Author’s Note: This unpublished essay was written in April 2003. Initial and continuing military actions in Iraq, primarily by one aggressor nation, have cast the long shadow of criminal behavior that heretofore has placed civilian and military war-wagers of rogue regimes in the dock, charged and convicted of crimes against humanity.

“War is a dreadful thing, and unjust war is a crime against humanity. But it is such a crime because it is unjust, not because it is war.”

— Theodore Roosevelt,

Speech at the Sorbonne, April 23, 1910.

NEWPORT, R.I. — On a gray afternoon of snow squalls, as an unrelenting wind hurled sleet off the Atlantic, I sat outside a reception room inside The Breakers, the 19th-century 70-room “cottage” built for Cornelius Vanderbilt, watching visitors congregate to view the splendors of a grand house. I did not know it then, but at that very moment one of Saddam Hussein’s presidential palaces was being looted by Iraqi louts, even as American military liberators did nothing to prevent the pillage.

When I returned to an apartment overlooking the harbor, I watched this destruction as filmed by a CNN crew and described by the cable network’s on-the-scene reporter. A day later, televised scenes revealed marauders stripping Iraq’s National Museum of thousands of priceless artifacts, thus diminishing the region’s cultural heritage — vandalism Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed as the cost of war. (Commanders on site said they did not have sufficient troops to repel paramilitary resistance in Baghdad or to deploy adequate force to protect the city’s national landmarks and art treasures from roving bands of barbarians.)

Mr. Rumsfeld later recanted his war-spawns-looters comment. Instead, he offered to reward the thieves with our tax dollars if they would return their plunder. This was genuine “shock and awe” — American invaders who could not or would not quell the looters; invaders who themselves showered in the palace baths and reposed on ornate drawing-room chairs. When their civilian boss back in Washington announced that American dollars would be made available to reward the pillagers for the return of their pelf — Mr. Rumsfeld initiated an expensive scavenger hunt.

With the exception of viewing the Eisenhower House in Fort Adams Park, where Ike established his summer White House, and Hammersmith Farm, where Jacqueline Bouvier and John F. Kennedy danced on their wedding day, chill winds off Narragansett Bay, choppy water in Newport harbor and gusts of slanting rain along Thames Street kept me indoors where I followed the progress of Operation Iraqi Freedom via the tube.

It was then that I took full notice of the political and military objectives being espoused by our war planners and executors. On the second day of this immersion, certain words and familiar phrases repeated by Pentagon voices at home and those in uniform closer to the battlefield reminded me of other war planners in another war. There was something in the official rhetoric and strategy that took me back six decades to the Goring Memorandum. It was then, in June of 1940, that Reichmarschall Hermann Goring posited a military course of action that would defeat Britain solely by superior German air power — a plan readily endorsed by Adolf Hitler. The details were drafted by Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, the Fuhrer’s chief war strategist. Titled The Continuation of the War Against England, this document declared:

If political methods should fail to achieve their object, England’s will to resist must be broken by force.

(a) By attacks upon the English homeland.

(b) By an extension of the war peripherally.

So far as (a) is concerned, there are three possibilities:

(1) Siege. This includes attack by land and sea against all incoming and outgoing traffic. Attack on the English air arm and on the country’s war economy and its sources as a whole.

(2) Terror attacks against the English centers of population.

(3) Invasion with the purpose of occupying England.

The final victory of Germany over England is now only a question of time. Offensive enemy operations on a large scale are no longer a possibility.

To achieve these objectives, General Jodl, as chief of operations, signed off on many orders that breached international law. The document he drafted to defeat England damned him at his trial in Nuremberg, where he was convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death. He was hanged on Oct. 16, 1946. The same tribunal convicted Hermann Goring as guilty on all charges of war crimes and sentenced him to die on the same day as Jodl. Goring was unwilling to accept the Gotterdammerung proposed by the court. He forsook the hangman’s rope by swallowing a draft of poison on the eve of his appointment with the gallows.

In the aftermath of Operation Iraqi Freedom — surely a non sequitur par excellence — the question of whether Iraq’s invaders and occupiers ever will face a war-crimes tribunal is unanswerable today, April 17, 2003.

Richard Kepler Brunner is a longtime seasonal visitor to the Vineyard. A retired editorial page editor of a Times-Mirror newspaper, he lives in Emmaus, Pa., and contributes occasional commentary pieces to the Gazette.