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As I listened to George Bush on the night of March 6, repeating ad nauseum that there is no alternative to war against Iraq, my thoughts turned ineluctably to what a cynic had once said about rape. “If it be-comes inevitable, relax and enjoy it.”
I have not slept a wink since then, wracking my brains, trying to think up projects that will permit Iraqis–especially the women and children–to enjoy the war. There are three reasons why I have undertaken this task with considerable more seriousness than I normally bring to my professorial activities.
In times of war, or times leading up to it, I become keenly aware of a deficiency in my belligerent feelings towards America’s enemies. Al-though I am fully convinced of the noble aims behind these wars–who could disagree with the altruistic intentions towards the people we fight against–I cannot feel the electric excitement that grips so many Americans when they dispatch their young men and women to the battlefields. I have discussed this failing with a few trusted neighbors, who agree that the patriotic proclivity is hard to acquire. One is born with it. Despondent, unable to get teary-eyed at the sight of the star-spangled banner, I decided instead to use my expertise in Arab psychology to propose projects that will persuade Iraqis to enjoy the war against them.
The second reason flows from President Bush’s assurances that the war against Iraq has limited aims: it only seeks to change the Iraqi regime. United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people, even though, unavoidably but regrettably, many, perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, may not live to enjoy the immeasurable benefits of this regime-change. I have been at pains to come up with schemes that will convince the Iraqis that they can enjoy the war even as it destroys their country.
There is a third reason for offering these projects, one that may encourage some critics to accuse me of patronizing Iraqis. However, I choose to face this charge instead of shirking my duty. I have it on the authority of medical experts–those who have spent some time examining the epidemiology of the Iraqi people over the past twelve years–that the soft version of our efforts at effecting regime-change, by which I mean the total economic sanctions we have imposed on Iraq since 1990, has produced some curious side effects. It has atrophied the mental capacities of young Iraqis because–and this is pure speculation–the sanctions reduced their daily caloric intake. We could not ask these impaired Iraqis, especially at such short notice, to come up with schemes for turning the war into a spectacle.
Governments have always recognized the value of wars as a sport, and used it as a tool of diversion. In ancient and medieval times, civilians were often encouraged to watch the bloody engagements from the side-lines. When the Romans were not fighting wars, they organized gladiatorial contests to entertain the bored plebeians. Then, starting in sixteenth century, when battles came to be fought with artillery, only the most intrepid aficionados stayed to watch battles in progress. Once again, however, advances in weaponry are opening up new possibilities for developing wars as a spectator sport.
We saw this for the first time during the Gulf War. In 1991, the TV networks provided live coverage of the war, of bombs and missiles lighting up the night sky over Baghdad as they slammed into their targets. In addition, we tracked from the comfort of our homes, the bombs and missiles themselves as they sought out, honed in on targets, struck and destroyed them. The pictures were blurry, but it did recreate some of the excitement of video games. Twelve years later, we have now equipped our bombs and missiles with much-improved video capabilities. As a result, we can look forward to some superb live footage of the 400 odd missiles flying every 24 hours at Iraqi targets. It will be an awesome sight to behold. As one official put it: “The sheer size of this [spectacle] has never been seen before, never been contemplated before.” I suspect the theaters across the country will be mostly deserted in the first days of the war.
As a fair and unbiased people, who uphold these values even in times of war, I propose that we take appropriate steps to ensure that Iraqis have equal access to live television coverage of the war. It is extremely unlikely that many Iraqis will have this access without help from us. We all know that Saddam is an abominable tyrant who loves to watch on video the executions of his former friends and lieutenants, but he has never shared these simple pleasures with the ordinary Iraqis. It is unlikely that Saddam will permit the Iraqis to watch CNN’s live footage of the opening act of Shock and Awe. He will jam these transmissions.
I, therefore, propose that in the hours before we launch our missiles, we should capture all the television stations in Iraq. Since I am not a military expert, I will not offer suggestions about how to do this; but I am quite sure that it can be done. Once we have captured the television stations we should equip them for receiving and broadcasting live coverage of the war. As a result, when our forces in Qatar and Kuwait launch hundreds of missiles, we can simultaneously beam their trajectory to every Iraqi household with a television set. I am sure that General Tommy Franks will be the first to recognize the military value of these broadcasts as well. It is almost certain that the Iraqi generals and their families too will be watching these programs, and, when they do, they may translate their shock and awe into an early regime-change in Baghdad. That would be killing two birds with one stone.
A good military planner always has alternative plans, or fallback options. If we choose not to capture the Iraqi television stations because this might cause casualties amongst their civilian staff–an honorable motive, I must concede–we can turn to an alternative that will cause no civilian casualties. Once again, in the hours preceding the inauguration of Shock and Awe, we should launch hundreds of high-altitude blimps over Iraqi cities and towns. We can equip these blimps with large, liquid-crystal, flat panel screens, that will show images of the war in full color. Imagine the thrill of Iraqis as they track the progress of the war on blimps hanging over their heads.
I would like to propose one more scheme, and then I am done. Without fear of contradiction from our military pundits, I will assume that our B2 Stealth bombers will succeed in knocking out all anti-aircraft units in and around Baghdad within minutes of the launch of Shock and Awe. Once we gain supremacy over the Iraqi skies, I think we can greatly enhance the entertainment value of air sorties by combining them with some spectacular air shows. It is universally recognized that our professional air acrobats are capable of putting up airshows that are the envy of the world, and they have wowed audiences from Ulan Bator to Timbuktu. And so, whenever we take a break from our bombing runs over Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, we can send our air acrobats to demonstrate their spectacular stunts. This will ensure that the Iraqis are entertained round-the-clock during the course of the war.
In closing, I must add that the cynic’s advice has another advantage, one that we often overlook. If the victim chooses to enjoy the rape, the guys can enjoy it too–unless the guys are total perverts. I can hope that this last point will convince the US military high command to take my advice seriously. It may even be worth delaying the war by a day or two in order to ensure that most Iraqis can enjoy, in real time, the opening act of the new American blockbuster, Shock and Awe.
M. SHAHID ALAM is Professor of Economics at Northeastern University. His last book, Poverty from the Wealth of Nations, was published by Palgrave in 2000. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.