Jewish World Review March 12, 2003 / 8 Adar II, 5763
How to talk war talk
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | One feature of modern democracy Media Person still has trouble getting used to is the way wars start now: with news conferences where the Pentagon announces its strategy for the coming fight. A bit of a traditionalist in military matters, Media Person can't shake the superstition that you ought to keep some of this stuff secret. But MP is just an old stick-in-the-mud.
So the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stands before the press corps and lays out the whole war plan. This one will be "much, much, much different" than Gulf War I, he says, and we're told just how many thousands of smart bombs will be fired in the first three hours and how our boys and girls will be dropping in from all sides, not just taking the poky northbound Kuwait Expressway, and how these traumatic tactics will shock the Iraqis into quick surrender. "Excuse me," Media Person wants to say, rising nervously to his feet. "This guy next to me here is from the Baghdad Herald-Gazette, and I think you should know he's taking an awful lot of notes."
But maybe that makes no difference because we already know Saddam's outmoded strategy, which is to counter our old strategy, all of which is right here on page -- hold on a second ... OK, got it -- A12. He's not going to defend his borders. He's pulling his troops back into the capital to make a stand in Baghdad, hoping he can hold out long enough to stir up so much political opposition on the Arab street and the Parisian boulevard that Bush has to call off the dogs before they can sniff out whether Saddam's hiding in the basement of Palace 12 or Palace 37.
An interesting sidelight of this battle scenario (if in fact it's the real battle scenario and not just a double or triple ruse designed to fake out Media Person) is that it appears to be in Saddam's best interest for the U.S. to kill a lot of Iraqis and in America's to kill as few as possible. War is such a weird business.
In fact, another Pentagon official, the shy one who always speaks on condition of anonymity, held another press conference to explain how civilian casualties would be minimized. It seems that the military has a mathematical formula to determine precisely how big or small a bomb's circle of impact should be, depending on how many civilians are thought to be hanging around the target area. And do you know what they call this mathematical formula?
That's what it said right on the Reuters wire service. Now Media Person doesn't know who's in charge of naming mathematical formulas at the Pentagon, but this individual needs to be reassigned immediately because "bug splat" is really not the phrase to use when you want to demonstrate your concern for diminishing civilian casualties. PR 101, fellows, remember?
At any rate, the conflict was drawing inexorably closer, and Media Person was hunkering down in his home bunker, its impenetrable walls constructed of high-piled back issues of Vogue, a magazine so thick it can stop just about anything but a direct hit by an anthrax grenade. Things were getting more and more combative out there. Weapons of mass destruction and predator drones are something we've grown used to, but people flinging nasty epithets at each other, that was a clear escalation of the conflict.
Appropriately enough, the level of invective reached its height at the Islamic Unity Summit. There, according to a translation furnished by the AP, the distinguished vice president of Iraq, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, became quite testy, shouting at the honorable Kuwaiti minister of state for foreign affairs, Sheik Mohammed Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah, "Shut up, you monkey. Curse be upon your mustache, you traitor."
This is probably the worst imprecation an Iraqi can throw at someone. As we know from years of studying newspaper photos, everyone in Iraq, including women, children and household pets, wears a thick black mustache to emulate the leader. It's hard for an American to grasp exactly how much emblematic weight this facial appendage has taken on, symbolizing an Iraqi's honor, integrity and sex appeal. The closest we might come to it here would be to shout at someone, "Curse your Gap jeans and Old Navy fleece vest," or "A pox on your gas-guzzling SUV, you Michael Jackson-resembling son of a tax-evading corporate CEO!"
In yet one more absurd development involving pre-combat word deployment, Media Person read on the L.A. Times Web site that when Dan Rather interviewed Saddam Hussein (who, for some reason, spoke Arabic) the translator hired by CBS did Saddam's English voiceover using a fake Arabic accent.
On one level, it made sense. After all, if Saddam Hussein spoke English, he would likely speak with an accent. So why jar the audience's perfectly reasonable expectations? Give us a Saddam who sounds like we think Saddam should sound. And yet in another very real sense, Media Person reflected, we are, all of us, every one, totally, hopelessly insane.
03/04/03: Two master debaters