In this war, there is a Glory Gap.
An Islamic soldier believes as a matter of faith that death in combat against the infidels will be rewarded by eternal life in Paradise. "Allah has given those that fight with their goods and their person a higher rank than those who stay at home," the Koran states.
"He has promised all a good reward; but far richer is the recompense of those who fight for Him."
An American soldier believes -- what? Certainly that Saddam Hussein is dangerous. And probably that, as a matter of policy, Kuwaiti sovereignty should be restored and aggression deterred. There is no talk of the glory of combat. The goal is to do the job and go home. Onward, professional soldiers.
Three times in his State of the Union address, President Bush referred to "the hard work of freedom." This isn't a crusade, it's a project. And glory? Bush dealt with that directly: "This nation has never found glory in war."
That's not entirely true; in the 19th century the American empire expanded thanks in part to a manifest-destiny ideology. Soldiers charged up San Juan Hill believing they were serving God and country. That similar thoughts are part of the English tradition can be found in Shakespeare; in the play "Henry V," King Henry rouses his troops before a great battle, telling them of the honor they will accrue:
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
Such sentiments today would provoke derision.
"There's no such thing as a glorious death. That's only in a novel," says Denis Frank, a Marine in World War II and now chief historian at the Marine Corps History and Museum Division.
"The farther you get away from the battlefield, the more glorious it seems," says retired Col. Harry Summers, a veteran of Korea and Vietnam. "The front-line infantrymen, they don't fight for God and country, they fight for their buddies next to them."
When Richard Nixon announced his Vietnam policy of "peace with honor," the word "honor" became, for those who opposed the war, a code word for continued bloodshed in an unjust cause. For a while a furious cynicism shook the nation, and even the simple act of flag-waving seemed to have a hidden and jingoistic agenda.
Jon Guttman, senior editor of Military History magazine, says, "The concept of glory and honor was dealt a death blow in World War I with the disillusionment brought on with the kind of meat-grinder, industrial death that trench warfare engendered."
It was that monstrous war that inspired a famous line in "A Farewell to Arms," by Ernest Hemingway: "Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates."
George Bush says our cause is moral, just and right. But that's as close as he has come to putting this war in ideological terms. It is to the Iraqis' advantage to use such language, to paint the conflict as Allah vs. the Infidels. Americans can't even argue that this is about democracy, given the autocratic nature of the ousted Kuwaiti regime. This is a fight, says the United States, about the New World Order, which is not much of a battle cry.
We do not know what is in the minds of the Iraqi fighters, whether the relentless bombing and isolation have shaken their faith in the cause. There are hints, though, that they remain true believers. There was the dispatch from Associated Press reporter Nabila Megalli, in which he quoted Iraqi soldiers who answered the phone at the Khafji Beach Hotel soon after they had occupied the town in northern Saudi Arabia. "Who are you?" asked Megalli.
"We are with Saddam, with Arabism!" a soldier shouted.
He didn't say, "We are just doing our job!"
The American servicewoman missing in Saudi Arabia, if taken prisoner by Iraqi troops, would be the first female American POW in nearly half a century. Although nurses were killed in Vietnam -- only one of them from hostile enemy fire, most of the rest in accidents and crashes -- there are no records of any being taken prisoner, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History. The same is true of the Korean conflict.
But in World War II, there were a number of female American POWs. A nurse, Reba Z. Whittle, was riding in an airplane on a medical mission when it was hit by flak and forced to land in a turnip patch behind enemy lines on Sept. 27, 1944. She was imprisoned four months, and then secluded in a cell except during working hours, when she was allowed to nurse wounded Allied soldiers. Eventually she was repatriated in an exchange of prisoners.
The rest of the female POWs -- 83 of them -- were in the Pacific. Of those, 66 were captured at the fall of Corregidor in the Philippines on May 6, 1942, and moved to an internment camp for civilians. They were prisoners until spring 1945. At their liberation they all received the Bronze Star and a promotion.
During the Civil War, Mary Walker, a contract doctor with an Ohio infantry regiment, spent four months as a prisoner of the Confederate army. She was later awarded the Medal of Honor.
In 1988 the U.S. military changed the code of conduct for American prisoners of war to delete masculine pronouns. The original code instructed prisoners to say, "I am an American fighting man... . I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist," and so on. Now it says, "I am an American... . I will never surrender the members of my command ..."
By now, most of us have a sense of the geopolitical stakes involved in the Persian Gulf War. But how will it affect the love life of "Dynasty" star Emma Samms?
America's supermarket tabloids came out this week with their first issues produced since the shooting war began. And they prove that even the most serious world events can be reduced to the basics of tabloidism: inspiration, celebrity and scandal.
The Globe offers two earnest stories on the families of soldiers, personal tidbits on Colin L. Powell and H. Norman Schwarzkopf, and a handwriting analyst's assessment of President Bush ("strong and objective") and Saddam Hussein ("very erratic, bordering on insanity"). There's also a contest to give away 25 Bushwacker softball bats to readers who send in the best letters from loved ones at the front. ("KNOCK THE TAR OUTTA SADDAM," the headline invites.)
Then there is the story of Emma Samms, who is Jewish, and her romance with "a millionaire Moslem lawyer in London." The Globe reports "Iraqi missile attacks on Israel have now plunged Emma into soul-searching agony over whether she could find lasting happiness with a Moslem, sworn enemies of the Jews."
The Star, with the words "God Bless America" now wedged into its nameplate, trumpets from the front cover: "How Billy Graham Inspired George Bush to Go to War: Inside the White House Prayer Sessions." It also has a story on what various stars were doing when they heard that war had broken out. "I was sitting in my living room," Martha Raye told the Star. "I'm in a wheelchair, but I love my country and the boys, so I called the State Department and offered to go over there and entertain."
A reference to the war also turned up unexpectedly in a story headlined "Ed Asner's secret obsession: sex toys," which purportedly details the actor's purchases from a Hollywood sex shop. In the second paragraph, Asner is described as "an outspoken opponent of the gulf war."
The National Enquirer, the big daddy of supermarket tabloids, had only a Billy Graham story and a new addition to its nameplate: a small illustration of the American flag and the words "Support our troops."
But Editor Iain Calder said yesterday that next week's lead story will be an interview with Saddam's former bodyguard, the same fellow who appeared on "60 Minutes" a couple of weeks ago. Of course, CBS News "didn't ask him the kind of questions the Enquirer wanted to ask," said Calder. The tabloid's report "goes into Saddam's love life, his favorite TV show ... his fears of being poisoned. What is the guy really like?"