent them.
"I had no idea," says Riley, "what a Scud was or what any of it meant."
He found out last week.
"We built some highly classified crates a while ago," says Riley. "They wouldn't even let us back there when they were loading the stuff."
What were they loading into the crates?
Parts, says Riley, for something called the Patriot missile.
Saturday-night strollers near Dupont Circle saw just how jittery the city has become about terrorism. At 9:15, District police cars with lights flashing closed off a block of Connecticut Avenue at Q Street while a handful of officers crouched on the sidewalk to examine a suitcase-size object left outside the Metro station.
It turned out to be ... a suitcase. Inside were a red plaid blanket and assorted other homely items that appeared to be the worldly possessions of a street dweller.
Stores nationwide reported that video rentals were way, way down last week after the war broke out, but that there was a strange new interest in a little-known documentary about Nostradamus, the 16th-century astrologer who wrote about his predictions for the end of the world.
Yesterday in Lyon, France, police seized 671 videotapes and 150 music cassettes of a song glorifying Saddam Hussein. Called "Z'Dam Ya Sadame" ("Go for It, Saddam"), it is sung by an Algerian and urges Arabs everywhere to fight the "bastards" who have "installed their armies in the gulf to profit from the oil."
And in Dhaka, Bangladesh, at least 10 baby boys born in the past three days have been named Saddam -- not a common name there.
Any baby Georges out there?