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November 21, 2006

Once again: What we’ve become.
Posted by Patrick at 11:06 PM *

And how we’ll be remembered.

Richard Cohen, supposedly “liberal” columnist at the Washington Post:

We are a good country, attempting to do a good thing. In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic.
Here’s your “therapeutic,” Richard Cohen. American soldiers, barely out of their teens, tormenting children desperate for a bottle of clean water. There’s your “prudent use of violence.” There’s your “good country.”

Auden, ever-prescient:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
That evil will live with us for the rest of our lives. It may kill us yet.
Comments on Once again: What we've become.:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 12:10 AM:

I think I'll write "Fucking bastards" and leave it at that.

Fucking bastards

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 12:12 AM:

Fckng heartless temperate-climate sons of bitches. You don't screw around with water, you don't pull stunts like that with kids, and you sure as hell don't giggle the whole time you're doing it.

#3 ::: Suzanne M ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 12:27 AM:

And the one little boy who chased them the whole way didn't even get the water in the end. Fucking cruel sons of bitches.

#4 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 12:28 AM:

They could use being run around in the sun themselves. Without a canteen. Maybe then they'd learn about water, deserts, and possibly children.

#5 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 12:51 AM:

They could use being run around in the sun themselves. Without a canteen. Maybe then they'd learn about water, deserts, and possibly children.

As tempting as that sentiment is, I doubt that this process would produce decent human beings. As ginmar said in the Pandagon thread about this video, the guys who behave this way towards Iraqi kids behave this way in general, towards everyone. I do not believe that such a basic personality flaw could be corrected simply by administering retributive cruelty.

As to what could correct such a flaw, I haven't the slightest idea. I certainly don't recommend coddling the jerks, but I doubt that a single big punishment would do it. In order for that to work, you'd need a level of self-awareness - or a capacity for such - that is very much not in evidence.

I'm inclined more toward a strict behavioralist approach, complete with an implanted chip, 24/7 monitoring, and electric shocks at every single moment of fucking-bastardry, but I'm no psychologist.

I do however believe that the current conditions of troops in Iraq are such that those inclined towards being fucking bastards are given ample opportunity to explore that side of themselves and refine their internal reward mechanisms so as to become even more sociopathic than when they were shipped out.

#6 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 12:59 AM:

As to the video, I see no basis to try to defend any of the actions by the American soldiers implied in it (hardly seen).

You're taking Cohen out of context; though. The bit you quote is a description of a past position, which he has changed. It's fairly clear from the words you quote, and completely clear if you read the actual article, where you get to see the next paragraph after that bit. You can ding him for ever having been in support of the war, if you want (the reasons he gives for why he and others started out supporting it were obviously lies at the time they were first put forward), but it seems a bit excessive to misrepresent his position.

#7 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 01:21 AM:

"Therapeutic"? WTF? Can't Cohen pay for his own therapy?

#8 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 02:38 AM:

Kipling, when he wrote The White Man's Burden, was warning the USA not to expect any thanks for what benefits they brought to the natives as a colonial power. And it's a more general warning about human nature.

But he made the assumption that the people the USA would send out would be trying to do good. Honest admministration, the protection of the law to all, education, better health, all of those benefits that he saw in civilisation, would at best be rewarded with grudging thanks.

Remember, this is the man who wrote Kim. This is the man who is as much an Indian writer as British.

So what is the America that is taking up the white man's burden today, and sinking its vampiric fangs into that soft, delicate, neck?

As it happens, Recessional was published a couple of years earlier. And, while "lesser breeds without the law" has been interpreted in various ways, pointing to the uncolonised natives in some minds, and to Imperial Germmany in others, it's a cap that fits today.

There's an old saying from WW2: "If the cap fits, it won't fall over deaf ears." But, alas, I fear that the ears for this cap, in the White House and in Downing Street, are as deaf as you're ever likely to find.

Meanwhile, for those with ears rather than hatpegs, here's the legitimate MP3 of Recessional.

"And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. And friends they may think it's a movement."

#9 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 02:52 AM:

That's not Kipling. It's _Dune_.

#10 ::: cya ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 03:19 AM:

Well, so you think some soldiers jerking around with kids is somehow morally bankrupt, and it will be what America is remembered for?

You know, I hate to write this, but maybe some of you should read some of David Drake's Slammer's war pornography, and then really think about what you aren't really seeing, even while it is right in front of all us.

Imagine the soldiers gunning down the kids for a start - then take it from there. How would a grenade or two look, for example? Or maybe testing out some new equipment - how does a hyperbaric warhead work in a crowd?

Sometimes, the lack of reality in America is scary - and this is an example. The Iraqis hate us for the dead, the maimed, and the destroyed. Quite honestly, they are used to a much higher standard of suffering, and this is just another tiny window into how far we seem to be from what we are really doing in Iraq, or what is really happening there.

If you want outrage, think of how many babies have been burnt to death over the last week, or how many mothers were raped by various 'militias,' or how many fathers have holes drilled into their skulls - but somehow, describing what has been going on for months in Iraq just doesn't encapsulate our 'evilness' as well as something which comes a lot closer to a Hollywood morality play.

#11 ::: Kat Allen ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 03:35 AM:

Putting aside for a minute episodes of deliberate cruelty, like this one, and how much damage such public idiocy does in terms of 'radicalising' locals and foreign nationals... (radicalising is such a cool buzzword)

At least one kid has been shot by our side while begging for sweets. Many more have been caught up in insurgent attacks on US troops. There are easily found stories (propaganda, perhaps, but often propaganda is just the ideas the other side believe about their enemy) accusing US troops of deliberately enticing children to follow them, promising sweets and gifts. Using them as human shields -- because the presence of children discourages attacks by all but the most hardened insurgents. It is getting difficult to dismiss those stories.

You shouldn't need dead kids to know that encouraging them to come close is bad for them -- and unless you don't give a damn about those kids lives, it's bad for the soldiers too. You certainly shouldn't need as many dead kids as have been killed in incidents involving troops handing out goodies to issue general orders to discontinue the practice. Unless, of course, putting children in harm's way *is* official policy.

And if you know the Pied Piper act is about protecting yourself at the kids' expense... cutting off any empathy for those kids could actually be a way of coping with that.

#12 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 03:49 AM:

Calling the Slammers stories "war pornography" is controversial. Drake was there, and people who have been in war reckon he gets it right. Calling it potnography... Well, there is this thing called "acting", and if you think pornography is realistic you have led a very sheltered life.

And, while this seems a small thing compared to the death and destruction produced by the US Military when they let loose their firepower, is a symptom of the deep mess that has been made of the whole business.

There may even be reasons for the soldiers to have acted as they did, beyond simple moral failure. Snipers? Some sort of trap which would have incidentally have left some of those kids dead? We don't know what they feared.

But why were those kids begging for water? Was it, perhaps, the ruination of the state and the physical infrastructure that occurred as part of that US-led invasion, more than three years ago? Might it be the total failure of the US-controlled administration of Iraq to fix these problems, while billions of dollars went to the cronies of President Bush?

Would any of this be happening if, three and four years ago, people had been doing the job they were paid for?

They lied to invade Iraq. And it looks like they set out to smash a society, and loot two nations' wealth.

W'y, they call a man a robber if 'e stuffs 'is marchin' clobber

#13 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 03:50 AM:

You want a YouTube video of US troops wishing that they could shoot Iraqi kids? Here you go:

#14 ::: little light ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 03:51 AM:

cya, dicking around with kids like this is morally bankrupt, and it is something we'll be remembered for, and it is part of the same pattern as all those rapes and murders and maimings.
It's a difference of degree, not kind. It's dehumanization, wanton cruelty, callousness and a disregard both for immediate consequences and the long-term effects. It's doing nasty things on an impulse without much of a plan, laughing at human suffering, and exploiting the most vulnerable.

How is it wrong to bring it up? How is it wrong to point out, look, maybe you can't visualize the graphic horrors and vilenesses so completely outside your experience. This is what they do with children and water for fun. Maybe this picture of offtime amusement for the people in charge of dispensing bullets and bombs will bring home for you exactly that character we're discussing here. Maybe it'll make the rest of it realer.

Someone who can do that and rationalize it as funny can, in another situation, rape or torture. Someone who can pile other humans in a naked pyramid and humiliate them sexually can rape them with a flashlight, and someone who can do that can release dogs on them for kicks. It's a matter of pattern. It's a matter of basic learned sociopathy. I think this clip is a damn good reminder of where a lot of it starts.

#15 ::: Greta Christina ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 04:02 AM:

"Imagine the soldiers gunning down the kids for a start - then take it from there. How would a grenade or two look, for example? Or maybe testing out some new equipment - how does a hyperbaric warhead work in a crowd?" (etc.)

Is there worse in war than taunting poor children in a hot, war-devastated country by dangling water in front of them? Yes, of course.

But that's not the point. There's something extra-despicable going on here. After all, the violence and horror of war are, at least, theoretically defensible as the lesser of two evils. (World War II, etc.) To be perfectly clear, I think it's absolutely indefensible in Iraq -- but the mindset that thinks "We have to do violence in order to defend ourselves/protect others" is at least comprehensible.

But the mindset that thinks "It's a good idea to taunt poverty-stricken, probably orphaned children in a war-torn desert in a country you're occupying by dangling water in front of them and making them chase you and fight each other for it -- for no reason other than that you think it's funny"... that's not defensible, or comprehensible, or anything other than flat-out sadistic, and a sign that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

I'd write more, but I have to go be sick now.

Stefan had it right. Fucking bastards.

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 04:14 AM:

So, when those kids grow up to be twenty or so, are they a) more likely, or b) less likely to be pro-USA?

#17 ::: Greta Christina ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 04:49 AM:

"I do not believe that such a basic personality flaw could be corrected simply by administering retributive cruelty. As to what could correct such a flaw, I haven't the slightest idea."

It kills me to think this, much less say it... but I think we need to remember the Stanford prison experiment, and the Milgram experiment. Given the right circumstances, ordinary people will do appalling, repugnant things, things they could never imagine doing. What these soldiers did was unforgivable... but before they got to Iraq, they may not have been any more sadistic than anyone else.

So what can be done? Justice is a start, if for no other reason to make it clear that we do not tolerate this behavior.

But more importantly, what can be done? Not putting people in these situations in the first place. That's what.

Philip Zimbardo, who conducted the Stanford prison experiment (and got caught up in it himself), has talked about this at some length, specifically in regards to Abu Ghraib. He's said that it was a disaster waiting to happen... and that while the individual torturers certainly have to bear responsibility for their actions, the higher-ups bear greater responsibility. They knew, or should have known, that they were creating conditions for a human rights disaster.

He had a wonderful quote: I can't remember the exact words now, but the essence of it was that Abu Ghraib wasn't a case of a few bad apples -- what was bad was the barrel. And the barrel was designed by the U.S. government.

We need to re-design the barrel. Pronto.

#18 ::: Kit ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 04:58 AM:

Completely agree with you, Greta.

As far as correcting flaws goes - my instinctive response to that, having seen that horrible scene, was somewhere between 'I'm going to cry' and 'somebody needs to kill those soldiers'. That, in its sordid, petty way, was such an undilutedly wicked act that there was a moment when I really wanted them dead. My apologies to their families; I don't really, I was just blind angry. However:

I'm sitting comfortably in a house with working taps in a Western country. And I was ill-wishing them with a vengeance. What does this suggest they're saying in Iraq?

Look at the tenacity of the poor kid who chased them all that way. Five years from now he's going to be a lot bigger. If he's still that tenacious, I think they'll find he's chasing the car with a weapon.

What is wrong with the training of these soldiers? These are obviously stupid, bored kids who are under the impression that if you do it to funny little foreigners who can't retaliate it's not real bullying - but if soldiers can be taught not to desert their posts or get drunk on duty, they can be taught not to antagonise the local population of a country they're supposed to be reconstructing. If Vietnam proved anything it proved that it's almost impossible to manage a country where everybody hates you. Iraq is never going to be resolved as long as the soldiers who are supposed to be pacifying the population keep provoking it. For fun.

This isn't just evil and cruel, it's horrifically bad strategy. It's things like that - and given that they filmed it for a laugh, that suggests that incidents like that are a normal recreation - going to stretch out the war and get more and more people killed on both sides. Those soldiers are signing a lot of death warrants with their little joke.

I keep thinking of Henry V:

...his soul
Shall stand sore-charged for the wasteful vengeance
That shall fly with them: for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands;
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down...
His jest will savour but of shallow wit
When thousands weep more than did laugh at it.

Probably that makes me a latte-drinking-untenured-radical-liberal. I still think I'm right, though.

#19 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 06:41 AM:

Speaking of Drake, I now realize that his bit about going to war means your foreign policy will be made by frightened 18-year olds with machine guns is optimistic. Frightened people have an excuse, though not always a good enough one. The soldiers in the video behaved that way because they *weren't* frightened. They were so unfrightened that they took the goddamn video, and it wouldn't surprise me if they put it online themselves. I wonder if there's any way they can be identified.

That sort of thing isn't all we'll be remembered for, but it certainly won't be forgotten--and the net means it'll be remembered by a lot more people than those who were there.

I've hoped that the spread vidcams would make war *less* likely. I'm not so sure anymore.

#20 ::: Dan Guy ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 07:15 AM:

I think those soldiers just made an enemy of every adult seen walking out of the buildings onto the sidewalks to witness their cruelty.

#21 ::: Oliver ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 07:47 AM:

Didn't Auden later repudiate that poem, and leave it out of the collected verse, because in essence he found those lines too glib?

Not to say that a) they're not relevant or b) that poets necessarily understand their own truths in retrospect, and certainly not to say c) that this isn't disgusting or d) that these children are not being given every reason to grow up hating American troops.

Just asking about Auden (I don't know the details of the case).

#22 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 07:58 AM:

Enough combat stress, enough fear of death, and the world collapses into buddies and targets.

Everyone not a buddy is a target.

You know that line about a sane army would run away?

Armies that don't run away aren't, in a very basic sense, sane.

There's a limited choice about what kind of crazy, and no one in the national command authority gave half a shattered damn to a mewling hell-god which kind, which is a problem, because the honorable and better sort of crazy that will stand fire is one hell of a lot more work to enact than the kind that goes necromantic and kills so it will not die, torments so that it will not be tormented.

So when the United States set out to make Iraq indifferently into Hell, it set out to make its troops -- and its mercenaries -- into the administering devils.

In these things it has quite entirely succeeded, and for such it shall be long remembered.

#23 ::: Shawn Struck ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 08:00 AM:

It's just sad, too...because we know most of our soldiers aren't f*cksticks, they're people around our age or younger, usually trying to do the best they can.

But shameful instances like this undoes every awesome thing, like soldiers playing soccer with kids and stuff. I'm not arguing for the negative stuff not to be shown; it needs to be dragged out into the light of day.

It still makes me sad, though.

It hurt, but I watched it again. Caught something. Two somethings, actually:

1. These soldiers are wearing the brand-new Advanced Combat Uniform (ACU) which replaced the old BDU's. That means this was pretty recent.

2. The soldier taunting the children is referred to as "Sergeant" during the video. This means that an NCO, who should be setting a good example for his younger soldiers, is way out of line.


#24 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 08:01 AM:

What the hell has happened to the command structure in the military? I can see general enlisted doing this (yes, that's not nice to say, but it's true), but where are their non-coms and commisioned officers in this? That's what they're for. And yep, I can hear the thoughts of these kids in three years as they trigger the bomb belt, "Here's for not dropping the water, American."

"Stick the pig, make it bleed." When did Lord of the Flies become non-dystopic?

#25 ::: Eve ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 08:09 AM:

Remember, this is the man who wrote Kim. This is the man who is as much an Indian writer as British.

Also the man who wrote Gunga Din. He knew a bit about water, Kipling did.

#26 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 09:15 AM:

These are exactly the kind of guys who shoved me into a locker in junior high school. Sadistic bullies should not be allowed to wear our nation's uniform.

"Sarge" needs to be kicked out for conduct unbecoming...or is that still an offense? Maybe our military is actively recruiting thugs.

#27 ::: Janine ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 09:30 AM:

I always thought that "the prudent use of violence" involved hitting my pillow or playing WoW for a couple of hours. Boy, I was wrong.

Also, there's a special place in hell for those who withhold water in a desert.

#28 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 09:38 AM:

Any long-term anger at this sort of barbarism will be defined by future bozos as 'they hate our freedom'.

This is the Ugly American at his worst.

#29 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 09:54 AM:

This is more than slightly off-topic, but it's funny enough that I just can't resist:

Devin Faraci of demonstrating the proper way to handle right-wing propaganda.

This year *I'M* giving thanks for the liberal media.

#30 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 10:02 AM:

"Sarge" needs to be kicked out for conduct unbecoming...or is that still an offense? Maybe our military is actively recruiting thugs.

Conduct unbecoming is Article 133, and only applies to officers. I think you're looking for Article 134, the General Article, which covers all disorders and neglects prejudicial to good order and discipline.

Another possibility is Article 92 (Failure to obey a lawful order or regulation). That would depend on what orders these guys were given concerning relations with the locals.


"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." -- William T. Sherman

War is, of its nature and necessity, terrible. That is why war should only be a last resort, brought for serious and important reasons. It shouldn't be started by a drunken frat boy in order to impress his mom or to prove that his dick is bigger than his dad's.

"Its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families ... 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 vengeance, more desolation." -- William T. Sherman

As to the video above, what did Bush and his neocon cronies expect? The order to go to war included this and more.

#31 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 10:06 AM:

Jim Macdonald #30: That is 24 karat truth.

#32 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 10:16 AM:

No, no, no. We were going to be greeted as liberators, with women throwing flowers in the streets like they did for the Roman Legions, blowing kisses as our tanks rumbled through the streets. There would be music, and wine, and our soldier heroes would sip coffee at the cafes just like all those NewsReels showed
from the

Why are you looking at me like that?

#33 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 10:26 AM:

There is no way to excuse those soldiers' cruelty and stupidity and I despise what they did. Perhaps, in years to come, they will too. Perhaps they will lie awake at night, sweating, remembering the children they tormented, asking forgiveness from those children, and their own hearts.

Let's end this war, now.

When I give thanks this Thursday, I will give thanks for this blog and the folks who post here, who speak about serious things with respect and clarity, and give me a place to put my outrage. Thank you, Teresa and Patrick. Thank you, all, for your companionship.

#34 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 10:32 AM:


I agree that there will be consequences both immediate and long-term as a result of this sort of shit, in Iraq to start with.

But has anyone considered the difficulty of reintegrating these bastards, in their thousands, back into our society? These guys may end up teaching P.E. to my grandkids. God forbid.

#35 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 10:40 AM:

When 9/11 hit, Alex Ross did a painting of Uncle Sam screaming in pain as the World Trade Center came down where his heart was.

If you want to see what he thinks of George W. Bush, click here.

#36 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 11:02 AM:

I hadn't seen that painting, but I've used the same idea in a couple of blog posts, elsenet.

#37 ::: amysue ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 11:02 AM:

Fuck. I've tried to write something coherant and brief and not too personal and I'm at a loss. I'm not even remotely surprised, just numb. I've been pretty much all over the world and in communities where running after the possibility of clean water is easy to understand. These soldiers have objectified all Iraqis including the children as parasites and villains in some sick fantasy where they, the ones with the weapons and the power, are the victims. There is no honor in what they do and in what they have become. If one of those men were related to me I would shun them, sit shiva and never speak their names again in my home.

War zones are scary and confusing and it's stressful to live day to day wondering if your one step away from your death, but most of the folks I've known didn't believe this gave them a licsence to be assholes and sadists. They didn't decide to torment children for sport.

#38 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 11:19 AM:

That Alex Ross poster was on the cover of the Village Voice (R.I.P.; killed by New Times). You won't see its like again.

#39 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 11:31 AM:

There is a generation of grateful people in Europe and Japan who remembered the GIs handing out chocolate. Times have certainly changed.

#40 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 11:32 AM:

I missed the one soldier being addressed as "Sarge" on the vid. My first reaction was "where is their sergeant? where is their corporal?" Because this might feel to the perpetrators like little more than high-school tomfoolery, but an experienced commander would see that it is not only cruel, but long-term stupid, and dangerous to all involved, and act to discipline/punish his(/her) soldiers.

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 11:34 AM:

True, Jon, but something like it may surface elsewhere. I haven't read Mad Magazine in a very long time as it had become ho-hum, but last year (?) I caught their backcover 'ad' for a George W. Bush action figure. I liked how the ad described the many parts that come with the toy, including replacement hands, one of which is bloody.

#42 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 11:35 AM:

Sean Bosker... It feels weird watching those old WW2 movies on TCM and thinking of when we were unquestionably the good guys.

#43 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 11:56 AM:

What I find most chilling in the too-numerous incidents like this is the improbability of so many sciopaths accumulating accidenttally. What we're seeing here is learned behavior. It's based on attitudes that were either taught or condoned. Somehow.... I cannot think (or even hope) that incidents like this are rare, and to the extent that America is a democracy we, as the people who ought to be determining what our country does, are responsible for them.

I've been there (Korea, c. 1951) and know that American soldiers are perfectly capable of (and are probably naturally inclined to) passing their surplus C-rations (and not-so-surplus candy-bars) through a hole in the fence to hungry children. I'm reasonably certain that many of our GIs in Iraq & elsewhere still do things like that. But the fact that some act in ways I consider inhuman, and are apparently not ashamed of it, is frightening.

As Patrick often says, this is what we are becoming. I like to hope (& sometimes do) that it's closer to "this is what we might become", but at times that's a faint hope.

#44 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 12:09 PM:

This is not to do with being in a war zone. This is systemic.

As Xopher says (#26) These are exactly the kind of guys who shoved me into a locker in junior high school. And the kind of guys who tasered Mostafa Tabatabainejad. And the kind of guys who enjoy doing what was done at Abu Ghraib and what continues to be done at Guantanamo and elsewhere. And the kind of guys who star in countless videos of police mistreating detainees. And the guys who "haze" newbies at school and college and military. And some of the "security" guys you've met at airports and elsewhere. And, and, and ...

#45 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 12:32 PM:

John Stanning @ 44

People who have power over others, and enjoy using it for their own amusement: this is evil in itself.

#46 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 01:03 PM:

#45: Truer words were never spoken. I might even leave out the clause between the comma and the colon.

#47 ::: Kit ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 01:04 PM:

I agree with John Stanning: these soldiers are nasty pieces of work. But if you're going to prosecute a 'just' war with any serious purpose, you have to remember that the population contains a certain proportion of vicious or potentially individuals who, given the right conditions, will metastasize into full-blown sadists.

The Stanford prison experiment is a case in point: not all the 'guards' tormented the 'prisoners' - some were disciplinarian but fair, some did them favours, and some were brutal bullies. If you see footage of the volunteers afterwards, the most frightening thing is seeing the worst 'guard', nicknamed 'John Wayne', talking to the people he tormented. He was in no way sorry. He thought he'd done nothing wrong. Why? Because the circumstances were unusual and he could blame them. It's clear from his demeanour that because he did it in an isolated context, it had no bearing on how he saw himself as a person. This was a person who simply didn't understand that he was a bad man - because circumstances let him indulge his vicious tastes and then write them off.

Sound like being at war?

Tormenting those children, or torturing people at Abu Ghraib, or any of the other horrible things people have been doing, are not acts of war. They're acts of sadism, perpetrated in a situation where the presence of the war allows the sadists to dissociate their actions from their personalities, do wicked things without feeling like wicked people.

If you're going to war, you should know that. And then you should make it known that you will punish the f*ck out of any soldier who tries it. Soldiers need to learn not to torment children along with how to load a rifle, for strategic, let's-not-fight-this-war-again-in-a-generation's-time-when-the-children-get-big reasons as well as for humanitarian ones. Any army worth the name should be concerned about keeping control of its soldiers, and ... oh man, I'm trying to find a way of saying you don't torment children, you just don't that sounds rational, but I'm too outraged to think of it. Armies should be set up to prevent this kind of thing. I don't care what excuses people make. This shit shouldn't happen, and it should be possible to prevent, and if it's difficult you should be trying harder.

#48 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 01:09 PM:

Xopher, don't you like it when world news remind you of the worst aspects of high-school? I suppose we shouldn't be surprised, considering that the guy in the Oval Office never graduated, mentally anyway.

#49 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 01:38 PM:

As I recall, the Stanford and Milgram experiments were intended to (and did) demonstrate that many people will obey the orders of an authority figure who tells them to do things that normally they would not be prepared to do. Are those experiments relevant to this case? No authority figure ordered those soldiers to torment the children; they did it of their own volition. AS PJ Evans says, they are simply evil in themselves. The authority figure ("Sarge") should have been telling them to stop.

#50 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 01:59 PM:

The excitement was surely for the novelty of the bottled water, not just for water itself. (Those kids were clearly not dying of thirst, and given the obvious size of the population around there, a 1L bottle couldn't have had any serious impact.) This wasn't about leaving kids to die of thirst.

Maybe I'm missing something, because this looks like pretty generic, low-level assininity, not like deep and frightful cruelty. No doubt there's a fair bit of that going on in Iraq, too, but this video showed some guys being assholes, not monsters. And far more of the cruelty to which those kids are subject is utterly impersonal--car bombs blowing you up, stray bullets putting holes in your parents, your favorite uncle turning up dead in the street with marks of torture on his body.

#51 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 02:04 PM:

Xopher #46:

The problem is we sometimes have no choice but give some people power over others. Police, teachers, prison guards, social workers, judges, parents, all have a lot of power. There's probably not any way to eliminate that power. All you can do is make it accountable, enforce strict rules about abuse of power, and hope for the best.

To link across threads, we're going to need to have trespassing laws and police for the forseeable future. And giving the police tasers along with guns is surely a win, in the sense that some people who would have been killed instead got knocked down. The solution isn't to stop enforcing trespassing laws, or get rid of cops, or get rid of tasers, it's to hold cops who mistreat people responsible for their actions, at least make sure they never get to be cops again, and ideally send them to jail.

#52 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 02:05 PM:

Lila #34 "But has anyone considered the difficulty of reintegrating these bastards, in their thousands, back into our society?"

A lady I used to work with is an EMT who teaches first-aid classes at a military base. She said they're dealing with it by handing out anti-depressants like candy. They just passed their prescriptions around during class like bummed cigarettes, without any worry that she would see it.
"Man, I'm out."
"Here, have one of mine."

#53 ::: cya ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 02:10 PM:

To go through top to bottom -

Dave Bell -
'Calling the Slammers stories "war pornography" is controversial. Drake was there, and people who have been in war reckon he gets it right.' Well, if you mean using fusion powered tanks that char bodies into carbon, no, he hasn't been there. If you mean that he has some idea of what it is like to shoot up a bunch of human beings for stated reasons the soldiers could care less about, sure. And as for pornography? Pornography is meant to be arousing - commercial pornography, especially the mutilated breasts, is anything but. However, you do know that there are a number of people who aren't acting - check out those internets, though if you have to pay money, you are already in the wrong part.

little light-
'cya, dicking around with kids like this is morally bankrupt, and it is something we'll be remembered for, and it is part of the same pattern as all those rapes and murders and maimings.
It's a difference of degree, not kind.'

Really - you think some smoldering corpse is just a difference of degree? I don't, but then, I did go to an American high school. To get morally outraged about some soldiers taunting some kids is to really not see what is going on - and no, the death squads romping around implementing that tried and true Salvador option (after all, America war in Central American, even if the occasional bishop, priest, or nun got gunned down), are not a difference of degree either.

Greta Christina-
'Is there worse in war than taunting poor children in a hot, war-devastated country by dangling water in front of them? Yes, of course.

But that's not the point. There's something extra-despicable going on here.'

No there's not - I live in Germany, and trust me, one reason the Germans are opposed to war is that they have some idea of what extra despicable means. This doesn't even begin to register on their scale - and the babies and grandparents which we keep accidentally killing? Well, what do you think war is about? Freedom, democracy, liberation? No - it is about the dead, the maimed, and the destroyed. Ask any European over the age of 65 or so.

I guess you people didn't see the German soldiers in Afghanistan jacking off with skulls, did you? To be honest, most people here were disgusted, but not really all that surprised - welcome to war, and what it does to people - or what it allows some people to do. A good reason to avoid it, actually, but then, that is just old Europe for you.

We do see pictures here in the 'anti-American' press of what all that collateral damage looks like - the images that are considered too tasteless to expose people to in America, since they are so shocking, and could cause problems for people who shouldn't see what the reality of their tax dollars at work looks like.

And I wondered when someone would mention that video of someone shooting from a car randomly in Iraq, several times, just playing a video game with real people? You know, we will be remembered forever for that one too - except, strangely, no one seems to remember it now.

#54 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 02:10 PM:


You don't suppose there were any incidents of mistreatment of civilians by US sodiers in WW2, do you?

Propoganda != reality. Put a whole bunch of scared guys with guns into a dangerous place, and some will do really nasty stuff--far, far worse than taunting some kids with a water bottle. This is one of those calculations that people sometimes might want to make before they decide to go off and impose democracy at gunpoint.

#55 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 02:14 PM:

albatross #51, yeah, cause you know, kids who have to live with all that other crap, we can just taunt like that. And I doubt any kids in dry countries know what bottled water is, so they'll just want the plastic bottle in a "The Gods Are Crazy," or maybe cargo cult kind of way. So lets take these kids, who probably don't have running water because we bombed the crap out of their systems and Bechtel walked off with all the money, and lets get them to run after the trucks. Run little kids, run.

Yeah, it may not take 3 more year before that kid in the sweater has the thought, "this is for not dropping the water, die American."

But, hey, I'm sure those kids will be able to rationalize and think that "those GIs in their uniforms, goggles, and gloves, well, those aren't the ones who made me run like hell for their own amusement, so I'll wait until I see the bastard that did that to me."

Gee, and why do they hate us, again. Right, our freedom, that's why.

#56 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 02:46 PM:

Serge writes: "It feels weird watching those old WW2 movies on TCM and thinking of when we were unquestionably the good guys."

We're still unquestionably the good guys. I suspect that's part of the problem.

#57 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 02:58 PM:

And the lesson for today is, 'Actions speak louder than words.'

Okay, what actions are you going to take to make sure these morons don't do anything else liable to get their brothers in arms killed (like breathing, it seems)? What actions are you going to take to make sure that this isn't the way America is going?

One thing is certain, unless you take some action, the next time some innocent American is dangling from manacles with their genitals hooked up to a battery (and it will be an innocent American, not these tossers or any like them) your only reasonable reaction will be a shrug, and a murmur of 'What do you expect?'

It is not too late, but only of you do something more than just chuntering here. To quote WS Churchill - 'Action this day'.

Please. Pretty please.

#58 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 03:02 PM:

albatross #51: Yeah, I know. I still say people having power over each other is evil per se. The problem is that it is, as you point out, a lesser evil than the ones that would result from having no one with such power.

Because it's an evil, though, I believe we need to minimize it. I sound like a Libertarian, don't I? No, I'm way too disillusioned about humanity: I'm a socialist, and I believe in a fairly high degree of economic and social control.

I just also believe in eliminating power-over in any context where it's practical to do so. I won't have a relationship where the other person is completely dependent on me, for example. (Yes, we play games with obedience...but those are games, and can be ended at any time either of us is uncomfortable.)

I guess I'm against coercion in general, but I recognize that it must be practiced against those who would coerce others.

It is impossible to be pure, and yet live in the world.

#59 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 03:03 PM:

Martyn, have you any suggestions?

#60 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 03:25 PM:

I take constant action! I post on blogs and internet boards and I get really mad.

#61 ::: Steve Buchheit ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 04:40 PM:

Martyn #57 (Brush Up Your Shakespeare)

Some guys today in the Army,
like to cause themselves maximum harm-y
So to win back hearts
one must quote with ease
General Powell and General Kashvili

One must know Geneva, and believe me, Chris
The Uniform Code of Military Justice-ice
Unless you know Rumsfeld, Dick and Condie,
The same soldiers will call you a commie

But the commander in chief of 'em all
you intelligence he will strain
is the leader people call
The Bush of brush cutting fame

Phone up your Congressman
Start bothering them now
Phone up your Congressman
And this crap we'll end right now

#62 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 04:52 PM:

I didn't watch this this morning, because I was feeding my kids, and they always come rushing over when they hear video clips on the computer (I blame the Bravia advert with the superballs, which my son has seen a score of times or more). I'm not watching it now, because I can't face it. It's just one too many bad things, and I feel entirely heartsick.

And it wasn't even that bad a day, in my slice of meatspace. I think that makes it worse.

#63 ::: saoba ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 04:58 PM:

I wish it surprised me.

I personally know a soldier who is serving in Iraq. While home on a leave he was trying to talk to his wife. Their three year old was following him, trying to talk to Daddy.

Without a word of warning he palmed the toddler's head like a basketball, shoved her away into a wall and shut the door in her face. When his wife demanded to know what he thought he was doing he gave her a very matter of fact reply.

"That's how you keep Them off the vehicles."

"That is your daughter!"

"It's all Them, one way or another."

This was a young man I thought I knew. A young man who was a loving father, devoted to his family... who could no longer tell who They are. It's all Them, one way or another.

He didn't get it when his wife tried to explain why this bothered her. He didn't understand why his toddler spent the rest of his leave eyeing him fearfully. Her skittishness made him resentful. His wife's request he consider seeing a counselor with her was dismissed because it would have a negative impact on his career.

After his leave was over his wife went to a family support meeting. When she talked about what had happened several other wives had similar stories.

I wish that video surprised me.

#64 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 05:20 PM:

Serge Sean Bosker... It feels weird watching those old WW2 movies on TCM and thinking of when we were unquestionably the good guys.

The most vivid memory I have of a WWII-era movie was of a woman cheerfully singing about shooting "Jap" planes one by one (think of the children's "Ten Little Indians" song).

This was considered wholesome family entertainment.

#65 ::: Edward B ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 05:36 PM:

I watch this video, and find myself wondering again, why are we at war? The soldiers don't want to be there, and you can tell when they find pleasure in harassing small children. That's not normal. And I find myself wondering had those men in the video watched themselves doing this, perhaps pre-war for a different perspective, would they have laughed then?

#66 ::: Jack The Gripper ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 06:15 PM:

Is this a Poland Springs ad?

#67 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 08:00 PM:

True, Aconite. There was ugly racism in those old WW2 movies. I prefer delving on movies like Sahara with Bogart where the good guys (that's us) kill others only if they have to, and they certainly don't taunt children. Sure that was propaganda, not the grim reality, but the stories that we tell about ourselves say what we are, or at least what we yearn to be. It's like I was telling a friend in Quebec a couple of years ago: the myth, the story, that defines America is that there was this bad king who ruled over us so we threw him out. I'm probably not explaining this in a way that makes sense.

#68 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2006, 08:51 PM:

These guys are unpardonable assholes.

That said, the kids running after the truck are obviously doing it on the chance that the assholes in the truck will actually give them a bottle of water--something I expect some other non-assholes have been known to do. Otherwise we wouldn't be seeing kids run after a truck like that three years after an invasion.

I expect the kids will remember both. My mother was a child in Germany after World War II and has told me stories of both the unpardonable assholes and the really nice guys who were part of the occupied forces.

#69 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 12:36 AM:

Premise: The armed forces of a democracy are most unlikely to be effective in suppressing a genuinely popular insurgency that is widely based among a whole people. Such an insurgency is likely to follow invasion and occupation, with a level of probability and inveterancy directly proportional to the cultural differences between the occupying forces and the population, with other factors also important.

Argument: Democracies depend on a wide level of genuine political freedom and a high degree of genuine meritocracy. This, in turn, demands a widely and liberally educated population and free access to knowledge. The armed forces of a democracy are necessarily part and parcel of the state itself, and not a mercenary military class. It follows that, as a whole, those armed forces will balk at the level of wholesale extreme brutality against a civil population, utter disregard for civil rights, and savage reprisal required to suppress a popular revolt and impose rule.

Let it be said straight away that it is possible, by using these methods, to do it. Saddam's forces did it, with far less military resources than the western allies could deploy. But it is not possible for democracies to use such methods. Either the commanders of the forces could not order it (and the politicians could not order them), or the very characteristics that define a democracy would be destroyed.

Conclusion: The armed forces of a democracy should not attempt the suppression of a general popular insurgency. The moment that such an insurgency appears, the attempt becomes either impossible or else subversive of the democracy itself.

Second conclusion: The only method by which an occupying democracy can suppress a general and popular insurgency is to not allow it to emerge in the first place. This will not always be possible. If it is possible, it can only be achieved by adequate planning in advance to provide good order and government, with the rapid restoration of services, the amelioration of life, and the rapid restitution of civil order. This in turn can only be achieved by deploying resources on a vast, and very expensive, scale. Something like the Marshall Plan, which was about the most humane, decent and above all successful initiative in history, and to which humanity largely owes modern, liberal, democratic Europe.

Exception: The American Civil War. Considering the methods used ultimately to crush the Confederacy, it beats me how the USA emerged with its democracy more or less intact, even though with important caveats.

#70 ::: Heather ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 01:37 AM:

63 ::: saoba : Please, for the love of God: tell me you're joking. Tell me that you're just telling a third or fourth hand story, and that it's just an overblown urban legend.


Because that made me cry. And made me want to wake up my little girl, hug her tightly, and tell her that her daddy loves her with all her heart, and would never do anything so awful.

#71 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 01:48 AM:

I don't think we've really been the "good guys" since at least before the US Civil War p.o.w. camp depredations. Bleargh, I watch the History Channel too much....

#72 ::: saoba ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 02:06 AM:

#70 Heather- I wish it were an urban legend, or a story of a FOAF. Sadly, it's neither. His wife is a member of my extended family.

There were witnesses.

And if someone had tried to tell that soldier before he went to Iraq that he would ever be capable of doing something like that to his adored little girl he wouldn't have believed them. Hell, I wouldn't have believed them.

#73 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 02:22 AM:

If this were a soap, the next stage would be the soldier vanishing in the direction of Canada, while his wife is relaying the patio in the back garden.

Leading to "How can you claim self-defence? This guy was a Hero!"

#74 ::: Kit ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 04:24 AM:

Actually the Stanford experimenters told the 'guards' nothing except that they had to keep order. The massive harassment of prisoners, they came up with by themselves. Milgram tested obedience to orders, Stanford tested how roles can allow you to resign personal responsibility.

JH Woodyatt 56 - you are not the good guys. Sorry, but you're just not. Bush started an illegal war based on a pack of lies, and smashed the country up without any good plans to build it up again that didn't involve profiteering. As far as Iraq goes, you are not the good guys, you're a pirate ship.

This is part of America's problem: Americans seem incapable of conceiving of themselves as the bad guys, which makes them feel fine about doing any number of bad things. You have got to stop calling yourselves the good guys: it makes it easier for America to f*ck over other countries without questioning whether it's justified. Saying 'we're still the good guys' is part of the problem.

In this war, as in plenty of wars, there are no good guys, just different groups of bad guys. America is one of them.

#75 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 04:51 AM:

Kit @74

You're missing jh woodyatt's nuance at 56.

"We're still unquestionably the good guys. I suspect that's part of the problem." (emphasis mine)

In other words it's time for the US to start questioning the assumption that we are, de facto, the good guys, no matter what we do.

Me, I think reparitions are in order. But I seriously doubt that they will be paid.

Note that this video has made the UK popular press. Sigh.

#76 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 05:05 AM:

#74, Kit, I think you're agreeing vigeriously with JH Woodyatt at #56. I read that comment as saying that because the believe in America as a good country is so widespread in it, it makes it difficult to do any honest self examination.

#77 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 05:20 AM:

Is it possible to identify the neighborhood or the soldiers or both?

Because what I would like to see is a court martial. Then I would like to see the court martialees publicly humiliated with those kids as guests of honor. I know basically zip about practices in my own country's armed forces, but I remember a scene from a military SF novel that would work nicely:

Put them into dress uniform and march them out onto a parade ground with their unit.

Rip off all of their insignia (pre-stressed).

About face and leave them standing there in badly styled suits. They are now nonpersons, shunned, invisible. How they get off the base is their problem.

#78 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 05:49 AM:

I prefer delving on movies like Sahara with Bogart where the good guys (that's us) kill others only if they have to, and they certainly don't taunt children. Sure that was propaganda, not the grim reality, but the stories that we tell about ourselves say what we are, or at least what we yearn to be. It's like I was telling a friend in Quebec a couple of years ago: the myth, the story, that defines America is that there was this bad king who ruled over us so we threw him out. I'm probably not explaining this in a way that makes sense.

I think the theme of our defining story is that individuals in a system that permits neither tyranny nor peonage naturally tend toward the good. Yes, we ripped holes in our own plot, so to speak, before the ink on the Constitution was dry. But we still tell our children the story and we still believe it.

#79 ::: Kit ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 06:29 AM:

Ah well, I stand corrected. Sorry JH, I'm so mad at those soldiers I'm probably not at my clearest-headed. Thank you for pointing out my confusion without laughing too loudly; it's nice to see an energetic discussion that stays polite.

#80 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 09:12 AM:

Dave L @ 69:

Part of the reason the American Civil War did as little damage socially as it did (and I can tell you, it's still reverberating through society) is that a lot of people weren't directly involved, even in the South. If there wasn't fighting in your area, or if you weren't in the path of one or another army, you were probably safe from the effects.
The boundaries between areas supporting-the-confederacy and areas supporting-the-union were not at all clear-cut, either. (I'm thinking of the copperheads in Illinois and the many non-slaveowners in the southern Appalachians, in particular).

#81 ::: John S. Quarterman ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 12:34 PM:

"...the Myth of Redemptive Violence is the story of the victory of order over chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. The gods favor those who conquer. Conversely, whoever conquers must have the favor of the gods. The common people exist to perpetuate the advantage that the gods have conferred upon the king, the aristocracy, and the priesthood. Religion exists to legitimate power and privilege. Life is combat. Any form of order is preferable to chaos...."

--Walter Wink, The Powers that Be, 1999

And you don't transcend, evolve from, overcome, the myth of redemptive violence by applying more violence.


#82 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 03:45 PM:

Considering the methods used ultimately to crush the Confederacy, it beats me how the USA emerged with its democracy more or less intact, even though with important caveats.

I would recommend reading Nathan Newman's Ulysses Grant: Our Greatest President?. Basically, Grant tried to do the right thing and almost succeeded. In the end, the US caved in to Klan terrorism and abandoned its attempts to guarantee full democracy and civil rights. That preserved the union without an additional toll in money and troops, but we paid a terrible price in the perversion of our democratic system and the oppression of our fellow Americans.

We can say we emerged from the Civil War with our democracy more or less intact only because it wasn't that great before the Civil War, otherwise we would not have had it.

#83 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 04:07 PM:

#59 - Xopher

What do you do? See #61. Bug your congresscritters. Bug them often. Bug your president . . .

Yes, that's right, bug the President. Nothing's going to change if you only preach to the converted. D'you think he reads Making Light and Whatever and all the other sites where spleen is vented against him and all his works? Of course he doesn't. He won't read your letters and emails either, but if enough of you contact him I expect a minion will point out that there's a tsunami headed Jeb's way.

See what Dr Johnson says about the prospect of being executed in the morning.

Bug the publications that you don't like. What's to lose? The same applies. Look what Mr Murdoch did when enough shit hit the fan about OJ's 'book'.

Bug Rush Limbaugh (has a certain ring that. Wonder where I heard it before?) Get up the nostrils of all the hate mongers. One of the most significant events on British television was a housewife on a phone in getting right on Thatcher's tits about the General Belgrano, and believe me, the Mad Cow was both cleverer and a harder case than anyone currently in your administration. It can be done.

Bug whoever you can and do it as publicly as you can, because those arseholes are now known all over the world. You know they don't represent America. I know they don't. Because they're not already on their way to Leavenworth, the rest of the world just shakes its head and sighs. Another light goes out.

Who is going to do it if you don't? Go to it, you buggers.

#84 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 04:26 PM:

Jenny Islander wrote at #78: I think the theme of our defining story is that individuals in a system that permits neither tyranny nor peonage naturally tend toward the good.

The US is fairly unique amongst developed countries in being explicitly founded on violence, insurrection, and armed opposition to intolerable authority.

As a result, the myth that gets passed on is that violence and war Works, you got what you wanted, and if you have problems again in the future, you know what to do.

(Standard disclaimers about not being a US citizen myself, and not expecting this to be universally taught in the US, apply.)

#85 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 09:42 PM:

"Fairly unique amongst developed countries in being explicitly founded on violence, insurrection, and armed opposition to intolerable authority."

Britain 1642,1688, (and hence the English-speaking ex-colonies) France 1787, Italy 1870, Russia 1917, Germany 1918, most of South America (various dates from 1818 on). Many others.

It is not a myth that violence works. Violence does work, for some definitions of 'work'. It is working, and will work, in Iraq, in the sense that it will remove the foreigners and define the people who will constitute any future regime. Warfare gives decisions.

True, the ethics of those decisions are only tangentally related to the violence. In the US the outcome was a form of government that eventually became genuine democracy, and was always founded on the consent of the governed. In other nations the outcomes have rarely been so happy. But outcomes there are. Warfare may be criticised on many good grounds, and I will loudly sing amen to them. But it cannot be said that it does not work. It does work.

#86 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 09:49 PM:

John Q at #81 -- Thank you!!! That's a wonderful quote and it immediately started me on a very theological train of thought which I won't detail here, because I suspect most people won't care. But to get to the heart of it -- this myth, the Myth of Redemptive Violence, is precisely the myth which Christians -- not the Christianists, and not, unfortunately, the Church -- reject. Christians look for redemption to the Powerless One. Or should.

And from this derives a question... Is it even possible to "transcend, evolve from, overcome, the myth of redemptive violence"? It seems to me that it (the myth) is a complete dead end, and the only way to leave it behind is to abandon it.

#87 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 11:36 PM:

Here's the Zimbardo interview.

#88 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2006, 11:39 PM:

Lizzy, Tolkien transcended the myth of redemptive violence; in the end, the War of the Ring was won by Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, not all the armies.

#89 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 12:15 AM:

Randolph at 88: yes -- and your point is..?

#90 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 01:52 AM:

Heather, studies by the military (up to the 80s, I haven't seen any since) showed that the incidence of military child abuse was much higher than non-military child abuse. The military men have trouble leaving their day jobs at work. A book called Military Brats, the Legacy of Childhood Inside the Fortress champions separation of work and home by thinking of them as Sword (work) and Shield (home).

#91 ::: Kit ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 04:50 AM:

Hi Dave 85.
You say: 'Britain 1642,1688, (and hence the English-speaking ex-colonies) France 1787, Italy 1870, Russia 1917, Germany 1918, most of South America (various dates from 1818 on). Many others.'

Those aren't founding incidents of violence. Every country has violence in its past, but America declared itself a nation based on a revolution. Britain, Russia, France and so on were already nations when they had those uprisings. As a result, they don't have all that 'born in struggle against evil' stuff hardwired into their sense of themselves as countries in quite the same way America does. That's why, for instance, they don't have all that 'right to bear arms' stuff. America's circumstances are kind of unusual.

#92 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 07:20 AM:

Kit, most nations were never "founded" at all, but many, probably most, nations have legitimate governments and forms of government that came about through the successful use of violence, usually all-out warfare. This may not be an explicit foundation on violence, but it is so strongly implicit in the history of these nations as to make the distinction meaningless. The idea being put was that the USA has a cultural predeliction towards violence because it was founded on violence. I think this is no more true of the US than it is of nearly every nation, but I was mainly contesting a second idea, which I also think is untrue.

This is the idea, as Sam Kelly put it: "the myth (my emphasis) (...) is that violence and war Works". But it isn't a myth. It is the common experience of most nations, so long as by the word "works" you mean something like: "produces results favourable to the successful user".

#93 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 08:31 AM:

Dave Luckett: I never said that a myth couldn't work. It's an important story, and all of them contain some amount of truth.

I do think that it's a very important distinction to make between a violent revolution in a continuous polity and the establishment of an entirely new polity by violence. As you say, Britain wasn't founded at all, it just sort of happened (though there's always the old origin-myth of the noble civilised Normans) and that means we always have a sense of having been here all along.

The War of the Three Kingdoms (1642, what I learnt about in school under the title of the Civil War - the other title's more common in history books these days, and confuses Americans less) was entirely ambiguous for us. We got a lot of changes and new ways of thinking and limits on the powers of the monarchy, but we also got the monarchy back again (by invitation) and it resulted in a lot of typically British compromises and Arrangements. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 was a hastily-legitimized armed invasion by William of Orange, who'd been invited in by a group of quislings. As far as we know, nobody died, or at least there were no actual battles.

(Amusingly, the two most important Dates are 42 BCE and 1066 AD, both successful armed invasions. In both cases, the original inhabitants were not only still around afterwards, but made up the bulk of the population. So it could be argued that "being invaded and being stronger for it" is a big part of the British national myth. In fact, here's some illustrative Kipling - scroll down to 'The Anvil'.)

The French and the Russians revolted and took over their own nations, prising them out of the corrupt, decadent hands of the aristocrats, but they were still clearly the same nations - sovereign before & afterwards.

As I understand American history, though, the USA started out as a collection of vassal states and commercial plantations, and then stablished an entirely new polity with its own sovereignty and diplomatic relations. And then went on to become a superpower and the leaders of the free world. I'm not familiar with the history of the South American states you mentioned, but now that you've brought it to my attention, you're right, there are a lot of other post-colonial countries in similar situations for the first part of that.

I'm not sure that it does mean there's a predisposition towards violence, just that there is that one big example where it paid off big time, and for pretty much everyone in the nation. Not being American myself, I don't know whether or not this is an unambiguous example, but it seems it must be a stronger positive - does the Revolutionary War ever get taught in an "on the one hand... on the other" way?

#94 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 10:06 AM:

#90 Marilee:

Is there evidence about whether the families started out that way, or military training/preparation or combat or whatever pushed them further in that direction? Since the military is all voluntary, you can't assume that the set of people joining the military reflects the general population. In fact, the natural guess is that more aggressive people would find a military career more appealing than less aggressive people, though I don't ahve any data for that.

It's interesting, though, that many of the ways the military filters recruits--not wanting people with very low IQs, no high school diploma, drug problems, criminal records, etc.--would be the kind of thing you'd expect to exclude a lot of tendency toward abuse of kids.

#95 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 10:24 AM:

#81 John Quarterman:

Is there a distinction between the myth of redemptive violence and a realization that violence is both necessary and effective in certain situations? It's easy to read that quote as either saying something like "violence doesn't work, it's a myth that it does," or as "might doesn't have much to do with right."

The second meaning is obviously true, and there's clearly a tendency to justify your own society's victories in terms of moral rightness leading to victory--the white people pushed aside the Indians because God loves us (not because the Eurasian disease environment and agriculture-driven population growth made the Indians' position untenable), we came to Europe's rescue in WW2 because we are strong and noble (not because we had nice, wide oceans between us and all our competent enemies, a big population, and a big industrial base), we fought the Communists because we cared about democracy (not because we were scared s--tless of being surrounded by Communist states, watching the Red Army devour Europe, and ending up in an unwinnable war), etc.

But the first sense is just as obviously false. Violence is not much for accomplishing moral outcomes, but it's pretty effective at stopping invasions, destroying trade rivals, wiping out dissenting religions and political beliefs, etc.

#96 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 10:44 AM:

#93 -- What do you mean 'vassal states and commercial plantations?'

All of the British colonies had charters from the Crown. Most had Royal Governors. Many also had an elected body for the governing of the colony (see House of Burgesses, Colonial Williamsburg).

Some were penal colonies (see Georgia). The only one that might be considered to be a 'vassal state' was Maryland, whose founder was a member of the British peerage, Lord Baltimore.

To the best of my knowledge none were 'commercial plantations.' That might be true of areas colonized by the British East India Company, but AFAIK that entity did not operate in the area later known as the USA.

#97 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 11:03 AM:

#76 Martin:

I think this is a pretty generic property of people. In the US and I think most of the Western world, there seems to be this multi-stage process:

a. We are the Good Guys, and the dirty savages should be thankful they have our help.

b. We are inhuman monsters, and the clean and noble savages would be far better off without us.

c. We are pretty much like everyone else, and differ from the savages mainly in that machine guns and napalm are more efficient than spears and swords.

This seems like a progression, with (c) being the point at which any useful improvement of our own behavior can begin. It seems like a lot of college kids move from (a) to (b) when they start learning a bit of real history, and also are most inclined to rebel against their parents. But "we're all monsters" is as useless for improving behavior as "we're all angels." The only place from which you can actually improve anything is "we're humans who are capable of either great good or great evil."

#98 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 11:18 AM:

Veritas omnia vincit; albatross veritas est.

#99 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 11:22 AM:

Lori @ 96
Possibly he's thinking of the proprietary colonies.

#100 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 11:42 AM:

Albatross, do you not think that responsibility is impacted by a) the amount of power relative, b) the amount of hypocrisy involved? Given that some groups have gone and conquered others in the name of Doing Them Good, and others however much bastards at home to each other they might have been (no one would ever consider the Irish to have been peaceful Noble Savages who's ever read the Tain) haven't done that (despite the best efforts of Hegemony propagandists to convince us that Charlie was going to cross the Pacific and burn us out and carry off our wives and virgin daughters if we didn't win [sic] in Vietnam) and that, for instance, weight classes matter in boxing (if not in domestic violence laws) it's not quite so simple imo as saying "we're all bastards equally, so let's not try to pretend some of us have more responsibility historically than others," which as noted reminds me of the False Equalism of those who equate a woman fighting back against an abusive husband with her abuser, saying "see, everyone's violent!" regardless of statistics. (q.v. also Kapitän Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller.)

#101 ::: Kit ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 12:01 PM:

Hi Dave (92). My point is that few nations mythologise armed struggle the way America does, or at least, few European ones, which is where I am, because they're less central to the country's self-image - they could still call themselves countries before it happened. I don't know whether that's because of the circumstances of the actual historical War of Independence itself or because the 'we won so now we're independent' principle was written into the Constitution or because tales tend to grow in the telling, but the notion of war seems to have a symbolic importance that makes it, if not a more violent society, a society that's particularly prone to the redemptive-violence idea. At least, that's how it looks from over here. I think I'm with Sam Kelly (93) on this.

#102 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 12:40 PM:

I keep being reminded of Britain at the end of the nineteenth century. I don't believe we can exactly analogise Iraq to the Boer War, but it bears thinking about.

#103 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 03:29 PM:

American Dream.

You crossed the seas to build yourselves a city on new-minted hills,
You had a bad king once: you threw him out.
You were the licensed good guys and gave chocolate to the kids,
And liberty was what it's all about.

And Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, are foreign words to you,
The children beg for water and the torture bill goes through.
A few bad apples spread and turn the whole damn crop to rot,
And this is us, is now, is what we've got.

So count the votes, America, and throw the bastards out.
Remember being what you want to seem.
Recall the things that matter and give substance to the words,
Bring back the hopes that went to build the dream.

Make Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the ancient words of shame.
Set straight the laws and end the wars, accept your share of blame.
Give water to the thirsty kids, give hope and freedom too,
And this is us, is now, is ours to do.

#104 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 03:56 PM:

There's a WW1 cartoon from Punch, later redone as a propaganda poster. It showed a wounded British soldier, obviously thirsty, being taunted by a German nurse pouring a glass of water on the floor in front of him.

Apparently that poster was responsible for the introduction of conscription being delayed for a year. Of course, after the War it turned out that the incident had been fictional....

#105 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 04:02 PM:

Jo Walton #103: Very good!!

#106 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 07:53 PM:

Throwing out the bad king (Serge #67, Jo Walton #103) was an important part of the foundation of the Roman Republic, too.

(see Tarquin the Proud (Tarquinius Superbus); The Rape of Lucretia, etc.)

#107 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 08:15 PM:

albatross, #94, two parts to that: 1) many military come from military families and may have learned the abuse as it was inflicted on them, and b) to some extent it's trained into them. Their mission is all-important.

Personally, as I became an adult, I realized that my father was taking work anger out on me because he had no way to be angry on base. I was the first acceptable target he saw.

#108 ::: serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 09:31 PM:

Good indeed, Jo... Oh, we're counting the votes. What worries me a bit is that Republicans like McCain and Giuliani seem to be ahead of Democrats in a hypothetical 2008 race. In other words, it seems like the the last 6 years haven't taught the People not to trust Republicans, only not to trust the current bunch of bums. Well, I'll try not to think too much of the possibility that half of the People might again show itself to be a bunch of rubes. Luckily we have some wine left over from yesterday's celebration.

#109 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 09:38 PM:

Terrific article by Mark Danner in Volume 53, Number 20 of The New York Review of Books. It's titled "Iraq: The War of the Imagination." Digby has a link to it.

#110 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 10:29 PM:

Lizzy #89--that Tolkien found a way to place violence in a context which both allowed it legitimacy and pried it from the altar of redemption. This is a very subtle way of addressing the myth; many casual readers of Lord of the Rings don't seem to pick it up at all, and I think bears further examination. In the context of the Iraqi war it might suggest that a focus on peace and sacrifice might be needed to resolve the horrors of violence. Perhaps, perhaps. I think this deserves more thought.

#111 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 10:46 PM:

Re ACUs: They've been the issue uniform for deployed troops for at least two years.

Xopher: Conduct unbecoming is only applicable to officers, to wit, Art. 133 of the UCMJ, Conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman. It hearkens to the idea that the rankers (even the NCOs) weren't gentleman, and no conduct was I beneath them.

cya: War Porn... I think intent matters in the use of the perjorative porn, not the least of which is because the word has an implicit sexual connotation.

I've read a lot of war writing (both fiction, and non; at present my bedstand reading is, "The Soldier's Story" which is an analysis of the arcing narrative of the post-war writings on the World Wars, and Viet-nam).

Drake isn't trying to titilate. Arousing the reader, in a sexual way, isn't his goal. If he has a goal (aside from laying his personal demons to rest) it's probably to say, "this is what war is, engage in it at your peril; because it will debase your children, ruin your culture, bankrupt the treasury, and call the goals for which you were willing to mortgage your future into question. Those are what you get if you win, and are lucky."

If you aren't lucky, even winning won't save you from the attendant secondary horrors."

But what do I know, I'm just a simple soldier, one of the faceless masses tarred with the brush of evil that comes of a filthy job.

I've seen the dead, both in the simple, and the subtle. The bodies on the side of the road, and the faint whiff of them, carried on the breeze which sucks the smell out of the abandoned carcassses of vehicles, after the corpses have been removed from the road. That smell lingers; I swear it soaks it's way into the very metak, only t be sweated out at the merest hint of sun. I've seen them come into the hospital, not yet still, but no longer among the quick.

It sucks to get dead. It sucks a lot more to get dead painfully, slowly.

But dead is done. The dead have no more cares, or worries. They are either dust, or judged by some god. In either case, they are out of it.

The living, they can suffer. To torment the living, in my arrogant opinion, is worse than 'just' killing someone. Killing can be done without passion, without hate; even (though it's horrid to admit it) without feeling.

Torments, tortures and abuses to the living... those have to be done from some lack of empathy. They require, at some level, a dis-humaning of the victim. Mere killing doesn't require that. An enemy can be respected.

The abused cannot. The mere fact of being powerless to stop the abuse makes the victim a lesser person.

So, to sum up all that persiflage, I think this video is the sign of something worse.

#112 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 11:24 PM:

Marilee@107: Prior selection and basic training are probably part of the equation; I suspect another part is that basic washes out a certain fraction of enlistees -- not a large fraction, but enough to get rid of the people with backbone to resist or character to refuse to follow the Milgram or Stanford paths.

#113 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 11:45 PM:

Kit writes: "Sorry JH, I'm so mad at those soldiers I'm probably not at my clearest-headed."

No apology necessary. I'm still bent out of shape about them too. I wish I could say I was surprised, but then I think it's fair to say that this is the sort of misconduct one could reasonably expect after you've issued 13,600 waivers in one year.

(You should have seen my friend, TheDrieux, after I showed him the video after Thanksgiving dinner. I'm always a little bit scared when the reaction from him is gobsmacked speechlessness.)

#114 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 06:27 AM:

Terry @111,

Without disagreeing one whit with what you've said, nor in any way questioning your authority to say it, I had a further comment on this line.

But dead is done. The dead have no more cares, or worries. They are either dust, or judged by some god. In either case, they are out of it.

This is true, but their loved ones now have to live with their loss, and any cares and worries they have left behind. Like funerals, grief is really about the living.

(Thank you, by the way, both for your service and your input. You've taught me a lot, and made me think in new directions.)

#115 ::: cya ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 06:57 AM:

Terry Karney -
I have a problem finding the right term for much of the sort of fiction which Baen prints in such abundance over the last decade or two. Basically, it is a form of non-sexual vicarious excitement in the name of 'honesty' or 'reality' - you know, if it wasn't for the soldiers killing people, the world would be faced with catastrophe. This belief has spread deeply throughout American society - and isn't really understandable to people who have some understanding that war is not protection, it is death, maiming, and destruction - like those old Europeans who destroyed Old Europe. This also puts Drake into a special case - his military fiction is quite amoral, which is appropriate in this context.

Realism is one thing, and dealing with a brutal subject honestly certainly opens one up to various charges. On the other hand, an obsession with showing how soldiers are honorable killers playing by honest rules is not quite the same thing, especially in the Slammers series.

Nonetheless, his writing comes a lot closer to bringing the discussion into the real world than much of the moral outrage about despicable soldiers - most of those writers seem to have no clue at all what happens in Iraq on a daily basis, and no, jerking kids around doesn't even rate mention. Unless you cannot imagine that every single day, children in Iraq are being killed, maimed, burned, while watching other people being killed, maimed, and burned. Every single day. And it is getting worse while Americans argue about things those children could not comprehend.

#116 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 10:09 AM:

#100 Bellatrys:

No, I don't think relative power imbalance or hypocracy has much impact on the moral evaluation of what we're doing. What we're doing is the critical thing.

The Rwandan Genocide was done with equivalent technology on both sides. I can't see how it would have been more horrible if the Hutus had been using poison gas and bioweapons to murder a million people, rather than guns and machetes. The size of the power imbalance changes the cost of carrying out a genocide, but not the moral evaluation of it once it's being done.

And hypocracy seems like an irrelevancy here. We're often talking about crimes with five and six digit body counts: brutal imperialism, bloody occupations, ethnic cleansing, genocide, slavery. Adding in hypocracy seems like the prosecutor in a murder case bringing up the accused's overdue library books.

The point of this isn't "we're all the same so let's not hold ourselves accountable," it's "we're just people, so we'd better work out ways to hold ourselves accountable." This isn't impossible. Court martialing soldiers that rob, rape, and kill civilians, and impeaching presidents who claim the power to torture prisoners, and trying people involved in running secret prisons and outsourcing torture as war criminals are all ways to hold ourselves accountable, and thus to minimize the scope of abuse.

But none of this fits with either the assumption that we're angels (no oversight is necessary) or devils (no oversight is possible or useful).

#117 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 02:00 PM:

cya: You want to talk about Baen, fine, but talk about Baen, don't beat up on Drake. If I were going to single out a "big name" for writing war-fic which glorified it, made the topic palatable, I'd pick Dickson.

For more mainstream, I'd pick Harold Coyle, or Bernard Cornwell.

I don't know that I'd use the word amoral to discuss Drake, I know, that like atheist, it can mean there is no moral to be drawn, and no intent on the part of the writer to draw one, but it, like porn, has connotations. The soldiers in Drake's fiction aren't lacking in morals, they've just switched on set (larger polity) for another (local entity, The Unit, or The Company).

In that regard they are perfectly understandable. They've hired out (usually, most of Drakes writing uses mercenaries, though some are nationalistic) to kill for money; on behalf of those who want other killed for cause.

It's not a worldview I can really accept (not so much the killing, as I get more self-revelatory than perhaps is wise, as the causes. They aren't, usually, fighting some other group who've accepted that way of life, but rather one side, or the other, in some local squabble; at that point we are talking people like Blackwater, and CACI), but one which isn't new, unique, or; given the baseline, unreasonable.

Don't dick with them, and they; pretty much, won't screw with you.

Which is drifting off-topic.

As for Baen, et al, being the source of this belief... nope. It goes back to the Cold War, and that silly piece of doggerel about the soldier being the source of all freedom.

Orwell, with his quip about rough men, who stand ready to dastardly deeds in the middle of the night is part of that same myth, and that was in England. There are large chunks of that trope in Russia (and before that in the Soviet Union).

People who are afraid of some bogeyman want to believe that someone will keep away the things which go bump in the night.

abi: Not to offend, but I wasn't writing about the living, or the dead. I was writing about those who kill, and torment. Those people were whom I was writing about; and the immediate victims of their actions, the second order effects didn't seem material

In that context the question was what they do (and to a lesser degree, to whom). The aftermath of what they do is another question entirely. Though not beyond the scope of the questions we are addressing, it didn't seem relevant to the question of which was worse; on the level of affecting the perpetrator.

Which comes round to one of my arguments against torture as a tool, it degrades the torturer, more than it harms the tortured.

#118 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 02:09 PM:

Terry #111: So the charge of Conduct Unbecoming for the two Marines in A Few Good Men was a typical Hollywood distortion? That wouldn't surprise me, but it's why I was confused.

#119 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 02:11 PM:

With respect to Baen Books, I think Ringo is more objectionable than Drake.

#120 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 02:23 PM:

cya@53: No there's not - I live in Germany, and trust me, one reason the Germans are opposed to war is that they have some idea of what extra despicable means. This doesn't even begin to register on their scale[...]

Ah, I see. Because there are worse things out there, this isn't disgusting. Because there are more vile atrocities, we're wimps to get worked up over something like this.

Personally, I'm relieved that there is still enough decency in enough people that this sort of behavior is considered appalling, and we don't have to reserve outrage for human ovens.

You think we're wimps for considering this disgusting and utterly unacceptable? I think you're hard-hearted to rule it minor because it could be worse, and I hope we never become so cold.

#121 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 03:14 PM:

According to DailyKos, there's a piece of paper with Don Rumsfeld's signature on it authorizing civilian contractors to interrogate prisoners and use such techniques as sleep derivation.

Think there might be more such pieces of paper out there?

#122 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 03:51 PM:

Xopher: #119 Yes.

Not only was it wrong, because of their rank, it was a charge which flat out doesn't exist. If you look at it, they are charged with conduct unbecoming a Marine.

Since the UCMJ, is "uniform", i.e. it applies to all the services (and was written, under Truman, IIRC, to rectify the differences in chargeable offenses between the Services, and is why the JAG consists of officers from all the branches of service) there are no service specific charges.

Typical Hollywood, "not quite."

#123 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 08:05 PM:

Lizzy #121: I suspect that there are quite a few such bits of paper out there. Augustulus and his boys (Hmm... Would Rummy be Maecenas or Agrippa?) seem to have forgotten that they're in a republic.

#124 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 10:02 PM:

"sleep derivation." Me at 121. Should have been sleep deprivation. I have no idea what sleep derivation is... sounds nasty.

#125 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2006, 10:21 PM:

Lizzy L #124: I don't know either, but it sounds like the meat of an interesting short story.

#126 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2006, 01:22 AM:

Lizzy L @124: I have no idea what sleep derivation is... sounds nasty.

It sounded to me like “doing calculus in your sleep” (wouldn't finding a derivative be derivation?), but calculus isn't listed in any of the definitions of derivation suggested by Google. Abstract algebra is mentioned, but linguistical meanings seem more common. Wikipedia suggests similar meanings, but adds these:

The creation of a derived row, in the twelve-tone musical technique
An after-the-fact justification for an action, in the work of sociologist Vilfredo Pareto

Let's hope more papers with Rumsfeld's and Cheney's fingerprints (and signatures) surface. However, before the election, Cheney had been reported to have had a document shredding company's truck at his house.

#127 ::: cya ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2006, 03:56 AM:

'Personally, I'm relieved that there is still enough decency in enough people that this sort of behavior is considered appalling, and we don't have to reserve outrage for human ovens.

You think we're wimps for considering this disgusting and utterly unacceptable? I think you're hard-hearted to rule it minor because it could be worse, and I hope we never become so cold.'

Still paying your taxes to the American government? I don't, though in this case, it is legal, since as an American citizen living overseas, my income is not taxed under $70,000 or so (no interest in checking the latest limit - I don't earn that much anyways). I'm not that good of American, you know, that old love it or leave it thing.

I find it fascinating that people who do not seem to be taking any concrete actions to stop the evil going on through their nation's actions get so worked up about trivial things. Let me try again - let's just say those kids were Sunnis - do you think they worry much about being taunted at a Shia checkpoint? Or do they worry more about being handcuffed and having a hole drilled in their head, like has problably happened to a relative or two? Or do they worry more about a car bomb at a market, or perhaps a few mortar rounds landing, or ... oh wait, getting taunted is so horrible, that it is good that people still get worked up about that, since it means we can show how decent we are while doing nothing that costs us anything concrete to stop what we caused.

And as a side note - if we hadn't invaded, maybe those kids would have been taunted by Saddam's goons, and maybe they would have known a relative in a mass grave, and another who was raped. The world is not a Hollywood script.

As I have said, Iraq has a completely different standard of suffering, and quite honestly, this still doesn't rate. As most people who aren't American notice, Americans seem utterly incapable of imagining anything outside of themselves - for example, let me introduce the idea (read around the Internets, though if you wish, ask somebody who is Arab - don't know any? Hmmm.) that male Iraqis hate us a lot more for our breaking into their family houses at night without taking our shoes off - and they respond in turn to such barbaric behavior through gentle teaching methods like AK-47 rounds and RPGs - since they don't own any attack helicopters or bombers.

P J Evans and Terry Karney-
Oh, Ringo is certainly worse, but unlike Drake, he has absolutely no excuse, and he is much more in love with his various fetishes - Drake at least seems to write something which can you imagine applying to some of the people currently making decent money in Iraq, and their experience - for example, Drake probably could write a competent scene of where an explosion goes off in a crowded market, and the soldiers/'contractors' gun down small children, run over a family with their Bradley, pop a few grenades which tear apart the teahouse, and on, and on - sickening, but also real - it is your tax dollars at work, after all. That is why I explicitly picked David Drake, who has been writing this stuff since returning from Vietnam, after all.

Baen also has performed a rare feat - they published a book where the 'true' SS defends humanity, while portraying the German Greens and Socialists as traitors to the race (just like the Nazis accused the Socialists then - no irony in Ringo et al, none at all) - this book would be banned here, because glorifying the SS is illegal, to put it mildly, especially since people here do know what the 'true' SS did. Though I am very much a 1st Amendment absolutist, I'll grant the Germans a certain leeway in terms of trying to use any reasonable method to ensure that what they did in the past will not be repeated. In other words, Germany is not a slippery slope case.

As another aside, the only source I have of people who find Drake unacceptable is from Drake himself - he seems to write tirelessly about how his career would be awe-inspiring if he hadn't written such 'real' things as the Slammers series, and then faced problems from people who don't know what it is like at the sharp end of the stick, point of the spear, or whatever.

Nonetheless, what puts him into his own category, I find, is that his perspective of violence/war at least is grounded in something approaching reality - I can't imagine that, if talking about Dickson's Dorsai. And the fact that he started writing such things in the immediate post-Vietnam era also adds a certain complexity - he was describing, in a certain sense, what we had been doing in Vietnam, and in his opinion, what human beings will always do. Take that as you wish - realistic appraisal of the human condition, or cheap excuse to justify the evil he was involved in, at least as part of the machinery, if not through direct personal actions.

I guess part of the debate comes down into whether you find what he writes to be an exhortation or a warning - I find it a warning (but then, I grew up during the Vietnam war) which is utterly ignored anyways, especially by such people as Gingrich & Co. - why Drake isn't disgusted by chickenhawks is one of my open questions about him and his 'demons' - knowing that your work is admired by the cowards that are responsible in causing war must be hard to live with, I'm sure. This is also why I describe him as amoral - I read what he writes without finding any way to actually determine a consistent moral position at all - unlike Ringo, for example.

#128 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2006, 10:53 AM:

If you object to it, don't read it, and don't buy it. Don't complain about other people doing it, because they may not agree with you. YMMV.

#129 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2006, 12:43 PM:

Cya at 127: As most people who aren't American notice, Americans seem utterly incapable of imagining anything outside of themselves...

Cya, you don't know me, my history, or my capabilities. I do not think I am a narcissist or solipsist. That goes triple for some other folks here. Allow me to suggest that self-righteous, blanket statements about the capabilities of imaginary, unspecified Americans don't make me want to continue to take you seriously. In fact, they make you sound like a twit, which perhaps you are not...?

Have a nice day.

#130 ::: cya ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2006, 01:26 PM:

Lizzy L -
oh, sure, call me as you wish - here I am actually trying to get people to look beyond the taunting of kids which their tax dollars pay for to actually look at what their money buys, which is the sort of thing a twit would do, as there is no way to have any hope of success.

As for blanket judgments about Americans - well, the whole world has been making them for the last few years (Katrina certainly was an eye opener for them about how Americans feel about their fellow citizens, especially if they are poor and/or black), and being American myself, it certainly has been entertaining to watch the contrast between what Americans think about themselves and what the rest of the world does. A quote from the end of a New York Review of Books article ( -

'And then there was Iraq. There is much to say about America's most disastrous folly since Vietnam, but in some ways the most telling indictment is the response of ordinary Iraqis. As Richardson explains:

They find the claims that the United States is occupying Iraq to defend New York and deploying an army to import democracy to be so implausible that they do not believe them. Instead, they believe the claims of those who say the US Army is a self-interested army of occupation interested only in dominating the region and exploiting its oil wealth.

"In effect," she concludes, "they find al-Qaeda's propaganda more credible than ours."'

Whose propaganda do you believe, I wonder? Iraqis have already made up their minds about Americans, and quite honestly, they don't care a whit about the fine distinctions you seem to feel so important.

But then, as you mentioned, I'm a twit in your eyes, so please, go about your life unconcerned about my bitter comments.

Especially since your comments seem to imply you would be able to cast the first stone.

#131 ::: cya ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2006, 01:34 PM:

PJ Evans -
I first read Drake's Hammer Slammers in paperback ca 1980, when I was under 18, and the draft was just about to be re-instated.

His Omni story (Men Like Us) from around then was also quite good.

But since then, I've grown up a bit, and discovered he wasn't actually all that interested in warning people about the evils of war, or what war does to a person, as a way to stop war.

He seems to care more about selling his books, which is fair enough of an author, and complaining about the recognition he hasn't received because he tells things like they are in war.

But as we share a taste for riding older BMW twins, much of his perspective makes complete sense to me. Riding is also something which encourages an appreciation of reality.

#132 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2006, 02:38 PM:

Can I just say for the record that not every American abroad has become so embittered about our native country?

As for blanket judgments about Americans - well, the whole world has been making them for the last few years...

Living abroad these past 13 years, I've seen that much of the rest of the world is capable of taking a nuanced view of the USA. The same people who make blanket judgements about the US seem to make them about their own countries, their neighbours, and the strangers they see on the street. Many of them formed those views before we invaded Iraq, and would hold them even if we walked on water and multiplied loaves and fishes.

This is not to say that Iraq is anything other than a disaster. But my British colleagues, for instance, have enough historical memory to know that the UK does not have clean hands in that region either. My Iranian colleagues speak in the memory of Khomeni's excesses, and my Iraqi neighbour grew up under Hussein. They know this painful moral territory, better perhaps than we do.

...and being American myself, it certainly has been entertaining to watch the contrast between what Americans think about themselves and what the rest of the world does.

It's not my idea of entertainment. I spend a lot of time trying to bridge that gap, and it's rarely a barrel of laughs.

#133 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2006, 02:54 PM:

Cya, I didn't say you were a twit, (and I don't think you are) only that you made a twit's comment. That we express outrage here about kids and water bottles doesn't mean we aren't very aware of other basic issues. I suggested that you don't need to be rude, and that you were. If you found my comment rude -- well, then, we start even.

I do not think we are occupying Iraq for the benefit of the Iraqis.

#134 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2006, 03:19 PM:

"Baen also has performed a rare feat - they published a book where the 'true' SS defends humanity"

I think this example is rather a red herring. That book was Watch On The Rhine, co-written with Tom Kratman. (Full disclosure: I haven't read it, though my wife has and we've discussed it.) It was set in the Posleen Invasion series, wherein earth is invaded by ravening hordes, millions strong, of incredibly tough monsters whose goal is not to conquer us, but to eat us. In short, Ringo's premise stacks the deck to where any resource that can be used to kill or repel the Posleen is legitimate, because the alternative is to end up as a pile of Posleen poop.

As another example, one of my own (unsold) short stories has Jack the Ripper as the hero. He's the "hero" because everyone else in the story is worse. (I was trying to write a story where a very bad person does a very good thing; in this case, saving the world.)

#135 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2006, 01:37 AM:

cya: oh, sure, call me as you wish - here I am actually trying to get people to look beyond the taunting of kids which their tax dollars pay for to actually look at what their money buys, which is the sort of thing a twit would do, as there is no way to have any hope of success.

Arrogant and self-righteous much? I don't think the people here need your, not so gentle, exhortations and deprecations of understanding, merit, morality and empathy, to look beyond the little things to the larger.

Not the least reason for which is there are no small number of them who aren't US citizens, and the vast majority of the rest aren't blinkered by where they live, nor so much by the, apparent, narrowness of focus you're displaying.

How, by the way, did you avoid that draft which was re-instated in the timeline you were living on? Last I checked, in the U.S. of A. I inhabit the closest anyone's come to re-instating a draft was the registration requirement Congress passed, and Carter signed, back in '82.

Here, in that same America, there's a huge outcry because Rangel has gone on record, again, with the statement that if Bush wants to keep fighting this pair of wars he's managed to screw so soundly, he's gonna have to ressurrect the draft.

That, in a word, would shut this whole thing down in a heartbeat.

As for your declared leaving... you still seem to identify with being an American. Perhaps it's because you can savor the frisson of being holier than thou to the rest of us who don't have the good sense to travel abroad to earn our bread in a sanctimonious sea of self-righteouness.

What, pray tell, from the safety of your distant place of enlightenment, have you been doing to fix things? Since you speak in such a way as to imply you are still a citizen, you are still somewhat complicit in the actions of the state, time and space notwithstanding.

Like Lizzy I don't think you are being a twit. Having spent some time with British troops, I don't think that's the right vowel.

#136 ::: inge ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2006, 04:43 AM:

aconite #120

You think we're wimps for considering this disgusting and utterly unacceptable? I think you're hard-hearted to rule it minor because it could be worse,

It's not "minor". But it is also not surprising. War brings out the worst people, and the worst in people, which is why it's not even a good thing to do to yourself. And that is why "Landserhefte"-like fiction, telling stories about how war brings out the best in people, how it is a great adventure and is good for society as a whole, feels like pre-WWI propaganda, only more hypocritical.

That's one of the reasons to oppose even a seemingly just, easy and necesary war: Cruelty and callousness will happen. It's normal to be shocked, and it's noble to try to stop it and persecute those who needlessly harm those who cannot fight back (yet). But it's bewildering that anyone should be surprised, and worrying, too, because that surprise says that they didn't consider this before, and as they didn't learn from the past they might not learn from the present, either.

It's not as if any of this were new, after all: "[...] for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!" (Mark Twain, "The War Prayer")

cya #127

I'll grant the Germans a certain leeway in terms of trying to use any reasonable method to ensure that what they did in the past will not be repeated

If only they weren't so darned clueless about it.

P J Evans #128

If you object to it, don't read it, and don't buy it. Don't complain about other people doing it,

Hey, if we can't rant about books, we'd have to rant about politics all the time.

#137 ::: cya ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2006, 07:23 AM:

Lizzy L-
Don't worry about being rude. And sure, it is a poor way to convince people of your position. Unfortunately, no one is being convinced anyways - unlike Vietnam, there is an actual reason the U.S. will remain in Iraq until it loses. I will never be able to change how America live, and that is just the truth, though it is easier to deal with at a distance.

abi -
You think I am embittered now? You should have seen what I was like while living in America.

As for nuanced views - oh yes, Katrina brought a lot more nuance to the public debate in the world about America - unfortunately, that wasn't likely the sort of nuance you meant - the comparisons to Sri Lanka, India, and Indonesia were nuanced, just not favorable.

Terry Karney -
I see that I did write 'draft' instead of 'registration for the draft' - of course, I am pretty sure in turn you didn't mean Carter signed such in 1982, as he hadn't been president for a while at that point.

'you still seem to identify with being an American' - no, I am an American, I don't identify with being one. Nor do I play one on TV, which is where so many Americans seem to think reality is portrayed.

As for 'enlightment' - well, it is much easier for my children to grow up here without swimming in a sea of propaganda which says the good is always justified in using the tools of evil, as long as they are fighting evil (I particularly liked how the U.S. isn't using napalm anymore - what we use now has a different name and different formulation, so it is not 'napalm' - it is new and improved, though with the same smell of victory). I think it is pretty hard for a 6 month old baby to tell the difference in the effects between a car bomb and a 500 lb bomb, myself - though one is the tool of a terrorist, and the other is a tool used to defend the homeland. Care to guess which is which? - and please, tell the baby (what is left of it, at least) why you believe such distinctions are important.

#138 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2006, 08:04 AM:

cya: You seem to have missed, despite much evidence and numerous attempts to explain it to you, that the majority of commenters posting here are completely aware that worse is happening in Iraq than what is being shown in that video--and that we still find even that completely unacceptable. We're not surprised, we're revolted. Get the difference?

As for your snide remarks about what I do or don't think, or do or don't do about any of this, or even who I know--get stuffed, you sanctimonious sshl. I don't appreciate being insulted and stereotyped according to whatever criteria you feel would support your argument.

Feel like people aren't listening to you? Gee, I wonder why that could be? It's not, despite what you think, because you're not waving a flag and shouting "America, rah rah rah." A hell of a lot of people on this site criticize this war and this administration and its propaganda in detail. Think on this, if you're capable of self-reflection: You managed to be enough of a dick that you blatted onto a site with a large number of people who agree with your basic postition, and made such ignorant, arrogant, stupid statements that people just stopped listening to you. Way to win hearts and minds, there, soldier! Good going!

#139 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2006, 01:55 PM:

Aconite: It's a lost cause. Not that it matters, but the comment about napalm proves it.

Had cya tried to make the case for WP being used in lieu of napalm, then there might have been some hope, but the assertion that we use napalm still, but paper it over by changing the formula; as though it were merely a formulation of gasoline.

Or, cya might have said the reasons napalm isn't in the arsenal anymore (not terribly effective at what it does, high-risk to the emplying element [because the pilot has to fly low, slow and flat, or the containers don't hit the ground properly, which makes them terribly vulnerable to ground fire, which was bad enough when it was only small arms; there were a few F-4 brought down by rifle in Vietnam because of this], predictable point of impact; so that targets, in anything other than an environment where the force using napalm has the absolute ability to pin the enemy in the open, can avoid the impact zone, the loss of more useful munitions from the arsenal, because hardpoints are full, and the loss of loiter time, because napalm cannisters are huge sources of drag, all of those combined to make the AF decide that napalm wasn't cost effective) are reprehensible, because those sorts of considerations aren't relevant to the weapon itself being immoral.

cya might have tried to go into the questions which underlie such decisions, could have tried to argue the only acceptable use of military force was in like-on-like, army to army conflicts.

Might have tried to argue that US Policy in Iraq was fundamentally flawed from exection, and this showed a lack of insight, backbone, moral character and human decency on the part of the generals who let it happen, and have, throughout failed to counter the tendencies to see everyone as hostile, and a fair target; who have allowed the idea of, body-counts; and all the dead were "insurgents/terrorists/VC" to creep back into the minds of the men at the front, and that from there the people leading the war, on the ground, have let themselves be corrupted by their own desires for career advnacement, or blinkered by political goals, without performing [or pehaps, a la Boykin, are fundamentally unable to perform] the situational introspection needed for the positions of power and trust to which they have been apppointed.

Might have said that the evils resultant from such a thing rest on institutional flaws in the Army, which weren't fixed after Vietnam.

Could have said that such flaws were fixed, but the spinelessness of the House, the Senate, the Press and the People allowed them to be ridden under in the bloodlust for war, fanned up by the White House, and it's Neo-con cohorts.

Might have said any number of things, all of which are, more or less, valid; and worthy of debate.

But no, that didn't happen, instead we are lectured; as though butter couldn't melt in the mouth of this person who stands on a hill, from afar; having abandoned the fight, and get moralisine speeches on how the children in the country in which they, now, live are immune from propaganda, and we, poor-benighted fools who can't see that allowing an army to torment the people in the country they occupy is trivial, because it doesn't rise to the horrors of WW2 (and sort of because we only have a gulag, not death camps) and so we ought not to care about it.

We should rather be spending all our efforts decrying all the things cya didn't mention, and that because we don't get it(not that cya did) we are less moral.

I may have been to kind in my last character sketch.

#140 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2006, 03:11 PM:


I thought at first that you were going through a particular phase that happens to most [American] expats. I remember it well myself - the feeling that my geographical separation from the US gave me a clearer view, and the right to patronise my fellow Americans. In extreme cases, some people mistake this alleged clarity for a sign of some moral or intellectual superiority rather than an accident of geography.

It's a phase, sort of the expat equivalent of American Exceptionalism, when geographical location gets mistaken for destiny or the favour of God.

But if you were bitter and cynical back when you lived in the States, have you considered the possibility that you simply don't like America? Your constant off-topic return to Katrina* as another whipping boy makes it sound so. Would you be happier renouncing your citizenship and taking a more admirable passport? Then you could disown the entire lot of ignorant savages that roam the North American landscape.

* Like my Iranian and Iraqi acquaintances, my British friends were remarkably understanding about the magnitude of the humanitarian mess that Katrina represented. You seem to be in with a nasty set of people by comparison.

#141 ::: joke ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2006, 12:02 AM:

Click here for video

If you want another video...

This one captures just how... crappy, war can be and why our soldiers may have issues with anger.

WARNING: This video contains graphic images.

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