Fool’s (Sher)Gold

No doubt you also have some earnest-but-naive friend/acquaintance who fills your inbox with multi-forwarded e-mails concerning various urban legends — dire warnings about toilet-dwelling spiders or kidney thieves, or morality plays warning against unnatural acts involving peanut butter and household pets.

Usually I just delete these, but if I'm in one of my rare patient moods, I may reply, referring my friend to the appropriate pages at Snopes.com.

This usually gets my friend oddly miffed. Instead of responding with relief that she can stop collecting the pull-tabs from soda cans she seems resentful that this latest story isn't true after all. She wanted it to be true. It ought to be true. And somehow I've spoiled things by pointing out that it isn't.

Especially tricky was the matter of young Craig Shergold, a child with cancer whose dying wish was to set the world's record for collecting the most get-well cards. My friend had a particularly hard time accepting that this story isn't true because, in fact, it was.

The operative word there is "was." Past tense.

See there really was a Craig Shergold and he really did have cancer and he really did set out to break the world record. And did he ever.

The happy ending part of the story is that not only did Craig break the record, but his treatments were successful and he recovered from his childhood cancer. The not-so-happy, never-ending part of the story is that people won't stop sending cards. Millions of cards. And thanks to the ever-evolving nature of urban legends, the various addresses flooded with this never-ending stream of letters are also receiving thousands of business cards.

The e-mail my friend received included a picture, which may or may not have been of Craig Shergold. That picture was enough evidence to make it difficult to convince her not to send a card or, at the very least, not to e-mail everyone she knew urging them to send a card. The picture convinced her that there really was a sick young boy collecting cards.

And there really was. But was is different than is., and Craig Shergold is no longer a little boy, is no longer sick and is no longer, God help him, collecting cards.

That was/is distinction can apparently be tricky.

Consider, for instance, President Bush's repeated insistence that he could be certain — invasion, occupation, 540+ dead, $200 billion certain — that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction because we know he used to have them:

He not only has them, he's used them. And he's not only used them in his neighborhood, he's used them against his own people.

The president is correct, of course, that Saddam Hussein did in fact use chemical weapons against Iran and against Iraqi Kurds.

That was during the 1980s — back when Craig Shergold was a sick young boy in the hospital, inviting the world to send him cards. Since then Craig has become a healthy young man and his family has moved to escape the unending postal onslaught. Since then the nations of the world destroyed Saddam Hussein's army in the first Gulf War in 1991, which was followed by seven years of intensive inspections and forced disarmament, isolating sanctions and weekly bombing raids by U.S. and British warplanes.

Was does not equal is.

Had does not equal has.

  • none

    The statement “Consider, for instance, President Bush’s repeated insistence that he could be certain — invasion, occupation, 540+ dead, $200 billion certain — that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction because we know he used to have them” leaves out a significant part of the equation: Approximately 10,000 Iraqi civilians dead.

  • Sven

    Our Iraq adventure really has been a festival of foolishness. The Bush Administration fools itself into believing that Iraq is the strategic keystone for Middle East reform. It then fools most of the country that war is necessary for our security. And fools like me believed that Americans were saavy enough to see through such an obvious charade and avoid bumbling into yet another foreign policy disaster.

  • Jeff Keezel

    A low-tech one that pops up in church Sunday-school classes is that Madalyn Murray O’Hair is suing the FCC to have all prayer removed from television.
    If you call the FCC, you will find that they have a number on the automated messaging just for this story. Apparently O’Hair did try something like this – in the mid-70s – and it was dismissed from court.
    But the heavily Xeroxed flyer still circulates to this day – getting Sunday-schoolers in a tizzy.
    I remember the last time it crossed my path, and I calmly explained to the woman the realities of the situation and she exhibited that same reaction you describe: disappointment and a bit of anger. She even said, “Well, that may be but it won’t hurt to do something about it just in case.”
    She really wanted it to be true…thekeez

  • Frank Patton

    Geez, you’re all tense. You should relax, like George. Live in the present, don’t war over petty details.

  • Darryl Pearce

    …leaves out a significant part of the equation…
    Yep… On this planet you’re either a bully, a toady, or one of the hapless rabble of victims.
    It’s really such a pity that my faith in God had to be confirmed by answer to my prayer: How can the “right” hate Bill Clinton so much? And God gave me Dubya. He and and his gang of evangelical vigilantes went after the bad guys (Taliban and al-Qaeda (but they’re still around)), went after the guys who weren’t good (Hussein’s who were already beaten and contained), and are now going after the guys who aren’t good enough (the U.N., European allies, and anybody who doesn’t agree with them).
    –ventura county, ca

  • Reagan

    Jeff, I think my favorite part about that is she disappeared (what, 10 years ago?) and was probably murdered. But she’s still suing!

  • Mike

    Great connection, Fred – thanks.

  • RickinVa

    Thought I’d jump in and provide some much needed balance, some diversity of thought, a few stripes in this world of black and white plaid over here.
    Since then the nations of the world destroyed Saddam Hussein’s army in the first Gulf War in 1991, which was followed by seven years of intensive inspections and forced disarmament, isolating sanctions and weekly bombing raids by U.S. and British warplanes.
    I find it amazing that in a post where an ability to see through half-truths, false claims, and urban legends is trumpeted, the author goes on to tell a half-truth (or two), a false claim (or two) and attempts to foist an urban legend on the apparent sycophants who nod their heads in agreement like the cute but mute little puppies sitting on granny’s dashboard.
    When you folks are done with your Bush bashing party here, I’d love to see some of you read this National review piece:
    http://www.nationalreview.com/hanson/hanson200402060837.asp
    and perhaps learn a thing or two…
    … perhaps.

  • Fred

    RickinVa:
    I read the Hanson piece a while ago — I was struck most by his contention that most conservatives didn’t care about Monica Lewinsky. Really?
    Hanson, unlike Bush, says the war wasn’t about “is,” but about “could be.”
    Bush didn’t say “could be,” he said “is.” And he continues to say that “was” proves “is.” My point — which you avoided — is that “was” and “is” are two different things.
    For example:
    “I am a fourth grader.” This statement was true many years ago. That does not make it true now. Producing a yearbook from my fourth grade year does not demonstrate that I am currently in the fourth grade.
    Or consider this statement: “George W. Bush is a heavy drinker.” This was once true. Is it true now?
    (RickinVa was probably a hit & run troll, but one has to try.)

  • RickinVa

    A hit and run troll…
    Bush and heavy drinking…
    Ad Hominem-itis… that condition that strikes liberals when there’s nothing substantive to say…
    Sigh…

  • none

    I was drawn to the exact same section as RickinVA…
    “Since then the nations of the world destroyed Saddam Hussein’s army in the first Gulf War in 1991, which was followed by seven years of intensive inspections and forced disarmament, isolating sanctions and weekly bombing raids by U.S. and British warplanes.”
    …Please help me understand then, why the UN thought it necessary to pass this resolution in November of 2002.
    http://www.un.int/usa/sres-iraq.htm
    Seriously, read this resolution and tell me how you could possible conclude that world watched while Iraq was inspected and disarmed.
    I’m always amazed when otherwise inquisitive and challenging people are so willing to believe anything negative about Bush without question. November 2002 was not that long ago. Has everyone forgotten that Saddam was not the most forthcoming leader in the world?
    Hey Rick – Is that VA – Vancouver or VA Virgina?
    Brad

  • RickinVa

    Virginia…
    Vancouver’s a nice place to visit…

  • none

    Hey Fred,
    I don’t believe Rick nor I are ‘hit and run trolls’ After you read the UN resolution, why don’t you come on back and continue the discussion?
    Brad

  • none

    Hey Rick – Think Fred will come back?

  • Fred

    Y’all have never encountered the hit & run troll phenomenon? They come, they snark, they depart. Glad to see you’re not among them.
    Let’s review:
    Did the Gulf War create any meaningful difference in the condition of Iraq and its military?
    Did the sanctions and inspections programs create any meaningful difference in the condition of Iraq and its weapons programs?
    Did the decade of weekly bombing campaigns create any meaningful difference in the condition of Iraq and its weapons programs?
    Any reasonable person would answer all three of those questions with a “yes.”
    Thus my point — AGAIN — is that Bush’s repeated insistence that Iraq in 2003 is the same as Iraq in 1988 is not credible.
    I’m not saying that Iraq in 2003 was a pacifist utopia — nor am I saying any of the sorts of things you’re eagerly rebutting. (Yoo-hoo — the point? It’s over here.)
    I am simply saying that “We know he has them now because he had them 16 years ago” is not a valid argument.
    Capiche?

  • none

    Fred,
    I would say ‘any reasonable person’ (using your words) would first read the UN resolution I linked in my last post before arriving at a conclusion. Give me a sense of whom I’m dealing with here – did you read it? If not, here are a few of the relavant sections…
    “Deploring the fact that Iraq has not provided an accurate, full, final, and complete disclosure, as required by resolution 687 (1991), of all aspects of its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles with a range greater than one hundred and fifty kilometres, and of all holdings of such weapons, their components and production facilities and locations, as well as all other nuclear programmes, including any which it claims are for purposes not related to nuclear-weapons-usable material,
    Deploring further that Iraq repeatedly obstructed immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access to sites designated by the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), failed to cooperate fully and unconditionally with UNSCOM and IAEA weapons inspectors, as required by resolution 687 (1991), and ultimately ceased all cooperation with UNSCOM and the IAEA in 1998,
    Deploring the absence, since December 1998, in Iraq of international monitoring, inspection, and verification, as required by relevant resolutions, of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, in spite of the Council’s repeated demands that Iraq provide immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access to the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), established in resolution 1284 (1999) as the successor organization to UNSCOM, and the IAEA, and regretting the consequent prolonging of the crisis in the region and the suffering of the Iraqi people,”
    Seems to me the world (the UN) would answer your 3 questions like this…
    1) Yes
    2) and 3) How would anyone know?
    So, Bush’s rationale goes more like this. We know that after the first gulf war Saddam had WMD (that is, after all, when he gassed his own people). We have no proof that he destroyed them – unless you’ve gathered some on your own, Fred. We know that he had money and motive to continue to build in those 16 years. Seems to me ‘any reasonable person’ would conclude that he did still have them. In fact, if you can remember way back to before this latest war – there really was not any debate on whether or not Saddam had WMD. Most of the world, including the UN, believed he did.
    The doubts about WMDs came after the war began and none were found. Hindsight is great, isn’t it? But what if you had to lead and didn’t have the advantage of hindsight? ‘Any reasonable person’ would lead using the best information available.
    Brad

  • http://www.miketodd.ca/web/archives/000906.html Waving or Drowning?

    http://www.miketodd.ca/web/archives/000906.html

    Fred Clark writes, as only he can, about urban legends, President Bush, get-well cards, and WMD in this post.

  • Fred

    Brad –
    You’re arguing “He DID have them, therefore, he MIGHT still have them.”
    Agreed. No duh.
    Bush is arguing “He DID have them, therefore he DOES have them.”
    And that doesn’t follow.
    Sidenote: “Gassed his own people” usually refers to Halabja — an atrocity against Iraqi Kurds in 1988. The Bush-said-rise-up retaliatory massacres in 1991 were, as I understand it, conducted with conventional weapons.

  • none

    Fred,
    No, I’m argueing – he did have them, there’s no proof that he ever got rid of them, therefore the logical conclusion is that he still had them at the beginning of the war.
    Again, in hindsight – you might say now that he didn’t have them – although I haven’t heard anyone offer up what actually happened to them. But, Bush did not have the benefit of hindsight. I would say, Bush’s opinion, and world opinion, is that Saddam did have them at the beginning of the latest war.
    I’m guessing your real issue here is that you don’t believe the US and it’s allies should not have gone to war. If that’s the case – why don’t you argue that instead of taking this WMD tact?
    But you’re not talking about justification for war – you’re talking about WMDs. You can’t be seriously suggesting that you were certain that Iraq did not have WMDs. If that is what you are saying – what is your proof? How could you possible come to that conclusion?
    I’m thinking we should probably debate the real issue. Assume there were WMDs – was the war justifiable?
    Brad

  • Fred

    Brad –
    ” … he did have them, there’s no proof that he ever got rid of them, therefore the logical conclusion is that he still had them … ”
    … and I’m still in the fourth grade. And Saddam’s troops are still in Kuwait, I suppose. History as stasis. Odd concept.
    You’ve asked:
    What do I think of 1441?
    Why didn’t I believe the Bush administration’s claims about WMD before, during and/or after the war?
    Why did I and do I not believe the invasion of Iraq was justified?
    Since I’m at work, I’m afraid I’ll have to refrain from retyping two years’ worth of posts and just refer you to the archives there on your right.
    Clicking the little “Iraq” at the bottom of the post will bring up most of the relevant entries, but please also see the old archives at:
    http://slacktivist.blogspot.com

  • Charles

    is != was.
    Especially in the case of Madeline Murray O’Hair, who is DEAD and isn’t doing anything at the moment.
    BTW, I have to tell you my favorite urban legend, which I saw on Japanese TV a few years ago. It is heartbreakingly similar to the Shergold story.
    Somehow it got spread around Tokyo that you could save up paper chopstick wrappers and each wrapper could be redeemed for 1 yen towards the purchase of wheelchairs and crutches etc. for the handicapped. Several office buildings got together and collected millions of them, TONS of paper bundles of the little wrappers. The storage space filled quickly, so they contacted the company that was suppose to redeem them, and of course, they never heard of it. So they ended up calling a paper recycling company, and only got the equivalent of a couple hundred US dollars for the paper. But they did donate that paltry sum of money to the handicapped, so I guess it wasn’t totally stupid.

  • none

    Fred,
    I will check out the archives – I’m new to this blog. Should be an interesting site since I’m used to argueing using logic and your posts seem devoid of it. I’d like to see how that looks over time.
    Help me understand your approach – your ‘logic’. I said…
    1.There were WMDs
    2.There was no proof of their destruction
    3.Therefore a logical conclusion is that they still exist
    in simplier terms
    1.There were rats in your basement
    2.No one ever proved to you that they were exterminated
    3.Therefore it would seem logical, wouldn’t it, that your assumption would be that they’re still there?
    That seems pretty straightforward to me. what am I missing?
    You seem to want that equate that to…
    1.Fred was in 4th grade
    3.Fred’s still 4th grade
    What happened to #2? Don’t you have proof that you graduated from 4th grade?
    or…
    1.Saddam was in Kuwait
    3.Saddam’s still in Kuwait
    Again, I saw lots of proof that Saddam was escorted out of Kuwait.
    Look, I’ll review these archives – but, seriously, if that’s the logic throughout – can’t imagine I’m going to get much out of it.
    Brad

  • jeff

    Dear Fred,
    I’m afraid “no proof” of the existence or non-existence of a matter is not sufficient reason for any conclusion one way or the other. It would be wonderful if folks who believe in logic had some training in the cognitive sciences, but that’s grad-level stuff. Chomsky et.al. being much too dangerous for those not committed to academic elitism, I suppose.

  • Jack Boot

    Brad writes:
    “You seem to want that equate that to…
    1.Fred was in 4th grade
    3.Fred’s still 4th grade
    What happened to #2? Don’t you have proof that you graduated from 4th grade?”
    But of course many things happened between 1991 and the 2002 that would have given a reasonable person doubts about the extent of Iraq’s weapons capabilities, and George W. Bush and friends were privy to more of those than the rest of us! We did, after all, have inspectors in the field for much of the time between those years, and we had extensive and heavily caveated intelligence regarding Iraq’s WMD.
    What is more, there had been a long history of neo-con imperialist ambitions that had been openly expressed by members of the current administration, which centered on Iraq. These ambitions would have given a reasonable person pause regarding the motives of the administration in pursueing a war with Iraq.
    This tete a tete really hinges on the idea that the President and his cronies were acting in good faith, and that they may have really been fooled into thinking the worst. What we know now, and without a shadow of doubt, is that much of the lead up to the war was filled with lies, propaganda and distortion, presented to ourselves and our allies. Since then, the rational for the war has been a moving target. And in the end, all we have is a huge pile of bodies, a country in which the civil authority has been virtually destroyed, and a consequent growing cancer within our own polity. Shame on you, Brad, for making such a neat little fetish of logic when people are being slaughtered.

  • RickinVa

    What we know now, and without a shadow of doubt, is that much of the lead up to the war was filled with lies, propaganda and distortion, presented to ourselves and our allies.
    This statement is an example of a lie, of distortion and of propaganda.
    What we know now is that up to this point, the intelligence that the Bush administration has/had, the intelligence that other countries have/had, including those who chose to sit out the war, seems to be mistaken. There is no evidence that would suggest some sort of conspiracy to willfully lie and distort as a pretext for war. None. And this WaPo link proves the point: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A64626-2004Jan30&notFound=true
    To suggest otherwise is to engage in the very behavior being charged to this administration.
    And in the end, all we have is a huge pile of bodies, a country in which the civil authority has been virtually destroyed, and a consequent growing cancer within our own polity.
    Bovine fecal matter.
    This statement ignores the real pile of bodies unearthed in mass graves put there by a brutal regime no longer in power.
    This statement ignores the progress being made in Iraq that is not reported by the mainstream media (http://whosyourbaghdaddy.blog-city.com/read/408024.htm).
    This statement ignores the domino effect taking place, especially in the Middle East. Even Bush’s harshest critics are seeing this (http://www.livejournal.com/users/michaelduff/103623.html).
    Jack Boot is attempting the same methodology employed by jackbooted thugs in Germany some 60+ years ago. Repeating a lie often enough…

  • chef

    Fred great post. I am not sure of Brad or RIcks logic however.

  • none

    Jeff,
    This sentence is just hilarious. It has no meaning. Maybe we should try to do this in your first language…
    ‘I’m afraid “no proof” of the existence or non-existence of a matter is not sufficient reason for any conclusion one way or the other.’
    Or, please, humble yourself to translate it for us nonintellectuals.
    Brad

  • none

    Jeff, Jack and Chef,
    Rick is right on. The deal is, Bush, US intelligence, UN intelligence, the intelligence of most the world believed Iraq had WMDs before the war. To deny that is to deny reality.
    I can see that you three are against the use of force in Iraq. Fair enough. I also consider force a last resort and don’t recommend or support it very often.
    But just admit the reality. You three were against the war even when the question of WMDs wasn’t in doubt. You’ve just latched on to this WMD angle know that there is some doubt to there existence.
    How about this – if I am correct and you were against the war from the beginning – why don’t you argue about that. I would really enjoy hearing your rationale for that. I may even be swayed. Look, people I really respect were against this war – but not for any of the reasons you’ve brought forth so far.
    The real question is … “Is there a justifiable war” If your answer to that is ‘yes’ just let Rick and I know what that criteria is. Than we can have this discussion where it belongs – on deciding if Iraq met your criteria. How about it? Are there justifiable reasons for war? Yes or No? If Yes, what are they?
    Brad

  • none

    Rick,
    You know what I love about these guys’ perspective – I can just see it – Right at this moment they’re jumping on the band wagon questioning W’s military record, yet forget that 12 years ago they were defending Clinton’s – and still don’t see the hypocracy.
    The blind hatred of George Bush is an interesting phenonomem to observe. I’m guessing these guys are relatively intelligent folk – at least that’s what Jeff tells us – but look what the hatred does to their logic.
    Just amazing to behold.
    Brad

  • Daddy-O

    Dear Slacktivist:
    I’d like to let you know that I have a blog, and that I consider you to be one of the best writers on the Internet. I hope you don’t mind that I link to you often, and that I recommend your site for the work you do.
    Thanks for the excellent words.
    Later,
    Augustino

  • jeff

    Brad,
    I was refering to the second terms of the syllogisms you used in the previous post;
    1. There were W.M.D,’s.
    2. There was no proof of their destruction,
    3, Therefore they still exist.
    and something about rats in your basement.
    Unfortunately, according to the rules of logic, you can’t prove a positive with a negative. Absence of proof of their destruction is not proof of their existence.
    There is and was however, plenty of evidence that most, if not all of the Iraqi weapons programs had been destroyed in the first war or subsequent U.N. inspections, and the Iraqis were undeniably willing to submit to increasingly intrusive inspections to avoid war before we invaded. Unfortunately, the Iraqis couldn’t prove a positive with a negative, either.

  • none

    Jeff,
    Thanks for the clarification. However…
    are you telling me that when the world asked the Iraquis to prove that there were no WMDs, they were cooperative as could be, they just couldn’t possibly think of a way to prove such of a thing. In fact, logic would preclude them from doing so.
    Are you also disagreeing with me when I say that prior to this latest war, rightly or wrongly, most of the world believed they did have WMDs?
    And finally, are you also telling me that you want to avoid the questions “Is there a justifiable war? And, if there is, what are the reasons of justification?”
    Brad

  • Fred

    Brad,
    I think it’s safe to assume that Jeff’s decision to restrict his comments to the topic at hand does not signal a desire to avoid recapping the entire Western just-war tradition from Augustine on. Although your request that he provides such a recap does seem to signal your desire to avoid the topic at hand.
    Sticking to the point is not evasion.
    Otherwise one could assume, from your failure just now, to enumerate the entire Periodic Table of the Elements, that you don’t believe in chemistry.

  • jeff

    Brad,
    As to your first question, I have no idea if the Iraqis were as cooperative as they could have been, just that they were not absolutely uncooperative. Assuming that the U.S.A.F. is only half as effective as they present themselves, (a reasonable estimate, I think) then there must be some possibility that a considerable amount of weapons materials, production facilities, records, and essential personnel were reduced to randomized bits of ash and dust; thereby making it if not impossible to account for, then pretty close. It wasn’t logic, but paranoid suspicion and brute force that precluded even the opportunity to make the effort. What I find striking, is that not a single piece of any of all this damning pre-war intelligence produced a single shred of hard evidence. What do you think are the chances of that?
    I’m not one to ask what the whole world believes about anything, but I know there is some uncertainty about almost everything, and when the craftiest shapers of public opinion the world has ever seen uses all the prestige and influence of the greatest imperial power the world has ever seen, there is bound to be some effect. However, my reading of world opinion didn’t catch any flavor of the masses fervent desire for this war, even in the populations of our allies, and I am here to testify, it wasn’t anywhere near unanimous in ours

  • RickinVa

    There is and was however, plenty of evidence that most, if not all of the Iraqi weapons programs had been destroyed in the first war or subsequent U.N. inspections, and the Iraqis were undeniably willing to submit to increasingly intrusive inspections to avoid war before we invaded. Unfortunately, the Iraqis couldn’t prove a positive with a negative, either.
    This is revisionist history.
    To say that the Iraqis were undeniably willing to submit to increasingly intrusive inspections is an absolute falsehood as evidenced by Hans Blix’s own testimony, as well as the testimony of Mohamed ElBaradei, as late as January of 2003 (http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/01/09/sproject.irq.blix.transcript/index.html):
    ElBaradei: “However, both of us also indicated that we need more proactive support on the part of Iraq to be able to move quickly to implement our mandate.”
    Blix: “I was saying that the declaration didn’t provide us any new evidence, that it didn’t answer the questions that were put already … and that the Iraqis could have looked at those questions and answered more — answered better.
    So we are not satisfied.”
    Clearly, what is undeniable here is the willingness by some to tell outright lies while harping on the alleged lies of the Bush Administration. It’s shameless… assuming shame is remotely possible.

  • Fred

    RickinVa –
    “As cooperative as can be” (Brad’s phrase) is not the same as “willing to submit … to avoid a war” (Jeff’s phrase).
    He makes a conditional statement — “to avoid a war.” And you morph it into an absolute statement — “were willing” without the qualifying “[in order] to avoid a war.”
    Then you attack him for making such a statement. If you’re going to disagree with Jeff, disagree with what he said, please, not with Brad’s sarcastic caricature of it.
    The testimony of the officials you mention actually supports what Jeff said — that fear of war was producing an “increasing” willingness to accept more intrusive inspections.
    “After three months of intrusive inspection, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indications of the revival of a nuclear weapon program in Iraq. …
    “I should note that in the past three weeks, possibly as a result of ever-increasing pressure by the international community, Iraq has been forthcoming in its cooperation … I do hope that Iraq will continue to expand the scope and accelerate the pace of its cooperation.”
    – Mohamed ElBaradei, 3/7/03

  • none

    OK – I said I was new to this blog, now I’m starting to get it. There is room for debate. Rick, Jeff and Mohamed do seem to want to debate – but I guess the confusing thing for me was Fred’s role. Now I understand that he never really engages in the debate – just comments on it. I guess, since it’s his site, that type of role has some value – it might get people to engage. However, as method to debate, exchange ideas, and learn from each other – it seems like rather more a hindrance than a help.
    Rick, Jeff and Mohamed – back to the debate.
    Let me explain where I’m coming from here and see if there is value in continuing. I think we are skipping a step as we have this long discussion about WMDs. I think we first need to establish if war is even a viable option in any circumstance. Then we can debate whether or not those circumstances were met. You see, if I discover that some of you are Pacifists and would never support the use of force – well the discussion about WMDs really is irrelevant then isn’t it?
    So, if you don’t mind just please answer the following question and follow-up. I’ll word it differntly than I have the two previous times I’ve asked it in hopes of a response.
    1) Is the US ever justified in the use of force against a soverign nation?
    Follow-up: If the answer to #1 is ‘yes’, what is the criteria that needs to be met.
    And to make a point about my uncovering of Fred’s role. Fred also hasn’t responded to that question. And, in his mind, when I ask it I am somehow asking you to recap “the entire Western just-war tradition from Augustine on.” Again, an interesting inflammatory comment – but really adds no value to the discussion as far as I can see.
    Brad

  • jeff

    Brad,
    Exactly how is it that pacifist views are irrelevent to a discussion of the rational of war? I don’t think many Pacifists would think so; from my experience, that’s pretty much what it is they discuss.
    Rick,
    “Clearly, what is undeniable here is the willingness by some to tell outright lies while harping on the alleged lies of the Bush Administration. It’s shameless… assuming shame is remotely possible”
    I’m sorry if I gave you the impression I thought the Bush Administration was lying. My opinion is that they truly believe that what they believe is the utter and absolute truth. Thus freed from the need for rational thought they can pick through the evidence available, taking only those bits that agree with their view (obviously true) and rejecting those that don’t (obviously false). Anyone who disagrees with them must be a liar, or at least some kind of misguided, ignorant, miscreant. I guess my shamelessness has no limit.

  • Fred

    Brad,
    You can call it “inflammatory” if you like but you are, in fact, asking for a summary of the just-war tradition from Augustine to Walzer in order categorical.
    This seemed to me more like an example of the Lemony Snicketism ploy than of legitimate debate on your part. That’s why I put on the referee’s hat there.
    But if you want to know what I think (and you don’t want to read the archives), very well. I belong to that just-war tradition.
    Keith Pavlischek — a friend, a Calvinist and a Marine — summarizes the jus ad bellum criteria thus:
    “just-war theory prescribes that before war can be waged there must be a legitimate authority, just cause, and right intention. Political leaders must then prudentially judge that the use of force will be successful, is a last resort, will produce more good than evil effects, and will secure peace.”
    “Just cause” there refers to defense against violent aggression. That may be elastic enough to cover some pre-emptive strikes, but certainly not “preventive” strikes. (John Wayne had this about right — it’s legitimate to shoot if the bad guy is reaching for his gun, but not if you think the bad guy might someday get a gun and reach for it.)
    “Legitimate authority” means roughly that only states can declare war — not private citizens. I want to apply this as well to the legitimacy of a given regime.
    Note also the inclusion of “right intention.” Intent matters. Tom Friedman’s “because we can” argument doesn’t hold up.
    Most important, the JWT it does not exist to “justify” war, but to limit the evil of war in a fallen world by bringing even the chaos and evil of war under the jurisdiction of justice. It’s about constraining evil, not blessing it.
    That’s where I stand.
    So now if you need to stall for time again, you can always ask me to summarize the jus in bello criteria or to discuss the contrast between the JWT as a later development and the views of the ante-Nicene patristics, none of which will really help you evade the simple point that “was” does not equal “is.”
    And having said that, some of my best friends are pacifists and I don’t understand why you think that precludes them from pointing out errors of fact, internal inconsistencies or fallacies in your argument.

  • none

    Jeff,
    On Pacificism – Here’s where I’m coming from. It seems to me we’re having a discussion about WMDs, because their existence was one of the reasons used by this administration to justify its use of force. If I’m discussing the use of force with someone who would never support it (a Pacifist) then I don’t see the value in debating whether or not the rationale for war existed in the first place. Does that make sense?
    I suppose there are other reasons for debating the existence of WMDs, but I didn’t think that was where we were headed. Let me know if I’m wrong.
    So, I repeat my question…
    1) Is the US ever justified in the use of force against a soverign nation?
    Follow-up: If the answer to #1 is ‘yes’, what is the criteria that needs to be met.
    … and fine with me if you don’t want to discuss this. I’ve got the same debate going on other sites – I’ll just move on.
    Fred,
    OK – I think we’re finally getting somewhere… although I must admit that I find it a bit strange to be accused of stalling when you’re the one that has waited for 3 of my posts before responding to my simple question.
    So, I think you’ve answered my question and I think you said you believe in the concept of a just war.
    Let me know if I’m summarizing correctly…
    Rationale for a just war – according to Fred…
    1) defense against violent agreesion
    2) premptive but not preventitive strikes
    3) it must be declared by a legitimate authority
    4) will produce more good than evil
    Do I have it Fred? If the US could meet those 4 conditions in regards to Iraq then the war is justifiable? Is that it? I don’t want to go further until we’re clear here. If we are clear than we can talk about how the US measures up on each – one at a time.
    Oh wait wait – I feel a stalling accusation coming on because I won’t talk about “was = is”. I guess I have to agree with Blix referenced in Rick’s post. If Blix wasn’t satisfied that the Iraqi’s had proven the destruction of WMDs who am I to argue with the UNs chief weapons inspector.

  • none

    last post by Brad – hit the botton too soon!

  • Jaques Boot

    RickinVa writes “Jack Boot is attempting the same methodology employed by jackbooted thugs in Germany some 60+ years ago. Repeating a lie often enough…” Oh Puh-leeze! Did you have to dredge up the Nazi’s? I thought that, according to time-honored Internet tradition going back to the days of ARPAnet, that the first person to bring up the Nazi’s automatically lost the argument.
    With regards to lies and propaganda, one need only mention aluminum tubes, Nigerian yellowcake, relations between Al Queda and Saddam, and this whopper: “He never let them (the inspectors) in.” The Washington Post article that you site has already been dismantled by many writers better than myself.

  • Fred

    Brad,
    I appreciate your enthusiasm. It should be enough to motivate you to go to the archives — where all the answers to all the questions you’ve been asking can be found at great length.
    If you haven’t the patience to do that, then you ought to respect that I haven’t the patience to reproduce two years of posts in the comments section of a post on a far narrower topic.
    That narrow topic was epistemological — “was” does not entail “is.” The reason this is so is less a matter of logic than of history: to know whether what was still is, one must consider what has happened in the intervening time.
    Enough history occurred between 1988 and 2003 that one cannot assume — as Bush does — that the world is unchanged. (Note that his doing so implicitly insults his father, who led the first Persian Gulf war that created the conditions Bush the younger is intent on ignoring.)
    Blix’s testimony only supports what Jeff said: one cannot prove a negative. (Rumsfeld’s formulation of this: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”)
    Contra Jeff, Blix and myself (and Rumsfeld) you want to argue that absence of evidence is evidence of presence. (Blix, by the way, has a book coming out. You’re not going to like it.)
    I’m toying with applying this epistemology to matters of theology. Failure to disprove the existence of God is proof in the existence of God. (St. Anselm meets Douglas Adams.)
    In jurisprudence, this formulation would be expressed “guilty until proven innocent beyond a reasonable doubt.” I’m glad you’re not a judge.

  • none

    Fred,
    OK – I get the hint – you don’t want to have this discussion with me. Fair enough. Tell me again how to get to your archives.
    Brad

  • none

    Fred
    Great site – I’ll have to recommend it to my friends.
    Post some challenging words – then, when challenged, refer to archives.
    Brad


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