Horrified by reports of civilian casualties inflicted by U.S. bombs and missiles dropped on Iraq by U.S.-led allied forces? If so, keep a few points firmly in mind in order to put those reports in perspective.
By now, most Americans should be well aware that no news reports are allowed out of Iraq unless they are cleared by the government of Saddam Hussein. Consequently, it should be clear that Baghdad is using western reporters to relay propaganda.That knowledge, though, isn't always enough to dispel doubt about the credibility of the allied forces' commitment to attacking only targets with military significance. So the public needs to know that at least three possible causes of civilian damage are consistent with the allies' policy of striking only military targets.
One is "collateral damage": You target an ammunition dump, but when it blows up, a nearby clinic catches fire.
Another is simple error - like that which caused the deaths of seven Marines, killed by "friendly fire," in the fight for Khafji last week. Both types of unintended destruction occur in every war.
A third source of damage to civilian areas is anti-aircraft activity. Early in the war, allied pilots encountered plentiful, though mostly ineffective, anti-aircraft fire around Iraqi cities. Missiles that missed the planes fell back to earth, no doubt sometimes in residential neighborhoods.
Deplorable as they are, these occurrences are poles apart from the deliberate targeting of civilians that is the policy of the other side. Iraq's nearly 60 Scud missile attacks on Israel and Saudi Arabia all were aimed at civilian populations. Iraq and its allies are openly proud of these attacks.
Just how proud can be seen from the report by Scripps Howard News Service that Jordanian babies are being named "Scud," and pro-Iraqi demonstrators in the Moroccan capital waved Korans, portraits of Iraqi dictator Saddam and pictures of the beloved missile.
Though war is unavoidably a dirty business, it should be clear which side in the Persian Gulf has captured the high ground from a moral point of view.