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July 10, 2007

Comments

Everything you say is true, eloquently so. But I agree with other bloggers who feel that no matter what arguments are made, nothing will really change until Bush is out of office.

Until then, the small cherubic Senator will always appear at the end of the day and say that Godot cannot make it, but will surely come tomorrow.

And we'll be told it's best to wait another day.

Now the blowback from this war has reached the United Kingdom, and it is only thanks to the incompetence of the would-be terrorists that no one was killed. It will undoubtedly reach other countries as well, possibly including our own.

It reached Jordan first with the hotel bombings.

Heartbreaking. I am literally crying from shame and grief. But I, too, see nothing helpful we can do.

I will note one other thing. Although we certainly helped this mess along in ways large and small, we do not bear sole responsibility for creating it. The British bear some responsibility for the legacy of colonial rule and the cruel partition of the Middle East into non-viable countries. And the Iraqi people themselves bear considerable responsibility for past and present cruelty, willful rage, and general idiocy. As our culpability is limited, so too is our responsibility to keep stacking money and lives against the incoming flood of violence.

“You can’t build a whole policy on a fear of a negative..."

Of course, our invasion was sold to the American people precisely on a fear of a negative, and a totally unjustified fear at that.

I do not see anything pleasant coming after our departure, except for possibly the wiping out of al Qaeda in Iraq.

Yet at the same time, we are, at best, just sticking our finger in the dike, which is going to explode whether or not our finger is there.

There has still been no, or little, attempt by this country to engage outher regional powers in stablizing Iraq. Yet, in the beginning there were offers from Egypt and Jordan to assist in training which were turned down by Bush and Co.

Your analysis of the consequences of our going into Iraq is quite good. I would just clarify one point, and that is that part of the reason there was little danger of regional conflict was because Saddam was in power. He may well have been the most stabilizing person in the ME. When the keystone is missing form the arch, the arch collapses.

Like you, I was reluctant to come to the idea that we have to leave. And like you, althoguh my heart cries out at each death, if I really thought there was even a 50% chance that our presence may end up bringing a positive outcome, I would support it.

But since I don't think there is even a 10% chance of that, I agree that we have to leave, and the sooner the better.

We sowed the wind. The Iraqi people are about to reap the whirlwind. We can delay this, at a terrible cost, but we cannot prevent it.

Eloquent post, very reasoned and reasonable.

It would be churlish to make too much of the fact that every assessment in the post has been true for at least two and a half years. But it's just inescapably true that being patient and reasonable and giving the benefit of the doubt has enabled the prolonging of the slaughter, or at the very least has delayed the political reckoning for those responsible for it.

don't miss this article, "Unit's Mission: Survive 4 Miles To Remember Fallen Comrade" (WaPo, via Balloon Juice).

I don't necessarily agree with hilzoy on what will happen, but I agree with her completely on the more fundamental issue: there is nothing we can do to forestall these consequences, short of literally remaining forever.

In theory, it's always "possible" there will be a political reconciliation tomorrow, as if by magic; but we can't justify the cost of staying in Iraq based on nothing but unfounded hope. Bush has nothing to lose, so he can afford to keep holding out for the magical reconciliation, but the rest of the country has to deal with reality sooner or later.

The British bear some responsibility for the legacy of colonial rule and the cruel partition of the Middle East into non-viable countries.

To be fair, the only country that has proven "non-viable" thus far is the rump of Palestine.


the blowback from this war has reached the United Kingdom,

As Eric noted above, it has also reached Jordan. I would add the Maghreb, Spain, and Saudi Arabia at least, I think. The irony of Bush's wars is that they neglected Afghanistan to avoid repeating the Soviet experience there, but then they jumped straight into recreating the same dynamics in Iraq.

You are saying exactly what we heard in Amman last summer. "Iraq will have a difficult rebirth; it may take 10 or 15 years. But Iraq has enough heritage to recover, to stand on its own two feet. There is no other way."

The best bit of the recent NYT withdrawal editorial was this: "Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave."

We broke it and we can't fix it.

The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that America['s War in Iraq] is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to [America a prolonged continuation of] this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until . . . every drop of blood drawn by the [JDAM] shall be paid by another drawn with the [IED], as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

One thing we could do is help the refugees. If we can afford billions for the war, then we can afford billionns for refugee resettlemnt. We could you put our army to work organizing and defending convoys of refugees on their way to camps supported by our money in Syria or anywhere else that would take them. We could be airlifting people right now.

I wish we had morevocal leadership on this issue.

"The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

The rest of it is worth quoting too:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations

Ah, the memories (from 2003, h/t Matt Y):

"Kathryn Jean Lopez: At this point, can delaying, getting another resolution, pay off in any conceivable way?

Lawrence Kaplan & William Kristol: Absolutely not. In fact, the longer the kabuki at the U.N. has gone on, the weaker support for action has become in Europe and here at home. To begin with, drawn-out inspections create the impression that Saddam is somehow being "contained," when the truth is exactly the reverse. Every time Blix stumbles on a cache of weapons, the Europeans proclaim inspections a smashing success. And every time he finds nothing, they proclaim them a success. Extending the process merely allows Saddam to prepare for the inevitable, distracts our attention from pressing issues elsewhere, and emboldens those like the French, who oppose action without condition and regardless of consequence.

Lopez: Is there anyone you can think of (nation, pol, constituency) the Bush administration has not convinced that going into Iraq is necessary who should and can be convinced?

Kaplan & Kristol: Liberals. Not liberals at The Nation or The American Prospect, who can always be counted on to favor tyranny over anything that strengthens American power, however marginally. But liberals who supported the American interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo — humanists, in short. For if ever there was a humanitarian undertaking, it is the liberation of Iraq from a tyrant who has jailed, tortured, gassed, shot, and otherwise murdered tens of thousands of his own citizens."

I was so totally in support of tyranny and against the strengthening of power that, as I am sure we will all admit, the invasion of Iraq has brought. Totally.

It's because I'm a liberal, so of course I believe in the moral equivalence of Saddam and Gandhi; in fact the moral equivalence of everything, except for America, which is icky and bad.

Totally.

rea - of course it is, I just didn't think the U.S. today worthy or up to the task.

Hilzoy: But I think they are, and I think it's important for those of us who advocate withdrawal to be clear about that, and to base our arguments not on the thought that withdrawal will make things better, but on some basis that's more likely to stand the test of time.

Very honest, I’m afraid though ultimately wrong, or iffy at best. Not that I know squat. I swing back and forth every day. I fear you are correct, and I am mainly in your court, but forgive me if I hope you are wrong wrong wrong. On the outcome, I fear you are correct. On standing the test of time, I fear you are wrong, I as well. I’m already on the wrong side of history though… I don’t agree with all your bullet points (OK, some of them), but then I wouldn’t be me. It feels like things are tipping to the good side and all the weight coming down on withdrawal irregardless of all that is wrong, is strictly political. But I don’t know.

We absolutely can win this; we are just not willing to pay the cost. (Broke Army, draft, 250,000 boots on the ground, 5 more years). I am not willing to pay the cost. Nell pointed it out to me first, but I’ve sought other evidence. More today (h/t BJ):

The 26-year-old Port St. Lucie man has been ordered to report to Fort Jackson, S.C., on July 15 for his fifth deployment. And that has compelled Botta, a first-generation American who counts himself a quiet patriot, to do something he never thought he'd do: sue the Army.

The Army is broken. It can not take another year of this, and a draft is just not a serious option. Asking volunteers to do two combat tours in a crisis may be rational, if asking too much. Asking them to do five is freakin’ insane. I would not. I would go AWOL. Anyone who has followed me here knows that is a significant statement. I am proud of my service and my Army – if they said, “We need you to go back for a fifth time”, I would in fact say “Screw you, do your worst, I’m not going.” I could happily make big rocks into little rocks for years rather than that.

Yes – if that sounds incoherent that is in fact my state of mind these days…

OCSteve: well, I hope I'm wrong too. If I believed in God, I would pray to be completely, wholly, totally misguided on this one. I'd say to God: please don't concern yourself with me: just make this not happen, please.

Hilzoy: As long as that is your hope (and I believe you totally), you and I are on the same side.

Now the blowback from this war has reached the United Kingdom, and it is only thanks to the incompetence of the would-be terrorists that no one was killed.

Uh... 7/7/2005? Not to pick nits, or anything...

slightly_peeved: I wasn't sure about the motives for that one.

Also, to people who earlier mentioned Jordan etc.: I didn't mean that this was the first bit of blowback, but I should have been clearer.

OCSteve, I think that almost everybody, even those that were against the invasion from the get go, such as myself or hilzoy, still hope that it can work out. It's just that we really doubt it.

So we are on the same side.

Hopefully my son won't have to go back there, but there is a strong possibility that he may if we stay long enoug. I think he will probably leave the Army before that happens, as he has 8 years in next January, which means he can't be called up no matter what.

The tragedy is that he, like many, really love the military services, but this administration has totally soured them on it.

The only difference you and I may have is that I don't think if we even had the resources, that we, (the US) could turn this thing around.

"OCSteve, I think that almost everybody, even those that were against the invasion from the get go, such as myself or hilzoy, still hope that it can work out. It's just that we really doubt it."

If I believed that another year, or two, or three, of sustained deployements of American troops would resolve the Iraqi problem, and produce by then a clear arc of a non-sectarian Iraqi government proceeding to a successful control of the country in a democratic way, with a fair amount of human rights, I'd stand up and call for us to devote and commit our troops to that.

But that's not the case. So I don't.

A minor note: the fact a soldier dies in a losing cause does not necessarily mean that soldier died for nothing. There is more at stake in Iraq than the outcome of the war.

I may as well note that I don't think a draft and five years of a quarter-million soldiers in Iraq, fully funded, trained, and equipped, with proper support on the home front, would in fact lead to the establishment of a lasting peaceful democracy in Iraq. Nor would it have (I think) if Bush had delayed his initial invasion order to prepare such a force in 2003-4. The war would have gone about the same, the occupation since Hussein's defeat rather differently, but we'd still be the occupying power in a nation that did not initiate aggression against us, we'd still be the people responsible for the massive misery of a decade of sanctions before the war, we'd still be the bad guys and the target of complex opposition. We'd have had a better chance of getting bin Laden himself (assuming that it was made a higher priority than in reality), but that wouldn't be a huge offsetting factor in the basic injustice of our presence in Iraq.

More force to stamp on resistance in Iraq would probably translate into more terrorism here. Assuming a leadership who still had the basic goal of conquering and reshaping Iraq even while willing to go about it more competently, there'd likely be more atrocities, because the desire to make enemies suffer and the obsession with humiliation and status displays aren't really dependent on available manpower. Furthermore, given what we've seen in recent years of ambitions on the part of the Vice President's little cabal, a better fighting force in Iraq might very well mean earlier war on Iran, too, along with assaults on Syria, Lebanon, and whoever else is the flavor of the week.

Fighting an immoral war competently can only get so much better. Society-building only works (so nearly as I can tell) when the occupiers have a basic measure of moral legitimacy, and American forces in Iraq simply can't have that. We are the unjustified invader and the Iraqi people are only doing what anyone would in their situation, including us, when it comes to keeping up resistance until at least the unjustified invader goes home.

(A well-funded properly-trained etc etc effort to get bin Laden and as much of his network as possible, topple the Taliban, help establish civil order in Afghanistation, and then leave...that might have worked. But of course it wouldn't have happened.)

we'd still be the people responsible for the massive misery of a decade of sanctions before the war

Yeah, that was all our fault. Iraq and the UN had nothing to do with that…

G'Kar: "the fact a soldier dies in a losing cause does not necessarily mean that soldier died for nothing."

I hope I didn't imply that I thought that. I do think that some similar thought makes people less willing to consider peace, but that that thought exists doesn't make it true.

G'Kar: ah, on rereading this I found the part that presumably prompted your comment, namely: "I don't see that there's anything to be said for continuing to send our soldiers to die for nothing."

Here, as always, I think it's crucial to separate two questions: first, why has any given soldier decided to fight? What is s/he fighting for -- what values or motives of his or her own? And second: why has the government decided to send those soldiers off to fight? I think that I should have been clearer here: I was talking about the second, not the first.

If the government's aims cannot be achieved through war, then it is sending people off to fight for no god reason. Possibly for nothing. As I see it, though, that doesn't imply that the people who are sent do not have good and admirable reasons of their own for obeying. They might, for instance, believe generally in civilian control of the military, and believe as well that if they are in the armed forces it is their duty to go if asked. They might think that to try to shunt this duty off on someone else would be dishonorable. And they might be right.

I think it would be wrong to say that such a soldier died "for nothing." That soldier's own motives involved honor and duty, and dying for honor and duty is never dying for nothing. Nor is dying for your friends, or because your country asks, however misguidedly.

But I'm less clear that it's wrong to say that they are sent for no good reason.

I should absolutely have been clearer about the difference between saying that they are (sent to die) for nothing, and saying that they are sent to (die for nothing.) The first is what I meant. The second doesn't follow at all, since unlike the first, it involves not just our reasons for asking soldiers to fight, but what those soldiers themselves do about that request, and why, and whether their reasons count as "nothing", which I don't think they do.

Steve, it's true we didn't do the sanctions regimen solo. But three of our administrations had a lot to say about how it went, and said a lot of things about it that Iraqi listeners could very easily hear as "We just don't care how many of you suffer and die, when it comes right down to it." And then unlike the other nations involved in the sanctions, we mounted this big ol' war. The later activity ends up framing the earlier.

OCSteve: Yeah, that was all our fault. Iraq and the UN had nothing to do with that…

The UK was also involved. For which, yes, I think we ought to take our share of the blame. I think (though it would take some delving into records not yet online to show it) that the UK followed, rather than led the US in the program of destroying infrastructure inside Iraq and then setting up a sanctions program to make it difficult for Iraqis to rebuild, with the predictable (and, according to some sources, predicted) results that at least half a million Iraqi children died of preventable illnesses.

This was, in effect, setting out to kill Iraqi children in the hope that Iraqis would become miserable and desperate enough to overthrow Saddam Hussein without any outside help.

I consider this one of the most disgraceful acts that my country was involved in during the last 25 years: making war on children is never acceptable. Never.

Delendo italica!

hilzoy,

My apologies; I did not intend to imply that you were suggesting any such thing, but as I was secure in the knowledge you would not do so, I failed to take the time to make that clear in my comment.

I in general concur with your separation of the reasons for soldiers going to war. I will add, however, that 'for nothing' is an extreme position. Some soldiers sent off to any war will end up doing some good things. In this case, some American soldiers will almost certainly help some Iraqis; medics, in particular, are likely to provide a level of care not otherwise available to the average Iraqi. (Conversely, some soldiers will do bad, even horrific, things even in just wars. This is part of what makes war so horrible.) If the good soldiers are killed in pursuit of their noble ends, they certainly did not die for nothing.

What I suspect we could agree on, however, is that the price of their deaths was greater than the benefits we expect to gain from sending soldiers off to war. I myself do not know that the Iraq War is unwinnable; cognitive dissonance, perhaps, or perhaps just my inherent skepticism. But I do recognize that the Iraq War is unlikely to be won based on the political situation on the ground in the U.S.; America's national will is the center of gravity for this fight, and the enemy is well on the way to securing that objective. (By which, it should be noted, I am not accusing anyone of treason, but only pointing out that once a sufficiently high number of Americans believe the war is unwinnable, the enemy will achieve the objective of driving America out regardless of the rightness or wrongness of that belief.) Therefore I can empathize with those who are frustrated to see their friends and loved ones go off to war when the goal of that war is unlikely to be achieved. It is difficult, as someone once noted, to ask a soldier to be the last person to die for a mistake.

G'Kar: do you think it's just the political center of gravity, or also the limitations on what we can ask of, or do to, the army without breaking it? My sense was that the strain on the army was an independent constraint, one that would be felt with increasing urgency by next March or April. But, of course, I am getting this from various newspaper accounts.

-- I think that even the political will depends in large part on the strains on the army; see OCSteve's comment above. Not to belittle the role of failing trust in Bush, of course; but I think for a lot of people the following thought matters a lot too: we have asked too many people to sacrifice too much, and when people's fourth or fifth tour of duty comes up, we really have to stop and ask ourselves where this ends, and whether we are willing to see people asked to go on their twelfth or thirteenth tour without an end in sight. If anyone was still in the army by that point.

hilzoy,

I am not well-equipped to discuss the relative strength of the American Army relative to the insurgency. Perhaps in the future I can gather enough information to give a real answer, but for the present I do not know if the Army would, in fact, break if it stayed in Iraq indefinitely (although I'm sure that there is a breaking point to be reached, I simply don't know how close that point is, or if we have already crossed it). I am sure that concerns over the strength of the Army are a factor when it comes to national will, and it is quite possible that those who say the war is already lost are correct and the strength of their having been correct may be lending additional weight to the breaking of the American national will.

I do believe, however, that the Army can last longer than the national will. It should be noted as well that breaking the Army will not necessarily lead to the war being lost, depending on the timing. Whether or not taking that risk is worthwhile over Iraq is a separate question, I am merely pointing out the fact that breaking the Army does not necessarily equal losing.

Jesurgislac says our sanctions program against Iraq was "one of the most disgraceful acts that my country was involved in during the last 25 years," becuase "making war on children is never acceptable."

Never? Children died in Dresden, too. As General Sherman said, "War is Hell." I suggest that there is no nice way to wage war, no way to coerce a country without hurting innocent civilians. Sanctions were supposed to be the nice way -- and maybe they were, compared to any of the alternatives.

Once we decided -- and it was not an unreasonable decision -- that we could not afford to have Ba'athist Iraq expanding into Kuwait and perhaps beyond, we had no good options. We wisely refrained (then) from conquering Iraq, for reasons that should by now be obvious. We did not dare just leave, because we could not trust Saddam Hussein to keep the peace terms, and in fact he didn't (though, as it turned out, inspection kept his violations much more controlled than we believed after 1999 or so). So, we settled for a war of attrition, aggressive containment, to keep Iraq weak while hopefully fostering some kind of viable home-grown replacement for Ba'ath. It was slow, ugly, and, yes, it cost childrens' lives. But it had a chance of working, and I don't know what else could have.

So, Jesurgislac, what would you have done instead?

I am merely pointing out the fact that breaking the Army does not necessarily equal losing.

Merely?

Any objective worth breaking the Army for, which is the only sense in which 'breaking the Army does not necessarily equal losing' makes sense to me, would have to be one hell of an objective -- something absolutely essential to our national existence.

No, we lost this the minute "we" decided to invade, which was at a minimum in September 2001. The war was on long before there was any legal basis for it, much less before any admission on the part of the regime that a decision for war had been made -- starting with the diversion of funds in December 2001-Feb 2002 from the war in Afghanistan (an impeachable offense, by the way) to planning and organizing for the war in Iraq, continuing on with the 'Southern Focus' air war from May-June 2002 into fall 2002, that knocked out Iraqi communications and command and control.

Any objective worth breaking the Army for, which is the only sense in which 'breaking the Army does not necessarily equal losing' makes sense to me, would have to be one hell of an objective -- something absolutely essential to our national existence.

I don't dispute that, Nell. But I felt it best to point out that it does exist as an option. Nothing more.

trilobite: Never? Children died in Dresden, too.

And firebombing Dresden wasn't acceptable, either.

I suggest that there is no nice way to wage war, no way to coerce a country without hurting innocent civilians.

To quote my favorite evangelical Christian:

It's been awhile so it seems again it's time for a helpful reminder that noncombatant immunity isn't just a good idea, it's the law.

In other words: You're not allowed to kill civilians.

Killing civilians is against the law. Killing civilians makes you a criminal.

Yes, but ...

No buts about it. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

And, also: You're not allowed to kill civilians.

This is neither new nor controversial, yet putting the matter in such stark terms always seems to upset people.

But it had a chance of working, and I don't know what else could have.

Like most decisions to kill mass numbers of civilians on tactical grounds, it stood not a hope in hell of "working": if you think of Iraqis as human beings just like Americans, this becomes clear. (Consider how you might feel had the UN decided, in order to overthrow the unelected and dangerous President Bush, it would be acceptable to have five million American children under the age of five die.)

How should we have defeated the Nazis, Jes? How should we have defeated Japan? What would have been the humane way?

Steve: How should we have defeated the Nazis, Jes? How should we have defeated Japan?

Are you trying to justify the mass slaughter of civilians, Steve? If you think the mass slaughter of civilians can be justified, what then was wrong with the Nazi regime?

I'm not a pacifist, though I almost never think war is justified in practical terms. I will say that if we find ourselves saying things like "We can only do this approach at the cost of likely killing half a million children via malnutrition, disease, and starvation," that maybe we should rethink the whole thing. I also think that the question of what the US owed Kuwait should have been revisited in the light of the well-documented campaign of deceit mounted on behalf of the Kuwaiti regime - I think we owe less to people who manufacture charges of war atrocities than to real victims, and I'd like to see official lying in the support of war treated a lot more seriously than it is.

I grew up in Pasadena, California, which is part of the San Gabriel valley - there's a range of hills between it and the main expanse of the Los Angeles basin. The valley includes my home, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratories where they run the unmanned space program, Caltech, big communities of immigrants from all around the world including refugees of terror and violence in Cambodia, El Salvador, eastern Europe, and more, and...well, a lot of people.

What we've done to Iraq since the first Gulf War is arrange for the death of an Iraqi for every person who lives in the valley, pretty much. One for each of my relatives still living there. One for the teacher whose love of history inspired me so much, and one for my favorite English teacher. Two for the nice couple around the corner whose lawn I used to mow. A trio for the folks who run my favorite hole-in-the-wall used bookstore, and a dozen or so for the people who make my favorite burgers in the world. One for the classmate who saved from a mugging by his gang because he recognized me late at night in an underground parking lot as the geeky guy who'd helped him with his homework the year before....

I try to think of my hometown, dead from one end to the other, of nobody left alive from where the Pasadena Freeway heads toward downtown up to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. I try to imagine so many people who could conceivably deserve to die, and I try to imagine what's so good that it could be purchased at the cost of their deaths. Pasadena itself has something like 130,000 people, so the sanctions killed 3-4 babies for every person in my hometown. I am not convinced that anything in Iraq is worth having at that kind of price, not when I imagine filling up my hometown with infants and children, killing them all, filling it up again, killing them all, and filling it up again to kill them again. And then doing it again. My moral imagination fails me here, and all I can see is what Camus saw, that policies of pure reason end in death as surely as policies of pure passion.

None of this makes Hussein a good guy. None of it is to excuse or minimize or justify any of the real harms he did, including the genocide he approved of and that horrible, monstrous war with Iran. It's just to make me wonder whether we ended up helping anything much at all, or whether the lesson shouldn't just be "Sometime, stay out o the whole sorry mess." Speaking very much rationally here now, I think it's not only appropriate but vital to look square and hard and long at the costs of a policy, and to require every policy that will impose great misery to justify itself very, very thoroughly indeed. I don't actually have an alternative Iraq policy to propose, apart from hanging back, but I'm thoroughly unconvinced that what we actually did and are doing can be clearly justified when the human toll is fully factored in.

Bruce: The later activity ends up framing the earlier.

Fair enough - and a valid point.


G'Kar: I just can’t think of another term other than “broken” when I contemplate the fact that we are asking soldiers to do a fifth tour over there. I could even understand a second tour, after a full 12-18 months back home, but I can’t wrap my head around a fifth tour. As I noted, I personally would spend a few years in Leavenworth first. It is just too much to ask of any one person, and it is a national disgrace that the military has to ask it of anyone.

Our policy for many years was to be prepared to fight two wars concurrently. I’m not aware that policy ever changed, and it seems like that long standing policy is now defunct. If an actual war broke out tomorrow it would have to be handled by the AF and Navy.

The case for targeting Iraq's infrastructure and imposing draconian sanctions in order to hurt the population and put pressure on Saddam can be "justified" in the same way that torture can be "justified". It's the ticking time bomb defense on a bigger scale where we supposedly only have two choices--do something terrible or permit the bad guy to do something worse.

I'm not going to google for links, but by early 2001 the US had s lost the propaganda battle over sanctions and as a result Colin Powell was talking about "smart sanctions", which is what we should have tried all along. Target the sanctions on imports that might aid in the building of a nuclear weapon and of course don't let Saddam import any weapons either. That might be doable and in theory it could be done in good faith, without the intent of using fear of WMD's as an excuse for banning the importation of equipment needed to repair water treatment plants. It's my understanding that going further isn't possible without hurting civilians, because you can't keep a country from having the technical capacity to build bacteriological or chemical weapons unless you bring them down so low their economy is in a state of collapse.

Are you trying to justify the mass slaughter of civilians, Steve? If you think the mass slaughter of civilians can be justified, what then was wrong with the Nazi regime?

I'm asking how you believe we should have defeated the Nazis, and the Japanese. It's a straightforward question.

I don't claim to have all the answers to the difficult moral questions; you, on the other hand, do seem to have it all figured out, so I'd appreciate it if you could help me understand.

Steve: I'm asking how you believe we should have defeated the Nazis, and the Japanese. It's a straightforward question.

Have you stopped beating your wife? That too is just a straightforward question.

I don't claim to have all the answers to the difficult moral questions; you, on the other hand, do seem to have it all figured out, so I'd appreciate it if you could help me understand.

You know, Socrates did that kind of help-me-I'm-so-pathetic style of argument, too. He was better at it than you, but it all ended in hemlock. Go figure.

Otherwise, what Bruce and Donald said.

Are you trying to justify the mass slaughter of civilians, Steve?

Thank heavens; I thought I was the only one she did that sort of thing to.

What sort of thing? Ask yourself: did Steve say anything at all to justify the mass slaughter of civilians? If so, what, exacty?

All this talk about something having a point brings to mind the Banning letter that Truman kept in his desk, along with the enclosed Purple Heart.

Have you stopped beating your wife? That too is just a straightforward question.

Yes, but one that puts forward as a given wrongdoing on the part of the recipient. Not unlike, come to think of it, the question you asked Steve. Completely unlike the question Steve asked you, though.

Slarti, I'm sure you're really capable of following Steve's argument for yourself without my having to explain it to you: but if not, do ask Steve for a fuller explanation. Me, I'm going to pretend Taking It Outside is back up and I'm going to pretend I had a rant there about people who try to be Socrates without half his charm.

liberal japonicus: All this talk about something having a point brings to mind the Banning letter that Truman kept in his desk, along with the enclosed Purple Heart.

Thanks for linking to that story. :-( Somehow I suspect Bush would hand that letter to someone else to have it filed with all the rest.

Nope, you're still not very good at haughty condescension. Not for lack of practice, though.

Jes, if you contend that we shouldn't have fought the Nazis, or the Japanese, that's a perfectly acceptable position too. I didn't want to raise that possibility because I think it would have come across the wrong way, but I've certainly known people in my life who didn't believe we should have fought the Nazis.

On the other hand, if you do think we should have fought the Nazis and the Japanese and tried to defeat them, I think it's reasonable to ask you to explain how you believe we could have done so in a morally acceptable way. Otherwise, you're simply proclaiming nice-sounding moral absolutes in a way that leaves people in the real world with no available course of action.

You know, Socrates did that kind of help-me-I'm-so-pathetic style of argument, too.

Except I'm not faking it when I say I don't claim to have all the answers. I happen to think issues of war and peace present tremendously difficult moral choices, and sometimes you have to choose the least horrible option. I'm simply glad I'm not the person who had the responsibility to make those difficult choices.

Just a warning, Steve: She's capable of going on for several thousand more words without ever answering your question, while simultaneously positioning you as the bad guy for not responding to her answering-a-question-with-a-question. I don't know what reserves of energy you possess, but I can speculate that it won't be nearly enough.

That you think such a question can or even should be answered is telling, Phil. Very telling, indeed.

Maybe you're not history's greatest monster, but you're right up there with Steve, Hitler and Socrates.

Let me qualify an earlier comment: I took our regime-change goal as a given, but I'm personally not convinced that, following the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein posed such a threat that we needed regime change. I suspect he could have been contained reasonably well with no-fly zones, nearby garrisons, UN inspectors, and import restrictions. And if he still rebuilt some weaponry, so what? The panic over the confluence of his supposed WMD program and his association with local terrorists failed to take into account the fact that he was a very shrewd, cautious player who worked hard not to get the superpowers too upset with him (Kuwait would not have happened if we had not misled him). IMO, he just was not a threat to us or our allies even if he did break the treaty terms.

That being so, there was no excuse for killing Iraqi children. Indeed, the sanction period is a good example of why we should carefully reexamine our supposed interests when we find ourselves engaged in policies that will kill civilians.

But I still disagree that "You're not allowed to kill civilians" can WORK. The whole concept that if you kill the whole army but never harm a civilian, the enemy will surely surrender, is Pollyanna-ish. I mean, when has this actually happened? What do you do with an enemy that keeps no standing army to speak of, but arms terrorists (like Afghanistan)? What about a country that disbands its army, waits 15 years until the heat dies down, then rearms (Germany)?

Put it another way: if nobody killed civilians, there would be little need for an army to protect them and the rational thing would be to disband it and make war via proxies (terrorists, pirates, irregulars). Or, if all we do in a war is kill the army, that will seriously harm the enemy only because it then becomes vulnerable to attacks on its commerce and civilian population by a less-scrupulous third party. So we're doing the equivalent of letting prison rapes happen in order to "really" punish the prisoners, or of sending prisoners off to Syria for someone else to torture. Our moral position is no better than that of the person we're counting on to do our dirty work for us.

Although it's more fun to fight amongst ourselves than to ... - scratch that, never mind.

Steve, I have no idea how far I'd want to push it, but I know that some of the people responsible for WW2 strategic bombing see it as a mistake in retrospect. (Freeman Dyson is the one I think of first.) I'd have to do Farber-style research (no slam, Gary, this is me complimenting your thoroughness) before I felt confident saying anything much either way about it, but I do know there's room for multiple perspectives on it. I can certainly imagine it turning out that the limitations of bombing accuracy plus the unwanted/immoral/war crime illegality of civilian damage plus the extra resistance it inspires in appalled targets plus wahtever adds up to it being not worthwhile. The fact that it remains popular among some military planners certainly can't be proof all by itself that it's actually a good weapon for the purpose.

The appalling and pointless, unproductive carnage of recent years has really shifted my thinking a lot in the direction of "do nothing until you have a very solid case for a good outcome with the externalities considered". From what I can tell, the ongoing habit of disregarding and downplaying collateral suffering is one of the prime fuels for terrorism, as well as for less drastic anti-Western views. It's not just the innocents who suffer at the moment but the ongoing legacy of their suffering and how all sides treat it later, too. It may very well be that more often than not, we should let one evil continue for the moment to avoid two more later. I'm not wild about that, but then I'm not wild about what we're doing right now, either, as witness the comments above.

Steve, I have no idea how far I'd want to push it, but I know that some of the people responsible for WW2 strategic bombing see it as a mistake in retrospect.

I don't doubt that. I certainly wasn't trying to suggest that we never could have won the war without firebombing Dresden, for example. But Jes seemed to be articulating an absolute moral standard where we simply never could have bombed Germany, ever, under pain of becoming as bad as them. And I wanted to figure out if I was misunderstanding her or, if not, what her alternative would be.

Back in college, I knew a guy who was a total, uncompromising pacifist. I hadn't encountered that worldview tomorrow, and I asked him the same sorts of questions. Would you have fought Hitler? No. Would you have fought him if he invaded America? No. What if the Nazis enslaved you and ordered you to work for them or they'd shoot you? Then I'd let them shoot me, and if everyone took the same attitude, then they'd come to realize that violence gained them nothing, and so forth.

Naturally, I felt these were totally unacceptable outcomes; obviously he felt differently. But I was at least impressed that he was willing to grapple with the outcomes of his recommended course of action, and to at least decide they were acceptable to him, rather than simply proclaim "violence is always wrong" and try to just leave it at that.

I think the Iraq war was a big mistake, for example. And while I think it's a cheap rhetorical jibe to say "Would you have preferred that Saddam remain in power?" when it comes right down to it, yes, of course I would have preferred leaving Saddam in power. As a logical matter, that's what it MEANS when I say the war was a big mistake. And in so doing, I'm making the judgment call that the consequences of leaving Saddam in power would have been better than the consequences of starting the war. Or, as you allude to in your last paragraph, at a minimum it's unclear which would work out better and so we should default to no war. (In truth, it doesn't strike me as a particularly close call!)

Maybe you're not history's greatest monster, but you're right up there with Steve, Hitler and Socrates.

Thanks for a good laugh, Slarti.

Thank goodness I amused someone other than myself, this time.

Steve: We seem to be occupying some pretty similar territory (and, I hope, treating the noetic natives well).

Steve: But Jes seemed to be articulating an absolute moral standard where we simply never could have bombed Germany, ever, under pain of becoming as bad as them.

Actually, that's your conclusion, Steve. I just pointed out that you're not allowed to kill civilians - it's not just a moral standard, it's the law - and you said "But what about Dresden!" as if the mass killing of civilians in Dresden somehow proved that the law that forbids killing civilians even in wartime is somehow wrong or pointless.

Killing civilians is wrong. And, as Fred at Slacktivist notes, pointing this out tends to get people very, very upset. Because there's always going to be people who really want to justify killing civilians to accomplish a military goal.

I wonder whether we might actually end up making more progress by setting aside Dresden and Tokyo as benchmarks. I think it unlikely that in, oh, the next 20-40 years we're actually going to have to deal with tyrannical regimes controlling the assets of major industrial powers who are vigorously expansion-minded and just that evil when it comes to basic human rights. The closest approximation this side of the end of the Soviet Union is, um, us right now. Assuming that we do get regime change here at home before we get the endless global war and mass internment at home and all that other stuff going, it just seems very unlikely to me that anyone else will make a bid to be Nazi Germany Part II or Imperial Japan For The New Era.

The choices that actually do face us with regard to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, and are likely to face us in any conflict for the rest of this generation, are constrained in wildly different ways. Imbalance of power, cultural knowledge of enemies available but not taken up, prior histories of engagement for good and (usually) bad in the country and region, all this stuff puts the question "Just how many bystanders is it okay to waste?" in a different light, one that has precious little to do with the exigencies of 60 years ago.

By all means, let's set aside Dresden and Tokyo. That still leaves a rather significant gap between 'you cannot kill civilians ever' and some acceptable level of collateral damage based on the level of the threat. Is it ever acceptable to conduct an attack that will kill civilians in addition to your intended target, or can the enemy ensure his own survival by secreting himself among civilians? This is where we are now, of course: people complain that killing civilians is always wrong, so they grant terrorists carte blanche to do what they will because striking back at them would harm civilians. I have a hard time understanding a moral calculus that says it is ok for them to kill civilians with impunity and we can never, ever, strike back. That is a recipe for suicide.

Having said that, on a more practical matter I stand with Jim Henley's argument that the U.S. needs to get out of the business of going great distances to kill people.

I wonder whether we might actually end up making more progress by setting aside Dresden and Tokyo as benchmarks. I think it unlikely that in, oh, the next 20-40 years we're actually going to have to deal with tyrannical regimes controlling the assets of major industrial powers who are vigorously expansion-minded and just that evil when it comes to basic human rights.

The rules of the game have changed.

When wars were fought with railroads and coal, it meant you could concentrate more men in a small area quicker than ever before. So the men dug trenches so they wouldn't be such targets -- unimportant-looking trenches so their defenses wouldn't be such targets -- and it played out from there.

When wars were fought with trucks and oil, they could spread out. Get behind the other guy's line and you can destroy his supplies. Why even have a narrow line for the enemy to get behind? Defend in depth and when he penetrates your line you can hit him from all sides. OK, Fly over his line and you can destroy the factories that make the supplies.

Airpower won at sea. It didn't make as much difference on land in WWII, or korea, or vietnam, but we thought it would. When two navies fight at sea, if there are innocent civilians they don't belong on the ships of either navy. And innocent ships also belong somewhere else. On land civilians are in the way and can't get out of the way. They should cower in their bomb shelters or their basements until the fighting is over.

Now the rules are changing again. Oil will soon cost $100/bbl. An up-armored HUMV gets somewhere between 2 mpg and 0.5 mpg. An F22 has 3? 8? internal fuel tanks that combined hold 25,000+ gallons, it can carry 4 external tanks to give it another 24,000 gallons. Its mean time between maintenance is 3 hours. How many F22 missions will be worth 25,000 gallons of fuel?

Big wars are fought in the middle east now. Not only because oil is a vital resource we want to control. Also, the logistics of providing long-distance oil for a big war far from the refineries is turning into a problem. We fought Gulf War I on saudi oil. They donated it although maybe japan or somebody paid for some of it. We fought the iraq war on kuwaiti oil, and we paid for it. We ran an aluminum fuel pipeline into southern iraq and hoped Saddam's guys wouldn't notice it, and we ran fuel trucks from there. As the insurgency got hotter those trucks became important targets until at one point Halliburton charged us $100/gallon for fuel. That may have been out of line but surely $25/gallon wasn't out of line. We built our own refineries in iraq -- we pumped crude oil and pulled out the fractions we wanted and then we pumped the rest back into the ground. When we put big bases there it wasn't just to protect the oilfields and it wasn't just to protect the refineries. Everything that needs fuel that *can* be done beside the refinery *should* be done there so you don't have to transport that fuel. Ah, what are we paying the iraqi government for that fuel? Who measures how much of it we use? I don't know.

Our style of warfare is getting increasingly impractical. We are the only nation in the world that practices it on a large scale. We know there is no substitute for victory and we don't count the cost. Everybody else looks at the cost of building the second-best professional army and settles for a show force. (Except the israelis, who do it on our dime.)

Nowadays when there's a war, at least one side depends on cheap soldiers who're informally trained and who use cheap weapons and cheap transportation. Maybe the other side controls the air, or maybe they don't bother either. Conventional armies are very very expensive and the main thing they're good for is beating other conventional armies. However, nukes are cheap to build once you have sufficient nuclear power plants.

Sorry for the rant. There's no substitute for victory. When people could think of no better way to win a war than to concentrate men and supplies into a small area and kill them until one side ran out, they did it that way. Civilians were mostly protected, by accident.

When people needed warplanes anyway for their navies and then developed a belief in strategic bombing, the civilians were in the way but nothing could be done about it except tell them to build bomb shelters.

Now we're reaching a point where the difference between a civilian and a poorly-trained soldier is only whether he's holding a weapon. Why bankrupt yourself for an expensive professional army when winning that kind of war is increasingly irrelevant?

And if you are going to fight, and you don't need a particular city that's full of inconvenient foreigners mixed with cheap part-time enemy soldiers -- nukes are cheap too.

The rules of the game have changed, and we won't see the new rules clearly until the USA is bankrupt from winning by the old rules.

FIrst part of this is meta, and then I get to the issue.

Trilobite is the one who brought up Dresden, with this statement---

"Children died in Dresden, too. As General Sherman said, "War is Hell." I suggest that there is no nice way to wage war, no way to coerce a country without hurting innocent civilians. "

Sounds like a clear defense of the bombing of Dresden. Jes then objects and quotes Slactivist on the immorality of killing civilians. It sounds absolutist, possibly ruling out any collateral damage at all.

Steve then jumps in with--

"How should we have defeated the Nazis, Jes? How should we have defeated Japan? What would have been the humane way?"

Since the way we actually beat Germany and Japan involved firebomb raids on their cities, and since Jes was reacting to a defense of the bombing of Dresden, it was natural for Jes to assume Steve was siding with Trilobite. If Steve wanted to ask Jes about her position without appearing to defend Dresden, he could have said--

"Yeah, bombing Dresden went too far, but how would you defeat Hitler without killing civilians? Do you mean intentional killing is outlawed, or is all collateral damage forbidden? And how do you fight a war without at least some innocents being killed?"

I sometimes think Jes shoots from the hip. In this case her interpretation was the natural one to make. But rather than a recognition of the context, we get the usual chorus of IT'S ALL JES'S FAULT.

So that's my reading of the tedious meta crap.

Attempt at substance follows--


I'm not sure, but I thought Fred (at Slacktivist) meant the intentional killing of civilians. Collateral damage is probably unavoidable in a war and I don't think Fred, as a just war advocate (I think) is unaware of this. I think though, that we Westerners use that collateral damage loophole as an excuse to do whatever we think we can get away with. Or we pretend something is collateral damage when civilians were in fact the target. Sometimes people do both--with the sanctions there were occasional admissions that they were meant to impose pressure on Saddam, but if pressed obviously any US government official would swear they weren't targeting civilians and all their suffering was all Saddam's fault.

I'm citing Fisk's book "The Great War for Civilization" for the following story, but I remember reading it myself. It was (according to Fisk) in the July 20, 2003 NYT. Rumsfeld was required to give his personal approval to any airstrike that was thought likely to kill 30 or more civilians. That procedure shows some attempt to limit civilian deaths. There were 50 such strikes proposed and Rumsfeld approved all of them. No doubt every single one of them met the just war criteria of proportionality. Snark aside, I think this probably shows how US government officials use the collateral damage excuse as a loophole to do whatever they want.

Jes,

"I just pointed out that you're not allowed to kill civilians - it's not just a moral standard, it's the law - and you said "But what about Dresden!""

No, he didn't. His response to you quoting Slacktivist was "How should we have defeated the Nazis, Jes? How should we have defeated Japan?"

to which you answered "Are you trying to justify the mass slaughter of civilians, Steve? If you think the mass slaughter of civilians can be justified, what then was wrong with the Nazi regime?"

In fact, in response to a comment by Bruce Baugh, he specifically declined to justify Dresden, saying "I certainly wasn't trying to suggest that we never could have won the war without firebombing Dresden, for example. But Jes seemed to be articulating an absolute moral standard where we simply never could have bombed Germany, ever, under pain of becoming as bad as them. And I wanted to figure out if I was misunderstanding her or, if not, what her alternative would be."

In other words, you are simply distorting Steve's comments to avoid answering his straightforward question about the implications of your beliefs.

"Killing civilians is wrong. And, as Fred at Slacktivist notes, pointing this out tends to get people very, very upset. Because there's always going to be people who really want to justify killing civilians to accomplish a military goal."

And allowing totalitarians to control the world is also wrong. And apparently, that cannot be pointed out to you without getting you very, very upset. Telling.

I wondered, after reading Donald's comment, if the thread would go to meta or to substance: I see Dantheman prefers meta.

Nice to meta, Dan.

Nice to see Jes continues to prefer not to respond to anyone noting her distortions of what other people say. Why spoil a perfect record? :-)

Doubtless I'm dating myself, but suddenly this thread reminds me of an old Doonesbury cartoon. The basic premise was then Vice President Bush's tearing into Dan Rather for asking what his role in Iran-Contra was. The strip related the excitement that came from Bush tearing into Rather, and then ended with a final panel noting that only one question remained after all the shouting: "What was your role in Iran-Contra, Mr. Vice President?"

Meta it is, I guess.

Steve didn't (partially) clarify his beliefs on Dresden until several posts into the discussion. I almost wrote that down in my previous post, but thought that Jes's inability to read posts not-yet-typed was something we could all sympathize with, not realizing that there were people in the thread who transcend the normal human limitations involving time and causality.

The substantive issue would be sorta interesting to discuss, but having plunged into the meta sewer myself I can't complain too much if we avoid doing so. Given the temporary absence of Taking it Outside, it'd be nice if the thread could physically split into two separate parallel columns, one for meta and one for substance.

Is it ever acceptable to conduct an attack that will kill civilians in addition to your intended target, or can the enemy ensure his own survival by secreting himself among civilians?

When there's a fighting war, the usual rules of conduct have already broken down. People can agree to rules for how to break the rules, when they choose to.

If they thought the new rules would result in them losing a war they'd otherwise win, they wouldn't agree. Why agree to rules for how to lose, when you can surrender instead?

People might agree to rules that make victory more expensive for them, when they think the result is better for humanity or something. But not when it puts the victory in doubt.

There's no substitute for victory.

This is a particularly american point of view. Many nations are ready to negotiate an inconclusive end to a war when that looks good for both sides. They can have an armed truce, maybe negotiate some of their differences, work together against a mutual enemy, etc. They don't have to get the whole thing resolved right now.

But americans are unusual, our national survival has never been seriously threatened in a war. Sure, the british burned DC but they wouldn't deign to occupy us again. We have never ever fought for our national survival. Every war we've ever fought, we could have walked away from and been reasonably sure there would still be a USA in 20 years. We don't fight for national survival, we fight for other purposes. If we start a war for some noble purpose and we quit before it's done, there's a good chance we'll never come back and finish the job.

Oh well. An opponent who has to hide among civilians to survive is not that much of an opponent. If the civilians are friendly to you, get the civilians to tell you where the enemy is and then come arrest him. If the civilians *harbor* the enemy, then they're enemies too and it's OK to kill them. We ran into that during the official iraqi war. There would be soldiers or guerrillas or whoever holed up in some city and we'd be shooting at them, and women would walk around in plain sight unarmed, and once we realised they were serving as spotters -- watching our positions and telling the fighters where to shoot -- we shot them on sight. And little kids would come out in plain sight and carry off unexploded munitions. We figured they were carrying the things to the enemy so he could shoot at us with them, so we shot the kids too. Civilians really ought to stay in their basements until all the fighting is over. Provided of course we don't do a bake-and-shake.

I heard a libertarian approach to civilians that I kind of liked. If civilians are getting oppressed by a government or by terrorists or whatever, dump a whole lot of weapons and ammo on them and let them sort it out themselves. Saddam isn't going to dominate towns full of well-armed people, unless they're willing to be dominated. Likewise al qaeda. It's a very attractive idea but now that it's been tried once I have to admit there's somthing wrong with it.

The problem is, G'Kar, that it's so much more fun to blame me for "distortion" than to discuss why it's not right to kill civilians, not even if you can claim that you had a military or strategic objective in mind when you set out to kill civilians to achieve it. Killing civilians, or even talking about killing civilians, is hellishly depressing, but yelling at me is good fun.

I'd respond to the substantive comments made on this thread, but I've already said I agree with Bruce and I agree with Donald.

Donald,

"Steve didn't (partially) clarify his beliefs on Dresden until several posts into the discussion."

Partially? What is partially about "I certainly wasn't trying to suggest that we never could have won the war without firebombing Dresden, for example."

"I almost wrote that down in my previous post, but thought that Jes's inability to read posts not-yet-typed was something we could all sympathize with, not realizing that there were people in the thread who transcend the normal human limitations involving time and causality."

It's not Jes's inability to read posts not yet typed that is the issue, but rather her ability to read a post that is typed, and somehow divine an intent nowhere to be found or implied in it, ascribe that intent to the poster, and beat the poster over the head with her views of the poster's intent.

But how can one discuss why it's not right to kill civilians (I should note that if there are appropriate times, they are extremely limited) when only one side is discussing the issue? I am not a linguist, but I am reasonably sure that the 'di' in discussion comes from there needing to be two sides (or more, perhaps...as I said, I am not a linguist).

And, he said, tongue firmly in cheek, if you think that people consider yelling at you good sport, perhaps you should be asking why they hate you so much. (And if you took that seriously, please don't, it is meant strictly as dark humor.)

Resolved: that Ugh thinks it's perfectly acceptable to eat kittens.

Discuss.

If the rumors are true, Rummy originally planned to Tokyo/Dresden Baghdad on the first day of the war (estimated casualties 1.5 million) to shock and awe Saddam Hussein into unconditional surrender and abandoned it only after someone leaked the draft to the media (and later denied that this had ever been seriously considered).

Hartmut - do you have a link to the media reports of that (if you're willing to provide one to a kitten-devourer).

OK, I'll take the "It's sometimes OK to kill civilians" side and if anybody else who takes that side disagrees with me they're welcome to say how.

First, nations *will* do whatever they can to survive when national survival is at issue. What good is it to do the right thing when it means you lose and die? If it's a choice between mass deaths of enemy civilians versus surrender to an implacable foe, better them than us.

Second, soldiers will often do whatever they can to survive. If it's a choice between killing civilians and coming home with a successful mission, versus not killing civilians and failing the mission and getting captured or more probably killed, usually it seems better to complete the mission. Once you're home you can confess to war crimes and see whether your court martial decides you're OK, or you might figure you do more for the war effort if you don't report it but accept the consequences if somebody else does.

Third, elite units are elite because they get results consistently, not because they follow rules. Here's a story which I remember as a navy submariner telling to a news guy -- but it might have been in a novel, I don't vouch for it. Think of it as Friend Of A Friend, FOAF. He was supposed to pick up a bunch of SEALs from the coast of, ah, call it north vietnam. He approached the beach, and he saw them running in in groups of 2 SEALs, each with a prisoner. As they got closer one by one each group snapped their prisoner's neck and ran on. After they got back to the sub he asked why they killed all those people. "Our orders were to bring in one prisoner, mister."

Of course if you're patrolling behind enemy lines and civilians see you, it isn't safe to let them report you unless you can move so fast that the report does no good. So it makes tactical sense to kill them. There's a slippery slope here, and at the bottom you have "Do whatever it takes to complete the mission."

So, do you need to patrol behind enemy lines? Do you really need that north vietnamese prisoner? Is this particular war one you really need to win? Somebody has to make those decisions, and the people who make those decisions need all the background information they can get. Since that background must be classified to keep it from the enemy, US civilians can't know enough to second-guess it. We should obey the duly-constituted authorities and pray for victory.

But wait, what about democracy? Sorry, you can't run a war like a town meeting. Wars are anomalies, the rules don't apply. Wait until the war is over and then you can have a democracy again. I don't like it, particularly since we haven't really been at peace since 1941.

But that does give us the definitive answers. It isn't your business to decide how many civilians our soldiers should kill. The legitimate chain of command will decide that, and it will enforce it with court martials for soldiers who kill civilians when they shouldn't. It's entirely their decision, not ours. We gave up those rights when we agreed to go to war, and we'll get them back when there is peace.

I notice that nobody has cited any laws or treaties to refute the claim that Jes and Slacktivist make: you're not allowed to kill civilians. Our governments go ahead and do it anyway, of course, but then they do a lot of other things that law and treaty do not allow.

G'kar, I think that principles that impose serious constraints on our freedom of initiative and response are most important precisely when the other side isn't being gentlemen and ladies about it. That's when moral authority can actually matter, along with basic intelligence.

I happened to be re-reading Cordwainer Smith stories last night. Smith was the pen name of Col. Paul Linebarger, godson of Sun Yat-sen and author of Psychological Warfare, the definitive textbook on the subject for many decades. Among other things, he's credited with saving the lives of many thousands of soldiers in World War II and Korea by the simple expedient of replacing exhortations to "surrender" with ones to "cease honorable resistance". It was easier for Japanese and Chinese soldiers to find it within themselves to do the latter, and they did, and lives on both sides were spared because of it.

I find the following quote from Psychological Warfare on the site for him and his works that his daughter maintains:

In other terms, it is tough to be modern; the difficulty of being modern makes it easy for individuals to be restless and anxious; restlessness and anxiety lead to fear; fear converts freely into hate; hate very easily takes on political form; political hate assists in the creation of real threats such as the atomic bomb and guided missiles, which are not imaginary threats at all; the reality of the threats seems to confirm the reality of the hate which led to it, thus perpetuating a cycle of insecurity, fear, hate, armament, insecurity, fear, and on around the circle again and again.

It is possible, but by no means probable, that the rapid development of psychological and related sciences in the Western world may provide whole new answers to the threats which surround modern Americans, including the supreme answer of peace as an alternative to war or the secondary answer of victory in the event of war....

Too specific a concentration on the problem of winning a war may cause a leader or his expert consultants to concentrate on solutions derived from past experience, therewith leading him to miss new and different solutions which might be offered by his own time.

That man was looking at places I would like to be going to. Whenever the question becomes "how much bad stuff can we get away with before we really ought to hate ourselves as much as we're giving others excuse to hate us?", I think, we're looking towards the wrong goal. I want to win our struggles, really win them, not just set ourselves up for the next round of the same damn thing.

Ugh: Resolved: that Ugh thinks it's perfectly acceptable to eat kittens.

I not only think it's perfectly acceptable to eat these kittens, I'll eat bears and puppies, too. And bunnies. And deer.

G'Kar: And, he said, tongue firmly in cheek, if you think that people consider yelling at you good sport, perhaps you should be asking why they hate you so much.

It's a Centauri thing, you wouldn't understand. ;-)

Dammit, just as I conclude the thread has gone completely meta, Bruce speaks to the substance of it. Sorry, Bruce. I did preview, first, but you must have been typing as I did...

These things happen sometimes. I hadn't really planned to add more, but then was hunting up Cordwainer Smith quotes for a friend who turned out not to know his work, and that bit from Psychological Warfare was just too good not to share, and, well, there you go. :)

Quickly googled...

Might as well join in. It isn't illegal to kill civilians, it is just illegal to intentionally target/kill civilians.

"Not all civilian deaths in wartime are unlawful. In military terms, 'collateral damage', including civilian casualties, is to be expected in war. But there are clear rules that set limits on the conduct of hostilities." (Human">http://www.hrusa.org/hrmaterials/activities/HumanitarianLaw.htm">Human Rights Resource Center)

Since the way we actually beat Germany and Japan involved firebomb raids on their cities, and since Jes was reacting to a defense of the bombing of Dresden, it was natural for Jes to assume Steve was siding with Trilobite. If Steve wanted to ask Jes about her position without appearing to defend Dresden, he could have said...

Yeah, I could have said. The problem with the theory that Jes only jumped down my throat because I appeared to be defending Dresden is that I've long since clarified, and we still know nothing about how Jes believes a moral nation would have dealt with Germany and Japan. And why I would have brought up Japan if my sole purpose was to defend trilobite's position is beyond me.

I think the temptation is to conclude that I'm playing some kind of rhetorical trick because Hitler was such a one-off, or whatever. But I think these questions are even more relevant today, as war constantly becomes less and less like a battle between uniformed armies.

Once upon a time, people built military installations away from populated areas, because, shockingly, they didn't want their population to get bombed. Today we fight against people who have no problem locating their missile silos in a school, reasoning that once the other side blows up the school, they'll be able to score a massive propaganda victory. I mean, that's unimaginably monstrous.

But when people do monstrous things, you still have to decide what to do about it. If you choose the course of action that kills civilians, you have to live with that. If you choose the course of action that lets the bad guys get away whenever they manage to hide among civilians, you have to live with that too. These are difficult questions and I don't think they are made less difficult by declaring moral absolutes and then refusing to engage in any further discussion.

Bruce,

I don't have any issues whatsoever with placing limits on our own forces. Indeed, I suspect the U.S. would be better off if it placed more, rather than fewer, limits on what it permits its armed forces to do, although I suspect we would need a far more well-disciplined force than we currently have to accomplish this task.

Further, I'll note that I cannot imagine many people arguing that it is in any way good to kill civilians. My question, which remains unanswered, is are there circumstances in which killing some civilians in order to accomplish an objective is permissible.

Oh, and Jesurgislac?

Well played.

Bravo, Steve.

G'kar, I think it's true that very few people champion killing civilians as a positive good in itself - even the amoral blood-seekers say things like how it'll lead to good stuff later. Nonetheless, since we are now in a situation where mass slaughter could and did become policy without anything like sufficient opposition, I think it's worth going back and looking at first principles, assumptions, and the very early steps in chains of reasoning. Not that I think we can always forestall bad people from doing terrible thing, but we can make it harder, slow it down, provide more opportunities for sanity to return...good practice doesn't guarantee virtue, but it helps.

I can't help noticing that
a) Nobody seems to question that by approving the firebombing of Dresden I --tho not Steve -- am beyond the pale; and
b) nobody has said why firebombing Dresden was unacceptable. My recollection was that the Allies were trying to take out a railroad hub and munitions factories. Wikipedia agrees, but says they also wanted to remove a likely restaging area for the Wehrmacht.

I don't know much about the pros and cons of the decision to destroy Dresden, so I'm open to persuasion. Mostly, I just wanted an example that I thought would be less controversial than, say, Hiroshima. Steve took it a few rhetorical steps further down and got across the point I was originally trying to make. Still, I find it surprising that so many people seem to take for granted that there was no excuse for taking out a major industrial center after almost a decade of excruciating war.

"You're not allowed to kill civilians."

This isn't an accurate statement of the rules of war at all.

If you wanted to come close to accurate it would be something like--you are not allowed to conduct operations which would largely serve to kill civilians unless they military objective is sufficiently strong to justify it. That's off the top of my head, I'll go look up the exact words now.

trilobite,

"Still, I find it surprising that so many people seem to take for granted that there was no excuse for taking out a major industrial center after almost a decade of excruciating war."

Because there is a non-trivial difference in my mind (and likely many others) between taking out a major industrial center while minimizing civilian deaths, and taking out a major industrial center while not caring about the number of civilians killed in the process.

Still, I find it surprising that so many people seem to take for granted that there was no excuse for taking out a major industrial center after almost a decade of excruciating war.

I think conventional wisdom hasn't really acknowledged that there was a case for Dresden's necessity comparable to, say, Hiroshima. As a slave to conventional wisdom myself, I've always pretty much assumed that there was probably a better way, but I certainly haven't studied it.

Just because I'm not defending your point, though, doesn't mean I've concluded you're a moral monster.

Well, I'm not sure I really want to debate this, but: I think it's wrong to target civilians intentionally (i.e., to make killing them one's purpose, rather than an incidental result of doing something else), and that for it to be justifiable to cause foreseeable civilian deaths, what you're trying to do has to be important enough to justify them. "Important enough" being the term desperately in need of interpretation, which I am not going to try to provide. (Defeating Hitler: yes. Blowing up the earth in order to kill bin Laden: No.)

I also am not up on the history here, but I recall, back when the sanctions were in place, hearing someone from the UN, whom I trust, say that a significant chunk of the problem was that Saddam was not letting the oil for food money get spent on people's actual needs, and contrasting this with the situation in the north, where the money wasn't getting siphoned off and the various bad effects of sanctions on the general populace didn't happen.

Fwiw.

Supposing there might be somebody here who doesn't have me killfiled,

A major purpose of the Dresden attack was to test our methods. We had some idea how to make firestorms but we weren't completely clear on it. Some attempts had failed. Dresden was a good choice because it was such an unimportant target that the germans had no antiaircraft defenses there. So the bombs could be placed precisely without german interference.

The experiment was a success. We did get a firestorm. The firestorm killed a whole lot of people. It also damaged or destroyed about 100,000 wooden buildings. If there had been military targets there and we had specifically attacked them we probably would not have killed most of the civilians. But that's the point of making a firestorm -- burn everything that will burn and kill all the people. If you don't want to kill lots of civilians then you won't try to make a firestorm someplace where there are a lot of civilians.

Hiroshima is very similar. We wanted to test the effects of nuclear weapons on a city. We picked a city that was unimportant enough that it hadn't been bombed before, so we could get a better idea what the results were. We didn't want to attack a military target because the military targets were small and we might miss. We couldn't miss a whole city.

In both cases, killing civilians was a central aim. In both cases, the main reason we wanted to kill civilians was to find out how effectively these weapons killed civilians. Once we found out how to use the weapons, we mostly quit. So for example, I believe we made no serious attempt to start firestorms at Hanoi or Haiphong, even though we might have managed it at the right season. We didn't really want to. Nor have we used nukes since we figured out what to expect from them.

My conclusion is that each time we develop a new weapon which *can* kill lots of civilians, we can expect to use it a few times while we calibrate its use. Once we know how to use it, we're likely not to use it again because we don't like to kill lots of civilians.

J Thomas: see, that's something I think is just wrong.

I'll note that I cannot imagine many people arguing that it is in any way good to kill civilians.

G'Kar, many people who are desperately scared of islamofascists say that -- while it isn't good in principle -- it may or probably will or definitely will be necessary to kill a whole lot of muslims. Probably most of them. The possibility of nuking most of the middle east comes up rather often. Also the value of encouraging muslims to kill each other in large numbers. For example, the argument is made that civil war in iraq is a *good* think and we're crazy to try to oppose it.

As a minor example:
trash talk
"WHY should American troops be used to prevent a full scale civil war if they are the only thing preventing one?"

We shouldn't. Red on red attrition is our only chance. We must allow it.

These are our enemies, and we need to be their enemies. They are not our friends. Their welfare is not our concern, except in a negative sense.

At the moment there are no arab armies that are particularly dangerous to anybody but other arab armies, so if we're going to beat the islamofascist threat we pretty much have to attack civilians.

italicide!

Hilzoy: say that a significant chunk of the problem was that Saddam was not letting the oil for food money get spent on people's actual needs, and contrasting this with the situation in the north, where the money wasn't getting siphoned off and the various bad effects of sanctions on the general populace didn't happen.

In 1998, Denis Halliday, former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, then working as as humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq, resigned from the UN in protest over the way the Security Council (primarily, he blamed the US and the UK) were strangling the Oil for Food program. In 2000, Hans von Sponeck, who had succeeded him, also resigned in protest. Shortly after von Sponeck had resigned, Jutta Burghardt, who was then head of the World Food Programme in Iraq, also resigned in protest.

They were protesting the deliberate starvation of the Iraqi people by the sanctions enforced by the Security Council, and Denis Halliday at least has said explicitly and publicly that the problems did not arise because Saddam Hussein was diverting resources from Oil for Food for his own benefit, but because the resources provided by Oil for Food were insufficient, and were intended to be insufficient. Blaming Saddam Hussein for this was a convenient scapegoat.

There's an interview with Denis Halliday, available online here, where he spells this out: he points out that the food and medicines brought in by Oil for Food were tracked by the UN, there was no systematic diversion: about $7bn was spent on "UN expenses" (such as reparations to Kuwait), leaving $130bn over three years to be spent on the Iraqi people, or about $190 per person. This wasn't enough: three leading figures in the program struggled with it and resigned in protest: and there was absolutely no way that the US and UK governments who were responsible for the sanctions didn't know that it wasn't enough.

An article written by both Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday on the genocidal impact of the sanctions on Iraq was published in the UK on 29th November 2001.

(And one straightforward reason the north of Iraq was better off may have been the borders were leakier and sanctions were less enforceable: for obvious reasons, the Kuwait and Saudi borders with Iraq were solid.)

"leaving $130bn over three years to be spent on the Iraqi people, or about $190 per person."

Was it contemplated that the UN should be responsible for feeding every single person in Iraq? That is a rather surprising way of looking at it.

"there was no systematic diversion"

That 'conclusion' calls into question his analysis, considering the fruit of the investigations later. See for example the GAO investigation which found about 20% taken by Saddam's government. Or see the Volcker Commission reports which show a very systematic diversion. Or see the investigations in France.

Sebastian: See for example the GAO investigation which found about 20% taken by Saddam's government. Or see the Volcker Commission reports which show a very systematic diversion. Or see the investigations in France.

...none of which, it seems, you know enough about to be able to make your point credible by linking to them.

Please allow me to remedy your omission:

See for example the GAO investigation which found about 20% taken by Saddam's government. Or see the Volcker Commission reports which show a very systematic diversion. Or see the investigations in France.

(I can't help with the last one, Sebastian: too vague for my google-fu.)

Was it contemplated that the UN should be responsible for feeding every single person in Iraq?

Which Iraqis do you think the UN should have left to starve? Can you give me their names and your reasons why they didn't deserve to live? And some kind of outline about how you reconcile your support for starving Iraqi civilians with your claims to be pro-life?

Oh, never mind.

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