Under the headline ‘On ‘Nightline,’ a Grim Sweeps Roll Call,’ Lisa de Moraes, the WaPo’s astute TV columnist, reports on Ted Koppel’s plan to read all the names of the more than 500 soldiers who have died in Iraq tonight.

‘Nightline’ executive producer Leroy Sievers is quoted saying that tonight’s program will be a way to ‘remind our viewers’whether they agree with the war or not’that beyond the casualty numbers, these men and women are serving in Iraq in our names, and that those who have been killed have names and faces.’

‘This is good to know,’ writes de Moraes, ‘because otherwise we might be left thinking that Friday’s broadcast, which ABC will simulcast on its Jumbotron in New York’s Times Square, is a cheap, content-free stunt designed to tug at our heartstrings and bag a big number on the second night of the May ratings race.’

Of course, the Koppel show isn’t the only outfit playing war games….

Anti-war New York Rep. Charles Rangel’s call to restore the draft is another example. Rangel may pretend he just wants to ensure that we all do our bit, but his real aim is transparent.

The move to publish pictures of the coffins of US soldiers killed in the Middle East is another war game. I found the pictures of the flag draped coffins solemn and noble but clap your hands if you believe that’s why the media is so hot to show the photographs.

But this brings up a question that has been bothering me lately: Must we hide the reality of war? ‘This you must never say,’ writes Fred Reed, a cynical Vietnam vet (and a marvelous writer whose postwar hatred of war makes one think Erich Maria Remarque). ‘Wars are better if you don’t look too closely. Never, ever, think about what is actually happening.’

Whatever its rightness or wrongness, Vietnam was a war we opted not to win. We sent soldiers to die long after we knew we weren’t fighting to win.
I want to believe that, as long as we plan to win in Iraq, Fred Reed is wrong, that it doesn’t matter if ABC and Charles Rangel play war games, as long as the government isn’t playing games. But I just don’t know.

What I do know is that we’d better win, even if this means using our weapons as deadly fire instead of Fourth of July fireworks. Shock and awe are no substitute for eliminating the enemy.