Go to previous post:
If the creek don’t rise,

Go to Electrolite's front page.

Go to next post:
Journalist Charles Pierce,

Our Admirable Sponsors

January 16, 2003

Remember Gulf War I? No you don’t.
I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengance, more desolation. War is hell. (William Tecumseh Sherman)
[11:04 PM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Remember:

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 10:41 AM:

Great Sherman Quote: can I expect to find that as I plow through Battle Cry of Freedom?. Only finished one chapter, but McPherson's detail is great, and I'm sure I'll end up buying this rather than continuously extending it from the library. I hate being rushed when something is this good (took me almost a year to read Johnson's Modern Times).

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 11:21 AM:

Gulp. It was hard to make myself go on, especially after that first stark image. I kept wondering if there wasn't some kind of horrible voyeurism involved, as if looking was somehow an invasion of privacy.

Yet I felt a moral obligation to look, and see... and try to understand. The human mind is not good at grasping such things. We have defenses; we simplify. We retreat to previously held positions. We invoke colliding cliches: "War is hell." / "A just war." Which one gets more weight depends on what we bring to the moment.

Vicki Rosenzweig ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 11:31 AM:

What I remember is what it was like to be watching the war: the surreal experience of live broadcasts from Baghdad at night, all in green from the weapons fire; being, it seemed, the only American willing to travel abroad that winter; the t-shirts that sprang up as if the war was half football game, half personal grudge.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 12:29 PM:

I am not, he noted again, a pacifist. I'm against this war.

Michael Rawdon ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 01:00 PM:

I turned 22 on the day the Gulf War started. (What a stupid name, "Gulf War". We weren't fighting a geographical feature!) At the time it was believed by many that the war might last for years, might be "another Vietnam". This clearly turned out to be false, but I was extremely concerned that a new draft would be implemented, and I was obviously at a prime age to be drafted.

Cowboy Kahlil ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 01:00 PM:

I'm in favor of eliminating Al Qaida. (Funny, where did all those color alerts disappear to lately?)

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 01:25 PM:

My cousin Steve was an Army pilot (choppers) in the Gulf War. The Mile of Death described here I believe was described by the soldiers present as a "turkey shoot." The Iraqis were trapped and the airplanes blasted the hell out of them. Disgusting as it was to view a carbonized Iraqi soldier, at first I was wondering how many Kuwaitis he might have raped and murdered before he left and met his doom. But then I thought about what wife, children, brothers and sisters he might have left behind when he got conscripted.

I found the images of the Kurds whom Bush 1 left hanging out to dry the most moving part of this series. If there's a single thing that turned this right-leaner against GB1 (after his administration's disgusting equivocating during Tianenman Square), it was the way the Kurds were abandoned.

That said, the captions that go with some of these (for example, the insinuation that Saddam's soldiers and not Saddam lost the war) I found a tad disingenuous. Are we supposed to believe the Iraqi soldiers started the war? To blame them for the loss of the war as Turnley seems to do is a bit grotesque.

I don't suppose we'll ever be treated to the Unseen Iran Iraq War, which was also started by Saddam, and which killed millions more of his countrymen and his neighbors.

Bush 1 blew it when he left Saddam in power. I am not opposed to this new war, because I believe we cannot leave Saddam in power.

Having said that, I respect and wish well everyone here who is going to demonstrate this weekend, and their reasons for doing so.

Emma ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 01:28 PM:

Hey, Cowboy, didn't you hear? "This is bigger than any one man." Grr.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 02:13 PM:

There are no aesthetically pleasing ways to die.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 02:58 PM:

No aesthetically pleasing ways to die... That's true enough. Nevertheless, in just two days it will be National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I think the first picture in that series needs to go on a poster to celebrate that newly declared special day.

blufive ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 03:05 PM:

Actually, several pictures in a similar vein made it into the British press at the time. They were one of the things that re-arranged my then fairly gung-ho attitude to war into something resembling its current semi-pacifist state.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 04:04 PM:

The thing of it is, if one is not a pacifist, then these pictures should not per se constitute an argument against this or any other war. They're certainly horrible to look at (and if this isn't a grotesque statement, wonderfully photographed) but I'm trying to imagine what exactly the impact of them ought to be in the context of Gulf War I or II.

A serious, philosophically consistent pacifist (of which very few of the johnny-come-lately temporarily fervent pacifists on the US left are) could hold these photographs up as proof of why war and violence are terrible evils. Though I'd expect a serious, consistent pacifist to add those photos to a portfolio of horror that would include 9/11 photos, suicide bombing in Israel photos, and so on.

Someone who supported Gulf War I should look at those photos and say, "Terrible, but I already knew that happened. It's a damn shame it came to that." Someone who supports Gulf War II should say, "It'll be a damn shame if that happens again, but if it has to, it has to."

The only person I can imagine looking at those photos as representing in and of themselves a persuasive argument on either Gulf War would be someone who supported military action only if it involved absolutely minimal casualties, and at the point at which there are more than a handful of dead and injured, they withdraw their support. Which, I submit, is someone who is kind of a doofus to begin with.

Myke ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 04:33 PM:

From Jonah Goldberg's column at JWR:

"Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist," George Orwell wrote in 1942. "This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help out that of the other."

Al Hunter ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 05:11 PM:

...and if you continually bully and threaten, you create hostility and conflict where none previously existed.

Orwell's quote is not elementary common sense; it's a non sequitur.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 05:55 PM:

Have the conservative blowhard pundits who wave around Orwell neatly trimmed quotes ever actually read an entire Orwell book?

Like _Homage to Catalonia_, where -- while he does indeed slam the feuding, truth-twisting, self-serving leftist factions, and does indeed blast his former cohort of pacifists -- he reserves considerable bile for class-ridden capitalist British society, and the right-wing politicians who are equally culpable in the rise of fascism?

I doubt it. Orwell's recent popularity amoung the blowhards is attempt to rewrite history. "Oh, if only today's leftists were as principled as Orwell, who as we can see from these snippets _thought just like we do!_"

There's a lovely bit in _Homage to Catalonia_ in which he sarcastically longs for the Next War (WWII) because, thanks to long distance air-raids, hawkish jingoists will be as liable to be killed as the guys they send to the front.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 05:57 PM:

Treebeard, on the other hand, said "Well, I am not altogether on anyone's side. There are those, however, whose side I am entirely not on." (From memory; don't have the book with me.)

Quote from a different context, different war, different century, different threat-level. In those ways it's at least as applicable as Orwell's.

I didn't know Orwell was such a jerk. Everyone laugh at my ignorance.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 06:00 PM:

Or maybe not. Laugh some more.

Any way I can get this egg off my face without betraying my cool exterior?

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 07:00 PM:

Yes, Timothy -- one thought that started running through my head was about those American soldiers photographed standing around afterwards, looking at the dead up close, complete with color and odor.

What were they thinking, so calm and cool? The same as me? Likely not, but maybe yes, some of them. It would not be acceptable to show it, but how many went home after the war and had nightmares about charcoaled faces and arms? Couldn't push away the thought that those dead men were human, had mothers and wives, felt fear, had not had a choice about being in the army?

How many of them, in the process of pushing those disturbing thoughts away, resolved the dilemma by deciding that those filthy towelheads weren't really human, anyway?

"I shot him dead because--
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although ..."

Is that doubt real? Surely. Universal? I don't know. Controlling? For many, evidently not, and perhaps it shouldn't be.

Still, you wouldn't have to be a pacifist to take a message from all that blackened flesh that a war must never be launched lightly -- that those who would do so for base motives, whether for injured pride, or greed, or revenge, or a lust for power, are truly the enemies of humanity.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 07:30 PM:

I should add that I also agree with Sun Tse: in war, the worst evil is to cause needless suffering to the people through incompetence. A good general is one who wins the war with as few battles as possible. The greatest general is the one who wins without a battle.

Al Hunter ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2003, 09:34 PM:

Stefan: There's a blonde waiting for you by the banana.

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 08:11 AM:

Oh why do I always end up the warmonger in these comments? But, writing in 1942, Orwell was right. If you did not take up arms against Hitler, nor help in any other way with the war effort you were, obhjectively, helping him a little. Of course, this leaves a lot of wriggle room. There are plenty of services that a country at war needs, which a pacifist can supply. The Quaker ambulance brigades are, objectively, helping the army whose wounded they succour.

The important proviso here is that rhis is not 1942, and Saddam is not Hitler.

Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 11:48 AM:

No, it's not 1942. It's not even 1939. It's 1914, before Orwell.

Vicki Rosenzweig ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 12:54 PM:

It's not 1942, Saddam is not Hitler, and by the exact same logic, an Iraqi pacifist is inherently pro-US.

There is a major difference between opposing the war when your nation has been and is being attacked--Britain in 1942--and opposing starting a war against a nation that has not attacked you.

As I seem to keep pointing out, the men who attacked us on 11 September 2001 were not Iraqi or Iraqi-funded. They were from Saudi Arabia. With allies like that, what's an enemy?

Gary Farber ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2003, 01:02 PM:

The time is now 2003.

Whatever can be learned from this visit to the future should be learned.

It's, you know, a different river that we step in.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 10:58 AM:

Myke Cole writes:

From Jonah Goldberg's column at JWR:

"Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist," George Orwell wrote in 1942. "This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help out that of the other."
It's a pity, for this argument and for those who rely on Jonah Goldberg to be right about anything, that Orwell later explicitly rejected this. Writing in 1944, he remarked that the argument that one should refrain from criticising X because it would "objectively" help Y is "a tempting manoeuvre and I have used it myself more than once, but it is dishonest."

What's most notable about the "if you aren't for X you're objectively pro-Y" boilerplate is that, historically, it is one of the most distinctive and characteristic arguments of Stalinism. Which makes sense, when you consider how many of the leading "neoconservative" hawks are intellectual emigres from various precincts of sectarian Marxist-Leninism. This isn't the first time I've heard Stalinist or Trotskyist hokum used to argue for this war, and it probably won't be the last. Myke Cole is a nice guy and no former Stalinist, but the arguments he's passing on have that ancestry. To quote the several dozen "counter-demonstrators" I saw yesterday in DC, Myke, your red roots are showing.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 11:18 AM:

Let me answer something else upthread. Timothy Burke writes:

The thing of it is, if one is not a pacifist, then these pictures should not per se constitute an argument against this or any other war.
Indeed not. I invite Timothy to point out where I deployed these pictures as "an argument against this or any other war."

In fact, the point of my post was the contrast between the images of Gulf War I we were shown in then mass media at the time, and the images we can now see.

You don't have to be a pacifist (reminder: I am not) or opposed to this upcoming war (I am that) or even William Tecumseh Sherman (I'm not him, either) to think that perhaps we should remind ourselves once in a while of some of what war entails. Those who think I'm just a kneejerk opponent of any war, or hostile to the military and to martial virtues, are invited to peruse the archives of this weblog. I'm a little tired of feeling the need to demonstrate that I am not, in fact, Joan Baez.

Cowboy Kahlil ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 06:37 PM:

I'm a little tired of feeling the need to demonstrate that I am not, in fact, Joan Baez.

It's so hard to keep from confusing all the bearded folksingers these days. ;-)

Btw, have you ever seen Ciriello's war zone photography from around the world?
Postcards from Hell

Such excellent work. Lately, though, there seems to be a spate of casualties among journalists, and I was pretty saddened when the news came that
Ciriello had been murdered.

One thing I recall from the first Gulf war was how Saddam's army recruited. They'd sweep through Iraqi villages, grab every healthy man in an age range of about 13-35, and move on to the next. Those forced conscripts became their front line resistance and many simply surrendered at the outset... if they had a chance to.

The pros, the infamous Republican Guard, were relatively untouched and untested by that war.

I do not doubt that many in Iraq would rejoice if Hussein falls. I would love to see him gone. But I do not believe that abandoning a successful containment strategy via a newly defined pre-emption doctrine that does not square with long-held US principles is either necessary nor smart.

Publishing photos and accounts of a war's impact is not an argument to one side to not go to war again. They are reminders to all sides, everywhere, why war should be avoided wherever possible, in pursuit of more civilized methods of conflict resolution.

Myke ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2003, 09:41 PM:

Ack! Quite a surprise to find out I have Stalinist leanings. I'll be sure to avoid ice-picks in the future.

I disagree with a lot of what Goldberg writes, but here's what made that Orwell quote resonate for me: I'm a Methodist, and our Council of Bishops came out solidly AGAINST the war. They did so publically, and vocally condemned it from the pulpit (without consulting the congregation). Now what effect do you think that has on the morale of the soldiers in the congregation who now know they are going off to fight a war that their church utterly condemns?

In this sense Orwell is RIGHT. The quote is NOT dishonest. I don't think anyone is arguing motivations, only effects. Look, I support your 1st amendment rights. By all means, protest, speak out, let your voices be heard (I LIKE hearing your voices, why do you think I'm so addicted to this blog?) But you need to keep in mind what effects your voices have. You're smart people, most of you are quite eloquent. People listen to you.

Andrew Brown ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2003, 03:34 AM:

I entirely take Vicky's point about the difference between wartime and peacetime pacifism. I marched against the war in London last Easter, when I thought there was still a chance that public opinion might shift Tony Blair. And what happened? The fucking Queen Mother died that afternoon and no one noticed that demo at all. I marched in the autumn, when it was probably already too late. I won't march again.
Now, from over here, it feels that the war has already started. Only the fighting hasn't. I regret this. I think the war was not necessary, and is not a good idea. But, since there is no longer anything we can do to stop the fighting, the best thing to do is to hope for a fairly quick and fairly bloodless victory. That seems to me the least worst outcome now available. It's not a good one, leaving aside all questions of justice, regional instability and so on, if only because it will persuade the war party in Washington that they can get away with anything, and this hubris will probably be followed by a painful and expensive nemesis. But given what a catastrophe for the whole world a nemesis for America would be, I'd like to postpone it as long as possible.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2003, 09:56 AM:

Wasn't accusing you of being a pacifist, PNH. Mostly just suggesting that the photos are not themselves a persuasive argument in any direction--though they are a useful reminder, as you say, of the costs and horrors of war--something that EVERYONE should reminded of at this moment in time.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2003, 06:05 PM:

I've been much saddened by the way "pacifist" has become something one is accused of being. I'm a pacifist. I think that making war is wrong, and that circumstances only make war practically unavoidable, not morally right.

To head off one common criticism, I honour those who volunteer to risk and, in some cases, sacrifice their lives for the protection of their countries. I'd much prefer that the profession of soldier were obsolete, but clearly it is not.

Dana ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2003, 03:25 PM:

I view a nation's military as serving the same purpose as the immune system of the human body. Its purpose is to protect the nation from harm. No more and no less.

I am essentially a pacifist in the sense that it is ridiculous, not to mention dangerous, for a nation to use its military to be constantly picking fights with other nations. In the human body we call that an allergic reaction. And it can kill you.

Some of you may doubtless bring up the parallel of disease control -- stopping the spread of bacteria and viruses in other individuals before those germs can invade your own body. But we don't use our immune systems to do this. We use other means.

On all kinds of levels this proposed second Gulf War makes absolutely no sense.