September 24, 2002
Polemic III: 'Level Gaze'

The only serious and relatively coherent attempt to answer The Shropshire Challenge so far has been this 'open letter' on David Yaseen's Level Gaze the next day (September 7th). It raises some important issues and so deserves a full, if very belated, analysis:

Reading Instapundit this afternoon, I came across Dr. Weevil's Shropshire Challenge.

The two comments this post attracted confine themselves to sneers at Instapundit.

What follows is an open letter to Dr. Weevil.

Open letters are pretentious even when addressed to a president or a pope by a well-known writer or journalist. What can I say about an open letter to a second-string blogger from a fifth-rate blogger, except that I'm flattered that he considers me so important?

Dr. Weevil;

At least he doesn't begin with a hypocritical "dear".

It seems as though you're the one who needs to "put up or shut up." Those of us who oppose invading Iraq haven't suggested doing anything - we'd like to see the status quo continue. This is your fight. You have to put up first. We don't owe you anything until you do, and we certainly won't "shut up" about chickenhawks.

This is more than a bit misleading. The status quo is highly unlikely to continue. Everyone knows that a U.S. invasion of Iraq is very likely, and that it will come soon, unless something happens to stop it. Non-invasion may be the status quo, but invasion is the default. That means that I don't have to do anything to bring about an invasion, since it will go ahead with or without me. (Not to mention that I can't do anything but argue, since I'm too old to enlist and, even if I weren't, I wouldn't make it through boot camp and specialized training in time to see action.) But anyone who seriously opposes an invasion of Iraq can and should do something to prevent it while there is still time. 'Level Gaze' has it exactly backwards: I don't have to do anything except argue against objections such as his. He on the other hand needs to do some serious work if he wants to stop the war, and sitting around bitching about it isn't going to suffice.

You're the ones (you and the rest of the warbloggers) championing a course of action that will cause death and destruction to others, as well as serious jeopardy to American soldiers (who, incidentally, are mostly drawn from the ranks of the poor and minorities, those who are least able to determine the course of their lives), and none to yourself or to those whom you love. If you so truly believe in the justice of your cause, then it's worth the cost and you should be willing to pay your share. Sign up for service and join the infantry. Not eligible for service? Send your son, your brother, your nephew, your best friend, your dog. If you aren't willing to put up, why should we right-thinking folk take you seriously?

Where to begin? Most warbloggers sincerely believe that invading Iraq is likely to save far more lives than it costs. That's why we're in favor of this particular war: it's not a good thing, but the least of the available evils. We recognize that nothing in life is certain and that the situation is complex. It is not hard to imagine ways in which war on Iraq could lead to disaster, though it is rather more difficult to imagine plausible ways in which allowing Saddam Hussein to develop his arsenal of gases, germs, and (soon) nuclear bombs unmolested would not lead to even more spectacular disaster in the long run.

Warbloggers also think freeing 18,000,000 Iraqis from totalitarian oppression is nothing to sneer at. Should the Normandy invasion have been canceled on the grounds that the accompanying bombs and naval bombardments would undoubtedly -- did undoubtedly -- kill innocent French civilians? Was freedom for France worth the lives lost? Apparently 'Level Gaze' doesn't think so, or at least so his argument would force him to say.

Why this bald assumption that no 'warbloggers' have any loved ones in the armed forces? I've mentioned my friend Diane, who certainly counts as a loved one. I try to keep this blog relatively impersonal, and very much object to having to write what I am about to write. But since he brings it up, I don't have any sons, daughters, nieces, or dogs. I do have six nephews. (I like to tell people that the Weevil family follows ancient Greek methods of family planning, but only as a joke.) There are armies in the world that would take the 16-year-old, the 13-year-old, and maybe even the 10-year-old, but the U.S. armed forces will not -- not this year, anyway. Of the older three, one has in fact tried to join the Marines in the last year. I only heard about it after he had been turned down, but I certainly had no objection. Why should I? If he had asked me, I would have told him, quite truly, that I thought it was a good idea. It's just too bad that the Marines can afford to be picky enough not to take this particular nephew. (None of your business why they didn't.) Maybe I should be urging him to try the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, but I'll leave that to his parents. He's never asked me for advice on employment, and I'm not so spectacularly successful myself.

The idea that the armed forces consist only of otherwise-unemployable lower-class losers and members of racial minorities is patronizing crap. My older brother is a successful engineer who spends his weekends on his boat (not the first one he's owned) and is certainly a solid member of the educated upper middle class. It is his youngest son who tried to join the Marines. (His second son is working on becoming a policeman, but needs more college credits. They're picky, too.) I think it is only the more liberal members of the upper middle class, New York Times editors and Ivy League professors and the like, who don't know anyone in the armed forces and can't imagine encouraging their children to join.

We're not the ones trying to convince the world that the inevitible deaths of innocent women and children, en route to removing Saddam Hussein from power, are necessary. We're not the ones who are providing inaccurate and/or incomplete justifications for doing so, to wit: that Iraq poses a threat to us (no proof so far); that Iraq supports terrorism (ditto); that Iraq intends harm to its neighbors (one more time); and that the Middle East would be better off after he's gone (not even the seeds of an inkling, see Afghanistan).

Note the complete lack of interest in the possibility (I consider it a probability) that even more innocent women and children will die if the war does not proceed. An honest man will try to count or at least estimate the costs of inaction as well as the costs of action. Inaction is not inherently virtuous if it allows people to die who could have been saved by action.

Now let us count the absurd assumptions:

Does Iraq pose a threat to us? What proof short of a nuclear explosion or epidemic clearly traceable to Iraqi laboratories would suffice? 'Level Gaze' does not say. It almost looks as if he is afraid to specify anything, for fear that such proof would surface. By being vague, he can keep 'moving the goalposts' whenever the Bush administration offers more.

Does Iraq support terrorism? Of course, for instance with substantial checks, handed over proudly to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers in full view of the press. What more evidence do we need? Does it not count as terrorism if it's aimed at Israelis? Many of those killed have been American citizens. Do they not count as Americans if they're Jewish and choose to live in Israel? It is absurd to say that there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein supports terrorism. And that's omitting Abu Nidal (is it just a coincidence that he chose to live in Bagdhad instead of the Bahamas or Monaco?), the Saddamite Kurds who terrorize the rest of Kurdistan, the likely connection to Mohammed Atta, just to name a few.

Does Iraq intend harm to its neighbors? They've only invaded three of them so far: Iran, Kuwait, and a brief and soon-repelled incursion into Saudi Arabia from Kuwait during the Gulf War. I don't believe their borders with Turkey, Syria, and Jordan have been entirely peaceful, either.

Would the Middle East be better off with Saddam Hussein gone? The reference to Afghanistan clearly implies that it is obvious that our intervention there has only made things worse. Though a popular line of argument, this is demonstrably false. Are things still quite bad by American standards? Obviously. Are they just as bad as they were before? Obviously not. I won't list all the little clues -- children openly flying kites, dervishes whirling free, movie theaters reopening, women learning to read, and dozens more -- since these could all be dismissed as anecdotal evidence. I will only mention one fact. Newspapers report that between 1,200,000 and 1,500,000 Afghan refugees have returned home since the fall of the Taliban, despite the uncleared mines, damaged infrastructure, chaotic politics, and the fact that the U.N. relief agencies have been urging them to stay put, since they don't feel that they can handle them. Such a massive flow of refugees tells us all we need to know. Just as the flight of the Vietnamese boat people in their hundreds of thousands refuted all the rosy predictions about communist rule in South Vietnam, so does the return of the Afghans to Afghanistan refute any glib statements about how things are getting worse there.

(Of course, it would be different if Pakistan had decided to expel the refugees, or if famine or disease had made Pakistan a much worse place to live than before. There have been no reports of anything like that, so it appears that the refugees are being 'pulled' by Afghanistan rather than 'pushed' by Pakistan. It is not that Pakistani refugee camps have has gotten worse, but that Afghanistan has either gotten better or looks as if it will very soon get better -- most likely some of each. At least the Afghans think so, and they ought to know.)

All in all, 'Level Gaze' seems to be quite skilled at averting his gaze from the evidence.

The administration is pushing this war with all of its might. It has access to reams and reams of intelligence costing billions of dollars. As yet, it has not seen fit to offer the world any substantiated rationale for an Iraq invasion. You don't have access to any of the government's putative secret "evidence" of the "threat" posed by Iraq. Absent proof, or even a consistent message from your leaders, you pound the drums of war. For what? Why? Because you like the sound?

Now I'm an irrational lover of drum sounds. (Personally, I prefer the sound of a steel guitar.) And the evidence offered so far has convinced most people who have been paying attention that war is necessary. The argument is very simple. We know Saddam Hussein is a vicious psychopathic thug. There is good reason to think that he is trying to acquire nuclear weapons and may be close to doing so. He has already tried to kill Bush Sr. and has good reason to hate the U.S. Q.E.D.

We ask the administration (and you) to reconsider, to wait for proof to be provided of the threat(s), and, when it's provided, to solicit assistance from other nations to help us clean up the inevitible mess that will follow an invasion.

Wow! The administration and me, lumped together almost like equals (though with me in parentheses). 'Level Gaze' has a seriously exaggerated idea of the importance of the Blogosphere. Again, what proof short of a mushroom cloud would suffice to convince him?

As for the mess that would follow, he shows no inkling of any recognition that war would allow us to clean up other and more serious messes: not only would the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons factories be shut down, but Saddam's torture chambers would be opened up and surviving prisoners released.

            You tell us to take a hike and stand in the path of our own army. Not only would we be slaughtered, but we would die as traitors. Obviously, that would be a stupid move, and you think yourselves pretty damned clever to paint us into that corner. And still you'd have risked nothing yourselves. Nice try.

He would only be slaughtered if (a) his attempt failed to avert war (more on this below), and (b) the U.S. armed forces failed in their usual attempt to avoid killing innocent bystanders. (A college T-shirt and loud American-accented shouting when the shooting starts would probably help.) As for treason, he would be saving (or attempting to save) his own country, which he claims to love, from making what he considers to be a horrible and savage mistake, if not a massive crime. That sounds rather patriotic to me, if he is sincere in thinking war such a thoroughly bad idea. If many of his fellow Americans would disagree and consider him a traitor, surely sacrificing his reputation for what is right is a choice any honorable man must take?

It's not as if Bush or Rumsfeld or Ashcroft has threatened to punish 'human shields' in any way. Ramsey Clark and Louis Farrakhan and Jesse Jackson have all gone to Iraq and back without being stopped or inconvenienced in any way, without even a threat of invocation of the Logan Act. What's to stop Philip Shropshire or David Yaseen from doing the same?

Of course, reading bilge like this does indeed make me feel "pretty damned clever", at least by comparison.

You, sir, are a hypocrite.

Good day.

I think the last two words prove once more that David Yaseen is a hypocrite. (And shouldn't that be 'Good night'? The timestamp on his post is 11:53 PM.)

So much for the ill-named 'Level Gaze'. To reiterate my main point, the difference between myself and Philip Shropshire (or 'Hesiod' or David Yaseen) is twofold:

1. As I have said before, I cannot join the armed forces, while he can join the human shields.

2. Perhaps more important, my joining the armed forces would have no effect whatsoever in making war more likely. It will go ahead with or without me, and would not be waged any more effectively if I could somehow (in an alternate universe) wangle a place in it. If I were fluent in Iraqi Arabic, or skilled in operating some crucial weapons system, the situation would be different. On the other hand, Philip Shropshire could have a significant effect in preventing war. It is perfectly clear that if 100,000 human shields went to Iraq and distributed themselves around anything that could possibly be on the list of bombing targets, the war would in all probability be canceled or seriously delayed.

Some people make more effective shields than others. Even 5,000 or 10,000 might well be enough, if they were predominantly Americans. Bush would get more bad press (and worse) if American bombs killed 10 Americans than if they killed 20 Frenchmen or 30 Belgians. (Women and children would also be more effective, but their use would also be shamefully immoral. I hope they are not being recruited as human shields.) Distinguished hostages would count for much more: Bush would hardly dare risk killing such eminent and distinguished persons as Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, or Ted Rall, just to give some random examples -- not to mention Louis, Jesse, and Ramsey. One dead celebrity might be explained as an unfortunate accident, but more than one would look very bad. (Perhaps I should say that by 'distinguished' and 'eminent' I do not mean to imply any real claim to these epithets, just conventional estimations such as Pulitzer prizes, distinguished chairs at major universities, book contracts with substantial royalties, and such.) A blogging hostage human shield would also be worth much more than some big silent doofus, particularly if he blogged first-person reports from the scene. Think of what Orwell could have done in Catalonia with a laptop and an internet connection! That would need Saddam's permission, of course, which might be a little dicey. But an anti-war blogger with guts could do some very interesting and useful work in preventing war or reporting on it, as the case may be. I estimate that each active and well-known blogger (like Philip Shropshire) or established celebrity (like Chomsky or Farrakhan) would make war something like 1% less likely, though each ordinary 'warm body' human shield would make war only about .01% less likely. Will enough of them enlist to stop the war? Probably not: the supply of people brave enough to risk their lives and stupid enough to risk them to keep Saddam Hussein in power is quite limited.

Of course, the problem is that the number of human shields needed to deter war is not entirely clear. Miscalculation could lead to death, maiming, or at best the humiliation of being rescued (and possibly arrested) by American and allied soldiers. So going would take some guts, and going first would take more, since no one would know whether enough would follow to make the plan work. Does Philip Shropshire or 'Hesiod' or David Yaseen have the guts to go? So far, all signs point to no. If they do not, they need to (a) shut the fuck up about 'chickenhawks', and (b) apologize for ever using the term. 'Hesiod' might also want to apologize for ever using the term 'Goebbels-esque' to refer to any contemporary blogger -- except, I suppose, Mark Konrad, who would no doubt take it as a compliment. Of course, I don't expect any of them to do so, but that is because they have already given considerable evidence of their moral character.

Finally, please note that I am not claiming that any of the chickenshitbloggers are less brave than myself, just asking them to stop saying that I am less brave than they, since their own actions -- or rather lack of action -- show that that is a lie. I have never claimed to be particularly brave. I wouldn't be sneering at 'Hesiod', Philip Shropshire, and the other WBWers if they weren't so fond of sneering at others. It is their insufferable pretension to moral superiority that rankles.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at September 24, 2002 07:00 PM

I enlisted. Of course that was during a time of "peace" and I joined the Air Force specifically because of my lack of desire to kill people and sip rum 'n cokes while the infantry went out and got shot up, but goldernit, they done stuck me in airlift and flew me all over the place so I could help those Special Few go around and kill people. Stupid Peace.

And now we have this here Iraq thing, again. If I were to oppose it on any grounds, it's that War means More Work and if there's anything we hate more than chickenshit rules, it's More Work.

Hesiod and his sort only use the military as a debating chip when it suits their rhetorical purposes. They hate us the rest of the time. Hell, he couldn't even contain his elitist tendencies with that smear about the poor. Yeah, I'm sure the poor on your list of priorities, pal. Though most of us weren't even born when Viet Nam ended, we are cognizent of the fact that while Viet Nam was raging, all those protesters were calling for the soldiers to come home, because they really cared about their welfare. Well, the soldiers came home and those same bastards spat on them and treated them like dogshit. Unlike a lot of people, the military has a long memory about those sorts of things.

Posted by: Paul on September 25, 2002 12:20 AM

My granddad was a Spanish War vet. My father, War II, along with numerous uncles and cousins, including one on the U.S.S. Yorktown, one on Guadalcanal, and one dead in southern France. My brother and I during Vietnam, luckily never ordered there, but available to BE ordered. My son knows it is the duty of all male citizens to serve. I have a study in black and white and gold that says, "Honorable Discharge." How many of Hesiod's family and acquaintances can say the same? There are those in our society whose duty is, "To stand on the walls and watch the night." There are people in our society, like Hesiod, who would spit on them.

"War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." ? John Stuart Mill.

Posted by: CGeib on September 25, 2002 04:00 AM

A notice on my boss's office wall:

"Arguing with an engineer is like mud-wrestling a pig--it doesn't do you any good, and eventually you realize the pig likes it"

He inherited the office and the notice from my previous boss.

Substitute WBW kiddies for engineer and that's the situation you're in.

Posted by: steevil (Dr Weevil's bro Steve) on September 25, 2002 08:02 AM

Hey! I resent being put in the same sentence as the WBW wet-hanky crowd.

Posted by: David Perron on September 25, 2002 10:49 AM

Why do people who's hearts bleed for the poor rarely step out of their new Audi's and do anything about it?

Posted by: reader on September 25, 2002 03:47 PM

This is truly a beautiful response. Well worth the wait, Weevil!

Posted by: Neal on September 25, 2002 08:26 PM

As a veteran with a son on a ship somewhere in the Indian Ocean - the only part of Dr Weevil's post I am dubious about is that we'd be all that reluctant to kill nitwits who deliberately put themselves in the line of fire. If certain prominent American nitwits would just stand near the targets, wouldn't the payoff from bombing be all the greater?

Posted by: markm on September 25, 2002 09:33 PM

How does the human shield thing work? Do they stand in a circle around Saddam's palaces/military bases? That doesn't sound appealing to peaceniks, and it won't stop bombing of all the military hardware in the middle of the circle of peace. Or, do they stand around anti-aircraft guns placed in civilian neighborhoods, wondering why Saddam has endangered civilians? If they refuse to shield military equipment, then they'll be in areas that we have no intention of bombing. We're not going for infrastructure this time. We're going for Saddam. And he's not going to want a bunch of unscreened foreigners near him. One of them might be a vengeful relative of one of his torture victims.

Posted by: Joanne Jacobs on September 25, 2002 11:31 PM

That was beautiful. One for the archives. Leave it to a man of the classics.

Posted by: Scott on September 26, 2002 03:52 AM

I think that your corespondent has a poor understanding of the definition of Treason under the U.S. Constitution.

Treason is one of the few crimes actually defined in the constitution and it has a very high barrier that must be crossed before charges can be brought.

Short of taking up arms or providing secret information to a declared enemy of the U.S. (with two witnesses) it is almost impossible to be charged with treason in the U.S.

Standing as a human shield between the U.S. military and the enemy target would not qualify as treason.

Posted by: CPatterson on September 26, 2002 05:54 PM

CPat, why isn't blocking US troops' line of fire and giving their enemies at least psychological support "giving aid and comfort to the enemy"? But voluntary human shields can't be tried for treason unless our men risk their livings taking them alive, and I certainly see no reason for that. Remember the Korean War? Our troops fired on civilian refugees because there were North Korean troops hidden among them, and when they had to blow a bridge before the N.K. tanks crossed, they blew it whether or not they had managed to chase the civilians off. And those refugees were NOT volunteers or supporters of our enemies. When it gets down to the wire, our troops will do what they have to...

Posted by: markm on September 26, 2002 10:00 PM

Why this bald assumption that no 'warbloggers' have any loved ones in the armed forces?

Huh. I suppose my brother, my husband, and a mutual close friend don't count. And that's even if I'm not called up again, though for some reason the Army isn't pulling back all the medical people. I wonder why that is.

But Paul is absolutely right: the Left is simply using the military for their own ends, occasionally even lying about military service to shove their elitist "virtues" on everyone else. Once that's done, they'll promptly start tearing into the people of the Armed Forces all over again like the two-faced loonies they are.

Posted by: The Iconoclast on September 29, 2002 05:35 PM

human shield

Posted by: suhel on December 26, 2002 08:36 AM