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War Watch
First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card March 24, 2003

The Most Careful of All Wars

The media kept talking about "shock and awe" till it sounded like a single word. Shockenaw. It became a verb. "We'll shockenaw them!"

The only thing that made it bearable was the sheer pleasure of knowing that after all the talk of "shock and awe," our military clearly had no such campaign in mind. It was smoke and mirrors. It was the patter a magician uses to distract the audience.

The audience wasn't us. Once the United Nations effort ended, everything said by the Pentagon and the White House leading up to this war was aimed at the Iraqis.

After all, it was well known that Saddam knew how to play for the cameras. In the first Gulf War, he made some stupid mistakes -- like posing for the camera acting avuncular with foreign children that he was holding hostage.

Oops. That one didn't play well on camera!

But he learned. And this time, as he manipulated the whole "disarmament" charade (with the help of his puppet, Jacques Chirac, the man who loves murderous dictators and hates America), he proved that he knew how to put on a show for the media.

Guess what, Saddam. Americans can do that, too.

Clearly "shock and awe" was the Pentagon's way of saying to Saddam, "If you thought our long bombing campaign in '91 was frightening, you should see what we can do now!"

So of course the Iraqi military hunkered down to endure a pounding. Saddam knew he'd have plenty of time to watch as our bombs never found his secret hidden bunkers but killed lots of civilians. Dead Iraqi civilians! Exactly what Saddam wanted to put on camera for the world to see!

Plenty of time for the Arab street to rise up in indignation. For American embassies to be attacked -- and perhaps seized. For terrorists to strike all over Europe -- which French and German media would blame on America, of course.

But that was never the American plan.

The plan was to have no bombs at all. Not at first.

The plan was to cross the border in force with only a little bit of pinpoint artillery to lead the way. To "prepare the battlefield," as they say.

Meanwhile, engineers were sent to eliminate obstacles in advance of our troops and armor. Special Forces went in to seize important points -- oil depots, airfields, the region from which Scuds could be launched against Israel -- and to link up with allied forces in the Kurdish area.

So while Saddam was waiting, we were well inside Iraq.

Only then was the bombing to begin. And the "shock and awe" was not meant to come from the quantity of the bombing. It was to come from the astonishing accuracy of the bombing.

And the audience that was supposed to be shockenawed was not the Iraqi public, or the worldwide television audience -- it was Saddam's closest followers.

Because the bombs weren't falling on civilians. They weren't even hitting the places where strategic materials were hidden under homes and schools.

Instead, they were hitting the leadership, with weapons carefully chosen and exactly aimed so that they did only the damage desired.

When the Iraqi ruling elite realized that the Americans really were able to take the war to them -- and them alone -- instead of waging war on the people of Iraq, boy were they shocked. In fact, they might even be in awe.

They also started packing their bags.

Will there be fighting? Of course. Might there be terrible battles with many casualties? Quite possibly.

But there will also be whole armies that surrender. There have already been Iraqi officers killed by their own men. Armies that have melted away into the Iraqi countryside.

I'm writing this early Sunday morning, so by the time this appears in print, it will be old news. You'll know much more about the progress of the war than I do now.

There might be terrible things that have happened in this war -- chemical or biological attacks. Setbacks and delays. Accidental mis-aimings that led to civilian casualties.

These things are not under our control -- though our psychological warfare has been well-aimed and intense, to try to discourage Iraqi soldiers from obeying orders to use terrible weapons. And no military on earth has tried harder than ours to develop weapons that do not slaughter noncombatants.

Indeed, this war has been carefully planned so as to avoid killing soldiers! We keep giving them every chance to surrender. We have not bombed even the Republican Guard units around Baghdad, though we know where they are and they could not stop us.

What military force in history has ever had as its goal, not to fight, not to kill, but rather to save the lives of as many of the enemy as possible?

But our military commanders have not done this at the expense of the lives of our own soldiers. On the contrary -- they have done everything they can to protect our own troops.

So far, things look easy.

But it's very, very hard to plan and conduct a war so it looks easy.


And as long as we're commending our military leaders, let's also point out the most miraculous thing about this war.

Time after time, great nations have collapsed in war because their generals tried to fight the last war. That is, they assumed that their enemy would do what he did the last time, and prepared accordingly, and so were completely helpless when the enemy confronted them with new tactics.

At no point in this war have we seen the slightest sign of fighting the last war.

On the contrary, our military planned this one as if we had lost the Gulf War and had struggled desperately to learn from our mistakes. We have the most adaptable military of any nation on earth.

Not even ten years ago, our military was plagued with division and rivalry -- between the Navy and the Air Force, between the Army and the Marines.

Yet somehow our military got their act together. They completely revised the core military doctrines. They got excellent interoperability between all the services, so that field soldiers could call in close air support virtually without mediation or delay.

I want names, folks. I want the list of officers and Defense Department civilians who came up with our military doctrine, who broke down those interservice walls, who made it so that our soldiers go into combat knowing their mission and having the authority and the training to adapt to whatever comes up and make good decisions based on sufficient information.

Don't misunderstand. War is a terrible thing, and woe to the nation that ever gets a taste for it.

But when there is no rational, moral choice but to go to war, how fortunate the nation whose military forces have such leadership as ours.


You know why I'm watching Fox News on cable for war coverage?

Because I knew they would speak of our soldiers, of our victories and our losses and our goals in this war. I knew they would not speak of the liberation of the Iraqi people in quotes, but rather as the truth.

I'm watching Fox News because I knew the reporters and anchors would speak as Americans, to Americans. It's a good feeling to hear about our war from people who actually think it would be a good thing if we win.

Maybe the other media are covering the war the same way. But they long since trained me not to expect that from them, so why should I give them a chance now, when the lives of my fellow-citizens are on the line?


As of this writing, we still don't know whether Saddam or his sons were killed or injured in that initial target-of-opportunity attack that led off our military operations in Iraq.

At the risk of being sneered at by some, let me offer my interpretation of this event.

We can give -- I just gave! -- great credit to our military for their achievement. But if that first bombing actually struck down Saddam himself, then let's give credit where it's due.

Yes, our leadership made the decision to strike at once when the opportunity presented itself. Yes, our planners had provided us with weapons so powerful and accurate they could pound that heavily-protected site into rubble so quickly that the targets had not left the building.

But nothing in our planning could have caused a careful paranoid like Saddam to expose himself to our intelligence source at precisely the time when we could strike.

If Saddam was struck down right at the start, that was a gift, to us and to the Iraqi people. Inshallah.


Fox News Channel has been running messages -- U.S. military people in the Middle East, speaking messages to their families.

I thought of what it meant to them, to assure wives, husbands, children, parents that they were OK. That in the face of death, these soldiers were thinking of the people they loved back at home. And being human, I was touched.

At the same time, being a cynical critic of pretty much everything, the thought flashed through my mind: So Fox News is profiting from the love and loneliness and fear of our military people.

Then I thought again. First of all, Fox News is not running ads during their war coverage. So the only thing they're promoting is themselves -- "Keep watching Fox News." And since this message goes only to people who are already watching Fox News, it's not like they're profiting all that much.

Second, these soldiers knew what they were doing. It's not as if they didn't have private means of sending messages to their families. So when they were offered a chance to give a public message to their families, they took it.

They wanted their words to be public, as well as private -- that is, the messages to their loved ones were sincere, but they chose to let us all overhear.

They wanted to include us, and why not? It isn't just their families that they're defending. It's us, too, and our families. And even though they don't know us, they can look us all in the eye and say, I love you, I care about you, I'll do what it takes to keep you safe.

Only it would be embarrassing to say that right out -- that many, perhaps most, maybe even all of our soldiers are there putting their lives on the line because they love their country.

And what is their country? A bunch of people. Crazy, strange, cantankerous, stubborn, but also generous, compassionate, and not easily frightened.

You know. Us.

Copyright © 2003 by Orson Scott Card.

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