|EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is the third of a series first published in the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore. The first can be read here, the second here.|
You say that in Italy the war reporting is more negative than mine. When I was in Rome, in the weeks before the war, the European press lived in a different world than ours. To me and my friends in America, most of the European press seems to be living on Venus. They think we live on Mars. We don’t see reality the same way.
In your last e-mail, you say that the Coalition has been “surprised” by great difficulties and fierce fighting, and has taken “heavy” casualties. Well, last night I heard a discussion on TV pointing out that, if you set aside those killed in helicopter or traffic accidents (such as happen even in peace time), the exact number of Americans killed by enemy fire in the first eleven days was 34. The total number of American dead was 52.
Our armies are ringing Baghdad, have captured and put in use airfields in both northern and western Iraq, have saved nearly all the oil wells (in trust for the people of Iraq), and begun to offload humanitarian assistance from ships in Iraq’s one seaside port. If you told me that in doing all this, we had lost 300 dead, I would agree that losses had been “heavy.” (By the standards of Anzio or Normandie, though, not so high.)
But some turns of events have surprised me. First, I did not remember the power of a dictatorial regime, under a man of Saddam’s coldhearted love for terror, to command total loyalty unto death from his Baath party leaders. Party members are fighting for their lives. The Iraqi people know who their oppressors have been, and will not show them much mercy, once Saddam is overthrown.
Second, I did not count on the drafting of former prison convicts as “Fedayeen,” who would hold pistols to the heads of Iraqi citizens, or shoot them in the back, if they did not march out in front of Iraqi units, as instructed.
It is no surprise that the Fedayeen drive pick-up trucks and Toyotas directly toward Coalition tanks, in vain attempts to halt them, suffering huge losses as they do so. They have not been very effective, but there are more of them than I imagined there would be. And any time grown men fire rifles and use grenade-launchers, they must be repelled in pitched battles, which slow down forward movement.
Third, I did not count on the Fedayeen and Baathists shooting their fellow citizens in cold blood inside Iraq’s major cities.
The abuses of the Geneva Convention committed by Saddam’s troops, and the constant stream of lies they send out by their “information” officers, are in character with his regime.
You ask me how Americans are reacting to the war. Support for the war here keeps going up. It is now 78%. More than 66% of the population believes that the war will go on for months, and they are prepared to support it.
Before the war started (when support was lower), I noted that 58% of American Catholics supported going to war, slightly more than American Protestants. These numbers are certainly higher now, because support from all groups has gone up. The exception is that secular and nonreligious Americans, like Europeans, are much more likely to oppose the war (about 63%).
Why is this? Religious people may be better prepared inwardly for sacrifice, and more likely to believe that some evils must be opposed now, rather than later, even at high cost. They are certainly disproportionately more likely to enlist in the military, especially in the most demanding services (special forces, the marines, the airborne).
By contrast, our journalists seem much more likely to be anti-war, and have oscillated up and down in mood swings. In the first three days, they were predicting a one-week war, then they lost their nerve, faulted the battle plan, and began predicting quagmire and doom. Many journalists were like this in the Afghan war, too, losing heart after the first two weeks, then watching in amazement as the Taliban cities fell rapidly one by one. That war was over in thirty days.
This war will be harder. I am very sorry that the battle of Baghdad may be necessary. I hate seeing the bombing even now, no matter how much precision is built into it. I have seen on television the trust that so many Iraqi have put in us, counting on us not to strike them, but only Saddam’s forces. I have seen them in their markets and going about normally on the streets.
This bombing is nothing like those of World War II. Yet I will be very happy to see it end.
Before that happy day, just outside the city, chemical or biological weapons may be used against our young troops, who have never experienced it before. Then, once they get through that, fighting in city streets, if it is still necessary, will be a horrific experience, as it was for generations of their predecessors in the past. They will fight with skill and determination.
Determination on their part will be matched by desperation on the part of those who will go down with Saddam Hussein.
It is not a pretty sight, Rinaldo.
As we have now learned, Iraqi intelligence agents around the world, sheltered in Iraqi embassies, have been preparing for terrorist attacks overseas. (In recent days, some have been arrested in action.) Announced on television by the Iraqi Minister of Information on March 29, these threats are working silently, out of sight of the world’s press.
Iraq’s mix of dictatorship, biological weapons, and international terrorism is a deadly cocktail. Whatever your objections on other matters, I think you agree: Better to cut this source off now than suffer its horrors later.
You close by saying that democracy cannot be imposed by armies. But I have to go to a meeting now, so I’ll have to come back to that subject later.
— Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.