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June 6, 2003

Crusaders. From the Washington Post:
Frank’s senior enlisted man, Sgt. Major Dwight Brown told the troops before Bush’s appearance, “I don’t want any damn catcalls from the crowd. We have the president of the United States coming to tell us what a great job we did destroying those heathen up in northern Iraq.”
I await the chorus of explanations of how this “heathen” thing was (1) misquoted, (2) justified, and (3) no big deal. Warbloggers, start your engines. [12:35 AM]
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Comments on Crusaders.:

--k. ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 01:14 AM:

Well, it all depends on whether the charming Sergeant Major was referring to northern Iraq's heath-like nature (having never been there myself, I can't say for sure if he is correct in characterizing it as low, flat, uncultivated lands overrun with scrubby brush), or whether he's of the school that maintains Ulfilas was influenced by Armenian when translating Mark 7:26 for the Goths, and used the word "haiþnô" for "Greek" due to its similarity to the Armenian "het'anos"--from the Greek "ethnos," nation or people. Difficult to say without more information.

Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 09:30 AM:

It's always hard to judge these things without the aid of body language and tone of voice, but what the sergeant major actually seems to be saying is that (a) he's anticipating that the assembled troops will want to catcall the president, which says some interesting things about troop morale, and (b) that the president will either imply that the Iraqis are heathens or refer to them as "heathens" directly, an action which while distinctly regrettable shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody here.

John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 09:34 AM:

I'm going to venture number 3, Patrick (not for me but for the soldiers); only because I know enough people who've served and from their stories and anecdotes, this does not sound uncommon. I am not saying I approve of this, and I'm sure that's exactly what was said. But I'm pretty sure most of the enlisted weren't surprised to hear it.

(I've read much hairier statements by our soldiers and their commanders since the war began—e.g., one colonel on the subject of "mowing them down like the morons they are...")

paul robichaux ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 10:07 AM:

I'm by no means a warblogger, but based on my tenure in the Marines I'm pretty sure that Sgt. Maj. Brown wasn't misquoted. In fact, his comments are pretty mild for a career enlisted man; if you ever had the pleasure of being addressed by my old pal Master Gunnery Sergeant J.T. Irwin, you'd understand what I mean.

As to this being a big deal, well, I suppose it depends on your perspective. Since, last time I checked, Sgt. Maj. Brown wasn't part of the NCA's chain of command, he's not making policy, and so as far as I'm concerned this is one guy shooting off his mouth. If the President was talking about destroying the heathen, I'd agree that that's a big deal.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 10:39 AM:

The regimental Sergeant Major, trained in the classics, knew that Shakespeare referred to both Jews and Moslems as "heathens."

--k. ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 11:52 AM:

Actually, cold light of day and all that, I'm willing to take "heathen" as "shooting off the mouth." As rough-edged leather-necked charm. As unapologetic folksiness. It nags at me, but I can take a temperate, live-and-let-live attitude toward it; one can imagine it being used out of ignorance, and condescension, but nonetheless in rough and general accord with someone trying fundamentally to do the right thing. "What a great job we did liberating those heathen," he might have said, or "what a great job we did protecting those heathen," or "what a great job we did saving those heathens' sorry asses." Rough-edged. Folksy. Leather-necked. Fine. "Heathen" is not the word that's bugging me. (Too much.)

It's "destroy" that's left sticking in my craw.

Depending on the shifting sands of rationalization, we went there to liberate, to protect, to trash some 25,000 liters of duecedly elusive weaponized anthrax. We went there to use our force of arms to prevent bad folks from doing bad things, basically. We did not go there to "destroy" anybody. Heathen or otherwise.

Folksy charm and career-enlisted potty-mouths and the hard-bitten machismo of people who've been shot at notwithstanding, and I realize I'm being terribly naive and idealistic, but I don't like the idea of anybody who thinks we went there to "destroy" anybody purporting to defend me or my country.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 11:53 AM:

It's possible that by "heathen" he was referring to anyone who didn't believe in the US Army, which would include enemy soldiers, all civilians, and the US Marine Corps.

See also http://www.daypoems.net/plainpoems/1870.html

Doug Rivers ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 11:55 AM:

# 3 of course. Sounds to me like the sarge was keeping the grunts in line in front of the big boss. As to heathens, I believe he's using the word sort of sarcastically. Troops have always had shorthand, semi-derogatory ways of referring to the enemy and that's understandable, considering they might kill or be killed by those Heathens, Ivans, Japs, Krauts, Jerries, whatever.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 12:07 PM:

"Destroy," now, is specialized vocabulary. It means nothing more or less than "removed the capacity for making war."

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 03:04 PM:

Well, as an example of Army Creole, it really does not rank up there with some I've heard. They could print an entire sentence in the Times without asterisks . . .

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 04:53 PM:

Surely, he meant Heathen in the nicest possible way. And he was quoted out of context. The full quote would have explained how Heathenism gave Iraq the economic stamina to withstand sanctions, and so therefore it was necessary to destroy them.

James Landrith ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 05:03 PM:

Hey Paul Robichaux:

Your name looks familiar, what units were you with leatherneck? I spent my time divided between Camp Lejeune/Saudi Arabia (2d FSSG), Henderson Hall (HQMC - Office of Legislative Assistant) and Anacostia Naval Base (Supply Co, Supply Bn, 4th FSSG).

James Landrith
USMC 1989-1995
USMCR 1995-2001

Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 06:33 PM:

Are not the Ba'athists heathen at least in name and in doctrine? Taking the term to mean at least not people of the book and so understood by most of the folks in the area?

the talking dog ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2003, 08:15 PM:

Well, perhaps the Sgt. Major saw the light after getting his baptism at the oasis on the road to Baghdad. Or perhaps he is a disciple of presidential-inauguration-benediction-giver Franklin Graham, who has called Islam an evil (or was it naughty) religion. Or perhaps he was inspired by the President himself (favorite political philosopher: Jesus Christ.

Seems to me like he's right with the Power-- particularly the one wielded by his Commander in Chief (though NOT OURS-- much as the POTUS wants us to believe he is our COMMANDER, rather than merely our elected executive)).

Hey-- at least he didn't say "towel-heads".

paul robichaux ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2003, 05:46 AM:

James: I was with HMA-773 (MAG-46 Det C, then MAG-49, then MAG-70) the whole time I was in, 1986-1992.

Talking Dog: if Clinton had to be my President, then Bush has to be yours. Fair is fair.

Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2003, 08:09 AM:

Looking out my window at Northern Iraq, the parts which aren't cultivated (and the wheat crop is in, the tomatoes still going strong, the melons just coming into season) is flat and scrubby.

As for the comment on destruction (and the sidenote on mowing down morons), yep, we did a lot of that. The west side of Bagdhad was a littered junk heap of destroed vehicles. They were not, "neutralized" they were demolised. The heat was high in some of them that the frames melted and the turrets sank into the chassis.

Insofar as they were moronic, forgive my callousness, but I thank God for it (in much the same way as Paul Fussel did for the Atom Bomb). They attacked armored vehicles with pick-up trucks and machine guns in human wave assaults. Had they used a bit more circumspection they would have been able to kill a lot more GIs.

Were the SGMs comments the most considered? Probably not. Were they indicative of the general attitude of the troops to the Iraqis who DIDN'T fight? Nope.

Is the term in common usage, nope. The usual word for the Iraqis is, "Haji," and while most guys here don't know what it means (one who has been to Mecca) it isn't as bad as rag-head or gook, or other such terms.


Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2003, 09:06 AM:

Well, this is interesting. While I certainly think he's an ignorant lout who said something stupid, it's the kind of stupidity that interests me.

Moslems, of course are neither Heathen (lit. "of the heath") nor Pagan (lit. "civilian" - as opposed to a "soldier of Christ," the military metaphor being one that Christianity has historically been rather fond of). (I'm bringing in Pagan because it's similarly misused by ignorant fuggheads.)

My American heritage dictionary says that the first meaning of Heathen is "adhering to [a] religion...that does not acknowledge the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam" (emphasis mine). For Pagan it gives "not a Christian, Jew or Moslem" (ditto). Hindus are Pagan; Moslems are not. But y'all knew that.

I use the word Heathen to mean "worshipping preagricultural gods" and Pagan to mean "worshipping postagricultural gods" (from its root related to the word 'peg' - indicating land marked out in claims for agricultural purposes). In these senses, I am both a Heathen and a Pagan.

So here's why I'm offended: sorry, that's my religion, and Iraqis (mostly) don't qualify. And if this asshat wants to destroy the Heathen, he's going to have to start with a lot of people in the army itself who have "Wicca" on their dogtags.

(Well, OK, I'm not really offended. That's just a rhetorical flourish. It'd be hard for me to be offended at anything some stupid clod says; I just think saying that makes him a stupid clod. Of course miscalling Moslems that way is actually more offensive. This note provided for the humor impaired; I'm sometimes one of you myself.)

Daniel Hatch ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2003, 09:22 AM:

While everyone is focusing on the "heathen" remarks, I think it's much more interesting that he had to warn his troops to avoid making "damn catcalls."

Given that the pResident feels safe making public speeches only before audiences who can be locked up in the brig or stockade for voicing dissent, this is significant. If even the uniformed military is starting to chafe at his imperial rule, he's in more trouble than anyone wants to let on.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2003, 09:28 AM:

From your lips to the gods' ears, Daniel.

(OK, "from your keyboard to the gods' eyes." Sheesh.)

jfwells ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2003, 12:26 PM:

Having been to Northern Iraq (Operation Provide Comfort) it is certainly not "Heath". It reminded me quite a bit of the Wasatch Front in Utah.

The rah-rah part of the statement (...great job we did destroying those heathen up in northern Iraq.) sounds pretty typical. The admonition against cat calls might have just been a request to keep the "Hoo-ahhs" to a bare minimum. What gets me is that he actually claimed to have "destroyed" anybody in the north. From what I can tell, there wasn't much destroying going on by anybody but the Air Force up there.

Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2003, 02:51 PM:


The point isn't that Clinton had to be your president and Bush has to be Talking Dog's (or rather, since both those men could easily have avoided the position, that you had to recognize the existence of one, and he has to recognize the existence of the other). It's that most of us posting to this Weblog are civilians. As a civilian, I don't have a Commander in Chief. I have a president, a congressmember, two senators, and a variety of other elected officials, some of whom occasionally might remember that they work for me and not the other way around. But I have taken no oaths to obey their orders.

The president is commander in chief of the US military, but that is not his main job, and he should not think of himself primarily as a military leader. He is the head of government of what I hope is still a democracy. We put the president in charge of the military to ensure that the military answers to elected authority, not to give elected officials added power.

Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2003, 04:24 PM:

Correction: We put the president in charge of the military to ensure that the military answers to civilian authority, which comes from the consent of the governed.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2003, 08:00 AM:

Heathen meant one who lives on the heath. Pagan meant one who lives in the pagus, a rural area. One is of Germanic origin, the other of Latin origin; they're equivalent.

Both signified someone living in the country as opposed to a civilized person who lived in a city. Translate either as hick, bumpkin, or rube to get the original flavor.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2003, 10:20 AM:

Anyone know the etymologies of the Hebrew and Aramaic words that the King James uses "heathen" to translate?

Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2003, 02:15 PM:

Psalms, 2:1 "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?"

In this case, heathen = "Goyim".

Samuel 2, 22:44, "Thou also hast delivered me from the strivings of my people, thou hast kept me to be head of the heathen: a people which I knew not shall serve me."

Again, "Goyim".

Nehemiah, 5:8 "And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer."

Again, "Goyim".

I'm not exactly interested enough to go through every instance in the KJV, and I can't read Greek, so early New Testament versions are a closed book to me, so I'll leave it at that.

But I have to say, if the Sgt. Major in question had said, "We have the president of the United States coming to tell us what a great job we did destroying those goyim up in northern Iraq", while it might have added accuracy, more, and different people would probably be upset by it.

Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2003, 05:05 PM:

I just checked a biblical concordance site, and it looks like "heathen" in the Old Testament is generally "goyim".

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2003, 06:24 PM:

Jim: Xopher is probably right on this one. The English word "pagan" comes from the meaning comes from the Latin word "paganus", which had two senses, "civilian" and "rustic", but it's the "civilian" sense which survived.

Or, at least, so claims the OED:

ad. L. pagan-us, orig. 'villager, rustic; civilian, non-militant', opposed to miles 'soldier, one of the army', in Christian L.

The explanation of L. paganus in the sense 'non-Christian, heathen', as arising out of that of 'villager, rustic', (supposedly indicating the fact that the ancient idolatry lingered on in the rural villages and hamlets after Christianity had been generally accepted in the towns and cities of the Roman Empire...) has been shown to be chronologically and historically untenable, for this use of the word goes back to Tertullian c 202, when paganism was still the public and dominant religion, and even appears, according to Lanciani, in an epitaph of the 2nd cent.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2003, 10:38 PM:

In any case, Islam did not exist when the Torah was written, and neither did Christianity. The goyim were the Pagans (in the modern sense) back then.

But KJV isn't exactly modern English, hello. The word 'closet' (as in the instruction to go to your closet to pray) meant 'private space', for example. A rich benefactor taking this literally in the late 19th century led to the building of a women's dorm, otherwise austere, with huge closets. The women who went to that college at that time probably owned two dresses, one to wear while washing the other; this guy thought they needed the space to pray!

Today, 'heathen' and 'pagan' are equivalent in common speech, but they both exclude Moslems. (You wouldn't argue, I take it, that Christians are "heathens" based on the OT term being 'goyim'.) Theologians (and thealogians even more) distinguish the terms as I've described. Some of 'em, anyway. Not the ones at Oral Roberts University.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2003, 11:49 PM:

The KJV may not be modern English, but I bet it (or a close relative) is where the average American soldier gets his use of "heathen" -- given that "heathen", unlike "closet", is pretty much a religious term of art in contemporary English.

Personally I wouldn't use "heathen" at all unless I was being delberately archaic. (Or, just possibly, metaphorical, but to refer to, e.g., unruly small children as "heathens" isn't really my dialect.) And even then I'd probably restrict it to Africa, the Americas, and the South Pacific -- areas that historically were solidly outside the Western concept of the civilized world. But that's more a 19th-century sense of the word than the late-medieval "beyond Christendom" sense we seem to be getting in the KJV.

"Pagan" I would only use in two senses: historically, to cover classical Indo-European pantheism, and contemporaneously to cover people reviving or claming to revive pre-Christian European religion, in which case I'd have to preface it with "Neo-". :)

I don't assert that any of these usages is correct, understand. But I think there's a real difference in nuance, whatever the theological difference might be. I can't by any stretch imagine the Sgt. Major calling Iraqis "Pagans".

Now what seems really odd to me is that "infidel" seems to have become something only used in translations from or imitations of an Islamic perspective. Whatever happened to it?

yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2003, 12:03 AM:

"Well, perhaps the Sgt. Major saw the light after getting his baptism at the oasis on the road to Baghdad. "

Thios story was Snoped BTW.

And I'll vote for (3).

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2003, 08:40 AM:


What story was Snoped? If you want people to take you seriously, make the effort to actually communicate. If you just want to block communication, go somewhere else.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2003, 12:02 PM:

I did a search at snopes.com and couldn't find any mention. More disinformation from Yehudit, I suppose.

James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2003, 12:41 PM:

Alas, Kevin, I believe that the OED is mistaken on this point.

What Tertullian wrote was "Apud hunc (Christum) tam miles est paganus fidelis quam paganus est miles infidelis." Or, roughly, In this Christ the rabble of the faithful are as much soldiers as the soldiers of the unfaithful are a rabble. The paganus here is a rural militia. The word for non-Christians in this passage is "infidel;" Tertullian also speaks of the "paganus fidelis," the militia of the faithful. For the OED's derivation to work, one would have to admit that Tertullian was calling Christians pagans.

When you consider the analogous word, heathen, which has no military connotations at all, a reading of rustic/hick/rabble/clodhopper for pagan still seems the best translation to me. I never did hold with the derivation of "pagan" from the beliefs of the countryside as opposed to the beliefs of the city. Rather, it's meant as a slur, and a slur doesn't have to be true, just disparaging.

Thus I can refer to the Baptist faith as hick religion even though I know that many Baptists live in cities, and it's a mainstream religion in as a couple of recent US Presidents have been Baptists.

Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2003, 02:30 PM:

I grow very tired of hearing the phrase "that was debunked," especially when it's not the case.

"Disinformation" is one word for it. A less fancy one is "lying."

Putting together the parts of the puzzle: 3 + no notation on Snopes = "It's no big deal, but I'm willing to lie to make you think it didn't happen anyway."

In my estimation, "It's no big deal" is also a lie.

Two in one post. Hardly a record, but worth noting.