The news anchor, perhaps welcoming an excuse to take a brief rest from the nonstop commentary required for his network’s coverage of the war in Iraq, extended the invitation: “I’ll be quiet for a moment and simply let you watch and listen to the sights and sounds of war.”

On the television screen was the now familiar green-ish image of Baghdad at night, once more under the barrage of American missiles and bombs. This was was the second night of war. Or maybe the third. Millions of us watched on one network or another, entranced by the surreal images of exploding flashes at ground level followed by gloriously flaming tails of anti-aircraft ordnance shooting across the Iraqi sky.

The sights and sounds of war. Was it really?

Let’s not kid ourselves. This was not war. What we saw and listened to was of little more consequence than a fireworks show on the Fourth of July. Flashes. Rumbling. A muffled boom. A rocket’s glare.

At best we were witnessing the sights and sounds of sanitized war. Appropriate for viewers all ages. A safe seat, a good show. This was war for the mass audience.

Lest we forget, lest we feel euphoric about our precision artillery and rapid battlefield advances, we should strain to hear the actual sounds of war: men, women and children screaming with pain from gaping wounds; newly created orphans and widows wailing into the night; whimpers of fear, despair and shock.

As we pray for a quick resolution to this campaign and safety for our troops, we must never forget what war looks like “up close and personal”: it is all about death, destruction, unspeakable horrors. Yes, even terror.

In these things we dare not boast. -DR

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