Rich Lowry

Reasonable people can disagree about whether the war in Iraq will reduce or increase terrorism, whether building a democracy there is practical or not, whether Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forged a brilliant military plan or skimped on ground troops. What the Iraqi battlefield during the past two weeks has demonstrated beyond any possible argument is the moral superiority of Western culture.

Armies march not just on their stomachs, but with their values. The contrasting conduct of American and British troops, reflecting the best aspects of the West, and of Saddam Hussein's soldiers and guerrillas, representing an Arab political culture corrupted by tyranny, is a showcase for two differing traditions with utterly divergent styles of war-making.

It's the difference between hiding behind women and children and doing everything to avoid harming them, between random missile attacks and precision weapons, between executing prisoners and treating them humanely, between faking surrenders and accepting them, between transparent government lies and vigorous, open self-criticism, between setting oil wells on fire and putting them out.

The scrupulousness of the Allied warrior has been thousands of years in the making. As historian Victor Davis Hanson writes: "This legal and secular idea of 'Rules of War' is an original Western concept that began with the Greeks' efforts to define the way soldiers should fight. Indeed, almost all the military's present notions of moral war-making -- formal declaration and cessation of hostilities, armistices, treaties, respect for noncombatants and the prohibitions of particularly odious weapons -- derive from the Greeks and the Romans."

The West's appreciation for the rule of law can be seen in the lawyerly parsing of targets to ensure that they are valid and military in nature. Its humanity is clear in the rush to provide food and water to suffering Iraqi civilians. Its commitment to self-criticism is visible in the military briefings, at which any journalist from anywhere can ask any question. Its respect for the individual is evident in the risking of many brave souls to save just one -- a 19-year-old private from West Virginia.

Make no mistake, of course: The Allied military kills with a ferocious efficiency. But the advanced weapons that make that possible are also a function of Western values, of the freedom that is the predicate of economic growth and technological innovation. Without the great unleashing of human potential that has taken place in the West of the past 200 years, there would be no "smart" weapons.


Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
 
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