The bodies of Vietnamese men, women and children piled along a road in My Lai after a U.S. Army massacre on March 16, 1968. (Photo taken by U. S.
Army photographer Ronald L. Haeberle)
In late 2002, just prior to the launch of the U.S. "shock and awe"
campaign against Iraq, I was invited to join a gathering of intelligence
analysts at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to
participate in an Iraq "war games" exercise. We were assigned specific
roles and asked to "play out" various political and diplomatic scenarios
that might unfold in the wake of a U.S. attack on Iraq.
A tall, heavy-set Iraqi-American, who was present as an observer and
seated beside me on the final day, remarked quietly: "All these people
are talking about strategic, political and military issues; no one here
is talking about the hundreds of thousands of people -- my people -- that
are going to die."
His words struck me as profoundly tragic, and the tears welling up
behind his dark glasses made me feel suddenly ashamed to be there, aware
of the complete absence of consideration for Iraqis. I struggled to
find something to say that would console the man, but found myself at a
All these years later, that incident has come back to haunt me as we
approach the precipice of yet another deadly war. Will we allow
ourselves to be blinded again?
As Israeli leaders engage in frenzied posturing over a possible
military strike on Iran, we again have pundits, experts and commentators
speculating how an Israeli offensive would play out. They search for
the meaning behind the inflammatory rhetoric of Defense Minister Ehud
Barak and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and ponder the impact of a
war on Western political, strategic and economic interests.
As with the war games I attended at the War College 10 years ago,
their narrow focus on strategic and tactical aspects of a potentially
serious conflict conveniently avoids the fact that we are talking about
the mass murder and maiming of Iranian civilians, as well as many others
in the region.
Attack on Bushehr: "Death of Thousands"
In a thought-provoking piece
on this subject, Professor Marsha B. Cohen, a specialist on
Iranian-Israeli issues, notes that a 114-page paper commissioned in 2009
by the Center for International and Strategic Studies, "Study on a Possible Israeli Strike on Iran's Nuclear Development Facilities," devoted just two pages to the subject of anticipated human losses (pp 90-91).
The study says that "any strike on the Bushehr nuclear reactor will
cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent
to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to
hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the
contamination plume," adding that "Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab
Emirates will be heavily affected by the radionuclides."
In other words, the paper acknowledges that since the spread of
nuclear radiation does not stop at national borders, civilian
populations throughout the region, including those of U.S. allies, will
be forced to suffer the horrific consequences of any Israeli military
adventures in Iran.
The paper charts the range of human suffering and death from
radiation according to the degree of exposure, ranging from 0-50
Roentgens -- "no obvious effect, possibly minor blood changes," all the
way to 5,000 Roentgens -- "incapacitation almost immediately; all those
exposed will be fatalities within one week." An accompanying map of the
region displays prevailing wind patterns, indicating where the radiation
is likely to drift.
Without further discussion of the humanitarian dimension, the next
page goes on to talk about the varying technical attributes of the
Israeli and Iranian missile systems.
Human Empathy, Casualty of a War Culture?
Why is it that U.S. policymakers and those in the intelligence
agencies and think-tank communities who support them seem to have so
little compassion for the victims of their political and military
decisions? Have they become too far removed from suffering, as they are
shuttled from meeting to meeting in their chauffeur-driven SUV's and
The subject of human suffering is almost taboo among these elites,
and is generally raised only when negative media publicity, or the
prospect thereof, forces them to take action.