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August 18, 2013

Comments

Let's leave aside "boots on the ground" which (I think) is an impossible scenario for the US alone, and probably for NATO, and certainly for the UN. And, by the way, not what I was ever suggesting happen.

And Assad's evil chemical weapon usage is just a hypothesis at the is point. I strongly believe in verification. That's obviously one of the many things that got us into trouble regarding Iraq.

I was just positing (and using WWII as an example of - no, not boots on the ground or existential threat, but as - "Never forget.") that we should never turn a blind eye to suffering if all of our tax money toward bombs, etc., can actually do some good.

Honestly, not sure what good it will do. But if the international community (yes, all of us, not just the US) determines always to stand against chemical weapons, mass infliction of civilian casualties, etc., I think that's good.

But, it seems to be the consensus here: Let them gas away. I think we should all say that in a chorus though: "Let them gas away, even children!!!!"

Because that's what we're standing up for here.

(Cleek, we should put our house in order, true. What are the chances of that happening with the Congress that we have, and with the right-wing (and left-wing) citizenship that we have? I'm not hopeful.)

I have to agree with russell that American willingness to get involved in WW II was not all that apparent.

That wasn't actually a point I was making. In fact, I wasn't making any point at all about WWII. I was simply asking for the "It's just like Hitler" rhetoric to be put aside.

That said, it is true that support for entering WWII was at best mixed until Pearl Harbor.

But, it seems to be the consensus here: Let them gas away.

To be honest, I'm not seeing that. YMMV.

And Assad's evil chemical weapon usage is just a hypothesis at the is point.

and

But, it seems to be the consensus here: Let them gas away.

You know, you can't say the first and then accuse people of the second. Well, you can, but you look like an absolute idiot. You go on and on about 'letting our leaders govern', but when we say we aren't sure, and we step back to presumably let Obama or (fill in the blank) make that decision, you get in high dudgeon and accuse people supporting the use of chemical weapons and of calling you rude. As if you being tagged as rude is somehow the issue here.

Your last comment to Cleek is really revealing. We have less chance of putting our own house in order, but bombing Syrian targets from afar is something we can do.

Given the current state of affairs in Egypt, and Iran and Russia defending Assad's regime, I think lobbing some cruise missiles is definitely NOT the thing to do. You disagree. Fine. But if you accuse Russell of being forgetful again, you won't be censored, you will be gone. I don't care if your 'style' is to make link free assertions and then conclude that people who express doubts are supporting the use of chemical weapons, it is not going to fly here. I hate to be the heavy, but you ignored the polite request, so consider this your warning.

FWIW, an anecdote about our current-day situations, and WWII.

The generation before me all lived through the Depression, then WWII. Father, father-in-law, step-father, all served in one theater or another during WWII. Mother-in-law built Corsairs in Akron, Rosie the Riveter style.

Right after 9/11 my wife and I were talking with my in-laws about what was going on.

Their main issue was that they heartily hoped we did not go to war over the 9/11 attacks.

So, that's a data point.

Every period of time is fairly unique, every historical situation has its own dynamics. It's not that fruitful, IMO, to try to make decisions about What To Do Right Now based on what you think you learned from the last time around.

That's called 'fighting the last battle', and it's basically dealing with a situation, now gone, that you're carrying around in your head, rather than dealing with the situation that's actually in front of you.

It is especially fruitless, IMVHO, to try to decide What To Do Right Now based on what other folks, mostly long dead, did or did not do 75 or 80 freaking years ago.

Assad is not Hitler, Syria is not Nazi Germany, and the Middle East today is not Europe ca. the 1930's.

Further, there is not one person among us who can say with any authority or confidence what they would have thought we should or should not have gone to war with Hitler in the 30's. We don't know that because we weren't there then. Other people were there then, not us, and those people came to their own conclusions, and took their own decisions and actions.

None of us has any claim of authority, moral or otherwise, to make based on what other folks - not us - did or did not do then.

If we want to talk about Syria, we should talk about Syria. Not Hitler, not Vietnam, not even Iraq and Afghanistan except as those more recent events affect what we are actually capable of doing now.

I don't know enough about the specifics of the situation in Syria to even try to have an intelligent opinion about what we ought to do. What I do know is that HItler has fnck-all to do with it.

(This comment was placed in the wrong thread. I'm moving it here, so if someone with the keys wishes to delete the misplaced comment, that would be appreciated.)

But if you accuse Russell of being forgetful again, you won't be censored, you will be gone.

This is rich, lj.

I'd like to know where in your posting rules, or anywhere else, it's inappropriate to talk about real issues that are occurring right now, and ask whether (considering our wealth, and military might) we are in a position to do something, and whether we should. I don't think that russell or anyone else is a "bad person". He's quite articulate about stating his own views, and he really doesn't need your threats.

I too was brought up by people who lived during WWII. I've said this before - they were totally against unilateral military action and the kind of b.s. (and lying) that got us into the Iraq war. They supported the UN and cooperation with the international community. And they (speaking of the generation of leaders who experienced that war) certainly didn't do everything right, especially in the aftermath. Still, sitting passively by while powerful bully governments kill innocents seems one of the main object lessons of that war.

It is especially fruitless, IMVHO, to try to decide What To Do Right Now based on what other folks, mostly long dead, did or did not do 75 or 80 freaking years ago.

This is where I disagree. History has a lot of lessons. I'm not saying that every time anything happens in the world, it's WWII. But using our zillions of dollars worth of military might to join with the international community to stop bully governments from gassing its own citizens seems to be something worth considering and discussing in open forums. It's an extremely bad idea to ignore the lessons of the past just because "Godwin!". Should we be the world's policemen? That question, and the answer "no!" was the stock conversation of the Vietnam war. I think the conversation should be a little larger than that. Should there be a world's policeman at all? What responsibility do we have to the rest of the world, if any? What is the line between isolationism and appropriate engagement? What does the admonishment "Never forget" mean, if anything?

I brought up the topic of Syria in order to consider it. I understand that the issues aren't a "no brainer". To those people who considered the issues in good faith, without the usual gratuitous sapient bashing, thanks.

By your own admission, you say we have to wait until there is confirmation. Yet you wrote: But, it seems to be the consensus here: Let them gas away. I think we should all say that in a chorus though: "Let them gas away, even children!!!!"

Please note this from the posting rules:
We therefore reserve the right to warn and, if necessary, ban commenters who show a consistent pattern of blatant disrespect toward groups of people (e.g., people of a given race, military status, sexual orientation, or religion), when that disrespect is coupled with an apparent lack of interest in providing evidence for one's views or engaging in reasoned argument about them.

The people on this blog are 'a group of people', and your claims that we are supporting the use of chemical warfare (despite your own fncking point that it has not been verified) deserves a warning.

I'm going to have very spotty internet access until the middle of Sept, so if, when I can get online, I find you making blanket accusations, I'll block you and the front-pagers will then have a discussion about whether to make it permanent. So I suggest that you cite particular commenters and you be reasonably civil.

Please note this is not a 'threat'. This is a 'warning'. There was no reason to accuse Russell of forgetting history and there was no reason to accuse 'the consensus here' of supporting the gassing of civilians. You climbed out on that limb all on your own. Just because someone you attack is articulate doesn't mean that you can ignore civility because they should be able to defend themselves. That's a bully's line as well. So stand down or get out.

I offered you the opportunity to make a guest post and the offer still stands. (that goes for Donald as well). Mail a text file to libjpn at gmail. I would welcome a post that gives details and links so I could know more. But you probably won't be very happy if you do post something and you find yourself being blocked for responding.

This is my last word on the subject. If you want to figure out which side of the line you are erring on, refer to this, cause I'm not going to spend any more time explaining it.

It appears that the Syrian regime is indeed responsible for the chemical attack, given their unwillingness to allow UN inspectors access to the location;
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23809409

I don't actually object to the "gas away" comment very much, though I'd be one of sapient's chief targets.

If the UN wants someone to bomb a few military targets, I wouldn't object very much so long as it is limited to that. I don't know if it would do any good, but maybe it would make Asad or the rebels or whoever did this go back to massacring people in more approved ways, with bullets for instance. Israel has bombed them a few times, aiming, I believe, at some alleged missile stockpiles.

But my sarcasm earlier still stands--the rebels do exactly the same things in Syria that has sapient justifying drone strikes in other parts of the world, so if we're supposed to be the world's policeman, then shouldn't we be bombing both sides? I don't see how one escapes the logic there. In the case of Syria, Obama drew a red line regarding chemical weapons, so in large part you see people arguing we might have to bomb because of the usual credibility argument, but that of course is a separate issue. Credibility on war crimes is something the US lost a long time ago, but this sort of credibility involving red lines is more the playground variety, where we have to show that we're tough guys and mean what we say.


The NYT has another front page story on the Syrian rebels, this time about how one faction kidnapped an American journalist and held him until he managed to escape. To be fair, some other rebels helped him when he reached them.

Donald, I read the article about the captured journalist too, and am linking to it.

I understand that it would be difficult or impossible to support a faction of rebels in Syria that would necessarily improve matters there if they won, and that's one of many, many reasons that a full-fledged invasion isn't what I have suggested.

If the UN wants someone to bomb a few military targets, I wouldn't object very much so long as it is limited to that.

I agree with this, or more strongly put, I would support it. I would support a credible international movement to do it even without the UN since Russia and China seem not to be interested at all in condemning Asad.

As to not doing anything, I don't see how that path wouldn't just embolden other tyrants to do the same thing to troublesome ethnic minorities, etc. (And, yes, the bullets are just as bad.) The world does need to be policed - not by the United States alone, but by its own community of nations. It was a miracle that the UN security counsel approved the Libyan actions, but that's the kind of effort we should hope for IMO.

It's an extremely bad idea to ignore the lessons of the past just because "Godwin!".

There are a handful of issues with invoking Hitler in a discussion of current events in Syria.

First and foremost, it's not a good historical analogy. The two cases are not alike. What might have been an appropriate response to Hitler is therefore not necessarily an appropriate response to Assad's alleged use of gas against his Syrian opponents.

Second, it's a cheap rhetorical stunt, which tends to distract from and obscure a useful, substantive discussion of the issue at hand. In political discussion, in particular political discussion in online fora, invoking Hitler has, for a long time, been considered a sufficient predictable and risible parlor trick that it does, in fact, have its own name.

Questioning whether we should respond to Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons with military action is not anything like being unwilling to go to war with Hitler in the 1930's. The two things are not alike.

Further, sitting in our armchairs in 2013, with the history of Nazi Germany's aggression, genocide, and fanatical and insane cruelty well documented and taught to every school child, and asserting that we ought to have gone to war with him prior to Pearl Harbor is not at all like being a person alive in the 1930's and having the same choice to make.

Lastly, if we want to learn lessons from the past, the rise of Hitler in the 30's is not the only tutor available. There are many, many, many, many, many incidents which might direct our thinking and decision making. Not all of those would argue for aggressive intervention in Syria.

Invoking Hitler, and claiming that folks who disagree with you about some topic or other are Just Like Those Folks In The 30's Who Buried Their Heads In The Sand!!! does nothing but turn whatever reasonable argument you might want to make into the ranting of a clown.

That's why people might ask that it be left off the table.

Syria is involved in a civil war. It's far from clear who the good guys and the bad guys are, or even that there are good and bad guys.

Many innocent people will likely be killed. That happens in wars, which is a statement that should surprise you not at all, because it's one you make yourself with some frequency.

The use of chemical weapons, if true, would be a serious violation of international law, and deserves a strong response. I don't know what range of responses are available legally, and I don't know what range of responses would actually make the situation better rather than worse. So, I don't offer an opinion about what, specifically, we should do.

If you have some good ideas, I'm sure folks would be interested in hearing them. You've been offered a guest post to make your case. If it's that important to you, you might want to take LJ up on it.

The use of chemical weapons, if true, would be a serious violation of international law, and deserves a strong response.

I don't really need to write a guest post, because this sentence represents my opinion. So maybe I should just say "What russell said." I certainly won't be banned if I stick to that formula.

Invoking Hitler, and claiming that folks who disagree with you about some topic or other are Just Like Those Folks In The 30's Who Buried Their Heads In The Sand!!! does nothing but turn whatever reasonable argument you might want to make into the ranting of a clown.

By the way, russell, you read a lot of extra words into the few that I wrote.

IMVHO what I took away from your words is more than reasonable.

Perhaps I misunderstood your point. It happens.

At the risk of furthering the godwinization of the thread, perhaps you would like to make clear exactly what lesson we should take away from the Nazi period when considering what, if anything, we should do about Syria.

No one is threatening to ban you, sapient. It is not even (to my knowledge, which is generally pretty up-to-date on issues concerning this blog) being discussed behind the scenes. The threat, such as it is, is all in your head.

So.

It's an extremely bad idea to ignore the lessons of the past just because "Godwin!".

No, that's not it. It's been explained to you, repeatedly, that the issue with your crying Hitler is that it's inapt, not that you've somehow violated some rule or other.

I interpret russell's warning to you is that if you persist in making this kind of inapt comparison, he will all of a sudden be a bit less polite with you. He may lose patience. He may even unleash the rhetorical Kraken.

For the time being, though, the only thing that is happening that I can see is that you are being warned to stop being silly, with the possible consequence that russell will give you some detailed and possibly unpleasant instruction on how silly you're being. For my part, I'm inclined to grant him a bit of leeway in this matter, because I happen to agree with him.

Saddam Hussein? Yeah, he was just like Hitler.

Incidentally, thanks to russell and others for their kind words yesterday. As it happens I had lunch with a friend, and said friend shared a bit of his Vietnam experience with me (that he had never shared in the >25 years prior that I have known him) that left me rocked for much of the remainder of the day and night. As I am not really comfortable passing any of that along at this point, just know that I am grateful.

Per McKTx, my observations were not confined to NSA, but as NSA appears to be the most visible & threatening part of the iceberg at present, it's what I had in mind while writing.

As I've stated, allowing bullies to commit blatant, massive atrocities against their own civilian population serves to encourage the practice. As a matter of maintaining international norms, the international community needs to respond. Period.

As I've stated, allowing bullies to commit blatant, massive atrocities against their own civilian population serves to encourage the practice. As a matter of maintaining international norms, the international community needs to respond. Period.

The question of what sort of response you think might be appropriate is now more relevant than ever.

I imagine that there is some amount of jaw, jaw going on that doesn't show up in the media. When that doesn't pan out, what next? And after that, what?

I agree that whatever is going on in Syria right now, it is not the equivalent of what Hitler did. But I think Sapient's point was that if there had been some kind of interevention early in Hitler's regime, maybe things would have worked out for the better. This isn't an uncommon notion, but of course not provable. But I think he meant to relate it to Syria in the sense that early intervention now might avoid worse things happening later.

I don't know if that's true or not. The situation is so complex and so messy and the US doesn't have a lot of credibility or moral authority with the Syrain government that it's really impossible to say what some kind of intervention would do.

by all means, let's get involved in another ME war.

nothing bad could possibly come of that.

I look forward to the very many places in sub-Saharan Africa that we will be bombing.

When that doesn't pan out, what next? And after that, what?

I don't think that whatever is done or not done will "pan out." It will send a message that what's happening violates international norms. Not everything "pans out" into a Panglossian dream.

I look forward to the very many places in sub-Saharan Africa that we will be bombing.

By "very many places in sub-Saharan Africa", I'm not sure which country you mean. There are other countries working with the UN in the Congo. I'm sure you don't need a link to know about France in Mali and the Ivory Coast.

No, we don't have to be involved in everything. But the international community must be, and we are a part of that.

As I've stated, allowing bullies to commit blatant, massive atrocities against their own civilian population serves to encourage the practice.

I guess what's not clear to me in the case of Syria is who is a bully and who is not, and who is a civilian and who is not.

I completely agree that the use of chemical weapons violates international law and merits a strong response.

As to who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in the underlying Syrian civil war, and who (if anyone) does or does not deserve our support, I don't know enough to have an opinion.

If you (sapient) would like to share your thoughts on who the worthy party in Syria is, and why, I suspect the guest post offer is still open.

It will send a message that what's happening violates international norms.

They're already aware that gas attacks violate international law. That message has been sent.

But you're not talking about sending a message; you're talking about dropping ordnance. So: let's talk about that. Let's talk about what we decide to start doing, and how we decide to stop.

You want to, for instance, target Syrian military aircraft on the ground? In the air? What?

sapient, you should also be aware that Syria has a not-insubstantial Air Force. So it's not that we could just waltz in and they'd just let us. It would have to be a fairly extensive effort. It's not going to be a surgical strike.

Syria also has rather extensive mobile SAM forces. Again, go read. It's not going to be like Afghanistan, or like Iraq round 2, in terms of anyone being able to simply fly in and rule the skies. It would be more like Iraq round 1.

It's possible that a cruise missile strike would do some good. But I'd want to hear specific ideas. Not that I'm in any sort of position to decide anything.

Sam Goldwyn (or Frank Capra or someone else in Hollywood) is supposed to have said:

If you want to send a message, try Western Union.

Most of the Vietnam War was fought, long after we had given up believing it was actually winnable, in order to send a message (in that case, that America Honors Its Commitments?). Or as I used to explain it to my undergraduates, If you want to know what the US was doing in Vietnam, you need to know this old camp song:

(Sings, to the tune of Auld Lang Syne)

We're here because
We're here because
We're here because
We're here.

We're here because
We're here because
We're here because
We're here.

(Repeat ad nauseam)

As to who is the good guy and who is the bad guy in the underlying Syrian civil war, and who (if anyone) does or does not deserve our support, I don't know enough to have an opinion.

As I think I already said, getting involved in the civil war beyond a response to the chemical weapons attack is not what I'm advocating.

I guess what's not clear to me in the case of Syria is who is a bully and who is not, and who is a civilian and who is not.

I agree that some of the rebels are bullies. I linked to an article illustrating that very point. An attempt is being made to investigate the chemical attack. Perhaps it will become clearer who did it, what people were its intended targets, etc. Again, I think it's prudent to find out what happened. From what we know now, it seems like the Syrian government was using gas against a civilian population - that's what's in the news.

I completely agree that the use of chemical weapons violates international law and merits a strong response.

Again, we're in agreement.

So it's not that we could just waltz in and they'd just let us. It would have to be a fairly extensive effort. It's not going to be a surgical strike.

I don't know whether that's true or not. Israel has launched limited strikes against Syria. I don't claim to be an expert, and I don't know what's feasible. There seems to be a discussion of potential responses going on in the administration.

For those who think that the evidence that Assad used chemical weapons is unconvincing, consider this.
1) Even Russia is calling on Assad to allow those inspections. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/24/world/middleeast/syria-chemical-attack.html?_r=0
2) Assad is refusing to allow UN inspectors to check the area.

If there is a scenario where Assad would continue to refuse to allow those inspections, but he didn't really use chemical weapons, I'm having trouble seeing it. Would anyone care to make some suggestions as to how his behavior makes any sense if he did not use them?

Can someone explain why the Syrian government using chemical weapons is worse than using traditional ordnance? Do chemical weapons cause people to become more dead than regular bullets? Is being burned alive by incendiary weapons a more pleasant death than being killed by sarin?

Israel has launched limited strikes against Syria.

Yes, Israel is definitely a country we should emulate. They keep bombing countries and they're so very effective at it. Look at how much they've accomplished!

Would anyone care to make some suggestions as to how his behavior makes any sense if he did not use them?

Could be they were used, but by mistake/without Assad's authorization. It is a war after all, and a civil one at that.

Someday, when and if Slart is ever up to it, I'd like to read a front page post regarding his conversation with his Vietnam vet friend.

Or, any other subject.

I agree that the Hitler analogy is neither apt nor helpful for reasons cited above, but I've been reading about World War I over the past two years (Keegan, Fussell, Peter Gay) and if I could take the wayback machine to that time and place a few days after Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated and some extraordinarily prescient individual of the time had thought to ask the question "How shall we prevent the rise of Hitler and the tens of millions of deaths in World War II", not to mention the Bolshevik Revolution", I would respond: "Don't fight World War I. The Austro-Hungarian Empire should do NOTHING in response to the assassination of the Archduke beyond the usual diplomatic tongue-lashings."

Then I would add "Period." and made a show of wiping my hands of the entire subject and skedaddled as quickly as possible back to the now, probably to tell everyone how to conduct present affairs.

Of course, even from my privileged perspective in the wayback machine, my words would have been fruitless because it was evident that the European Powers had a diplomatic and military war machine in place that was rearing to go at the slightest provocation and go it did to kick off the savage, blood-soaked 20th Century with its technological innovations in the service of maximum butchery.

So, I'm still troubled by this formulation (that sounds like something Sebastian would write) of sapient's: " As a matter of maintaining international norms, the international community needs to respond. Period.

The declaration "the international community needs to respond" may be obvious but it most assuredly does not end with a full stop "Period".

It demands an explanation of "What?" and "How?" and a chewing over of the effects of the whats and the hows on the future of this monstrosity of a travesty of a tragedy of the Mideast, not to mention the ramifications for American interests.

Which I'm sure is what is going now at all of the proper high levels, which Slart termed "jaw, jaw".

May I remind all of us that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, with a cast of bipartisan enthusiasts, provided the latest callow impetus for setting much of this recent Mideast conflagration on its course (how much it's hard to tell, especially by them) purposefully and with intent with the invasion of Iraq, except, in their callowness, they expected sweetness and light and shopping to follow, not to mention elections wherein the "right" people would ascend to power and peace would reign.

Jesus f&cking Christ on a unicycle!

No doubt Bush and Cheney would have been right at home in 1914 Europe.

Anyway, I'm assembling an amateur mercenary, expeditionary force to sneak into Syria and Egypt -- Orwell/Hemingway Spanish Civil War style -- to kill al-Assad and al-Sisi (I read he gave orders to clear the streets by shooting directly at the heads, necks and chests of the protesters; not gas, but there it is), drive ambulances, and raise whatever banners we can.

al Assad's daddy murdered tens (hundreds?) of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members 30 years ago and I don't remember our response then, probably nothing?

I see sapient has written " I don't claim to be an expert, and I don't know what's feasible. There seems to be a discussion of potential responses going on in the administration."

Fair enough.


Assad is refusing to allow UN inspectors to check the area.

You realize that in the recent past, US intelligence agencies have infiltrated UN inspection teams, right? Given that sapient and a great many pundits are trying to push the US into invading Syria, wouldn't it make sense to maybe avoid giving US intelligence agencies on the ground intelligence and diplomatic immunity?

Israel has launched limited strikes against Syria.

Yes, limited strikes. Against specific targets. Which could all be struck from outside of Syrian airspace. Not saying they were, but they could have been.

Turbulence has raised an interesting point: why do we (= world community, generally) regard some weapons as worse than others, when the result in any event is killing?

Certainly the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has provoked far more protest over the past few generations than, say, the fire-bombing of Tokyo, which actually killed more people.

Gas became a military/moral issue in WWI, and was considered so abhorrent that it was scarcely used in WWII or since, though heaven knows humankind found a myriad other ways of disposing of "the enemy."

The aerial bombardment of Guernica provoked outrage - and at least one great work of art - where comparable incursions/death by ground troops were forgotten, if not forgiven.

I have some sympathy with the view that any restriction on weaponry, any "line in the sand" that curtails killing, is probably a step in the right direction, and the fact that there is a historic consensus - nearly a century old - against the use of gas may make this a good place for a stand of some sort, even if the underlying logic may be flawed.

To expand:

The Israeli strikes against targets in Syria were not primarily used as deterrents; rather, they were used to eliminate those specific targets.

If you have some notions that some international coalition forces might be used to that same effect w/regards to Syria, please share your thoughts with us. Otherwise, this is an inapt comparison.

"So, I'm still troubled by this formulation (that sounds like something Sebastian would write) of sapient's: " As a matter of maintaining international norms, the international community needs to respond. Period."

"that" being the Sebastian-sounding "still troubled by this formulation", not sapient's statement.

By the way, none of my nonsense is meant as a verbal gas attack against anyone, except Bush and Cheney.

Can someone explain why the Syrian government using chemical weapons is worse than using traditional ordnance?

Arguably not worse, just illegal on its face if true.

Humans are, among other things, bloodthirsty SOBs, so we make rules to try to keep the carnage within some kind of bounds.

I won't claim it's logical, or even particularly good.

I think that dying by having e.g. all of your skin blistered from your body, or e.g. having your lungs so badly damage that you die by slow suffocation are considered to be a level of cruelty above getting shot of fragged to death.

Just by way of explanation. Not saying it's the explanation.

The pinnacle of Western civilization and culture at the time, 1914 Europe, gave us chemical weapons.

Not that others wouldn't have though of it and used it had they been first, but we always seem to be at the forefront of deadly force.

By the way, this, along with threats to default on the nation's debt should be very helpful as the President's deals with this dangerous situation on the Mideast.

http://money.msn.com/business-news/article.aspx?feed=AP&date=20130823&id=16834951

You know, what is happening in Syria and Egypt could happen here too someday, given the delightful nature of some among us.

"as the President's deals with this dangerous situation on the Mideast."

It's Friday. See ya.

Arguably not worse, just illegal on its face if true.

OK, but so what?

I mean, the US government doesn't generally care about international law. So why would we start now?

I mean, we started a war that killed a million people for no apparent reason. If we're going to start taking international law seriously, shouldn't we do something about that first? Or that whole detainee torture thing maybe?


I think that dying by having e.g. all of your skin blistered from your body, or e.g. having your lungs so badly damage that you die by slow suffocation are considered to be a level of cruelty above getting shot of fragged to death.

Sarin and VX don't have those effects. Incendiary weapons do, and they're totally legal. So I'm not sure what you're trying to say here.

Mustard gas does. I think it's the memory of mustard gas that drives the continued aversion to gas attacks.

My opinion, unbacked by anything, admittedly. But Syria reputedly also has mustard gas.

Incendiary weapons do, and they're totally legal.

What incendiary weapons are you referring to? Incendiaries are not completely unconstrained.

The idea of banning some weapons because they are excessively cruel has been around for awhile--expanding bullets, for instance, were banned, I think. Though I never understood that. I'm not a hunter, but I thought hunters used such bullets for big game because they made a quick kill more likely. But I might be wrong. Anyway, on the main point, the idea of banning weapons for excessive cruelty has been around, but I'm not sure that the choices made on what to ban and what not to actually make much sense. As Turb just pointed out.

On the government surveillance front, the Washington Post has this article (which I found on digby's blog hullabaloo) about the idiotic FBI file on the writer William Vollmann (who has written a literally encyclopedic tome on the subject of political violence--maybe they thought that indicated an excessive interest in the subject?)

link

What incendiary weapons are you referring to? Incendiaries are not completely unconstrained.

The convention indicates that you can't use incendiary weapons against civilian populations. But, you can't legally use any other weapon against civilian populations either.

This is my point. If Assad is killing lots of civilians, and we think that's a sufficient reason to invade Syria, then we should do that. It doesn't matter whether he kills those civilians with Sarin or fuel air bombs or rolled up newspapers: the problem is the killing of civilians, not the precise mechanism by which it happens nor the legality of that mechanism.

But we obviously don't think that merely killing lots of civilians is a sufficient justification to invade Syria. If we did think that, we would have invaded Syria long ago.

OK, but so what?

Now you're asking stuff that is way, way above my paygrade.

I'm not disputing your basic point, I'm just noting that FWIW lines in the sand have been drawn. However arbitrary.

Some weapons are more cruel than others, some hideously so, and some have been outlawed, but there are still about eleventy-hundred ways to inflict some serious pain on your fellow human.

I have no explanation for it other than to say that humans are enormously creative, and can also be enormously cruel and bloodthirsty.

No news there.

My attitude toward human conventions is that we make stuff up as we go along, but I'll play along because I share the bullets are better than gas ethos in situations in which those are the only choices.

Why? I don't know. Beyond my pay grade, too.

I'm sure Wayne LaPierre would be in an uproar if a guy entered a grade school in New England and put the kids and teachers down with poison gas, but for some reason he wouldn't recommend arming the janitors and security guys with similar weapons, and i doubt he would favor getting rid of the American poison gas stockpile, all despite the Founders obviously 20/20 foresight, via commas, that the population should be armed without specification of caliber.

Why, I don't know. But, I'll play along.

Watching a person outraged ethically with the plight and suffering of factory-raised chickens dismantle a Whole Foods roasted chicken, which had been lovingly cosseted, fed sumptuously and free of chemicals, and allowed to range free, with his or her bare hands and stuff the meat of the creature down his or her gullet, daintily wiping the life-juices of the bird from their chins, is fine by me.

If Assad is killing lots of civilians, and we think that's a sufficient reason to invade Syria, then we should do that.

Yes, I agree with this.

But there's no way "invade Syria" happens without attendant civilian casualties. I realize I'm not saying anything surprising, here.

The pinnacle of Western civilization and culture at the time, 1914 Europe, gave us chemical weapons.

actually...

The oldest [256 AD] archaeological evidence of chemical warfare was found in Syria (though the area was controlled by Rome in the third century). According to University of Leicester archaeologist Simon James, burnt bitumen and sulfur—which create toxic compounds when added to fire—killed about 20 Roman soldiers, whose bodies were found piled in a tunnel in the city of Dara-Europos, still holding their weapons.

At the time, explains James, an army from the Sasanian Persian Empire was attacking the Roman-controlled city, digging tunnels underneath its walls. Roman forces also started tunneling in order to counter the invaders—but the Sasanians had chemistry on their side. "I think the Sasanians placed braziers and bellows in their gallery," says James, "and when the Romans broke through, added the chemicals and pumped choking clouds into the Roman tunnel."

Damned internet

Is this thread still open?

If so, I picked this up at Kevin Drum's:

"A middle-aged man in a red golf shirt shuffles up to a small folding table with gold trim, in a booth adorned with a flotilla of helium balloons, where government workers at the Kentucky State Fair are hawking the virtues of Kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange established by Obamacare."

The man is impressed. “This beats Obamacare I hope,” he mutters to one of the workers.

“Do I burst his bubble?” wonders Reina Diaz-Dempsey, overseeing the operation. She doesn’t. If he signs up, it’s a win-win, whether he knows he’s been ensnared by Obamacare or not.'

Then he warned the government not to mess with his Medicare when it comes time for him to sign up.

He must have been flummoxed, not by the 2400 pages in the law, but the big words on the pages.

We should place that willfully stupid Republican f*ck in charge of determining whether or not and to what extent Syrians have been gassed, so we get the story right.

In the age-old conundrum of bullets versus gas, I'm hard-pressed to decide which should be used on the vermin in the Republican Party --- officeholders, media clowns, internet lying filth, the bugs in the base -- who have THIS country so finagled into gross, willful ignorance on every issue.

The Administration's flexibility in implementing this law to allow all parties involved time and room to adjust should include this rule: "If you can't identify the program you freely just signed up for as Obamacare, then return home, watch FOX and go f*ck yourself."

When it comes time to overthrow the Republican Party by means they will finally understand, I hope we can import the Syrian opposition and whichever side of the Egyptian mess proves more ruthless so we have someone in this country who knows how it should be done.


Cleek is talking about Greek fire, which predates the use cited by a few centuries. I suppose it would classify as "incendiary".

Then he warned the government not to mess with his Medicare when it comes time for him to sign up.

They should have just extended Medicare to the entire population and called it done.

'smoking out' has probably been around since the stone age and is in essence chemical warfare. And it is very likely that sulphur and similar substances have been used to enhance it long before anyone took the effort to write it down.

I am rather cynical about chemical weapon bans. I think it had a lot more to do with their relative ineffectiveness and the difficulty to control them. Plus the fear of retaliation in kind with substances that might be worse than the ones onself has at one's disposal. Conventional weapons are far less unpredictable.

"A middle-aged man in a red golf shirt shuffles up to a small folding table with gold trim, in a booth adorned with a flotilla of helium balloons, where government workers at the Kentucky State Fair are hawking the virtues of Kynect, the state’s health benefit exchange established by Obamacare."

The man is impressed. “This beats Obamacare I hope,” he mutters to one of the workers.

“Do I burst his bubble?” wonders Reina Diaz-Dempsey, overseeing the operation. She doesn’t. If he signs up, it’s a win-win, whether he knows he’s been ensnared by Obamacare or not.'


She should have told him. I can't imagine why she didn't. She could have educated him very nicely!

Yes, I guess since they were "hawking the virtues" of Kynect, they could have gone the whole nine yards, to make government more like the private sector hawkers, and upsold the bigger picture.

Let me guess why not: The state workers are instructed to downplay the Obamacare connection by the Democratic Governer Breshears, who despite not being eligible for re-election in 2015, is afraid to hurt Democratic chances in the forthcoming race.

Also, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, two sadists who when reports trickled in of Obamacare hawking would have their staffs on the horn to state agencies threatening their funding and whose ad staffs would begin filming attack ads featuring in slo-mo gummint bureaucrats brainwashing, intimidating, and browbeating the citizens of Kentucky into relinqushing their freedom, their vital bodily fluids, and a kidney to the darkened visage of Barack Hussein Obama hovering menacingly in a hospital hoodie while on the phone to the Muslim Brotherhood seeking advice on efficiency measures in the exchanges.

But yeah, she should have told him.

And then asked him to please, sir, keep your weapon holstered.

What Russell ..etc.

If Assad is killing lots of civilians, and we think that's a sufficient reason to invade Syria, then we should do that.

Turb, a better point might be, if we feel that's a sufficient reason to do something then we should do it. There is a long way between "do nothing" and "invade Syria." Acting like those are the only two choices only confuses the discussion -- in an area whichis already complex enough.

"Acting like those are the only two choices only confuses the discussion -"


I liked Turb's point about how if we are really concerned about war crimes, we should change the incentives for our own politicians so they commit less of them. But it's easier to blow people up elsewhere. That's a problem. We do act as if we only have two choices when it comes to atrocities--blowing them up elsewhere or not blowing them up. If we want some sort of global structure where bad actors might have to face consequences, then we should be willing to abide by the same rules.

There is a long way between "do nothing" and "invade Syria." Acting like those are the only two choices only confuses the discussion -- in an area whichis already complex enough.

I don't think that's true. I haven't seen anyone proposing anything that's both politically feasible and likely to be effective.

I mean, I guess we could just give a few billion dollars worth of military hardware to the mostly Islamist rebels, but that seems politically infeasible, no? And while Americans, especially the particularly ignorant ones on TV, love to fantasize about the efficacy of bombing, I see no reason the believe that would be effective. Syria isn't Rwanda. If we want to end the killings there, we're going to need to take out Syrian air defense, most of the Syrian air force, and then put troops on the ground with heavy weapons. I just don't see a way around that.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Can you describe a military option that is both politically feasible and likely to be effective? Since you claim there are many other choices, why don't you share some of them with us?

The discussion on dogs perked my interest so I watched the following on Netflix streaming video. Recommended.

Long known as "man's best friend," there are more varieties of dogs than any other species on Earth. This documentary takes a closer look at the history of dogs, and how humans have taken an active role in shaping their appearance and behavior. An installment of National Geographic's "Explorer" series, the program explains how mankind manipulates science in the interest of creating the perfect pet.
Science of Dogs: The relationship between dogs and their human masters is explored

Unfairly known as violent killers, pit bulls have suffered from the stigma of negative media coverage that has lead to citywide bans across the country. This documentary strips away the preconceptions to show the loving companions these dogs can be.
Beyond the Myth: Peeling away the preconceptions to show the loving companions pit bulls can be, this documentary sheds new light on the unfairly stigmatized animals.

On the subject of the historical use of chemical weapons, in confrontations with the locals, Europeans who arrive with and after Columbus where sometimes subject to incapacitating bombardments of gourds filled with burning chilli peppers.

I've heard that incapacitating bombardments of gourds filled with burning chili peppers were considered by the locals at the time to be prophylactic vaccinations against measles, yellow fever, cholera, syphilis and private property, but the Europeans objected to this unwarranted infringement their freedom to spread the pox.

Columbus relegated his crew to part-time status to avoid the impositions and costs of healthcare via flying, flaming gourd.

They retired to the poop decks of the Nina, the Herpia, and the Pustule to scratch out a living.

The deeper and broader historical references to "chemical" warfare, however defined, raise a question in my mind.

At what point, and where, was warfare so routinized among competing, but still conversing, societies that the concept of "rules of war" arose? I suspect that relatively early on (middle ages?) there were certain rules of elite (knightly) warfare, some of them enfolded into chivalric codes, but I doubt if these prohibited doing whatever you felt like to enemy rank-and-file or civilians, i.e., peasants. But at some point enough different countries, close enough to communicate but still prone to fighting each other, began to say "Maybe there ought to be rules for this. . ." When? Where?

(I'm not aware of any such rules in Asian history, but I've also never looked for them. China would never have tried to reach consensus with anyone else on anything, much less rules of war, since no other country was considered "equal" to China in any respect. Japan may have had internal rules, associated with samurai codes, but as in Europe I doubt the commoners benefited. By World War II it was widely alleged/believed that the Japanese basically did not understand or accept the principles of "civilized" warfare - e.g., on the treatment of prisoners - but in itself, even if true, that could equally suggest that they had "rules," just not identical to Western [= "civilized"] ones.)

dr ngo, see the Lieber Code.

The idea of 'customs of war' was known in European antiquity but usually in the negative, i.e. in the context of somebody complaining that somebody else is violating them. But they are referred to as unwritten rules, i.e. not a codex anyone has signed on to.

dr. ngo, you might find this worth perusing, especially footnote 3.

Sapient, Hartmut, Turbulence: Thanks all three. I figured there was some scholarly literature on this point (I didn't imagine I was the first one to raise these questions!) and you've led me in the right direction.

Within these various frameworks, I suppose what interests me most right now is the "customs of war" before they are codified. The codification and idea of literally "signing on" I figured would come relatively late in the historical process. The Victorians were dab hands at codifying what was already in practice, viz. the Marquess of Queensberry Rules for boxing, established a century or so after the first "rules" and millennia after men started hitting each other for fun.

What intrigues me now, however, is the early stages, when people started to think, "Hey, maybe there should be rules . . ." and in this particular regard I was intrigued by the ICRC article to which Turbulence linked and its emphasis on the early idea of "just war" and presumably unjust war, without much consideration of rules for "war" in general. Only in the early modern period - and I'm flashing on Grotius articulating ideas of "national sovereignty" around the same time? - does it come to be accepted that there will be wars, whether just or unjust, so maybe we should start thinking about how we fight them independent of whether they are "just" or not.

All this, of course, is entirely within the framework of European political thought; I remain curious about non-Western civilizations (Indian, Chinese, Japanese in particular) and whether or when they came up with the same questions, to which of course they may have posited very different answers.

Now if only I still had graduate students looking for a possible thesis topic!

This is an off-the-cuff comment: I took several international law classes in college, and "customs" and "norms" are very important in international law (and common law, in general). That said, people weren't held to account for much (and still aren't as often as they should be) because international law is so difficult to administer and enforce.

As to Asia, we know that the Mongol invasion was (to the European sensibilities) a huge series of atrocities, and left its mark on world culture to the current day. During the conquest of new territory, the Mongols were ruthless, but after the conquest, they had some surprising tolerance of local cultures, and created institutions that were more meritocratic than pre-existing cultures offered. A fascinating book on that subject is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.

It's pretty clear that the warrior ethic in Japan (for example) valued sacrifice, but wasn't particularly interested in humane treatment of conquered people. The Rape of Nanjing comes to mind.

The actual attempt of nations to enforce humane conduct in their relationships with each other happened as a result of the World Wars. Obviously WWI (and the League of Nations) failed. WWII has been somewhat more successful in the development of the law (although obviously, as has been discussed, we're nowhere near there yet).

Enforcing norms when possible is hugely important to the development of the law, and the recognition of the power of the international community to enforce human rights.

We've talked a lot about drone warfare, etc. In my view, attempting to limit war (as much as possible) to the bad actors who are causing international problems, rather than waiting until they acquire political control, and then having to fight entire armies (which consist of soldiers, many of whom are not on board with the cause) is a step in the right direction in the development of international justice. Obviously that is a broad and simplistic statement, but I'll put it out there.

Something that can't be left out is of course this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melian_dialogue

We know of course that the neocons fully subscribe to the Athenian position. Too lazy to dig it up but there were some rather explicit statements in that direction from within the Cheney/Bush administration.

I did a little research:Sengoku, Unification, Edo periood, Mito Rebellion, Boshin War, Satsuma Rebellion, First Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War. I was trying to see if there were historical changes in the Japanese warriors treated enemies or conquered populations, had traditions or practices that were weakened under fascism. Or not.

But then I read sapient's 2:12

"It's pretty clear that the warrior ethic in Japan (for example) valued sacrifice, but wasn't particularly interested in humane treatment of conquered people. The Rape of Nanjing comes to mind."

Hell, animals, just animals, Not like those nice mongols.

Good job, bob mcmanus. But you really didn't explain the Rape of Nanjing, did you?

I didn't say, and don't think, that the Japanese are or were animals. I think they (like the Germans of the pre-WWII era) were one of the most highly civilized, artistic, aesthetically cultured and informed people of the world. I love Japanese culture and art.

But brutal they were.

Oh, and you're welcome offer the results of your research.

By the way, bob, was your research on wikipedia, or what? I get it that you are an Asian "scholar".

Sapient-bashing is much appreciated here. But I prefaced my comment that it was off the cuff. I don't claim to be a scholar on Asia. I read a book about Genghis Khan, I took many Russian history courses, and studied the Mongol invasion, and I understand Asian warfare from a Western point of view (including stories from my parents and their friends who participated in WWII). I studied international law in law school. I lived in Japan during my childhood (during the post-WWII occupation). I was raised during my infancy by a Japanese nanny. My own mother loved everything Japanese, and I learned a less-informed appreciation of Japanese culture from that. Japan has been way too expensive for me to visit in my adulthood, so I haven't been there since. I have been to China, and have studied some Chinese history (including the cultural revolution - not exactly a lesson in how to foster human rights).

But I'm not a scholar on the subject of the ethics of Japanese warfare. Please spill forth on your scholarship. I am happy to learn. I do know that Iris Chang killed herself after intensively studying the Japanese conquest of Nanjing. WWII veterans told me personally about atrocities that they witnessed.

That doesn't mean that Japanese people (or Asian people) are "bad". It might mean that they have view of war that doesn't allow for compassion.

Please educate us otherwise. Happy to learn.

I've not studied Japanese history as such, though I've dabbled in it here and there. But what I am more familiar with is the history of the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia, which was not as across-the-board horrible as it is sometimes depicted or remembered. (Many of the worst excesses were committed in the latter stages of the war, when the Japanese were losing and running out of resources; had they been winning, life under the Japanese would have been much easier, I suspect.)

One particular "fact" comes up frequently, however: most Japanese soldiers believed surrender, even against overwhelming odds, was dishonorable. This not only helps account for the "resistance to the last man" encountered (by the US) in the islands of the Pacific, but also the Japanese treatment of POWs, who by the very fact of their surrender had given up the right to be treated with honor. As a result, it is said, Japanese POW camps were far more brutal than German "stalags," evidenced both by descriptive evidence, which might be exaggerated, and by comparative mortality rates, which seem pretty clear.

The European tradition differs sharply on the possibility of honorable surrender, although this different perspective may often have been "honored in the breach." I wonder if this goes back to differences between the European "chivalric" code and the samurai code, about both of which I am profoundly ignorant?

I'm quite happy for anyone to point to any practice in any culture that should be held up as something that we should strive for, or codify, as a tenet of the law of war regarding human rights. I offered the Lieber Code as something that was a first effort (an example of the fact that, in the West, the idea of jus in bello was bandied about, but wasn't really honored until quite recently.)

bobmacmanus, I invite you to submit an example from your research of Asian history. Please go first since you are ready!

St Bartholomew, The Vendee, Terror, Napoleonic Wars, after the Paris Commune, Algeria...

...and what are "the French" really like?

What do you want, Sapient, horror stories? I got them. Incidents of mercy? Got some. Scales on which to weigh them and output nihonjinron of a thousand years?

We usually say "The Nazis did X" or specific people, organizations in time and place, not the "Germans did X" That's a start, and one that is important to the Japanese. That they do it to/for themselves doesn't mean we have to.

No Surrender/suicide? Damfino.

Small island, big sea to east, bad sea to west...not easy to run or hide. Small group affiliation and loyalty was taught in the cradle and consciously enforced by authority.

Why did Socrates choose the hemlock and Thucydides choose exile?

As far as "rules of war" and not having them before Modernity, well, Achilles was not admired for trashing Hector, Creon had a case against Antigone, The Punic Wars were considered horrible, and everybody agreed that Magdeburg was something really different.

Standards, practice and a discourse don't feel that new.

I tend to think that rules of war arose out of the notion of proof by combat: our champion fights your champion, the best man wins (unless some god intervenes). Poison arrows were considered to be out of bounds in the Iliad (though Greek myth has them resorted to in order to kill Paris)

Those rules of war, with God (or gods) deciding the victor, was taken up by Christianity, so that crossbows, for example, were forbidden when fighting against other Christians, but were quite alright for non-believers and as this excerpt points out, were probably banned because they allowed commoners to kill noblemen

In a highly stratified society like medieval Europe, any technology that could put the power to instantly kill a chivalric knight, a nobleman, a prince or even a king into the hands of a commoner was seen as an abomination in the eyes of God. Crossbows weren’t just weapons that could win battles, they were equalizing instruments that could overturn the natural order of society.

Accordingly, Pope Urban II banned the use of crossbows in 1096; a prohibition that was upheld by Pope Innocent II in 1139. However, while the church frowned on Christian-on-Christian use of the crossbow, the religious authorities had no problem when the weapons were being pointed at non-believers during the Crusades.

So my takeaway is that rules of war are ways to prevent combat from destabilizing the social order. The notion of honorable surrender has the captured lord taxing his subjects to pay his ransom so he can go back to ruling over them. Assigning the rules of war some sort of higher morality really is wishful thinking.

As far as Japan, that doesn't happen in Japanese history because it was very clear that the winner was going to make sure that the losing family didn't have any heirs to continue the name and at any rate, the philosophy of the samurai was zen, which meant was intrepreted as each encounter should be treated like the last. Furthermore, culturally, after the unification of the country by Hideyoshi, the Tokugawa and Toyotomi fought, with the Tokugawa winning. A continual problem in Japanese history is that when you have a warrior class arise, after the fighting is over, you have to figure out what you are going to do with them. The Tokugawa gave samurai the choice of being retainers for the daimyo or become peasants. No samurai were allowed to hold land. By creating an ethos that requires unquestioning sacrifice, you can at least keep them contained.

So my takeaway is that rules of war are ways to prevent combat from destabilizing the social order.

This was probably true until the 19th and 20th centuries and the Geneva Conventions. But the Geneva Conventions represented a real attempt by a significant number of countries to agree on defining and enforcing standards of behavior purely for humanitarian reasons.

The fact that this concept is so new in world history is why it's so difficult to administer and enforce, but also why it's so important to enforce. Chemical weapons are banned by the Geneva Conventions. As Turbulence notes, there are other brutal ways to kill people, but attempting to abide by and enforce the current law makes it more likely that the law will continue to develop.

No samurai were allowed to hold land.

I am not sure there was that big a feudal difference between an income based on a land grant or fief and being granted a stipend based on a relationship to clan and han. A lesser noble in Europe still had to fight for the Duke and King above him.

A 30 koku grunt samurai, if landowner, would have what, 10 peasants to fight for him? Not a power base. Still in a dependent feudal relationship.

Where it gets more interesting is higher samurai, the 200-500 koku management. These stipends were inheritable.

The separation of samurai from land was pretty overtly, like the sword hunt, to keep the peasants down, rather than the samurai down. A village could not generate or hire a knight for itself.

(See movie Seven Samurai, with ronin fighting ronin over surplus from village. Daimyo and shogun wanted that rice.)

Anyway, I think the loyalty to daimyo precedes the Tokugawa system by several hundred years.

Alternate attendance nearly bankrupted daimyo, but was profitable for grunt retainers.

Unquestioned loyalty and Junshi were matters of fashion, for instance, and the bakufu had to legislate against it.

It was a horrible hierarchical world, but I think there was also a romance attached to living in a oppressive meaningless world. Love suicides also came in and out of fashion.

I might contend that shinokosho and alternate attendance were generated from a grunt samurai ethos, and were a reward and incentive to low-level samurai in an attempt to keep daimyo contained. Bottom-up.

The reason Edo Japan was more peaceful that 30-years-war Europe or before, was that there really wasn't a nobility with an independent power base.

Daimyo were upper management.

"But the Geneva Conventions represented a real attempt by a significant number of countries to agree on defining and enforcing standards of behavior purely for humanitarian reasons.

The fact that this concept is so new in world history is why it's so difficult to administer and enforce, but also why it's so important to enforce"

Mulling over these two sentences. They seems relevant to other situations, somehow.

Sapient, I understand that there is a humanitarian impulse there, but there is an element of realpolitik that you seem to be missing, or at least studiously avoiding. The Lieber code was not simply a humanitarian impulse, but a way of getting European nations to not recognize the Confederacy. dr ngo could probably give us a lot of details about the use of the Lieber code to sanction the right of reprisal against the Moro. The Geneva convention only arose after the battle of Solferino, and the various colonial excursions were curiously excluded, so the use of weapons of war by the RAF against rebelling tribes in the Middle East in the period between WWI and WWII, for example, didn't fall under any of these humantarian impulses. As Sven Lundquist notes, in his great book, The History of Bombing

The laws of war protect enemies of the same race, class, and culture. The laws of war leave the foreign and the alien without protection. When is one allowed to wage war against savages and barbarians? Answer: always. What is permissile in wars against savages and barbarians? Answer: anything.

This link is to an interesting pdf about the 'other' as defined by the rules of war and, in relationship to the Geneva conventions, page 6 discusses the peculiar status of Dunant, considered the founder of the Geneva conventions.

Bob, I always want to dive into discussing things Japanese, but I worry that it would only be of interest to you and me. I do agree that the sankin kotai arrangement is what makes the whole system work.

But there is also the point that the system fostered Japanese cultural unity, created a transportation network that was more advanced than any European nation and created a national financial system because the daimyo had to sell local goods to pay off debts. Like everything else here, it seems, it is always hard to separate causes and effects.

Keeping that in mind, what the prohibition of samurai owning land does is that it makes the class boundaries very clear for the shi nou kou sho division (warrior, peasant, artisan and merchant). I've always wondered about this Western tendency to 'slum', and create roots that are much more plebian in order to win respect and I don't think it really operates so much here. Of course, keeping the merchants at the bottom of the pyramid means that conspicuous consumption is something done very in a very hidden way, which is why you end up spending all this money on very plain kimono whose lining is expensive and why you get an aesthetic sense of wabi-sabi. As well as kirisute gomen. Strange country.

It's easy. Those who have access to the newest war toys are members of the club and are to be treated with respect. Those that lack them are free game.

Whatever happens, we have got
The Maxim gun, and they have not.
(Hilaire Belloc)

The venerable Maxim gave way to tanks and airplanes, then came nukes, and these days it is drones. Next step autonomous terminators. Those who fall behind can of course forfeit their club membership, although most still follow the maxim that 'once in, never out'. The current club president disagrees though and claims the right to dole out membership cards or to seize them at his discretion.

Bob, I always want to dive into discussing things Japanese, but I worry that it would only be of interest to you and me.

To the extent that such conversation is available to those of us who don't have a pre-existing insider-baseball view of such things: no. Interested. Japanese-language references are also of interest, provided their definitions are also provided.

Speaking for myself, I mean.

ditto.

I understand that there is a humanitarian impulse there, but there is an element of realpolitik that you seem to be missing, or at least studiously avoiding.

Thanks for the link. I've started the article and plan to finish it a bit later.

I hold with my position that the humanitarian impulse was paramount in drafting the Geneva Conventions. As stated in the article:

The laws of war, as an unmistakable product of late nineteenth century philanthropic reformism, were above all the brainchild of a few visionaries on a deliberate course to remedy what were perceived as some of the international system’s worst tendencies. It thus bears mentioning, to begin with, that the great ‘humanitarian’ lawyers of the second half of the nineteenth century were very also much men of their time. They may not have been the worst of their time — in fact they were probably quite generous, forward-looking individuals, imbued with a spirit of historical optimism. But they were certainly no better in that they would have taken as axiomatic such things as Europe’s civilizing mission and a more or less articulated discourse on the inequality of races.

The fact that the humanitarian impulse wasn't all-encompassing or perfect doesn't mean it wasn't a humanitarian impulse, or a significant beginning. The fact that the originators of the Geneva Conventions decided that they would attempt to agree among signing nation-states how to behave in warfare does not mean that millenia-old patterns of invasion and conquest of "barbarians" would disappear in an instant. In fact, our current discussion of "colonialism" and the accompanying atrocities uses Geneva Convention morality as the norm, with many humanitarians (as the article states) calling out the abuses of colonialism as violating the norm. Before they were adopted, what was the norm? There was no norm.

History following the Geneva Conventions has included a discussion of how to conform to the new humanitarian norm, and in what ways we have failed and why. Arguing about whether the Geneva Conventions were self-serving, or imperfect, or served the cause of real-politik is like asking the perpetual question of whether there is really such a thing as altruism, considering that kindness is self-serving in so many ways.

Anyway, the article is a very thoughtful discussion of these issues - thanks again.

"As Sven Lundquist notes, in his great book, The History of Bombing

The laws of war protect enemies of the same race, class, and culture. The laws of war leave the foreign and the alien without protection. When is one allowed to wage war against savages and barbarians? Answer: always. What is permissile in wars against savages and barbarians? Answer: anything."

"The History of Bombing" is a great book and that's a great quote from it, but weirdly put together--it sort of anticipates the internet if I am remembering the right book. The pages are in chronological order, but the text has you jumping around from beginning to end to middle and then somewhere else until eventually you're done. I also liked "Exterminate all the Brutes", by the same author.

What is the Obama Administration's legal authority for any bombing of Syria that it might undertake?

"Legal authority? We don't need no steenkin' legal authority!"

sapient, I chose the article because it was balanced, so simply quoting the section that talks about humanitarian impulses without acknowledging the other sections is the point I am trying to make. I realize that you haven't read the whole thing, but the conclusion has this

More importantly, the laws of war have exported and universalized a highly particular form of inter-state violence. In their contemporary international positivistic variant, the laws of war are a very specific response to a peculiarly Western problem. The emergence of the very idea of war is a result of medieval theologians’ attempts at distinguishing between prohibited private violence and licit (‘just’) public violence. From the start, war is linked to the state, a uniquely Western construct: war is the specific form of violence of the state in its external relations. War is in fact so central to the Western state that it becomes, de facto, an essential part of its domestic coming into being. The French Revolution, the advent of conscription, the Napoleonic wars, the emergence of nationalism and liberalism as political forces profoundly transformed the conditions of warfare in the nineteenth century by pitting entire nations against each other, with potentially devastating consequences. These radical developments, largely unknown anywhere else, and extending as they did the theatre of operations to the territories of entire states, announced the total wars of the twentieth century. As such they threatened the very fabric of the nascent international community. It is in this context of breakdown of communal values and anxiety about the ravages of war that the need for enforcing positive restraints on warfare arose.

Specifically, the laws of war reaffirmed the need to entrust the conduct of warfare to a warrior class capable of enforcing restraint. International law provided the very culturally situated way in which these norms were to be enforced, ‘in accord with both the progress of juridical science and the needs of civilized armies’. Thus the regulation of war took the specific form, in the West — and in the West only — of the standard machinery of international law-making, from solemn diplomatic conferences to sophisticated international treaties, and the various organizations entrusted with their enforcement.

There are a number of other points that I would pull from the text, but since the discussion has moved on, I'll leave it there.

There are a number of other points that I would pull from the text, but since the discussion has moved on, I'll leave it there.

I have, since my earlier comment, read the entire piece, and still appreciate it, so thanks. And since I did take the time, I think it's worth discussing a bit more.

I don't agree with everything that's stated or concluded by the author. My problem is, in some degree, on his emphasis, although towards the end of the article, it's more than that.

For example, the author briefly discusses the importance of combatants to identify themselves as such in order to protect their own sides' civilians from harm. This is a real problem in wars against people who aren't organized into armies.

People, like al Qaeda, who target civilians and live among civilians (thereby violating norms that nation-states have adopted for war protocol), are in many ways acting in a manner totally opposed to developing international morality (albeit, sure, that of Western enlightenment principles). Instead of condemning that behavior, many people (including many people who comment here) believe that these people should be treated with even more regard than combatants, i.e., with the same "due process" rights accorded to common criminals under the jurisdiction of the United States.

I understand that the author traces problems arising first from colonialism, then wars of independence which arose against colonialism - his point being that partial imitation of Western paradigms (in order to belong to the International Community, and discard the position of "other") displaced earlier cultural limits on heinous warfare. I don't, in any way, mean to understate the horrors and damage of colonialism. But the author (even though explicitly trying to avoid a "noble savage" romanticism) tends to ignore the fact that all humans, even non-Westerners, are capable of huge horror and violence, and in dealing with each other in this ever more interdependent global community, have to come up with common ground rules. Either that, or obliterate each other with more efficient genocides.

We need to keep at it, and not by giving people who put civilian lives at risk more rights than those who are careful not to do so.

Also, the author's penultimate paragraph is this:

It may well be, therefore, that the spread of the West’s own model of centralized, industrialized violence — essentially the fabrication of a dehumanized war machinery — to the rest of the world, manifested itself in an exponential increase in the overall amount of violence experienced by humankind.

Steven Pinker wrote a book that disputes this. Pinker's view is also controversial , but the evidence is by no means one-sided.

I'd like to believe that there's hope in enlightenment ideals, which have brought much of the international community towards trying to work towards positive change. I think that Mégret tends to downplay the possibilities inherent in the sincere attempts at increasing the kind of humanitarianism that the Geneva Conventions and other international human rights initiatives have represented.

Instead of condemning that behavior, many people (including many people who comment here) believe that these people should be treated with even more regard than combatants, i.e., with the same "due process" rights accorded to common criminals under the jurisdiction of the United States.

Any approach that views dealing terrorism in a law enforcement framework rather than in a combat/war framework has to do that. It's not something that is optional. So rather than framing this as a '[fill in group here] don't deserve those rights', it might be better to argue why a law enforcement approach is inadequate rather than make the moral argument that [group X] doesn't deserve those rights. Of course, you might sincerely believe that the moral argument is correct, but I don't. Please note that this is my own point of view, and may or may not represent the views of others here.

In a sense, you are underlining Mégret's thesis, that for the laws of war to be enforced, there has to be a group of people to whom these laws are not applicable to. This seems to go in precisely in the opposite direction of reducing the level of violence that you argue is inherent in the creation of the rules of war because if those people defined as outside the boundaries of the rules of war now have greater resources with which to inflict violence, so the possibilities inherent in making the rules of war applicable to this situation are going to increase rather than decrease the amount of inflicted violence. I think one sees in the creation of 'the War on Drugs' a similar arc.

Steven Pinker wrote a book that disputes this

As a linguist, I've read a lot of Pinker, and his trajectory to 'thinking man's Malcolm Gladwell' doesn't particularly impress me. I've only read excerpts of Better Angels, but it exhibits the same sort of problems that I had with Blank Slate, a dressing up of the opposite point in straw whose flambé is then paraded around as a proof. Rather than have us think about what violence actually is and how our definitions of it may have changed over time, he constructs a faux-statistical framework that defines violence in a way that declines rather than noting that our various constructs allow us to separate ourselves from violence. More problematic imo is that he resolutely refuses to acknowledge that one of the ways violence has reduced in his definition is that our definition of violence has expanded. Part of our 'better angels' is marking more things as violent behavior, making a 'core' of violent behavior less acceptable. Ironically, the rules of war do the exact opposite, making a core of essentially homicidal behavior 'justified' and a much smaller circumscribed segment as war crimes. I'm not suggesting that it is possible to move from the current regime to some alternative regime, but in rushing to proclaim the 'humanitarian' aspect of the rules of war, you seem to accept that war is just a part of human existence, which seems much less optimistic than anything I can think of.

In any case, 'sincerity' is not really a very meaningful metric in determining the value of a framework. I have no doubt that any number of people are 'sincere' about what they are doing, but it isn't really something that makes the framework good or bad.However, by limiting their viewpoint and failing to take into account other options or other possibilities, their sincerity actually prevents better options from being considered.

I'm not suggesting that it is possible to move from the current regime to some alternative regime,

Well, I guess my biggest complaint about Mégret's view is that he offers no "alternative regime." Is there an "alternative regime?" I don't see it. If you can refer to it, please do, because I'm not understanding any kind of proposal - he just criticizes International law as being an inadequate legacy of imperialism.

you seem to accept that war is just a part of human existence, which seems much less optimistic than anything I can think of.

I do, actually, believe that war in some form will be with us (meaning "the world") for awhile, just as I believe that crime will. When you say that Any approach that views dealing terrorism in a law enforcement framework rather than in a combat/war framework has to do that, sure. But that's irrelevant to my point considering the fact that it isn't being treated that way now by the US Government, and that it is not effective or possible to do that in the context of certain places that have insufficient legal infrastructure to provide criminal procedure (Yemen, for example). Still many people insist on criminal procedure, not as an effective tool in these circumstances, but as some kind of a fundamental right of terrorists with whom we're at war. It's logically inconsistent, but also ethically so.

Anyway, I would have found the article more convincing if the author had offered an alternative proposal as to how the world's humans could cause each other less damage. Although he made an interesting case about the ironies of international law, his solutions were nonexistent.

But thanks for thought-provoking article and discussion.

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