War Drums

"Shock and Awe"

Current U.S. plans for the pending war in Iraq call for an attack on Baghdad as immediately devastating as the 1945 nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those analogies are presented not by wild-eyed anti-war activists, but by the supporters and developers of U.S. military strategy.

According to published reports, the attack plans are aimed at inducing in the Iraqis what the strategists define as "Shock and Awe" -- capitalized war-wonk synonyms for overwhelming military terrorism. The plans call for Air Force attacks on Baghdad with 300 to 400 cruise missiles each day in the first two days -- about one every four minutes, and roughly twice the number used in the entire 39 days of the first Gulf War. During the same period, 3,000 "precision-guided" bombs would be launched from ships in the Persian Gulf. In all, the U.S. would lob 10 times more bombs than in 1991. The Pentagon says the primary Baghdad targets would be "military and political" -- but would include the water and power utilities of a city of 5 million people, more than half of them children 15 or younger.

When these plans were first reported in late January, Harlan Ullman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told CBS News, "We want them to quit, not to fight, so that you have this simultaneous effect rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but minutes. ... You also take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power and water. In two, three, four, five days they are physically, emotionally, and psychologically exhausted."

"Exhausted" is rather an understatement. A leaked UN study anticipates many thousands dead, two million Iraqi refugees, 100,000 direct casualties requiring immediate medical care, with another 400,000 afflicted by war-related outbreaks of cholera, dysentery, and other diseases. All of these will require attention from a medical system in a country whose infrastructure will be in a state of collapse.

Ullman is one of the authors of the book Rapid Dominance: Shock and Awe (National Defense University Press, 1996), which argues, "Theoretically, the magnitude of Shock and Awe [that] Rapid Dominance seeks to impose (in extreme cases) is the non-nuclear equivalent of the impact that the atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese. ... In most or many cases, this Shock and Awe may not necessitate imposing the full destruction of either nuclear weapons or advanced conventional technologies but must be underwritten by the ability to do so."

In fact, the U.S. has explicitly refused to rule out the use of nuclear weapons in Iraq, either in retaliation for any Iraqi attempt to use its own purported "weapons of mass destruction," or, more tactically, using nuclear "bunker-busters" against Iraqi underground defenses. U.S. allies have objected, with little effect, to this aspect of U.S. policy as significantly lowering the international standard of "last-resort" use of nuclear weapons.

In recent weeks, there has been considerable coverage and debate of these war plans in the international press, while U.S. media coverage has largely been devoted to whether or not the Europeans will submit to the U.S. administration's plans for war, or whether the "allies" -- in substance, the U.S. and Britain -- will be "forced" to go it alone.

The American media's reflexive deference to the Bush administration is nicely summed up by CBS anchor Dan Rather's lead-in to its only report on the "Shock and Awe" military strategy. "We assure you," Rather promised solemnly, "this report contains no information that the Defense Department thinks could help the Iraqi military."

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