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December 20, 2004


Hilzoy: and I can do this without having to say to anyone, in an actual face to face conversation, that I think that the war in which he or she has risked her life and seen comrades die is not worthwhile.

The only person I know at all well who is currently serving in Iraq is rather more bellicose than I am: while circumstances do not permit this soldier to be completely outspoken right now (it's a court-martial offense to publicly express doubts about the war), I don't doubt that we'll all be hearing a lot more from this soldier after March 2005.

I am immensely indebted to this soldier for sharing as much personal experience of what it's like to be in Iraq at this time: not least, what it's like to be a soldier who discovers that she has arrested people and sent them to a prison where they may have been tortured: and that no one in the chain of command, from the Commander-in-Chief downwards, is the least bit interested in remedying or apologizing for or even acknowledging this monstrous injustice and disgrace to her and to all other soldiers serving in the US army, who were caught up - however indirectly - with the Bush administration's pro-torture policies.

Wonderful post. I have been having precisely this discussion with a Republican friend (actually a Gulf War I vet), and you've made the arguments that I was trying to make with limpid clarity. I now have something to send to him so that I can summarize my position as "What she said."

Phil Carter drives me up the wall.

Sometimes he writes with perfect clarity on military issues; other times, I seriously wonder if he spent a minute in the service.

He wrote eloquently about Abu Ghraib; he also mucked around in Michelle Malkin's pig pen WRT CAPT James Yee.

One can support the troops and be opposed to the war; anyone who tells you differently is seeking dishonest political leverage. After all, what could be more supportive of our troops than stopping a bad or misguided policy? That's why Vietnam vets were at the forefront of the anti-war movement. And we're beginning to see vets of this war take a similar stance.

Military Science 101: The armed services are an instrument of our foreign and national security policies. The military doesn't make the policy. As such, support of our troops can (and should)easily be decoupled from support of our policies.

There has been a worldwide consensus since the Nuremberg trials that soldiers, like the rest of us, are individually responsible for the things they do. No distinctionis made between crimes committed under orders and crimes committed on one's own initiative. Anyone on either side who has taken hostages, or cut off water supplies to civilian populations, or summarily executed prisoners, is guilty of a war crime, because those actions are prohibited by treaties and conventions that both countries are parties to. Some of our soldiers fall into that category and some don't. Ditto for the insurgents. I don't see what's so hard about that. I support the troops in the sense that I want them all to stay alive and come home soon, but nobody is going to get me to excuse war crimes because of some blanket loyalty to our side.

>There has been a worldwide consensus since the Nuremberg trials that soldiers, like the rest of us, are individually responsible for the things they do.

I think you're missing something, probably because it's so obvious you just haven't formulated it explicitly. While soldiers are individually responsible for war crimes, they are not individually responsible for acts that would be crimes if not committed during war (e.g., shooting people), even if the war is a wrongful war. German solders in WW I were not individually morally culpable for machine-gunning French soldiers in the trenches of Verdun, despite the fact that (a) killing people is usually wrong, and (b) the German invasion of France in WW I was not morally justified.

In light of that, you can oppose the Iraq war, consider the killing that our troops are doing as wrong in itself, but still not consider them individually wrongdoers (other than the few criminals among them).

Well, you now have the majority of Americans on your side. The Washington Post reported today that "56 percent of the country now believes that the cost of the conflict in Iraq outweighs the benefits, while 42 percent disagreed. It marked the first time since the war began that a clear majority of Americans have judged the war to have been a mistake."

While soldiers are individually responsible for war crimes, they are not individually responsible for acts that would be crimes if not committed during war (e.g., shooting people), even if the war is a wrongful war.

Exactly right. Conversely, war crimes can be committed in wars that are just and morally defensible.

You quote Carter writing, "Our democracy depends on the willingness of each generation of young Americans to put themselves in harm's way."

I disagree with this premise. When was the last time our democracy was under such a threat that only military action could possibly defend it? (Hint: 9/11 is not the right answer, unless you're thinking about NORAD planes.) Not in the last 50 years.

Meanwhile, we have used our military to encircle the globe and solidify our empire. No, the soldiers are not to blame for that. But perhaps another de-coupling is needed as well. Separate the soldier's intention to fight "for democracy" from what they're actually being asked to do. It might help whack at the recruitment numbers a bit if we started to deconstruct this myth.

I for one would drop the euphemisms about "harm's way." We're asking our soldiers to kill and maim and to be killed and maimed. Let's not shy away from that fact. And we're doing much more killing & maiming than being killed and maimed. It may make people uncomfortable to state it in these terms, but it is the reality of war. Military euphemisms only serve to deny what war is so that we accept it more readily. We're putting our service members in atrocity-producing situations, as you can tell from some of their testimonies on the web. That needs to be said plainly again and again.

Ted: I wasn't talking about war crimes, but about soldiers who go off to fight in wars I think are wrong. Suppose they commit no war crimes: can I support them without supporting the war? I meant to argue: yes, and it's not as hard as the two writers I quote make it out to be. Of course if they commit war crimes, whether on their own initiative or under orders, they are culpable; that's what the line about 'of course, I knew that there were orders it would be wrong to obey' was meant to gesture at -- but if they are simply doing a good job fighting in an unjust war, I support them.

What I want to know is why some cannot see the obvious difference between supporting troops and supporting the policy that commits them to fight a particular war.

This seems to be at the root of Carter's et al. dilemma. Their problem is that they can only see supporting the troops as being a cheerleader for the greater cause that they fight for.

It's as if all that matters is perception of reality, rather than the reality itself. Allegedly, the war becomes a problem and victory uncertain solely because someone says so.

If anything, the ultimate disrespect for troops is to ignore the reality of the fight, and commit them anyway. Reminds me of WWI generals commiting troops to frontal charges against machine guns. Who supports the troops -- the guy who criticizes that or the people who blindly cheer them on while stomping the dissenter for "not supporting the troops"?

dmbeaster: when I was thinking about this while writing the post, I thought: it probably makes a big difference how you arrive at this question. For me, I started with opposition to the Vietnam war and then asked: are the troops responsible for this? Clearly not. But I think Carter and Atkinson probably started with the thought: I support the troops, who are my friends and relatives, and who are dying for a cause that many of them believe in, and that it's important for many of them to believe in. (At any rate, I imagine it would be easier to think of oneself as risking one's life in a just war than to think of oneself as risking one's life for the principle of civilian control of the military.) Then, given both their doubts about the war and their need to support their friends, they asked: can I express these doubts? I think it looks a lot harder when approached from that angle than it does when approached from mine.

You read Oliver Twist at age nine? Precocious kid,
weren't you?

The question really boils down to what does it mean to support the troops, right?
Some answers are easy: it means giving them financial support -- not only in weapons and armor, but in health care and veterans benefits after they (some of them) survive the war. It means giving their families benefits.
For some of us, it means using the troops only in defense of national security.
For some of us, it means protecting them from the real psychological harm of of committing or being party to inhumane acts.
For some of us, it means respecting them by giving them truthful answers.
For some of us, it means respecting contracts about length of service.
For everyone, I would think, it means bringing them home as soon as possible and helping them re-integrate into civilian life.

LianeR: We're asking our soldiers to kill and maim and to be killed and maimed.

And the Bush administration is also asking them to commit torture.

Brock: yes.

For those of you seeking ethical guidance on this question, I do recommend Noah Feldman's book, What We Owe Iraq. It's a very nuanced book that takes opposing arguments seriously and considers them carefully.

god damn.

I agree 100% Hilzoy.

Out of respect, I do not plan on seeking out people serving (I know only one -- the son of my step-mom) to let them know I oppose the war (his immediate family does that to him anyway, which I think is unnecessary) -- no matter how appropriate the anti-war argument, it must make them feel bad (unless they are already on board with the anti-war position -- in which case they probably loathe the rah-rah for the war crowd).

I rememeber a Fox agent provaceteur (can't call them reporters) pestering war protesters as the war began with the question of should they be protesting since they know it hurts the feelings of the troops.

But the question here, as put by Carter, is "I'm still not sure there's a way to coherently reconcile one's support for the troops with opposition to the war." He is assuming that "support" means 100% unconditional support for anything that would make troops feel better, and therefore anything less, no matter how principled, cannot be support.

By that measure, propoganda would be preferable to the truth.

At least that's how I understand his point of view. It makes sense if you are talking about helping a friend or loved one, but that is hardly a fair model if one is talking about the troops in general.

What is really annoying is the extent to which this issue has become propagandized by war protangonist, enabling them to demonize anti-war people. We already have enough politics by hate in this country.

Hasta la vista, italics!

persistence closing pays.

How long must we suffer from unclosed tags and unthreaded discussions?

Scoop is the one true path!

Seriously OT, rilkefan:

Does "KDD Cup" mean anything to you? Note to the uninitiated: this has nothing at all to do with undergarments.

Preview is my friend. Must remember. (Meant to close those italics after "provaceteur.")

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