Rules Of War, Just Another Oxymoron?
spent the past five days with Lil and Allison visiting mom in Florida. I
composed this column, edited Henry Stern’s piece and laid out the page
on my laptop, in our hotel room. I also took the opportunity to veer off
course from City politics and perhaps get into trouble with a few
observations of our war with Iraq.
like many of you, I spent the last month religiously flipping till the
wee hours of the morning from MSNBC to CNN to FOXNews, to CNBC and
wherever else I could get a fix of America’s latest war.
hard to explain why.
I’m a news junkie. Secondly, like most of you, I was fascinated with
the technology of this war. Also, the international political
ramifications really bothered me – I was not in favor of our handling
of the world community and never signed on to the military effort.
Finally, I was concerned about our troops.
was also concerned about the innocents of Iraq but not quite as much.
That should bother me. It should bother all of us. All life is precious
– should American life really be worth more?
what really tweaked my intellectual curiosity – some merely consider
me a contrarian – were the “Rules of War.”
mean, I played the game of war as a kid. I learned by example – in the
streets of Kew Gardens Hills – that in war there are no rules. Now,
KGH where and when I grew up was truly civilized suburbia. But whether
it was cowboys and Indians or us against them, in war, you made up the
rules as you went along to help your side win.
ol’ white flag surrender ploy was no creation of the Iraqi army. We
did it on Melbourne Avenue and 149th Street.
Iraqi? C’mon, that was one of the first words that you learned by
watching Hopalong Cassidy or the Lone Ranger. Back then, they never told
the bad guys or the Indians that there are “Rules of Engagement.”
in today’s pop culture media, the only place you find “Rules of
Engagement” is on “Sex In The City” and they clearly don’t work
any better there.
Soprano’s rules wouldn’t meet the Pentagon’s standards. Why should
standards our children are exposed to and try to emulate seem to be
promulgated by the likes of the WWF.
Rumsfeld has spent the past month-plus criticizing Iraq for how they
fought the war. They didn’t play by international rules or convention.
gimme a break!
war, not games – and we Americans even cheat at games. Check out
athletes and drugs, illegal contributions and politicians or Wall Street
and insider trading. Check out prisons filled with convicted felons who
broke the everyday rules. Americans don’t play by the rules in life;
what gives us the audacity or stupidity to think that a nation we invade
will accept imposed rules of war? Rules are for civilized society. War
Geneva Convention and Secretary Rumsfeld, I just don’t grasp how
anyone can expect war to be fought by the rules.
we announce the “no chemical weapons” convention. We have millions
of tons of bombs with GPS-targetting ability. We control the air and
have the equipment and training to dominate a “conventional” war.
And so we insist they play by the rules of conventional warfare.
Vietnam we used napalm and Agent Orange. Of course, they were not meant
to kill. The fact that they devastated the land and continue to have
devastating effects on those exposed didn’t prevent their use. I guess
those rules allowed it then. I guess they didn’t qualify for the
can drop four 2,000-pound bombs on top of one guy, but they can’t use
what they have. Sorry guys, I’m amazed they didn’t.
we were the guys without the bombs but with the dreaded “WMD,” if we
were invaded, you’d bet we’d be using those weapons of mass
not judging, but what were those two things we dropped on Japan at the
end of World War II? Let’s get real. When your nation is on the line,
you use whatever you can to win the war. Obviously they couldn’t or
don’t get me wrong . . . overthrowing
Saddam was a good thing. Don’t write letters complaining I’m
defending him; I’m not. He got what he deserved.
is merely the commentary of an observer of history who is bewildered by
the concept of “The Rules of War.”
don’t know if it made a difference, but the Pentagon’s threats and
posturing may have influenced the decision not to use weapons of mass
destruction. The fact is the Iraqis either didn’t have, couldn’t or
were afraid to use them. Perhaps the early destruction of the command
and control – I like the sound of that – decapitated their ability
to use those WMD. Who knows? But we lucked out.
claim to have no military skill, but I would give a word of advice to
the guys and gals running our war machine: next time you invade a
nation, don’t count on the other side to play by the rules.
the prisoners of war on television, now there’s a crime! Thou shalt
not televise or interview prisoners of war. Duh! You’ve got a choice:
either they’ll use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons or else
they’ll put the prisoners of war on TV.
we adhere to the Geneva Convention when it comes to war, but when it
comes to overzealous prosecutors, the perp walk is meant to embarrass
and ridicule prisoners – folks just accused, not convicted. Sure take
our non-violent citizens accused of crimes and parade them in front of
the cameras, but during war, they better not do it to us. Just ask
Sheldon Leffler, a former elected official accused of fudging campaign
contributions, who was paraded in handcuffs by the Manhattan DA. But
those terrible Iraqis capture a handful of invading troops and commit
the unspeakable, they show them on the tube.
where is this all going?
don’t know. There is nothing wrong with morality and rules. There is
nothing wrong with setting standards that a civilized people should
emulate. I would suggest that rule number one might be something like
“study war no more.”
morality, our standards could use an adjustment. Our rules of war need a
second look. Our society has a long way to go before we discover the
riches and values of a civilization known as ancient Mesopatamia – the
land we now call Iraq.
us pray – there I’ve said it again – that we’ll never need the
rules of war again.
Stern: Et Tu, Albany George
last week – when Mayor Bloomberg proposed two executive budgets for
fiscal 2004 – reporters have produced sad scenarios about the
impending loss of services, and the new or increased taxes that are
likely to be imposed.
City is in a macro-economic crisis; its tax revenues, current and
projected, are simply insufficient, by billions, to maintain the current
establishment of city employees. If you cut services, middle class
people will leave the City. If you raise taxes, rich people will leave
the City. If you do both, only the poor will remain. But if you do
neither, the State’s Financial Control Board will take over and make
the cuts in its own way.
know we exaggerate — we know that we’ll stay. But quite a few will
leave, or decide not to come here, and that will hurt us.
are also micro-economic issues that have not received attention. There
has been no serious work done on the inefficiency, duplication of
effort, rudeness, passivity and sloth that permeate parts of some
Mayor has belittled the prospect of significant improvement in this
area. He is probably right on cost savings; better management would save
millions, rather than the billions needed to balance the budget.
change here would be most helpful. It would give New Yorkers: taxpayers,
businesses, scholars, civics, and even journalists, the sense that
something was being done about the problems inherent in a $44 billion
bureaucracy. When there is the sense that issues of waste and
incompetence are being pursued, it gladdens the spirit, and others may
be more likely to give us help.
is often misuse of time; while corruption usually involves money. The
Mayor has an enormous advantage on the money issue. His great wealth and
his good character make bribery impossible. But what of the middle
managers and the inspectors?
Mayor has appointed a fine Commissioner of Investigation (DOI), Rose
Gill Hern, a career prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s office. She
needs resources to do her important job well. In Mayor Dinkins’
administration (1990-93), DOI was cut more drastically than any other
city agency. I don’t know why. Some of that cut should be
restored. She could also ship out a number of her less productive
employees, hangers on from the days when DOI was a dumping ground. DOI
is in no way unique in this situation. Every agency has its known (and
unknown) slackers, protected by civil service laws, politicians, unions,
and threats of reprisals.
to the budget: the Mayor has been grievously disappointed by Governor
Pataki. Mr. Bloomberg was right in treating the Governor courteously,
and giving him time to find fiscal solutions. Shouting would not have
helped. But the result, sadly, has been precious little new money, and
the attempted seizure of Federal anti-terrorism funds, an act so brazen
that the Republicans blocked it.
substantial wage increases the Governor awarded in 2002 to receive union
leaders’ support were fiscally irresponsible. By the way, the union
leaders were right to take the money and endorse him. He would have won
anyway, and their members would have been poorer.
suspicion is that the Governor has been mesmerized by President Bush’s
standing up to Iraq, and thinks if he firmly opposes tax increases, he
too may become a hero. Of course, if there are increases, there
will be a subplot so that he avoids or minimizes his responsibility.
Pataki was canny enough not to say, “Read my lips; no new taxes”,
the most famous line uttered by Bush 41, the year before he wisely and
sensibly did raise Federal taxes. There seem to be a number of
generational differences between 41 and 43, who has made multiple tax
cuts an obsession despite the huge federal deficit. Freud and Oedipus
are somehow part of this fascinating picture.
and reflect, on the Passover and Easter seasons.
Henry Stern was NYC Parks Commissioner for 15 years and a Councilmember
for nine. He is founder and director of NYCivic, a good government
group. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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