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Shocked, Awed and Grateful?

March 21, 2003|Sandy Tolan | Sandy Tolan, a fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, reports frequently on the Middle East.

The Pentagon's plan for Baghdad is expected to incorporate a military doctrine known as "shock and awe," under which thousands of bombs and missiles, nearly one every minute, will streak down on the Iraqi capital.

The doctrine was fathered by Harlan Ullman, a veteran military strategist whose 1996 book, "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance," recommends "nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction" to achieve an "overwhelming level of shock and awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on." The book cites the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as successful examples.

Ullman and his co-authors say massive bombing paralyzes the enemy's will, rendering it "totally impotent and vulnerable." Remarks by Gen. Richard B. Myers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman -- advocating a "short conflict" that would "shock the system" -- suggest that this doctrine is part of the war planning.

The shock-and-awe doctrine is not new, according to the book: "One recalls, from old photographs and movie or television screens, the comatose and glazed expressions of survivors of the great bombardments of World War I and the attendant horrors and death of trench warfare."

Indeed, the authors journey back to the Chinese warrior- philosopher Sun Tzu, whose "Art of War" provides a lesson from the 5th century BC: the beheading of two concubines who had laughed at Sun Tzu, which shocked and awed the other concubines into silent submission.

In extreme cases, Ullman says, the use of shock and awe seeks to impose "the nonnuclear equivalent" of Hiroshima: "nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction directed at influencing society writ large."

These ideas strike some as Strangelovean. But Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a student of Ullman's at the National War College, calls Ullman "one of the best and most provocative minds I have ever encountered." And Donald H. Rumsfeld, more than a year before he became Defense secretary, said on CNN that he supported Ullman's shock-and-awe doctrine.

The United Nations foresees tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties, up to 1.3 million refugees and half the population being without access to potable water. Yet American officials expect the shocked and awed Iraqis, with their "comatose and glazed expressions," to welcome American soldiers as liberators.

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