George Bush might learn from his Republican predecessor, Herbert Hoover, to convert collateral damage of war to strengthening peace. In 1951, based on his lifelong experience with international conflicts, Hoover wrote: "America, with its skill in organization and the valor of its sons, could win great wars. But it could not make lasting peace. I was convinced that we must . . . lend ourselves to measures preventing war, maintaining peace and healing the wounds of war."
While relatively few Americans lost their lives in the Gulf War, Iraqi casualties were horrendous. By recent estimates, 80,000 soldiers were killed and tens of thousands were wounded, mostly youthful draftees. About 50,000 civilians were killed and roughly as many wounded, preponderantly women, infants and children. Children are dying in droves because of contaminated water supplies, ruined sewage systems, damaged health facilities and continuing lack of electricity. Another important cause is malnutrition.
Iraq is on starvation rations, estimated by Western observers to be about 1,000 calories per person per day. According to a recent Harvard survey, 55,000 more Iraqi children died in the first four months of 1991 than in the same period a year ago, and if sanctions are not lifted, 170,000 more children will perish from preventable causes before the end of this year.
Hoover was familiar with the human consequences of war: "It is impossible for one who has never seen real famine to picture it--the pallid faces, the unsmiling eyes, the thin, anemic and bloated children; the dead pall over towns where the children no longer play; the dull, listless movements and dumb grief of women."
Following World War I, Hoover wrote: "Although the food blockade may have played a part in the defeat of Germany, every enemy soldier, every munitions worker, every farmer, every government official and his family had food. The rest of the people, mostly women, children and elderly were left with less and less." Hoover organized delivery of food and clothing to people throughout occupied Belgium and northern France, despite initial German and Allied opposition.
"Love of children is a biological trait common to all races. It therefore seemed to me that around this devotion there could be built a renaissance of unity and of hope among their distracted elders. I hoped that in this evidence of someone's concern for their children there might be a lessening of the consuming hates that burned in the hearts of women because their own children or millions of the children of their nation had come to this condition."
Of course, the problems in Iraq can be blamed on Saddam Hussein. Where history will fix the blame is less important now that millions of children are at risk for their lives because of deplorable conditions that could be remedied quickly by discontinuing sanctions.
"Maintenance of the blockade on food during four months from the Armistice until March (1919) was a crime in statesmanship and against civilization as a whole," Hoover wrote. "Nations can take philosophically the hardships of war; when the fighting is over they begin to buy the past as part of the fighting. But when they lay down their arms and surrender, and then find that the worst instrument of attack upon them is maintained--then hate never dies."
Maintaining sanctions is not going to unseat Hussein until effectively the entire civilian nation succumbs. Until life-support systems are restored, physical and psychological consequences will continue to punish women and children. Iraq has assets in this country frozen by sanctions, which also preclude selling oil that could provide for restoration of nutrition, health care and infrastructure. Even though food and medicine are not contravened, sanctions allow Iraq and its Arab neighbors to perceive Americans as heartless. As Hoover observed after World War I, "The Germans have never ceased to use the continuation of the food blockade to poison the minds of their people and the world."
Iraq imported 70% of its foodstuff before the war and now needs 10,000 tons of cereals daily. Comparatively little food is getting through. For instance, 128 tons of powdered milk sent by German physicians needed by Iraqi children was delayed for fatal weeks awaiting clearance into Iraq.
As Hoover wrote: "No matter how deeply we may feel at the present moment, we must live with these people in the future. Our vision must stretch over the next hundred years and we must write now into history such acts as will stand creditably in the minds of our grandchildren."