Sunday, 7 December 2003

The U.S. government announced about a week ago that its military had engaged Iraqi guerillas in the city of Samarra, 110 km north of Baghdad, and killed 54 of them--all militants, no civilians--without suffering a single casualty. The military says that U.S. troops were fired upon by Iraqis dressed in clothing similar to that worn by Fedayeen soldiers, and U.S. forces shot back. Many Iraqis have disputed the U.S. government's claims. Some say that fewer than 10 Iraqis were killed, some of them civilians. Others claim that the American troops fired first. Disputes about who started the shooting are to be expected. The numbers of the dead, and whether any were civilians, should be possible to verify. It is likely that further investigations will shed more light on the details of the battle.

I'm not as interested in the details of the battle as in the overall effect that the originally released official version of the story had on me. I lived in South Africa during the waning days of apartheid, and the South African government used to brag regularly that it had killed dozens, sometimes hundreds, of rebel troops in battles while suffering almost no casualties. My immediate reaction upon reading such stories was that one of two things was true: (1) the story exaggerated the numbers of casualties, increasing the number of rebel casualties while decreasing the South African Defence Force's totals, or (2) the numbers were accurate and a slaughter of unarmed people had taken place.

When I read that 54 Iraqis were killed (all militants) and not a single American was killed, I flashed back to the reports of the South African military, and I hoped that option number 1, exaggerated numbers, was true, not number 2. If the U.S. government hoped that telling the public that its troops had killed 54 enemy soldiers without suffering any losses would encourage U.S. citizens--and perhaps cause them to forget the unprecedented losses of coalition soldiers in the month of November--it didn't work, at least not as far as I am concerned. I don't doubt that U.S. soldiers are better trained and better equipped than their Iraqi opponents. However, I don't believe it is possible to kill 54 Iraqi soldiers without suffering a single loss, especially if U.S. troops were initially on the defensive. Something is wrong with this picture.

© Copyright 2003, Progressive Theology

Progressive Theology