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April 2, 2003

Pray for us now and in the hour of our death.
“Cease fire!” Johnson yelled over the radio. Then, as he peered into his binoculars from the intersection on Highway 9, he roared at the platoon leader, “You just [expletive] killed a family because you didn’t fire a warning shot soon enough!”
That’s from “embedded” Washington Post reporter William Branigan’s account of Monday’s awful scene on Highway 9, where US forces wound up killing five adults and five children packed into a Toyota van.
Fifteen Iraqi civilians were packed inside the Toyota, officers said, along with as many of their possessions as the jammed vehicle could hold. Ten of them, including five children who appeared to be under 5 years old, were killed on the spot when the high-explosive rounds slammed into their target, Johnson’s company reported. Of the five others, one man was so severely injured that medics said he was not expected to live.
Liberal Oasis notes that Branigan’s eyewitness account contradicts the official line that warning shots were in fact fired. Who’s right? I don’t know. But score one for independence even among “embedded” reporters.
“It was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen, and I hope I never see it again,” Sgt. Mario Manzano, 26, an Army medic with Bravo Company of the division’s 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, said later in an interview. He said one of the wounded women sat in the vehicle holding the mangled bodies of two of her children. “She didn’t want to get out of the car,” he said.
Then again, as LO points out, the New York Times and the AP both followed the official line, so score one, debit two.

God knows the soldiers have reason to be scared; the innocent-looking vehicle full of apparent civilians could indeed be the next suicide bomb attack. But these rules of engagement (from the London Daily Mirror) seem pretty scary in themselves:

Troops were told that if those in cars or trucks do not obey orders within five seconds they can open fire.
Okay, that’s the Mirror, not the most completely reliable source. Corrections or amplications welcome. Back to Branigan’s Washington Post account, there’s this:
To try to prevent a recurrence, Johnson ordered that signs be posted in Arabic to warn people to stop well short of the Bradleys guarding the eastern approach to the intersection.
That might be an idea. You know, actually communicating with terrified civilians in their own language, before you kill them.
Medics gave the group 10 body bags. U.S. officials offered an unspecified amount of money to compensate them.

“They wanted to bury them before the dogs got to them,” said Cpl. Brian Truenow, 28, of Townsend, Mass.

Before anyone starts: This isn’t about how US soldiers are evil monsters or something. This is just about how war really, really sucks. [08:49 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Pray for us now and in the hour of our death.:

spacewaitress ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 09:51 AM:

I read this story this morning. It made me ill. I don't know what else to say about it. The quote from the mother, where she said she saw her two little girls' heads come off, is absolutely heartbreaking.

This may not be about how US soldiers are evil monsters, but it's certainly not going to make us look any better in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Jeff Crook ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 10:15 AM:

Last night on So Graham Norton, Graham said of coming to New York from London, (I don't recall the exact quote) "You come over here and watch the news and all of a sudden we're winning!"

Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 10:40 AM:

I want to forstall the conclusion that this is no one's fault before someone says it. I agree that this is how war is: people get scared, try to comply with difficult and quite possibly contradictory orders, use the best judgement they can under a lot of stress and - unsurprisingly - don't want to die. No, the soldiers who were there are not the ones I want to hang out to dry for this, nor is this a sign that the US military is institutionally evil, or at least not any more evil than plenty of other armies. But there is a bad guy here.

People know - or at least should know - that this is exactly the sort of thing that happens in all but the most restrained conflicts, which this one clearly isn't. The blame belongs to those who consciously sought to bring this conflict about. This - and it is important to remember it - is George W. Bushes fault. It is not his fault alone, but it is his decision and his authority and it is his responsibility to justify it.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 11:17 AM:

Did anyone doubt that war is all hell and cannot be refined?

For this reason war should only be the last resort, embarked upon only after all other means have been exhausted, undertaken only for the most serious of reasons.

James Landrith ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 11:29 AM:

The comments from Cpl Dupre in the UPI story (http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20030330-034724-7264r) are disgusting and indicative of his need to be pulled to the rear and given a psychiatric evaluation.

Cpl. Ryan Dupre reportedly said: "I am starting to hate this country. Wait until I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him."

Cpl Dupre is a non-commissioned officer, and as such he is expected to act as a leader to those Lance Corporals, PFC's and Privates in his charge. His remarks are not in keeping with the responsibility of his rank. I say this a former Marine who reached the rank of Sergeant. Cpl Dupre can thank his lucky stars that I am no longer wearing a uniform, let alone in his chain of command. If this report is accurate, Dupre's comments are a disgrace and dishonor to the uniform he wears. He has no business wearing it any longer.

robert west ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 11:35 AM:

It's hard to say it's the fault of the soldiers when Iraq has been using, and is threatening to continue using, suicide bombing as a military tactic; the next van that doesn't stop at a checkpoint could take the lives of the people guarding the checkpoint, and the soldiers know it.

I believe that the decision to go to war encompassed the decision to have American soldiers do things like this; and to a great extent that's why I was opposed to the war in the first place.

Invisible Adjunct ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 04:53 PM:

This past weekend the NYTimes had a good article on "the moral and tactical confusion" surrounding guerilla warfare ("The War in Iraq Turns Ugly. That's What Wars Do"), by James Webb, who was a Marine platoon commander in Vietnam.

Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 05:00 PM:

Actually, it is possible to lay a little blame.

The tactics employed by the Fedayeen which resulted in the creation of checkpoints like this were predictable, and predicted. Given the likely need for checlpoints, specialized checkpoint units (perhaps composed of MPs) should have been taught appropriate arabic and farsi commands and signs in arabic should have been prepared. These units should have received realistic training culminating in execises with Kuwaitis playing approaching civilians and fedayeen in realistic conditions.

It could have and should have been done.

But, yeah- war is like this.

It should also be acknowledged that it appears that there is less horror like this in this war than in any conflict of similar size in history...

That's not meant in any way to suggest that the horror experienced by one mother in watching one child get blown to pieces is somehow reduced by the fact that it is happening less often than it might have.

Nor is the horror of this mass killing reduced because it happens in the same state where families are routinely tortured, raped and killed by the tyrant in power and his family.

But if you are categorically opposed to a war to replace this brutal, homicidal dictatorship, you must either agree that its violence and horror is not worth preventing or propose something realistic, other than war, that can be done to prevent it.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 05:11 PM:

Hey, Adam, ever hear of the rule of the excluded middle, aka the Black Swan fallacy?

You've got 'worth a war' and 'not worth a war, but terribly important and must be addressed', with respect to the brutality and repression of Saddam's Ba'thist regieme.

What you *don't* have in your list is 'not something we can do with a war, or otherwise'; there are lots of things you can't do with a war, or at all, and imposed social change people welcome is one of them.

The people of Iraq want to be better off; they don't all define better off the same way, but they all have 'under the control of foreigners' defined as 'worse off', and somewhere in the planning for this particular fiasco that got lost.

Kent Roller ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 06:29 PM:

My step brother was a Marine in Gulf War I. His photo appeared on the March 5, 1991 cover of Time. He shot with his Nikon, never with his M-16. While he was stationed at an Iraq-Kuwait border checkpoint, a sedan approuched. The standing order at the time was - which had been announced to all coalition forces and Kuwaiti citizens - approach check points with your headlights on to indicate you were not hostile. This sedan did not have its headlights on. The gunner behind the .50 caliber opened fire. The young Kuwaiti couple in the vehicle was instantly killed.

When my step brother first told me this story, I remember asking who's "bright" idea was it to require lit head lamps to indicate your were a freindly. (When at every military base one is required to DIM their headlights at the gate, and when lightbulbs have a tendancy to blow out.)

I have a point, I think. Oh yeah. Whether or not our troops obey the check point procedures to the letter, it seems that the rules have been vastly improved for this Gulf War. That we are attempting to refine the rules of war is about the only positive thing that can be said. But it is positive, even if the entire situation and the individual catastrophies are horrible.

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 07:35 PM:

Just possibly the folks at the checkpoint were and are willing to risk their own lives but also felt that as between the risk of allowing hostile actions in the Allied rear and killing innocents it was necessary that errors be on the side of protecting the rear [not Ghod don't let me die but Ghod don't let me fuck up] even at the cost of killing children - as someone said elsewhere it is hard on junior officers when a begging child drops a hand grenade into a fighting hole - Catch 22 anybody who doesn't need to be pulled from the line for psych is obviously crazy.

marty ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2003, 11:37 PM:

And the assumption that if they post a sign in Arabic someone will be able to read it, much less take the time while fleeing to do so.

Scott Lynch ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 01:11 AM:

It's sure as heck better than nothing, Marty.

quinn ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 02:46 AM:

i keep thinking that there is more to this than war being hell- that there is some responsibility to be more prepared that we have been, that this is a logistical nightmare playing out. like signposting roadblocks, or, heaven forfend, asking the locals how saddam's regime communicated roadblocks and using a variation of that. there are both formal and informal international methods of quickly communicating danger to people despite cultural and linguistic barriers. they don't always work, but that hardly seems the problem here. the problem here is that on so many levels the administration hasn't bothered to think this through, and haven't given the military what they need to fight the war we need.

Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 02:52 AM:


But ending the power of tyrants is something that can be achieved through war.

Italians, Germans, and Japanese who have lived in imposed Democratic regimes since the middle of the last century may provide some evidence that imposed social change is something you can do with war.

I think it is rather too early in the development of "this particular fiasco" to know if all Iraqis agree on what constitutes an improvement in the governance of their country. Some people, notably in areas where the Baath members and Fedayeen have been removed have expressed approval of the war.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 03:20 AM:

Various Iraqis are delighted to see Saddam go, yes; that's very, very different -- and they've been clear about that, too -- from being in favour of a prolonged occupation, or accepting foreign control of their oil industry.

Ending the power of tyrants is *not* something you can do through war. You can, at great cost, kill the particular tyrant, but that is not sufficent to end the power of tyrants. (Lots and lots of them have died, down the length of the history, after all.)

Tyrants do not rule by sheer force of personality; tyrants rule by pyramidal networks of local thugs, enforcers, informers, and bosses.

In the case of Japan, the occupying Americans hanged those people by the neck until dead; in the case of Germany, it was messier in implementation but very similar in effect. Italy -- by switching sides -- didn't have this happen to it; Italy's current government is essentially fascist.

If you want real forcible regieme change in Iraq, you're in effect advocating that the entire Ba'thist party, the members of the Republican and Special Republican Guard officer corps (at least), and all the membes of the Fadeen Militia be executed out of hand by the occupying forces.

Don't kid yourself about what happened to Germany and Japan; their cities burned, and their people were slaughtered, and their armies were ground into dust. Forces are still present in Germany and Japan, fifty years later, that began as occupying forces.

That's not what is claimed to be in the plan for Iraq; if it's not, leaving the mechanism of tyrany -- which is people, the old boy's network, at least as much as it is laws or guns -- in place more or less garuntees that there will be no subsequence democracy.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 04:02 AM:

My thought was as to whose bright idea it was to set up roadblocks, then forgot to pack traffic cones. Even setting up a sign in Arabic would have been simple, or just the simple expedient of parking an empty car in the middle of the road.

The idea of "firing warning shots" is ludicrous. Most people, driving down the freeway, if they hear the sound of gunshots, will speed up to get away from them.

The explanation that they were yelling orders doesn't hold much water either. I'm pretty certain that everyone's Arabic pronunciation is abyssmal and no one would be able to understand what they thought they were yelling.

Yes, it's a tragedy. Hopefully now that it's happened, it will prevent a few more as the US/UK forces get the idea to put up actual signs in Arabic, and the locals hear about it and slow down when they see them.

Scott Martens ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 04:27 AM:

There is a worse failing in Adam's argument than the misapplication of the law of the excluded middle: misapplying means-ends analysis. The great failing of that sort of utilitarian calculus is to believe first that ends can be determined in advance - like knowing that America will replace Saddam Hussein with something better - and that the means used to obtain those ends are independent of the actual outcome.

The world is full of people who have fought for their independence from foreign rule even when that was plainly against their best interests in every other way. They have fought to defend dictators that they despise rather than see themselves ruled by outsiders. Iraq seems to be the kind of place where that sort of outcome is most likely. It is not clear to me that the people of Iraq would prefer to be ruled even benevolently from Washington rather than have Saddam Hussein, and Washington has a poor record as a source of benevolent overlords. Utilitarian calculus is first misapplied by assuming that, given a choice between George Bush and Saddam Hussein they will pick George Bush. Even utilitarians don't claim that people should generally be ruled by other people's preferences.

Second, ends don't justify means, means create ends. Cruel means lead to cruel outcomes. I don't know how many times I've heard this argument used against left-wing revolutions. The brutality of the Russian revolution made it difficult to rule Russia with anything less than brute force, and the guillotine in the French Revolution led straight to the terrors of Jacobinism, while the relatively mild methods of American revolutionaries made the moderation of the American state possible.

It is only in the aftermath of WWII that a harsh war did not lead directly to an equally harsh occupation, and that was more out of fear of a new enemy than anything else. I'm hard pressed to think of a single other case. Taking control of a country by brute force means ruling that country in the same way. War destroys any alternative way of administering the state. Iraq would not, even if this invasion had been conducted by better people, become one whit less of a dictatorship in the hands of occupiers.

The onus is not on me to provide an alternative to Saddam Hussein. The onus, Adam, is on you to show that the means used in this war will lead to better ends, that their present application represents a desired improvement to those who must suffer through it. So far, I'm told Iraq will be ruled by people appointed by George Bush instead of people appointed by Saddam Hussein. On the balance, this is moderately less democracy, not more. So far, I have seen the United States government justify torture, extrajudicial executions and indefinite detention in the pursuit of its goals. Those means will create horrifying ends, as I strongly doubt that the restoration of human rights will trump the instinct to "protect the troops" by whatever means necessary. Shredding international law and breaking old treaties are means that do not lead to the establishment of the rule of law. So far, this war has not improved the lives of Iraqis one bit, and history offers few examples of occupations that were gentler than the war that precipitated them.

When you start to decide that you can balance someone else's life against your goals, it becomes very hard to stop. Once you start saying that some Iraqis must die in order for the rest to be freed from Saddam, you will find it hard not to justify killing a few more to keep law and order, or to protect the occupying troops, or to establish a new government. At each step, your beliefs about the needs of the many will easily trump the horrors visited on the few, until the ends fade into an ever more distant future and serve no purpose but to justify present cruelty.

The inherent evil in such thinking is exactly why tradition, conventional international law and even the Nurenburg principles forbid wars where the peace has not already been broken. This, and not some anachronistic defence of "national sovereignty", is why so many people are reticent even to allow a humanitarian exception. To allow one power, or in America's case one man, to rule alone on the merits of other people's lives is vastly more horrifying than Saddam Hussein. You need to show that the establishment of _that_ end is better. Weakly claiming that no matter how bad war is, it must be better than Saddam Hussein does not cut it.

Jane Yolen ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 07:06 AM:

Thank you, Scott. What I was thinking and could never have articulated half so well.


Dzeb ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 10:45 AM:

>Italy's current government is essentially >fascist.

Italy's current government also supports Israel against the EU.

John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 11:01 AM:

There's an interesting post on this at the "L.T. Smash" blog -- he being a reservist currently in Iraq. The gist is that among the Iraqis, the rumor is that Saddam took the women's husbands and told them that if they didn't rush the checkpost, the husbands would be shot.


The entry doesn't claim it as truth, merely that the author wouldn't be surprised if it were true.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 11:18 AM:

Nor would I. This is a known tactic of the regime.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 11:55 AM:

1. Combat troops make lousy traffic cops.

2. Most places, signs or no signs, combat troops carrying weapons and surrounded by armored vehicles means "stay away."

3. Of all the "how to surrender" pamphlets dropped on Iraq, I bet that none instructed people who were attempting to approach US troops to do so at high rates of speed in vehicles.

4. War is ghastly. Really. Even Low-Intensity Conflict let alone high-tempo ops. It cannot be refined. No one comes away unchanged.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 12:52 PM:

According to this MSNBC story, the survivors say they thought an air-dropped leaflet had told them to flee for safety, and they had been waved through a previous checkpoint safely.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 03:28 PM:

Graydon provides the theoretical background for a position that I largely agree with. The specific background that I've read is that the Bush administration plans to ]decapitate[ the Ba'ath party but use its bureaucracy to keep Iraq operating (in the way Somalia (e.g.) isn't). This does not augur well.

Besides being smashed flat and occupied long-term, there are also a number of other differences between Germany/Japan and Iraq. The obvious one is that only the most marginalized whackos had a good word for G/J after World War II, while the Arab street is overwhelmingly in favor of Saddam. (This morning's paper even quotes people saying "Saddam is vile but I love the way he's standing up to the U.S.") I'd also suggest (as a gross simplification) that the ethos of both Axis countries involved obedience, which made taking over the reins and reorganizing a lot easier; taking over a regime based on force and making it work without continuing to use similar force will be (another gross simplification) difficult.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 04:14 PM:

It's all about how legitimacy is constructed.

Traditionally, in the United States, that's been by means of voting; the current administration is part and parcel of a very determined effort to change that so that there's a requirement for moral legitimacy. (Eg., the claims that Clinton wasn't a legitimate president on moral grounds, and never mind the duly elected part.)

How political legitimacy is constructed in Iraq, after thirty five years of autocratic rule, is anybody's guess; the mechanisms don't exist, and will come into being in unpredictable ways.

I am quite sure, though, that the combination of 'foreign' and 'christian' isn't going to be percieved as legitimate.

Powerful, certainly; possibly even justly powerful, if the troops on the ground manage to do everything just right. (Encouraging things from the British units surrounding Basra.)

But legitimate?

Not a hope in hell.

Bill Howell ::: (view all by) ::: April 03, 2003, 06:37 PM:

Signs would be great for some, but my almanac says Iraqi literacy in 1995 was only 58%. I doubt if Saddam has made a major effort to change that in the last eight years, especially in the territory of a different ethnic group. A sign saying stop in Arabic won't do any good for the unlettered victims of his -- and now ours as well.

charlie b. ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 05:10 AM:

I just can't believe this stuff. Like I said a little while ago, why not just have the same posting for everything - "I hate George W Bush and blame him for everything". Every operational decision in Iraq: just type "his fault". Every piece of defeatist self-flagelation the press seize on because it has a "human" angle: hand-wringing version of "his fault". (An alternative would be "Who the hell do they think they are?")

On April 9th I'll have been blogging for a year. This was one of the first blogs I found that made me want to do my own -- it was so good, I thought. So full of interesting ideas. I visited every day (and to Making Light, which I loved). When the Blogtree site opened, I gave Electrolite as one of three blogs that I thought of as my parents. But since the Iraq war took over here, I have lost all respect for this blog's comments, and even looking at them makes me feel sarcastic and hostile, and I want to shower abuse.

I still find the blog itself pretty interesting. I like to read blogs that have a different outlook to me, and which challenge my ideas. I think Junius is great. Most of the gay blogs I love and link to oppose the war. My side-bar probably has more blogs on it that are in this category than ones I feel reinforce my own views. But I can't cope with the comments on this blog. It is clear that I live on another planet. I am not obsessed with denigrating George W Bush, and I don't elevate my own painfully inadequate attempts to live as good a life as I can into self-serving self-righteous moralising. I simply cannot stick even being linked to this stuff, and so with a very heavy heart, and I am taking Electrolite off my sidebar after a year, and won't come here again. Enjoy the 2004 Presidential Election -- I'm sure you will find no resonance whatsoever among reasonable people.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 07:43 AM:

I thought that the military guy who lectured the press that the soldiers had the "right" to fire on the van load of women and children under the "rules of engagement" had a lot of gall.

But the checkpoint situation gets even weirder. Check out this story in the Washinton Post:

A car exploded near a coalition checkpoint in western Iraq, killing three coalition soldiers, a pregnant woman and the car's driver, U.S. Central Command said Friday.

Apparently a suicide bomber brought a pregnant woman along for the ride and she tried to escape.

This is all so terribly sad.

Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 09:31 AM:

Hmmm... Graydon-- you seem to say first that ending the power of tyrants is not something that can be done through war and then confirm that it has been done through war but that the conclusion of those wars also required draconian measures to remove, disenfranchize or kill the most dedicated supporters of the tyranical regime... Well, yes.

De-baathification will be required. Some of the professional torturers, rapists and street enforcers will have to be executed or imprisoned.

Your analysis of post-war Italian politics is deeply flawed. It's true that Berlusconi is a neo-fascist, but he was elected after many years of power passing back and forth between right-wing, centrist, and left-wing governments.

It's also incorrect to say that the German people were somehow imbued with a cultural passivity and inherent impulse to obey orders. The brownshirts would not have spent so many years in pitched battles in the streets, cracking communist heads, were that the case. The dearth of adult male germans after the war probably did make the imposition of liberal democracy somewhat easier than it would otherwise have been.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 01:50 PM:

What the war does is -- maybe -- kill the one guy. (You can't generally count on them not running for a friendly capital somewhere.)

This is not a sufficient step when it comes to replacing a tyranny.

It doesn't create any kind of legitimacy for any sort of successor government, and if all the available mechanisms of legitimacy are for essentially top-down, tyrannical governments, you need to go and create an entirely new model of legitimacy.

Not only can you not do that yourself -- the locals have to get intensely and unpredictably involved -- you sure can't do it by force of arms; if you try, you'll create a model of legitimacy that basically says 'not American', one which produces a government as hostile to the US as possible.

The point about Italian politics is that Fascism is still a legitimate political philosophy in Italy, unlike Germany; I believe that this has something to do the number of Italian members of the party *not* stood up against walls and shot, and a post war politics that evolved in a context which had not associated those ideas so completely with death and destruction.

Where did I say anything about cultural passivity or inherent impulses to obey orders? Fear of further death and destruction, quite possibly, but the whole what to replace the old regieme with went on from before the Great War, often very violently.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 05:45 PM:

Charlie B., are you having a bad week or something? There's a lot more diversity of opinion here than that, and not much I can see as fitting your description.

For instance, I'd have said this thread is about the uncertainties and unpleasantness of this war, and what can and can't be done, and why. Loosely speaking. Bush has gotten mentioned a few times, but by and large, this one at least is not about him.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 05:48 PM:

I thought that the military guy who lectured the press that the soldiers had the "right" to fire on the van load of women and children under the "rules of engagement" had a lot of gall.


I'm pretty sure that the rules of engagement don't say anything about women and children being legitimate targets, as women and children. The rules of engagment probably say something about non-coalition vehicles heading for you at a high rate of speed, and stopping them by any means necessary before they reach your position. If the van contains women and children, rather than a half-ton of explosives, how would you rather find out?


Had the people at the checkpoint fired into the vehicle where the suicide bomber blew up himself and the pregnant woman, along with three soldiers, would we be seeing headlines about how the coalition forces shot a pregnant woman?

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 06:13 PM:

Teresa - I think he boiled over, and this was just the top thread. It does look funny, though...I had a "what?" reaction myself.

James - you bet they would. It's a lose-lose choice, which is why they do such things. If I were designing the Inferno, I'd have a special circle of Hell reserved for people who deliberately manufacture situations where someone else is forced to choose between evil acts (or just guilt-creating acts; the soldiers who blew up that van weren't being evil as such, in my book at least).

Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 06:25 PM:


Sorry, in the bit about the Germans not being a notably servile lot I was responding to CHip, whose comments I conflated with yours in memory...

In any case, the niceties of imposed order in Iraq will probably be eclipsed as a focus of attention as the US moves on to confront Syria, North Korea, Iran, Saudia Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan and other states in what former CIA boss Woolsey has called World War IV (http://edition.cnn.com/2003/US/04/03/sprj.irq.woolsey.world.war/)

It would appear that the Iraqi campaign is seen as the first operation in a much larger project which seeks to impose radical cultural change on a large multi-national ethnic group, so we should have a lot of interesting experimental evidence to support or refute the notion that such imposition is possible.

Charlie B. - I have to agree with Teresa --there seems to be considerable diversity of perspective and focus here. You claim that these comments all amount to an assertion that everything is George Bush's fault... but the only person I see making any claim about bush is Scott Martens. Perhaps you were already upset about something else and vented that feeling here?

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 07:42 PM:

It is my fond hope that even the current American administration is able to connect 'no imports from South Korea, many fewer from Taiwan and China' with 'attacking North Korea is a bad idea'.

It's not like the idea of forcible change of political views hasn't been tried before; I know of no case where this was tried that could be said to work in the history that's available to us now. (I'm leaving out the degenerate case; killing absolutely everyone who might have come in contact with the view with which you disagree, eg, Cathars.)

I'd also note that the US has *never*, not once, established a democracy successfully where one did not previously exist.

The converse isn't true.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 07:54 PM:

Graydon, I agree with you, I think, but which one is the converse again? I get it mixed up with the reverse. I think you mean the US has brought democracies into nonexistence (e.g. Chile); but it amuses me to speculate that you really meant "democracy never established the United States where one did not previously exist." Which is, as you state, untrue.

Feeble attempt at syntactic levity, folks. Nothing to see here.

Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2003, 08:04 PM:

Jane Yolen -- I92m sure you could Articulate your thoughts better than Scott Martens, who92s argument is rife with error. I92d love to see your thoughts expressed in your own language.

Scott92s initial exposition is far from clear, but he seems to claim that I am arguing that the ends justify the means-- when I have done no such thing.

Scott then breaks into general comments about the common desire not to be ruled by foreign overlords and makes some remarks about misapplied utilitarian calculus (which I don92t quite follow--my study of calculus didn92t go much beyond integrals...).

After this mishmash, Scott makes some easily refuted assertions:
1) Cruel means lead to cruel outcomes. Scott seems to immediately support this claim by saying that others have made it before, and gives the example of simplistic arguments about revolutions that ignore cultural, historical and circumstantial factors that contributed to different revolutionary objectives, circumstances and results... You don92t have to read especially deeply into the history of these revolutions to see the fallacies in this line of argument.

Can you think of occasions when cruel means have not let to cruel outcomes? I can. Of course you get into a lot of denotational complexity, here: what do you mean by cruel? What do you define as an outcome? Avoiding the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, how closely must a causal chain be forged to identify a situation as the outcome of certain means? Given a particular outcome, can you isolate the cruel means that seem causative from non-cruel causative factors?

2) WWII was the only case of a has war not leading to an equally harsh occupation... This is, of course, rubbish. History is rife with records of bloody war and occupation, often leading to relative peace and harmony. The various horrific, brutal wars of the Romans, for example--the followers of Vercingetorix had it bad during the war, but their old ages and the lives of their children in Roman Gaul were not only not as harsh as the wars that conquered them, but not as harsh as the ante bellum status quo... and the same could be said of Roman Britain, Greece and many other regions of the empire... Similar relative post bellum peace can be noted in the Persian and Chinese empires.

3) Taking control of a country by force means ruling a country the same way. Again, it92s not hard to think of historical examples that put the lie to this notion.

4) War destroys any alternative way of administering the state. I92m sure this only sounds as silly as it does because it92s inadequate shorthand for a more complex and rational idea--but that idea is probably wrong, too...

Well, this is getting too long... suffice it say that I don92t agree with much of what Scott wrote and find the assertions in his hypothetical post-war Iraq as flawed as the ones I discussed in this reply. If you are interested, Jane, or if Scott expresses an interest, I92ll happily post them, but I feel I92ve taken enough space already.

I am surprised that you found a reflection of your own thoughts in Scott's post and I would love to read your own expression of them.

freelixir ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 03:31 AM:

A crucial moment has occurred today with John Kerry's defense of America. Freedom is alive.

Everyone, if you haven't already, please go check out John Kerry's rebuttal to the dividers today. The man is freedom mojo meal, and should strike fear in the heart of Karl Rove.

Take a stand along with John Kerry. Voice it now. For freedom. I, for one, am impressed. This man has a chance to unite the country, and end the madness.

Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 06:08 AM:

From the story:

" Said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., "Once this war is over, there will be plenty of time for the next election." "

Once this war is over.

They're admitting it. If the war is not over in 2004, there won't be an election.

David Bilek ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 02:12 PM:

Yes!!! Good catch, Jon! That's *exactly* what he said!

Just like Al Gore inventing the internet!

Reimer Behrends ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 10:08 PM:

On the issue of imposing democracy by war:

Adam wrote: Italians, Germans, and Japanese who have lived in imposed Democratic regimes since the middle of the last century may provide some evidence that imposed social change is something you can do with war.

There were actually two wars last century after which allied forces tried to impose democracy on Germany. The first one failed; in fact, the Versailles treaty was the shovel with which the anti-democractic parties buried the Weimar Republic. It was not that the treaty was inherently unjust: but it created a strong resentment among Germans, no matter what their political tendencies were. And the USA, Great Britain, and France were seen as the reason for it.

The second one succeeded. Not because of the dearth of adult young men, as suggested elsewhere. But, unlike in 1918, nobody had the least desire to identify with the regime that was responsible for the war. In particular, all three branches of government and the press were firmly in the hand of lifelong democrats and Nazi victims (Adenauer had been a repeat prisoner of the Gestapo; Schumacher and Ollenhauer had spent the years between 1933 and 1945 in concentration camps and exile, respectively). Germany, essentially, became a democracy because it wanted to. Unlike 1918, there was also fairly little resentment against allied forces on which anti-democratic forces could feed (aside from the denazification programs). The Marshall plan, the humanitarian aid ("raisin bombers") for a Berlin besieged by Soviet forces -- all that cemented a strong and durable friendship between Germany and the Western Allies.

As an aside, it is probably also hard to judge by an outsider how much the German people had learned to loathe war by 1945; the phrase "never again shall a war start on German soil" was pretty much the political consensus, and has lasted to this day. It has its own place in the German Constitution, and is given teeth by the penal code. (Which is also, incidentally, why the German government cannot possibly supply forces to the war in Iraq without a UN resolution.)

Bill Woods ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2003, 05:03 AM:

David Bilek:
Yes!!! Good catch, Jon! That's *exactly* what he said!

My ironymeter may be on the blink. Who is "he"? The guy who said he wanted 'regime change' in the US in 2003, or the guy who said (this campaign of) the war will be over before 2004?