You got the first body count from the Persian Gulf ground war yesterday, 12 Marines killed fighting near the city of Khafji, Iraqi casualties described as "heavy."
Our guys, their guys. The score. The price. The statistics. The numbers.
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf had lots of numbers for the media yesterday in his briefing in Saudi Arabia, so many that it took him a while to get to the dead and wounded near Khafji. That was all right, the media love numbers of any kind.
Schwarzkopf began by announcing some anniversary numbers: "At 3 tomorrow morning Operation Desert Storm will complete its second week."
He hit his stride with the Republican Guard.
"Yesterday, 21 B-52s dropped 470 tons, excuse me, 315 tons of bombs on them, and today 28 B-52s dropped 470 tons on them. That's not to mention the other strikes that we're doing with F-16s, F-15Es, A-6s etc. Just from 12:00 noon yesterday until 3:00 this morning -- that's a little bit more than a half a day -- we have confirmation of 178 trucks destroyed, 55 artillery pieces destroyed or damaged, 52 tanks destroyed or damaged, and heavy secondary explosions from revetments and fires all over the area. We had one spectacular explosion on the 28th of January. Let me give you a reference. If on a scale of 1 to 10 the eruption of a volcano registered 10, and the recent explosion at the Soviet rocket propellant plant would register a 9, the explosion, the secondary explosion we had the other day, registered a 12."
John F. Kennedy himself never did a better job of throwing numbers at the media.
But what about the body count?
The body count was big during Vietnam. The generals started using it to prove they were winning the war. The anti-war types used it to prove that human beings were only numbers to the generals. The media used it to be objective, and got angry when they thought it was incorrect. They like good numbers, and lots of them. During the Civil War, reporters would invade hospitals to count the dead and wounded. They couldn't do that yesterday in Saudi Arabia, and besides, Vietnam taught the generals a lesson about body counts.
When a reporter asked how badly we've hurt the Republican Guard, Schwarzkopf said: "I told you, I'm anti-body count. Body count means nothing, absolutely nothing. And all it is is a wild guess that tends to mislead people as to what's going on. And that's not the way we do business, by wild guessing. So I just don't think it's -- I personally don't like the idea of issuing body counts on a comparative basis."
He had counts for trucks, nuclear facilities, ships, missiles, intercepts, airfields, bridges, sorties, traffic backups (15 miles for one Iraqi convoy that got attacked), patrol boats, on and on. Schwarzkopf knows how to do a media briefing. Still, you wondered when he was going to get to those dead Marines.
To put it in his terms, it took him about 3,000 words to get to the dead and wounded Marines, about as many words as a long college term paper.
He said: "Let me now turn to ground operations."
Ah, you thought. Body count. But there were some more numbers that needed to be mentioned about the battle near Khafji.
"Ten Iraqi tanks destroyed, four enemy POWs, and the Marines lost two light armored vehicles. At point number two, right here, later on that same evening another Iraqi battalion came across the border. These were again engaged by AC-130s and Cobras. We destroyed four tanks and 13 vehicles. We have had reports that the Iraqis went into -- excuse me, number two right here -- that the Iraqis did go into al-Khafji. ... Early this morning, 40 more Iraqi tanks crossed the border again at the same place that they came across before -- right over here. They were once again engaged by the Marine light armored infantry. This time the results were: 10 Iraqi tanks destroyed, and they captured nine enemy prisoners of war."
You kept wondering about those dead Marines.
Schwarzkopf had more numbers, though. "The pilots are reporting rather sensational losses of 41 tanks destroyed, 12 vehicles destroyed, three Frogs destroyed, seven armored personnel carriers destroyed, one 30-millimeter destroyed, four artillery positions destroyed, six bunker positions destroyed. We have confirmed figures of 24 Iraqi tanks destroyed and 13 other vehicles destroyed. The Marines lost two light armored vehicles."
As it turned out, Schwarzkopf mentioned the dead Marines last, before changing the subject, except that he didn't mention them as either dead or Marines.
"Unfortunately, I'm very sad that I have to report to you that they lost 12 KIA in that engagement and two WIA. These are the first casualties of any ground conflict -- the first KIA of any ground conflict."
You read this on paper and it looks very cold, especially in that long list of numbers, but watching TV you got the feeling that even though he tried to say the 12 killed in action and the 2 wounded like he said all the other numbers, he couldn't, quite. You had to give him a kind of credit for trying, and another kind for failing.