Monday, 24 March 2003

This is not war as we knew it

Public opinion has not rallied to this dehumanised campaign

Baghdad Burns It is a long, long way from Madison Square Garden to downtown Baghdad. But somehow, suddenly, it doesn't seem so far.

The date - one I always remember - is precise: March 24, 1962. We have an anniversary. Emile Griffith and Benny Paret had already fought twice for the welterweight championship of the world. Griffith won the first one, Paret - an illiterate Cuban refugee - won the rematch. Here was a decider and famous grudge match. They did not like each other. They bore festering animosities. Perhaps Paret could do it again? He almost had Griffith out in the sixth. But then too many hard fights started to tell. He weakened and faded. He began (as Donald Rumsfeld would say) to unravel.

In the 12th round he was trapped on the ropes, too exhausted to escape. The referee - Ruby Goldstein - did nothing. He stood back, let the violence run on. What would be, would be. Griffith hit Paret time after time. And then Paret tumbled, inert, to the canvas. He lay in a coma for 10 days before he died.

So to death and destruction as a TV spectator sport. To another grudge match. To power unravelling and a world referee standing aside. So, on four decades, beyond the shrunken body of Benny Paret, a dumb victim shrouded in sorrow and pity, not shock and awe.

Is the battering of Baghdad quite the spectacle that Mr Rumsfeld and his oddly smiley boss assume? A wondrous show of technical wizardry and precise targeting that leaves only a relatively few of the undeserving dead? A demonstration of American might that makes bad men quail? That's the theory of the thing. Everybody hopes - the omnipresent "hope" word - for a speedy resolution here. Get the guy you hate on the ropes and keep on pounding. But, like the video of that awful 12th, there is no wonder, nor any awe. Just a hypnotised numbness, a queasy feeling of humanity betrayed.

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