'After the War' is counterpoint to victory


LEAVE IT to Bill Moyers to be the party-pooper. Here we are, knee-deep in ticker tape, bedecked in yellow ribbons, bursting our buttons with pride in good ol' American know-how that showed that Saddam a thing or two, and Moyers comes along to point out that only 7 percent of our bombs actually hit their targets.

Seven percent! What, is he crazy? Didn't he watch TV? Didn't he see all those smart bombs hitting buildings and bridges like Johnny Unitas used to hit Raymond Berry? Shut up, kid, and watch the parade!

No, not Moyers. His hour-long PBS documentary "After the War," which will be on Maryland Public Television, channels 22 and 67, at 9 o'clock tonight, rains a series of facts on this potpourri of parades.

He certainly gives American troops their due, pointing out clearly that they liberated an invaded country, Kuwait. But then he notes that they fought and in some cases died to put an emir back on the throne of one country and leave a dictator in charge of another.

Moyers is certainly no friend of Saddam Hussein. If anything, his reports on Saddam's treachery are worse than the ones you heard in the buildup to the war. But then Moyers asks why we didn't blow the whistle on this guy before, why we kept giving him assistance?

Was it just because his torture and murder were kept within his borders, except in the case of invading Iran, which doesn't count? Is it OK for Saddam to do it to his "own" people, but not OK when he does it to Kuwaitis? And if Saddam really was a new version of Hitler -- and Moyers' evidence only reinforces that case -- why did we stop when we did? Would we have ended World War II with Hitler in power?

Moyers begins "After the War" with a pointed and telling accounting of how the war that we saw -- the one that was so popular on television and continues to rack up ratings with welcome home specials -- was not the real war, it was the one that the Pentagon wanted us to see.

The real war had all those bombs -- 93 percent -- that missed their targets. It had Patriot missiles that did not work as advertised. And, it also had something almost never seen on American television coverage of the Persian Gulf war -- dead people. A lot of dead people. Many of them soldiers, and many of those in retreat -- gunned down by American planes in virtual target-practice situations -- but many of them also civilians, the innocents who always die in the fallout from the tremendous power of modern, industrial-age weaponry, some in their homes, some trying to flee on highways that had been designated for destruction.

Moyers makes the point that many more will die, a lot of them children, in the malnutrition and disease that followed the bombing of Iraq, if not back to the stone age, then perhaps to the Middle Ages. Certainly such destruction can be seen as the fault of Saddam and his invasion of Kuwait, but nonetheless, it was rained down by American bombs, and Americans should know about it.

Much of the hour will be familiar territory to those who have followed the more publicized post-war problems, the destruction visited on the Kurds and Shiites who followed the call by the United States to rebel against Saddam but were devastated by the forces that we chose not to destroy.

As usual, Moyers asks the probing, disturbing questions. Why, for instance, did the Iraqi borders become so sacrosanct after the war, lines we would not cross to meddle in internal affairs, when the borders of Panama or Nicaragua never had such power?

* "POV," the PBS showcase of independent documentaries and films, opens its fourth season following the Moyers hour tonight with another report from the front lines.

This comes from a war that has already claimed the lives of more than 150,000 Americans. Well over 1 million may die before it is over. "Absolutely Positive," a pointedly effective 90 minutes that will be on channels 22 and 67 at 10 o'clock, is about AIDS.

Or rather it's about people who have been told that they are HIV positive, meaning that the AIDS virus is present in their bodies. Though there is much left to learn about this epidemic, at some point that virus will probably erupt, wreaking havoc with their immune systems, giving them all sorts of strange and painful diseases, perhaps invading their brains, probably leading to a lengthy decline toward an inevitable death.

And yet these 11 people -- 12 if you count the film's director, Peter Adair, who's also HIV positive and provides an insightful, wryly humorous narration -- do not look as if they are carrying the time bomb of this terrifying epidemic within them. They are fine, for now, dealing with it, living with it.

"Absolutely Positive" does not turn its back on the fact that in America, AIDS is primarily a disease of gay men and, secondarily, of intravenous drug users. But it shows that within those groups, so often shunned by established society, are a wide variety of people afflicted with AIDS. It also includes representatives of those who received the disease through heterosexual transmission and through a blood transfusion.

After a while, as you hear these people tell their stories, you begin to forget how they got the virus as your mind begins to get a brief, ephemeral grasp on what an enormous catastrophe on so many levels -- personal, political, economic, sociological -- AIDS is now, and how much worse it's going to be unless more is done to stop it.

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