YNATKC, part 3,798

You're not allowed to kill civilians.

That's not just a rule or a guideline or a rule of thumb, for God's sake, it's the law. It's U.S. law and it's international law and also, just for good measure, it's international law that has been signed and ratified and appended again onto U.S. law. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

But this is also more than a law. It gets at the matter of definition. The distinction between a soldier and a murderer comes down to just exactly this and only this. Rank and uniform and the giving and receiving of orders ultimately are of no consequence apart from this. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

This is how we distinguish, say, Sen. Daniel Inouye from Ted Bundy. This is why the former is rightly revered and the latter rightly reviled. Inouye was awarded the medal of honor and that word, "honor," is yet another term whose meaning hinges on this one thing. You're not allowed to kill civilians.

I gradually tired of restating this due to the hair-splitting pedants and apologists for the vicarious titillation of indiscriminate death who insisted that stating the principle this bluntly was recklessly irresponsible. "Harrumph, harrumph," they harrumphed, "double effect harrumph."*

And of course it's true that the real world complicates every simple principle and that any meaningful or lasting principle has to account for those complications. But when someone's first impulse is to cavil and dilute and disqualify by qualification, I'm not convinced that their objections are raised in good faith.

For those who are, in fact, harrumphing in good faith, I'm perfectly willing to calibrate the principle more precisely, something like: You're not allowed to target noncombatants primarily and intentionally.

What that means, of course, is neither more nor less than this: You're not allowed to kill civilians.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* Double effect or double intention is … well, think of a SWAT team in a hostage standoff. (That's probably a better operating model for America's current wars than other notions that may spring to mind when hearing the word "war.") They can try to shoot the hostage-takers, but doing so raises the risk of accidentally hitting the hostages. Generally speaking, SWAT teams won't take that risk, but if the situation is judged to be one in which not shooting puts the hostages in even greater danger, then they'll risk the shot. In such a circumstance, the blame for any hostages unintentionally injured or even killed by the SWAT team is not attributed to the officers, but to the hostage-takers. The SWAT team isn't regarded as having killed civilians because that is not why they chose to shoot. Their actions are covered under the principle of "double effect." Killing the hostages was not the motive or intent for the SWAT team's actions.

The principle covers more than just such accidental, wholly unintentional casualties. Imagine a scenario in which a hostage-taker is about to kill several of his hostages and is also shielding himself by holding a hostage in front of him. The SWAT sharpshooter's only option for stopping him is to shoot him through that hostage. The sharpshooter takes that option, thus stopping the hostage-taker and saving several lives, but also killing one of the innocent hostages it was his mission to save. The killing of that hostage is not accidental or even unintentional — it was foreseeable and deliberate. But the principle of double effect still applies, because the consequence of killing that hostage was not the primary purpose or intent of the sharpshooter's actions.

But this important, nuanced ethical rule — one that exists just for such extreme, restricted-option, awful situations — is not infinitely elastic. It could never be used to justify, for example, a SWAT team opening a spray of indiscriminate automatic weapons fire or calling in an air strike to destroy the hostage-takers, the hostages and the surrounding neighborhood.

You're not allowed to kill civilians. Double effect exists only to help clarify what that means in particular hard-case dilemmas. Whenever you encounter someone using it otherwise — to replace or trump the prior principle — then you are dealing with someone arguing in bad faith, someone who, in Orwell's phrase, is using the language of ethics "to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

  • Ing

    @Madgastronomer
    Fair enough. I used up my outrage before the war in “Don’t you know what this will cost”. Now that it’s happened not much anyone can do about it.

  • Raka

    Tonio, Hawk didn’t say anything about our right to have opinions or voice them. He/she said that people who don’t have the relevant background thus lack the ability to fairly judge. That’s arguable*, but I don’t see any of the “cease your dissent, punk” moralizing that you seem to be reading into it.
    *(though I’m inclined to agree to the extent that it’s taken in that particular comment)

  • Ing

    “Tonio, Hawk didn’t say anything about our right to have opinions or voice them. He/she said that people who don’t have the relevant background thus lack the ability to fairly judge. That’s arguable*, but I don’t see any of the “cease your dissent, punk” moralizing that you seem to be reading into it.
    *(though I’m inclined to agree to the extent that it’s taken in that particular comment)”
    Anyone interested, NPR’s Talk Of The Nation had an author who was embedded in the area and had previously written about the incident before the video leak giving the context. Doesn’t make things any better but it softens the stance on “they’re heartless monsters” view.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/fearlessson FearlessSon

    This post reminds me that I have told my parents that if they have a gun in hand and someone has me hostage in front of them, then I want them to put that bullet right through my lungs and into whomever has the knife to my throat. The way I see it, Justice is more important than love, justice is more important than life.
    My parents seem to get upset when I express those sentiments though. I am not sure why.

  • Raka

    Fearless Son: (paraphrased) “I told my parents to shoot through my thorax if they believe the bad guy behind me will fall to a bullet lubricated with ribs and vengeance.”
    Today is “Live Up To The Alias You Use Online Day”!

  • Launcifer

    Today is “Live Up To The Alias You Use Online Day”!

    Does that mean I have to worship myself before signing a contract offering my soul to myself in my own blood, ’cause that’s gonna get confusing.

  • CaryB

    Justice is more important than love, justice is more important than life.
    Do you do a little Superman hands-on-hips thing when you say that? Not, of course, that Superman would ever say or even think something like that.
    And I’m missing the part where you getting a bullet through the gut to nail the guy behind you has ANYTHING to do with justice. Shooting you to save someone elses life? Sure, I can see that. But shooting you because that motherfucker who hasn’t killed anyone yet must not get away, even at the cost of my sons life, doesn’t seem Just. It just seems…well, rather silly. The sort of thing that a Seth Rogan character might shout, only to scream “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!” when it looks like someone might take him seriously.

  • Shay Guy

    See, that’s not “justice.” Justice is about making things right. That’s just bloodthirstiness.

  • Spearmint

    Fred Davis: congratulations, you have won an internet.
    This post reminds me that I have told my parents that if they have a gun in hand and someone has me hostage in front of them, then I want them to put that bullet right through my lungs and into whomever has the knife to my throat.
    Doesn’t that sort of defeat the purpose of ending the hostage situation?

  • Anton Mates

    I have told my parents that if they have a gun in hand and someone has me hostage in front of them, then I want them to put that bullet right through my lungs and into whomever has the knife to my throat.

    …does that question frequently come up with your parents?
    See, I told my parents that if someone has me hostage, my mom should shoot my dad in the face. Then, when the criminal filth recoils in surprise, I wrestle the knife away and disembowel myself! My mom then calls the police, blames both deaths on him and he’s sure to get the needle.
    This is because lethal injections are more important than life or love.

  • Oriscus

    I watched the video last night. The first time made me sick. Ftr, it was pretty manipulative the way it was presented. I would have preferred to have seen the parts that were blacked out to the series of quotes, etc. The second time I watched, I noticed a few more things.
    Bear in mind that there are two versions of the video out there. A short “digest” form which focuses on the shooting and zooms in on the van, and a longer form which provides more context. There are two events on this video: the initial gunning down of the group of men with the two Reuters guys, and the firing on the van with the kids and the guys offering assistance.
    During the run up to the first shooting event, at about 4:12, you can clearly see a man whether insurgent with RPG or Reuters guy with telephoto lens crouching behind a wall. He’s in silhouette. It sure *looks like somebody with an RPG looking to get a shot off, but the helos move out of line-of-sight. The initial gunning down, then, might be justified.
    The van, however, with unarmed individuals picking up wounded – that’s different.
    I still feel sick. Credit to the infantry for hustling when they found the kids.
    The chatter and gallows humor, well, that really is war.
    The whole episode should be taken to demonstrate what war makes us into.

  • David Wong

    Hey guys, do you know if there’s anything in Christianity about not judging people? Because we seem to be quick to judge these soldiers here.
    They had fellow troops, maybe even friends, on the ground. A guy on the ground with what looked like a rocket launcher went to a corner, leaned around the corner with that rocket launcher, and pointed it at a vehicle.
    Those are your boys down there. Your friends. Pretend it’s your family if you have to. And that man is aiming an RPG at them.
    You wouldn’t shoot?
    I would. And I think you’re lying if you say you wouldn’t. I think you’re sitting in comfort and peace and judging people sitting in the maximum stress and terror humans can go through (and I’m shocked that you guys aren’t familiar with the concept of using humor to cope with fear – homicide cops are famous for it).
    Judge not. This is why that imperative exists. Otherwise, you wind up looking foolish, calling out people experiencing something you can’t possibly imagine, and second-guessing their actions.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    Not everyone here is Christian, David.

  • Ms. Anon E. Mouse, Esq.

    Not everyone here is Christian, David.

    And some of the Christians are pacifists, so wouldn’t use lethal force even to save a family member.
    Part of us disagreeing well on how to process events like these is recognizing the reality that we start from different paradigms.

  • Caravelle

    They had fellow troops, maybe even friends, on the ground. A guy on the ground with what looked like a rocket launcher went to a corner, leaned around the corner with that rocket launcher, and pointed it at a vehicle.

    Where do you get that ? There’s nothing about fellow troops (well… aside from the “there’s no-one east of our position” bit) or about a vehicle in the video. Do you have another source ?

  • Pius Thicknesse

    @Andrew Tillman: This is not a new phenomenon. Your trigger-happy flyboys hopped up on legal uppers blew up four of my countrymen.
    I’m a Canadian.

  • Emcee

    Those are your boys down there. Your friends. Pretend it’s your family if you have to. And that man is aiming an RPG at them.
    You wouldn’t shoot?

    Except that he wasn’t pointing it at my friends/family/fellow soldiers (or anyone else), because they were still quite a distance away at that point and not in immediate danger. And I’d like to think that I’d be damn sure about what I saw before I shot.
    And as Rachel Maddow pointed out tonight, since the main strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq is supposed to be reducing civilian casualties as much as possible to get the people away from the insurgancy and supporting the US and the legitimate government, one would think that they might have taken some extra time (since they had it, and knew that they had it) to correctly assess the situation. If they had to make a split-second decision, I could see the choice, but my understanding is that that was not the case here.
    I might not go as far to say it was a war crime, but more than just a tragedy. They still screwed up. If we are supposed to be trying to limit civilian casualites, I think they should be trying to be as sure as possible that the people they are shooting at are not civilians. Call me crazy…

  • Mark Z.

    Pretend it’s your family if you have to.
    Why am I not pretending the man with the RPG is my family?

  • Pius Thicknesse

    Judge not. This is why that imperative exists. Otherwise, you wind up looking foolish, calling out people experiencing something you can’t possibly imagine, and second-guessing their actions.

    I love how this fella here tells us to “judge not” in the specific context of some bored soldiers wanting to blow shit up.
    Would you be so quick to “judge not” a person suspected of committing a crime with no concrete proof linking him or her to the act?
    Somehow I suspect you’d be one of the first to gleefully demand 20 years in the electric chair* for that person.
    It’s funny how suspicion on the part of the police wrt garden-variety criminals is enough to enable more than enough judging to usurp God’s role in the matter, but whoawhoaWHOAWHOA we can’t judge the actions of people in the military who’re documented as wanting to basically wreck shit, even if it means “collateral damage”.
    * Spot the movie reference, anyone.

  • Sergeant O’Leary

    Personally, I don’t think we should ever prosecute anyone for any crime because that would be like judging them or something. Let’s just squeeze our eyes tightly shut and pretend everything’s cool.

  • Sergeant O’Leary

    Or, to put it in a way that doesn’t make me look like such a git: Judging people who do bad things is fundamental to the very rule of law. In fact, even without the rule of law, it’s still fundamental to common sense, since even in an anarchic world with no laws, it is very important to be able to recognize that someone might not be terribly trustworthy if you’ve just seen him betray all of his friends and he suddenly offers to work together with you.
    Judgment is even fundamental to the concept of morality, since you can’t even say something as simple as “Murder is bad” or “Love is good” without making a judgment.
    Furthermore, judging people who do bad things like killing civilians makes people less likely to do bad things like killing civilians. Making people less likely to kill civilians makes civilians less likely to be killed. Making civilians less likely to be killed makes civilians less likely to die. Making innocents less likely to die is a Very Good Thing. As much as Jesus thought judging was in principle a bad idea, he was far more heavily in favour of protecting those who cannot protect themselves.
    At any rate, this isn’t the best place to claim that we should stop judging people, considering that this blog has a very heavy emphasis on judging people who deserve to be judged. We judge LaHaye and Jenkins because they are Very Bad People with Very Bad Writing built on Very Bad Theology and seem intent on spreading messages of misogyny and various other Very Bad Ideas. We judge the conservative liars because they exist to spread misinformation, confusion, and hatred for their own personal profit. We judge Doctor Who episodes because, you know, “Fear Her” was terrible. And, yes, we judge soldiers who kill civilians because, um, hello, they kill civilians, and YNATKC.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    *applause* Well said, Sergeant O’Leary!

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    Tonio, Hawk didn’t say anything about our right to have opinions or voice them. He/she said that people who don’t have the relevant background thus lack the ability to fairly judge. That’s arguable*, but I don’t see any of the “cease your dissent, punk” moralizing that you seem to be reading into it.

    Valid point. Hawk’s post came across as defensive of military people, which was unnecessary at best because Fred wasn’t attacking them. It sounded to me like a lower-level version of the Col. Jessup rant. I’ve been hearing such rants from conservatives for the past 20 years, often from people who have never been in the military. Hawk and David Wong aren’t saying that people have no right to judge, but they are wrongly making the issue about the people doing the judging.

  • ako

    Pretend it’s your family if you have to.
    Er, I can pretend all kinds of stuff that’s completely unlike what happened. Yeah, if I sit there and imagine armed criminals about to cut my mother to pieces if I don’t shoot to save her, then I’d probably shoot (although if I found out I’d shot up a van full of kids, I’m pretty sure I would actually kill myself out of guilt, no matter what my intentions were). But no one had family out there, and they didn’t have a vehicle full of friends in imminent peril. Why make stuff up to make their actions more defensible?
    Is it because they’re actually indefensible?
    I would. And I think you’re lying if you say you wouldn’t./i>
    Then why are you asking? And is it really so outside the realm of possibility that there’s at least
    one committed pacifist on the blog? It’s not me, but I don’t see why you’d assume everyone is lying. Or that everyone’s in comfort and peace.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    Italics, begone.

    And hopefully, that got it.

  • Hawk

    Where do you get that ? There’s nothing about fellow troops (well… aside from the “there’s no-one east of our position” bit) or about a vehicle in the video. Do you have another source ?
    The talk on from the beginning of the video (the full video, not the misleading short version) clearly comes from the ground element (Hotel 26) who is discussing receiving fire and then describes whom they believe to be their attackers. Later, about 30 minutes in, the ground element receives fire again, which prompts the Hellfire shots (though I’d judge three missiles to be overkill given the described threat, but I’m sitting behind a laptop). Interestingly, right about that point you can also hear Bushmaster 6, the ground commander, discussing an RPG round captured at the scene (someone asks whether it was armed or not) which adds another wrinkle to the incident.
    To an extent, yes, I’m defending the military. Not from the killing of civilians in a tragic wartime mistake, which is what this appears to be to me, but from the out-of-context implications derived from chopped-and-spun video being thrown around in the comments and Fred’s post itself that imply that this incident “primarily and intentionally” targeted civilians. That description implies that the units in question knew beforehand that the individuals they were targeting were noncombatants, and it seems clear from the full video, even without the greater context of the incident, that that is not the case.
    I’m sure if there hasn’t been a formal investigation of this event, there will be now, so we’ll see where the dust settles.

  • http://nymonsters.wordpress.com Ian Perez

    I have not seen the video; I began watching it last night, but it stopped buffering just before the actual shooting started.
    I first learned about this through Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and have read a handful of condemnations as well as a handful of dissenting opinions*. As a result, I’m still not entirely sure what I believe yet.
    I know that the soldiers seemed to not even consider the possibility that the people they were watching might have been civilians before they open fire. I understand from people’s reactions’ that they acted in a manner that suggests they had no regard for the people they were actually killing–and from yet other people that this, in fact, how we train them to act, and that they would not be effective (or perhaps merely less effective, which isn’t the same thing) soldiers otherwise. I feel that someone must be punished, but I don’t know who (aside from the Pentagon for covering it up).
    In the end, if what people like Glenn Greenwald** say is true, and this sort of civillian-killing is a commonplace event that in this instance just happened to get caught by the right people, then my sincere hope is that news of this tragedy will be enough to convince those that would take war lightly (a considerable number of people, I’d imagine, particularly given the way the previous administration treated it) that it isn’t. Not by a long shot.
    —-
    * http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/04/the-lies-of-the-pentagon-ctd-3.html
    ** http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/04/06/iraq

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer

    I just fixed those!

    There. Nobody break them again on this page, ok?

  • Ing

    I think part of the problem is that the military did it’s formal investigation behind closed doors. Family and media didn’t get the full details, public opinion on whether it was a valid investigation is up in the air. And you know…Who watches the watchmen. The idea of the military deciding for itself whether it did a bad things reeks of potential cover ups for some people. The question now shouldn’t be whether the event was intentional etc, but whether there were attempts to brush it under the rug to save face. The first one could be accidental, the later cover up is always intentional wrong doing.

  • Amaryllis

    this blog has a very heavy emphasis on judging people who deserve to be judged.
    Well, in Fred’s case, he judges L&J’s theology and writing style from a background in those areas of formal education, professional experience and relevant personal experience. He’s qualified to judge them.
    And all those of you who’ve seen every episode of Doctor Who, who are familiar with “canon,” who can explain the artistic differences between the different directors, writers and actors, are qualified to make a judgment about why “Fear Her” was terrible. Those who don’t rise to that level of fandom, but have enough familiarity with drama to be able to tell good acting from bad, or good writing from bad, are qualified to form an opinion about whether it was terrible. I don’t have anything to say about it, and I wouldn’t feel qualified to say much on the basis of a short, context-less excerpt from it.
    I don’t necessarily feel qualified to judge this event on the basis of this video. It was certainly a screw-up, and not the first or the last to happen in this so-called “war.” As others have said, it’s not new news.
    Was it a screw-up that rises to the level of a war crime? I don’t know.
    Those guys who raped and murdered a fourteen-year-old girl, and then killed her family to cover it up? Now that’s a war crime: I’ll make that judgment without a qualm. My Lai was a war crime. This? This was bad. This was tragic. This seems to have been a failure of training and execution, not to mention a failure of justification having troops there at all. But beyond that, at the level of actual criminal intent or criminal negligence on the part of these soldiers, I don’t believe I know.
    I think part of the problem is that the military did it’s formal investigation behind closed doors. Family and media didn’t get the full details, public opinion on whether it was a valid investigation is up in the air.
    Now that, I agree with. If we’re going to trust “qualified people” to judge a complex and confusing situation, we’re entitled to know who those people are, and what their qualifications are, and how they reached their conclusions. Especially for something like this, which was “done in our name,” as they say, and implicates all of us (Americans, that is, of course).

  • http://www.yahoo.com Tricksterson

    When the guy was crouching behind the building, yes I could see how that could be mistaken for someone with an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade, not RolePlaying Game) but earlier, there’s no way that camera bag looks like an automatic rifle.
    As for dividing up the country this is something I’ve been thinking about since 2004. The South, Midwest and parts of the West and Southwest become the Christian States of America, New England and the Middle States join Canada as do Washington, Oregon and Northern California, Southern California and New Mexico go back to Mexico and the Great Lakes States, being purple (as well as Iowa) become an indepndent buffer state betweent the CSA and greater Canada as does Nevada. I need less free time on my hands.

  • Tonio

    The South, Midwest and parts of the West and Southwest become the Christian States of America

    But given the attitudes in much of that region, such a state would sooner or later involve totalitarian oppression. We might end up having to choose between fighting a civil war to protect the rights of non-Christians in the religion, or fighting a war to liberate them.
    If I were president, I would have a long, long list of conditions before I would recognize the region’s independence. Among the items would be the destruction of every statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest and the disestablishment of Regent University and Patrick Henry College.

  • Mr. Cales

    In ways, it would make life more efficient if the Christian States of America were allowed to form. Then we’d be able to just go to war with the dumbasses and get it over with, rather than this interminable political infighting.
    As for the video, I have an *extremely* dim view of the military, and I have an even more extremely dim view of military killings. The van was totally unjustified. The rest of it I could see as a screw-up, but the van throws everything out of whack.

  • Amaryllis

    In ways, it would make life more efficient if the Christian States of America were allowed to form. Then we’d be able to just go to war with the dumbasses and get it over with, rather than this interminable political infighting.

    Shiloh.
    Antietam.
    Gettysburg.
    Manasses.
    Andersonville.
    For anything short of the re-establishment of chattel slavery, I’ll take any amount of endless political infighting, thank you.

  • Tonio

    For anything short of the re-establishment of chattel slavery, I’ll take any amount of endless political infighting, thank you.

    Would the dismantling of Jim Crow have been a sufficient reason to go to war? If the South becomes the Republic of Gilead, I can think of a third option that may present ethical issues – ship weapons to the blacks and non-Christians there to stage their own armed revolt.

  • http://www.sunybroome.edu/custom/miketimonin Mike Timonin

    I can think of a third option that may present ethical issues – ship weapons to the blacks and non-Christians there to stage their own armed revolt.
    That frequently ends with the US sending in troops anyway – see Spanish-American War and, arguably, Vietnam.

  • Lee Ratner

    Tonio: The problem with your plan is that it violates the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendement. The First Amendment gives Americans the right to believe any stupid thing they want to and to propagate said beliefs by assembly and teaching them to children. As tempting as it is to want to close Regents University and Patrick Henry and like minded institutions, it would be constitutionally problematic.
    I can’t really think of a way of dealing with the problematic elements of American society that would not be a massive constitutional violation. Basically, we can’t socially engineer our crazies away.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5ec953d970b Cat Meadors

    The whole point of establishing the Christian States of America would be to give the Christianists their own country; of course they’re going to be an authoritarian theocracy. You don’t say “here’s your country, now we’re gonna blow you up good for Doin’ it Rong.”
    I’d make it smaller, and put in place a generous refugee policy. (Not, let me make clear, an undefended border, but anyone who wants to revoke their CSA citizenship is welcome in my country.)

  • Tonio

    That frequently ends with the US sending in troops anyway – see Spanish-American War and, arguably, Vietnam.

    True, but both wars involved some degrees of neocolonialism in their motives. The South originally seceded to preserve slavery, which is obvious from reading South Carolina’s statement of secession. If the South seceded today, its leaders might rationalize this as preserving their culture or values or some other nonsense, but the ultimate purpose would be to restrict rights for women and for ethnic and religious minorities.

  • Tonio

    Tonio: The problem with your plan is that it violates the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendement.

    True. My original “conditions” were intended to be tongue in cheek. Sorry for the confusion. On a more serious note, the stated missions of both institutions sound somewhat seditious to me.

    I’d make it smaller, and put in place a generous refugee policy. (Not, let me make clear, an undefended border, but anyone who wants to revoke their CSA citizenship is welcome in my country.)

    But that wouldn’t stop the CSA from closing its own borders. Part of my issue is that dissidents who couldn’t leave that country would suffer. Again speaking tongue in cheek, I might suggest recognizing independence in exchange for the CSA turning over all females and minorities.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5ec953d970b Cat Meadors

    Oh, I wouldn’t seriously propose the existence of a CSA either. But as a thought experiment… some women would want to stay there. Maybe a standing agreement – you let anyone go who wants to leave, and we refrain from blowin’ you up real good.
    Why the Post should not have fired all its editors, volume 3,998,423:
    “McDonnell’s proclamation comes just before the April 17, 1861, anniversary of the day Virginia seceded from the union.”* Wow, our governor is also a time-traveler!
    *From McDonnel’s Confederate History Month proclamation irks civil rights leaders. Also: “irks”? Really? Ok, WaPo.

  • Mumphrey

    I’ve wondered for a while about the wisdom of having a standing army in this country.
    I think in some ways it just isn’t worth it. We have millions of Americans we teach how to kill other people, and it’s almost like we sit around as a country, waiting for an excuse to use them. It gets to where we almost need to have a war every 20 years or so, since NOT using our brave troops would be wasteful.
    I know, if we got rid of most of the military, and just fell back on calling up recruits when we were attacked, we’d lose some edge, as it would take time to get the new soldiers and sailors up to speed, and I guess we’d always need some officers, even in peacetime, but, jeez, how many soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen and women do we have today?
    I’m sure any politician who brought this up would be hounded out of office, if not outright assassinated, but I think it would be worth thinking about doing it all the same…

  • Ing

    “. As tempting as it is to want to close Regents University and Patrick Henry and like minded institutions, it would be constitutionally problematic.”
    True but we just have to start spreading their reputation so fewer and fewer employers, other Univerities, etc see them as a real respected institution. Creationists have “scientific” journals that aren’t worth shit because no one thinks they have any authority. Pat Robertson’s University likewise should has as much legal authority.

  • Tonio

    It gets to where we almost need to have a war every 20 years or so, since NOT using our brave troops would be wasteful.

    I think that’s not quite it. I think it’s more that our country became much more militarized during the Second World War, and to a certain extent that never went away. There’s an axiom that any organization’s goal ultimately becomes self-preservation, and if this is true, there’s no reason to think that a large military would be exempt from this. I question whether it’s healthy for democracy to have a large and influential military. Militaries are authoritarian and hierarchical institutions, and while those values are appropriate for the needs of combat, they’re not appropriate for democratic institutions.

  • Raka

    Tonio: Hawk’s post came across as defensive of military people, which was unnecessary at best because Fred wasn’t attacking them. … Hawk and David Wong aren’t saying that people have no right to judge, but they are wrongly making the issue about the people doing the judging.
    I’ll grant you that David Wong appears to be saying exactly that. But I’m still not seeing what’s getting your back up about Hawk’s comment. He’s saying that our assessment is wrong, and he’s saying it pretty politely. He explains why he believes that we’re wrong. His “the uninformed have no reasonable ability to fairly judge” comment reads to me not as “…so shut up”, but as “…so I figure this is how you came to your mistaken conclusion”.
    The last paragraph is where I think you’re seeing the “Jessup” similarities. Thing is, there’s a big difference between “defending” and “defensive”. He assumed no malice on our part. He didn’t implicitly or explicitly tell us that we didn’t have a right to our reactions, or to voice our views. He makes no claims about us at all, except for a pretty neutral factual statement about our qualifications to fully understand (which can certainly be argued, but is hardly accusatory).
    If folks are going to disagree with us, this is the way to do it. I object to seeing it conflated with supercilious imperatives like David Wong’s “judge not” comment.

  • Tonio

    But I’m still not seeing what’s getting your back up about Hawk’s comment.

    I suppose it was the comment about people sitting at computers, which reminded me of beliefs about “real men” hunting and playing sports. Also, I was reminded of the Rambo revisionist myths about Vietnam, which again were promulgated not by veterans but by non-veteran conservatives claiming to speak for them.

  • Ursula L

    If “Judge not, least you be judged” is an issue here, then I’d think it works best applied to the soldiers who did the killing.
    They judged, based on little evidence, that the people in these cars were somehow a threat. They were wrong. They acted on their (mis)judgment. Now, they are being judged for their actions, as can be expected when you go around killing people.
    They judged, and therefore they are judged. If they did not want to be judged on these actions and their judgment leading to these actions, they should not have acted this way.
    “Judge not least you be judged” is, in a way, a law of (human) nature. If you use your judgment and choose to act, you will, naturally, be judged by the people around you for your judgment and actions. It is impossible for human beings to look at certain type of actions (such as killing) and not make some kind of judgment as to whether the action was right, wrong, or excusable.

  • LL

    Um, I get that war zones are chaotic, but…
    The helicopter didn’t come upon a chaotic scene. They came upon people walking down the street in Baghdad (I didn’t realize that was cause for alarm; don’t lots of people walk down the streets in Iraq?). From some distance up in the air (not sure at what altitude helicopters fly under these circumstances), they saw what they thought were guns (? I can think of any number of objects which, when viewed from a distance, “might” be a gun) and decided to open fire. Then, a guy in a van pulls up. Instead of waiting to think for even one minute that maybe this guy saw a wounded guy and stopped to render aid – a charitable impulse that he probably quickly regretted – they couldn’t WAIT to shoot. They wanted to kill this guy. They wanted to kill everyone in the area.
    From the video (which does not seem doctored in any way, though I’m no expert), there is no valid excuse for these murders. Our military personnel weren’t in the middle of a firefight, they didn’t HAVE to shoot to protect themselves (they were flying a helicopter) or anyone else. They saw people walking and decided, immediately, without any discussion or debate or just common sense, to kill them. It really is simple as that.
    And I don’t feel bad about judging them, either. This idea that civilians are not allowed to question any action of the military, no matter what, is utter bullshit. If the military wants my support for its actions in another country, it’s gonna have to act in ways that I can support. Shooting civilians (including children) is not one of them.
    My brother in law just got back from a year in Iraq. He works in communications. I hope he wasn’t involved in anything like this.

  • Ing

    “From the video (which does not seem doctored in any way, though I’m no expert), there is no valid excuse for these murders. Our military personnel weren’t in the middle of a firefight, they didn’t HAVE to shoot to protect themselves (they were flying a helicopter) or anyone else. They saw people walking and decided, immediately, without any discussion or debate or just common sense, to kill them. It really is simple as that. ”
    Context is that the area was a zone that was being heavily hit by insurgency. There was a lot of fire fights int he days up to this which is why the air patrol was called in. Their side was being hit hard and the helicopter was called in to bring down the hammer on the situation.

  • Lori

    Disclaimer: I’m still processing this. I don’t know what I think or feel about it so neither “side” in the argument should think that I’m either agreeing with or attacking their position.

    From the video (which does not seem doctored in any way, though I’m no expert), there is no valid excuse for these murders. Our military personnel weren’t in the middle of a firefight, they didn’t HAVE to shoot to protect themselves (they were flying a helicopter) or anyone else. They saw people walking and decided, immediately, without any discussion or debate or just common sense, to kill them. It really is simple as that.

    A couple of things:
    First, as was pointed out earlier, it doesn’t have to be doctored to be slanted. This video, as presented, is not The Truth from on high. It’s media and we have to evaluate it that way. It might be expressing the essential truth about the situation, but it also might not be. One of the reasons that I haven’t come close to making up my mind about all this is that I’m having a hard time cutting through my emotional reaction to make that evaluation.
    Second, being in a helicopter isn’t magical protection from death, especially if there’s an RPG in play, so I think we have to be careful how we judge the crew’s threat perception.


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