Bloodless war is only a dream

LBy Nathan Mittelstaedt last night I had a terrible dream. We were standing on the edge of the desert. When I say “we,” I am not referring to a group of people whom I know or with whom I share personal intimacy. Rather, we have all gathered, thousands of us, on the banks of a river, or perhaps it was a gulf, out at the ends of this desert. It is the border with Iraq, although in reality I was certain Iraq actually bordered on a river.

We thousands have gathered here in a last-ditch effort to avert impending tragedy. We know not more than a mile away there are thousands of U.S. troops poised to attack. The situation seems desperate, and the late-night sky is overcast a sickly shade of green. It reminds me of night vision, only we can’t actually see what’s going on. Everyone is worried and tense.

All of a sudden I see tracers from artillery fire sweep over the left-hand side of my field of vision. It has begun.

Over a period of time that seems like hours but what is in reality more likely minutes or even seconds, the tracer fire sweeps over the sky, and the flashes recall images of sheet lightning. From the direction the fire is emanating we can see the troops are moving rapidly across the river and along the shore. Our broken sense of defeat is quickly overcome by anger and indignation. People begin to wade into the river screaming and shouting, determined to stop the fighting if it means wedging themselves between the bullets and the people of Iraq.

I know not whether this was realistic; it certainly wasn’t well planned. The river looked to be at least a quarter mile wide, and I’m certain at some point it would become deeper than the waist-high point most had waded into.

In a short amount of time though, none of that mattered. The tracers had begun to swing around toward us, first with warning shots, followed by those of lower aim. The tracer fire which followed us was encompassed by a red halo. I felt a burning sensation in my shin and knew that a bullet had just shaved the edge of my leg. I awoke startled, and in a cold sweat.

I’m sitting in a McDonald’s/Greyhound Station in Eau Claire, Wis., as I write this. I look around the room and see many blissful and unconcerned faces. It seems as though few of them are fearful or even alarmed at the possible consequences this war might bring. I look around once more and see clean tabletops with pastel veneers, freshly mopped floors and spotless windows. Looking through one of the windows I see a large billboard with big bold letters proclaiming “In God We Trust, United We Stand” set against the backdrop of an American flag.

I think to myself as I’m writing “this is not what Iraq will look like.” You won’t be able to see any clean floors because they will be buried in rubble. You will not be able to sit at any clean pastel-colored tables because they will be rubble. And you will not be able to look through any windows at billboards because there likely won’t be any windows that haven’t been shattered.

The room smelled of cheap, processed food, of “freedom fries” and McNuggets. Yet even this is better than the stench that awaits the people of Iraq, namely that of charred bodies, rotting flesh and burning oil.

Eavesdropping on the conversations around me, I can hear a lot of general conversation but little actual dialog covering issues of great importance. Calls for “A medium Diet Coke” to the opening and shutting of cash registers are common. People are talking of sports as if the world was to end tomorrow and politics as if it were a videogame. For the most part, people seem blissfully unconcerned.

This is not how Iraq will sound.

Once the deafening explosions have subsided, those that can still hear will listen to the screams of agony from the wounded and dying. They will hear the cries of orphans and the ceaseless lists of names being echoed out again and again in search of missing friends, loved ones and family. Sometimes there will be no one left to cry or call out; and all that will be left will be the sounds made by the crackling of the fires.

When discussing the potential impact of war on civilians in Iraq, administration and Pentagon officials like to use the terms “collateral damage,” “surgical strike” and “targeted bombings.” There is nothing collateral about the use of hundreds of tons of depleted uranium waste as bullets, as everyone can become a victim of the radioactive dust that vaporizes and becomes breathable upon impact. That includes the men and women we are sending across the ocean to fight this war.

There is nothing surgical about launching 400 to 800 cruise missiles in two days at a city with a civilian population of more than four million, unless “surgery” means cutting open the aorta and letting the victims bleed to death. And targets of this war will likely not be the Iraqi leadership or the upper echelons of the Ba’ath Party; it is precisely those people who will be able to hide out in underground bunkers, or to use their political influence to gain asylum in another country. Rather, the only people left to target will be those too poor to buy asylum, too tired to run away and too weak from a decade of economic sanctions to stand a chance.

I decided to write this as the result of the nightmare I described earlier, but I am not the only one who has been dreaming. The American people have come to believe that a war on Iraq will be a war against Saddam Hussein and Hussein only, a war in which no one dies, a war in which democracy is finally restored to people who have lived for far too long under a brutal dictator, and a war that will not have serious consequences for us back home. It is fantasy, plain and simple, and nothing could be further from the truth.

I have awoken from my dream. It is time for the people of this country to wake from theirs.

Nathan Mittelstaedt is a senior studying political science and a member of Students Against War. Send letters to the editor to

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