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When contemplating war, beware of babies in incubators

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More than 10 years later, I can still recall my brother Sean's face. It was bright red. Furious. Not one given to fits of temper, Sean was in an uproar. He was a father, and he had just heard that Iraqi soldiers had taken scores of babies out of incubators in Kuwait City and left them to die. The Iraqis had shipped the incubators back to Baghdad. A pacifist by nature, my brother was not in a peaceful mood that day. "We've got to go and get Saddam Hussein. Now," he said passionately.

I completely understood his feelings. Although I had no family of my own then, who could countenance such brutality? The news of the slaughter had come at a key moment in the deliberations about whether the US would invade Iraq. Those who watched the non-stop debates on TV saw that many of those who had previously wavered on the issue had been turned into warriors by this shocking incident.

Too bad it never happened. The babies in the incubator story is a classic example of how easy it is for the public and legislators to be mislead during moments of high tension. It's also a vivid example of how the media can be manipulated if we do not keep our guards up.

The invented story eventually broke apart and was exposed. (I first saw it reported in December of 1992 on CBC-TV's Fifth Estate – Canada's "60 Minutes" – in a program called "Selling the War." The show later won an international Emmy.) But it's been 10 years since it happened, and we again find ourselves facing dramatic decisions about war. It is instructive to look back at what happened, in order that we do not find ourselves deceived again, by either side in the issue.

Iraq invaded Kuwait in August of 1990. As the BBC reported: "The country's ruler, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, fled into exile in his armour plated Mercedes, across the desert to neighbouring Saudi Arabia."

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