The Lessons of War

The American-led war against Iraq has begun. Over the past six months, tens of millions of people, including churches and religious leaders from all over the world, undertook a powerful campaign to stop this war and offered serious alternatives to confront the real threats posed by Saddam Hussein. But now the fighting and killing has begun. As I write, the early American military confidence has run into serious Iraqi resistance and casualties are mounting—both civilian and military. It is not too early to begin to assess the lessons of war.

1. Nobody should be surprised that a vastly superior American fighting force will vanquish a vastly inferior Iraqi army. But one of America's worst characteristics is hoping that success wipes away all the moral questions. In the long run, it won't. War is always ugly, and this one will be too.

2. There are many more civilian casualties in modern warfare than military casualties. Smart bombs are never as perfect as boasted, and not all Iraqis may want to be "liberated" by an American occupation. Above all, we must remember that "collateral damage" is never collateral to the families and loved ones of those killed in war. Don't accept the first reports on casualties from governments (on either side) or "embedded" journalists—many of whom now sound more like cheerleaders than reporters. Be sure that technology does not ultimately usurp theology or morality. Find alternative sources for information. Watch and wait for the real story.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2003
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