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Archive for November 19th, 2004

But who asked?

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Funny thing about language. Always gives us away, our deeper preoccupations, our bad conscience (or consciousness). Our guilt.

For instance, it seems to be impossible to write about the Marine shooting the Iraqi prisoner without bringing Margaret Hassan into it. The equation gives the game away, time and again. For instance, this one on Slate, whose subtitle suggests that it will be a consideration of whether the shooting meets the definition of a war crime: "The shooting of an unarmed Iraqi was a tragedy. But was it a war crime?" It’s like the author can’t help himself. Midway through:

On the same day as this story, the tragic news
broke that CARE International worker Margaret Hassan had been executed
by her captors in Iraq. Already, there have been cries of moral
equivalence. One Iraqi told the Los Angeles Times: "It goes to show that [Marines] are not any better than the so-called terrorists." Al Jazeera fanned
these flames of anti-American sentiment by broadcasting the shooting
incident in full while censoring Hassan’s execution snuff tape. (U.S.
networks refused to air actual footage of both killings.) There is a
simplistic appeal to such arguments because both events involve the
killing of a human being and, more specifically, the apparent execution
of a noncombatant in the context of war.

Yet it is the
differences between these two killings that reveal the most important
truths about the Marine shooting in Fallujah. Hassan was, in every
sense of the word, a noncombatant. She worked for more than 20 years to
help Iraqis obtain basic necessities: food, running water, medical
care, electricity, and education. The Iraqi insurgents kidnapped her
and murdered her in order to terrorize the Iraqi population and the aid
workers trying to help them.

By contrast, the Marines entered a
building in Fallujah and found several men who, until moments before,
had been enemy insurgents engaged in mortal combat. A hidden grenade
would have changed everything, and the Marine would have been lauded.
As it turned out, the Iraqi was entitled to mercy, but Hassan was truly
innocent. There is no legitimate moral equivalence between a soldier
asking for quarter and a noncombatant like Hassan.

There is
another key difference that reveals a great moral divide between the
Marines and insurgents they fought this week in Fallujah. The
insurgents choose the killing of innocents as their modus operandi and
glorify these killings with videos distributed via the Internet and Al
Jazeera. They recognize no civilized norms of conduct, let alone the
rules of warfare. The Marines, on the other hand, distinguish
themselves by killing innocents so rarely and only by exception or
mistake. Collateral damage is part of warfare, and civilians will die
no matter how many control measures are in place. Yet the U.S. military
devotes a staggering amount of resources to ensuring that civilian
deaths do not happen, from sophisticated command systems that control
precision bombs to staffs of lawyers at every level of command to vet
targeting decisions. And when such breaches do occur, as they
apparently did on Saturday, U.S. military commanders act swiftly to
punish the offender, lest one incident of indiscipline blossom into
many. (Indeed, one Army captain currently faces charges for killing a wounded Iraqi after a firefight and pursuit through the streets of Baghdad.)

may be hell, but no honorable warrior likes to spread the hell
unnecessarily. Killing Hassan, regardless of any attenuated argument
the insurgent apologists may make, was both unlawful and amoral—and
beneath what any warrior would do. Killing the insurgent in a split
second because it was instinctual, on the other hand, was a tragedy,
not an atrocity.

If I got this as a paper in the course I’m teaching now, I’d mark the student down for running away from their thesis statement, for "argument drift." I’m pretty sure that the Geneva Conventions don’t stipulate that, in order to determine the legality of an action, look around and see if there’s anything worse going on. If there is, no crime.

And what exactly does the word "tragedy" mean in this context? Who is the protagonist of this tragedy? The "insurgent," the Marine, the United States, or the entire world?

Written by adswithoutproducts

November 19, 2004 at 11:06 pm

Posted in Current Affairs


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From Ron Rosenbaum’s piece, "Why Did Kerry Fold? Ohio Recount Stirs Distressing Nuttiness," in this week’s New York Observer:

On Mr. Olbermann’s MSNBC show, he asked Newsweek’s
Jonathan Alter why reporters haven’t been looking into the reality on
the ground in Ohio. Mr. Alter said, in effect, that he thought
reporters preferred the outcome to be decisive that morning so they
wouldn’t have to cancel their post-election vacation plans. Another
great moment in journalism! (Mr. Alter added that he thought when they
came back from vacation, "you’ll see" reporters looking more closely
into the situation.)

Written by adswithoutproducts

November 19, 2004 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Politics

Maybe we should give them extra points on the GRE

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Charming article today by John Tierney in the Times. Complete with a classic
example of “one the one hand / on the other” journalism:

One theory for the scarcity of Republican
professors is that conservatives are simply not that interested in academic
careers. A Democrat on the Berkeley faculty, George P. Lakoff, who teaches linguistics and is the author
of "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think," said that
liberals choose academic fields that fit their world views. "Unlike
conservatives," he said, "they believe in working for the public good
and social justice, as well as knowledge and art for their own sake, which are
what the humanities and social sciences are about."

Some non-Democrats prefer to attribute
the imbalance to the structure of academia, which allows hiring decisions and
research agendas to be determined by small, independent groups of scholars.
These fiefs, the critics say, suffer from a problem described in The Federalist
Papers: an autonomous "small republic" is prone to be dominated by a
cohesive faction that uses majority voting to "outnumber and oppress the
rest," in Madison’s words.

"Our colleges have become less
marketplaces of ideas than churches in which you have to be a true believer to
get a seat in the pews," said Stephen H. Balch, a Republican and the
president of the National Association of Scholars. "We’ve drifted to a
secular version of 19th-century denominational colleges, in which the
university’s mission is to crusade against sin and make the country a morally
better place."

That’s right. You remember the kid
wrapped in the American flag in high school, spent his off hours flipping
through the John Birch newsletter and writing letters to the local paper
against affirmative action etc… Just as likely to enter a Ph.d. program in
English as the pot-smoking pseudo-beatnik, reading Kerouac and scribbling in a
battered notebook.

Might just be a little bit
self-selecting, academia…




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November 19, 2004 at 12:58 am

Posted in academia

Socialized Medicine Here We Come…

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…but not without some serious bloodletting in the meantime.

From the Washington Post, in a piece on the coming overhaul of our tax system:

The changes are meant to be revenue-neutral. To pay for them, the
administration is considering eliminating the deduction of state and
local taxes on federal income tax returns and scrapping the business
tax deduction for employer-provided health insurance, the advisers

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November 19, 2004 at 12:31 am

Posted in Politics