Making an example out of them

by Chris Bertram on January 14, 2004

Slate has a round-table entitled Liberal Hawks Reconsider the War with Jacob Weisberg, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, Christopher Hitchens, Fred Kaplan, George Packer, Kenneth M. Pollack, and Fareed Zakaria. It is definitely worth a look, though some of them are clearly smarter or more honest than others. Some of the reasons they advance for war are also better than others (with the human rights argument the strongest of all—whether conclusive or not). Thomas Friedman’s reasons, though, are indefensible, indeed criminal:

The real reason for this war—which was never stated—was to burst what I would call the “terrorism bubble,” which had built up during the 1990s. This bubble was a dangerous fantasy, believed by way too many people in the Middle East. This bubble said that it was OK to plow airplanes into the World Trade Center, commit suicide in Israeli pizza parlors, praise people who do these things as “martyrs,” and donate money to them through religious charities. This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was to go right into the heart of the Arab world and smash something—to let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society. Yes, I know, it’s not very diplomatic—it’s not in the rule book—but everyone in the neighborhood got the message: Henceforth, you will be held accountable. Why Iraq, not Saudi Arabia or Pakistan? Because we could—period. Sorry to be so blunt, but, as I also wrote before the war: Some things are true even if George Bush believes them.

If I read that paragraph correctly, Friedman is advocating that a state kill people (including innocent people) for demonstrative purposes. He thereby shows complete disregard for the humanity and individuality of those who have died. It is a peculiar way to demonstrate the impermissibility of the very acts he deplores.

{ 57 comments }

1

Nasi Lemak 01.14.04 at 3:52 pm

It shouldn’t go unmentioned that the Friedman argument fails even on its own consequentialist terms. I’m not absolutely sure what he means by “bubble”, but it seems to be the case that even the US government, in its colour-selecting mode, thinks that terrorist attacks on Western interests are at least as likely after the invasion of Iraq as they were before.

So Friedman can write what he does only after i) cutting himself off from humane concerns ii) cutting himself off from real experience & persuading himself that terrorism is now, at least temporarily, “solved”. This is journalism?

2

David Glynn 01.14.04 at 3:58 pm

Is it your contention that if Friedman’s stated reasons are the actual reasons the current administration used to justify the war in Iraq, then that would mean the war in Iraq was in fact an act of state sponsored terrorism by the United States?

3

gowingz 01.14.04 at 4:02 pm

I share in your opinion re: Friedman’s comments, but I must ask- What did you expect from a mind like his?

Aside from personal opinions of personal talents (mine of his or his of his own), you must realize that the state has been killing innocent people for “demonstrative purposes” for centuries… It’s called psychological warfare, and it’s something our military in the US has been studying (and doing) for much of the 20th century.

Vietnam provides several examples: Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia, Operation Rolling Thunder, the Phoenix Program (during which upwards of 20,000 Vietnamese civilians were “assassinated” by US SpFrcs and ARVN SpFrcs for allegedly- ALLEGEDLY- supporting the NLF and NVA)… In terms of US involvement in such atrocities, we can add El Salvador to the mix, and a host of other “low-intensity conflicts” over the past several decades as well… The killing of civilians to prove our “resolve,” while certainly not morally admirable and often not strategically advisable, is a rather common tactic used to frighten the “enemy” into surrender, essentially.

I mean- “shock and awe”- how many innocent (non-baathist, non-alqaeda,etc.) Iraqis died in the carpet bombing of Iraq in March and April (or the weekly bombings of the 1990s)? My guess is more than 5 or 6… And I would also suggest that wanton display of 21st century firepower produced a variety of psychological effects in a variety of Iraqis…

Regardless, in this latest chapter of great power politics and elite cronyism and profiteering run amok, we have to expect that opinions like Friedman’s will be aired and that these opinions will eventually be heeded by military planners on the “low-intensity” battlefield, unless of course every US soldier in Iraq learns fluent Arabic tomorrow, or we leave the country entirely the day after that…

So, while I don’t exactly want to defend Friedman, I have to say that his comments are a little underwhelmind in the “shock and awe” department, at least to me… This ought to be old news to us by now.

4

BigMacAttack 01.14.04 at 4:02 pm

Why is it criminal? Why is it immoral? Is support for the death penalty based solely on utilitarian considerations immoral? Criminal? Is there no set of circumstances that would make such behavior legal and/or moral?

Assume a valid legal reason exists for nation A to declare war on nation B.

Assume that the reason nation A declares war on nation B has nothing to do with that valid legal reason. Assume it is done merely to protect nation A by demonstrating the power of nation A. Assume it works and nation A is protected.

Was the declaration of war a criminal act? Was it immoral?

5

DJW 01.14.04 at 4:38 pm

If you’ve been reading TF’s NYT editorials (and you probably shouldn’t be), you’d see this is not uncommon for him. Basically, he’s become completely unglued since we went to war with Iraq. He used to have a breathtakingly simplistic and smug worldview, but it was consistent. Since he supported the war, he has presented about 20 different theories about the “real” reason for the war. This is among the worst, but not as silly has his editorial about how the war was fought to implement the Arab Human Development Report. Reading Friedman on Iraq now almost feels creepy and voyeuristic–like gawking at a traffic accident. His desperate search for a rationale that fits with his view of the world really ought not be a public affair. It’s pretty gruesome.

6

rea 01.14.04 at 4:48 pm

“Why is it criminal? Why is it immoral? Is support for the death penalty based solely on utilitarian considerations immoral? Criminal? Is there no set of circumstances that would make such behavior legal and/or moral?”

So, if I were to kill you to show your neighbors what a bad dude I am and how danggerous it is to mess with me, you would think that appropriate, I gather?

7

jdsm 01.14.04 at 4:50 pm

I have to agree with bigmacattack. The reasons he gives may be invalid but they are not immoral if you accept a utilitarian premise. He does show a “complete disregard for the humanity and individuality of those who have died” but is he necessary immoral to do so?

I feel that he is being attacked simply because he operates within a different although very plausible moral framework.

8

Spaceboy Spliff 01.14.04 at 5:07 pm

How is Friedman incorrect here? I didn’t support the war in Iraq, but I recognize that many Americans did. The question is, why did they support the war? WMD? Humanitarian reasons? To finish an imcomplete job? Nobody can really say…

… But I have quite a few friends (in my rural hometown) that supported the war. My friends may not be able to put their feelings into words, but if they did, I suspect their words would be similar to Friedman’s.

Americans have been silently watching the violence escalate in Israel/Palestine. It’s discomforting and upsetting, but acceptable as long as it isn’t happening over here (not my personal opinion BTW). After 9/11, many Americans were afraid that a new era of terrorism would land on US soil.

To avoid mass terrorism on US soil RIGHT NOW, most Americans supported the international tantrum that the Bush Administration had. In essence, we went over to the other kid’s sand box and took a crap in it after they took a crap in ours (in retaliation for crapping in their, et al).

Friedman’s quote may not be morally correct or justifiable, but when have Americans ever limited their options? The death penalty isn’t morally correct, or even morally justified, but it placates certain fears and desires… and it is basically the music that tames the savage beast. I’d like to change this ugly tune in our national juke box, but I’m smart enough to realize that all of the other rednecks in the bar are enjoying the song.

9

Ophelia Benson 01.14.04 at 5:09 pm

Yeah – as soon as I read the phrase ‘some of them are clearly smarter or more honest than others’ I thought ‘Than Thomas Friedman at any rate.’ I have never understood his reputation. He’s all bounce and assertion and embarrassingly bad slang & jokes & rhetoric & other forms of attempted charm, all in aid of simple-minded bilge (at best – I hadn’t realized he’d gone so thuggish).

10

BigMacAttack 01.14.04 at 5:19 pm

rea,

It all depends on the circumstances. Was I menacing you with what appeared to be a gun? Had I committed past criminal acts? Did I have warrants out for my arrest for violent crimes? Where others actually threatening your safety? Did you become safer after you killed me? Did others become safer after you killed me?

I think our view of the morality and legality of such brutal realpolitik behavior depends on how we see the world. The more we see the world as a vicious jungle the more such behavior becomes acceptable.

11

PJS 01.14.04 at 5:30 pm

Paul Berman’s response is, in some respects, even more appalling than Friedman’s, if only because, unlike Friedman, he is not a fool. Berman takes the “I just feel in my bones that Saddam’s Iraq is somehow connected to September 11th, not in the sense that it helped plan the attacks, or provided material support for them, but in some weird aesthetic/metaphysical sense.” This is a common sentiment among the most ardent supporters of the war – as opposed to the “Yes, there was a compelling human rights justification” crowd – and, frankly, it just baffles me.

It seems that two things are perhaps going on:

The first is just the weirdly racist idea that because Saddam’s Iraq had a lot in common with Osama Bin Laden’s team – Moslem, Arab-speaking, really hates the U.S. – it’s “close enough.” I call this the “Iceberg/Goldberg” rationale, after the old joke about blaming the Jews for the sinking of the Titanic.

The second possibility is that otherwise intelligent people were so affected by September 11th that they are no longer bothering to distinguish between subjective psychological connections and objective causal ones. The Iraq war feels an awful lot like it is connected to September 11th because it reflects a post-September 11th commitment to changing our approach to the world. But that is the wrong kind of connection. If I were to respond to the murder of my wife by dedicating myself to the cause of prison reform in Turkey, that wouldn’t mean that what killed my wife is the prison system in Turkey. When soldiers in Iraq carry pictures of the World Trade Center, that’s all that’s going on.

At any rate, these are terrifying times to be an American. Smart people are saying and believing insane things.

12

Ophelia Benson 01.14.04 at 5:56 pm

Apparently it’s common knowledge that Friedman is an idiot. Why is he such a pundit then? I don’t get it…

13

william junker 01.14.04 at 6:02 pm

Friedman does not say that the “real” reason we went to war was what he thought was the “right” reason. In fact, reading his entire response, he is at pains to set them apart. The following is his reason:

Therefore, the right reason for this war, as I argued before it started, was to oust Saddam’s regime and partner with the Iraqi people to try to implement the Arab Human Development report’s prescriptions in the heart of the Arab world. That report said the Arab world is falling off the globe because of a lack of freedom, women’s empowerment, and modern education. The right reason for this war was to partner with Arab moderates in a long-term strategy of dehumiliation and redignification.

14

Stu 01.14.04 at 6:03 pm

Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business. – Michael A. Ledeen

This goes back to the barely-concealed message on Totten’s blog a while back – immoral acts are justifiable if you think it’s in your best interest for survival. Sadly, 19 guys with boxcutters attacking America has turned the right-wing into a mob howling for Arab blood, and the number of growing arguments that justify atrocities like ethnic cleansing are worrisome.

15

BigMacAttack 01.14.04 at 6:36 pm

Stu,

The non strawman version is

Immoral acts are ok when they are committed in self defense of you, your family, and your nation. Immoral acts are ok when the alternative is genocide.

16

rea 01.14.04 at 6:45 pm

“It all depends on the circumstances. Was I menacing you with what appeared to be a gun? Had I committed past criminal acts? Did I have warrants out for my arrest for violent crimes? Where others actually threatening your safety? Did you become safer after you killed me? Did others become safer after you killed me?”

Good luck arguing all that to the jury when you are put on trial for murder, man. Sheesh, talk about your moral relativism! Here’s somebody actually arguing that it would be okay to kill your neighbor, under circumstances far removed from the legal defense of self-defense, if your neighbor is a bad person, and your other neighbors need deterring!

Perhaps we could have acheived the same effect for which Friedman and posters like bigmacattack argue, only much more cheaply, if we simply put 19 guys armed with boxcutters on Iraqi planes, and crashed them into Baghdad office buildings? That would surely “let everyone know that we, too, are ready to fight and die to preserve our open society.”

17

Chris Bertram 01.14.04 at 6:53 pm

Bigmacattack: No, absolutely not. There are limits to what one may legitimately do in self-defence and how far one may use innocent bystanders in such circumstances. So you may not, for example, grab an innocent child to shield yourself against a spear that is aimed at you. (An example from Mike Otsuka’s _Libertarianism Without Inequality_ .)

Even if I were to accept your “principle” (as I don’t), it is clearly false that the Iraq war qualified either as necessary for self-defence or to prevent genocide.

18

Luke Weiger 01.14.04 at 7:24 pm

I disagree with Friedman’s argument because I think it’s factually in error.

However, consider the following two hypotheticals:

1) To stop a group of mass killers, you blow most of them up along with X number of innocent civilians. (Many people would consider such an action to be justifiable in some cases.)

2) To stop a group of mass killers, you indiscriminately “smash something” (including, once again, X number of civilians) to send a message which would stop the mass killers from continuing to kill. Let’s assume that you knew in advance that the message would be heeded in the manner which you desired.

If 1) is acceptable in some cases, why is 2) unconditionally unacceptable?

19

Luke Weiger 01.14.04 at 7:27 pm

Oh: if the problem with 2) is that it “thereby shows complete disregard for the humanity and individuality of those who have died,” how does 1) show proper regard “for the humanity…”?

20

John Kozak 01.14.04 at 7:47 pm

bigmacattack: your “non-strawman” version works for ObL, too.

21

Sebastian Holsclaw 01.14.04 at 7:54 pm

I’m sorry, but when did Saddam’s Iraq become the ‘innocent child’ used as a shield against Islamist terrorists? Some analogies go a bit far.

Iraq was attacked after Afghanistan because it should have been the easiest attack to sell to the world (Saddam had defied the UN for 12 years, and had forced an attack on him which we should have finished in Gulf War I.) Saddam was additionally attacked because he had set himself up as THE symbol for Arab ability to fight the US and win. Furthermore, he supported terrorism in the region. Furthermore, he committed genocide of the killing variety (not just the broader dislocation variety). Furthermore, he had used banned weapons in a fairly recent war. Furthermore, he wasn’t fully cooperative with the UN even in late 2002 with US warships off his coast. There are probably a couple of other furthermore’s that I forgot. Basically he had a great confluence of factors which made him an excellent choice for removal. That confluence of factors wasn’t replicated anywhere else, including in the notoriously awful North Korean regime. Comparing him to an innocent bystander is both silly and takes an amazingly narrow view of the war. He was the perfect test case for UN resolve. And the institution failed.

22

ryan b 01.14.04 at 7:59 pm

“Immoral acts are ok when the alternative is genocide.”

I’d like to know how is is that this war is preventing genocide.

23

BigMacAttack 01.14.04 at 7:59 pm

Chris Bertram,

I wasn’t aware utilitarianism had been proven immoral.

24

BigMacAttack 01.14.04 at 8:06 pm

ryan b,

The genocide bit refers to stu’s Totten link and the Benny Morris interview. A really interesting interview.

25

Andrew Reeves 01.14.04 at 8:09 pm

The thing is, OBL agrees with Thomas Friedman. He specifically said in his CNN interview that he learned from Somalia that the U.S. lacks resolve and can thus be beaten with a single punishing blow. Now then, if bin Laden is telling the truth, and he came to the conclusion during the 1990’s that the United States lacked any kind of political will when it came to foreign policy, it stands to reason that the best way of discouraging such thinking in the future is for the United States to do something incredibly willful.

Now, though I can’t demonstrate such in terms of symbolic logic, I think that I can safely make the assertion that overthrowing an evil dictator is, in general, a positive development for most parties concerned. I’m sorry, but given that bin Laden himself has said the U.S. has shown itself to be weak, the best way to counter his beliefs is to show that such is not the case.

26

BP 01.14.04 at 8:11 pm

“Comparing [Saddam] to an innocent bystander is both silly and takes an amazingly narrow view of the war.”

Saddam isn’t dead, Mr Holsclaw. He’s not the “innocent bystander” who got shot. Lots of other Iraqis fit the bill, but not Saddam.

“He was the perfect test case for UN resolve. And the institution failed.”

Saddam has been removed from power, Mr. Holsclaw. Resolution 1441 has been enforced. The UN as an institution is therefore a success.

“Iraq was attacked after Afghanistan because it should have been the easiest attack to sell to the world.”

Marketing as the rationale for war. You are a fine moral man, Mr. Holsclaw.

27

ryan b 01.14.04 at 8:12 pm

bigmac,

you are premising endorsement of the war on that quote. So I say again: how is it true that our options were (1) an immoral war or (2) genocide?

28

BP 01.14.04 at 8:21 pm

Mr. Luke Weiger:

You forgot a third alternative hypothetical situation:

(3) In order to prevent al-Qaeda from destroying the Twin Towers, the US government charters a couple of Hercules transporters, fills them up with fuel, and rams them into the Twin Towers, thus pre-emptively thwarting ObL’s plans. Had the US government the foresight to do this in advance, it would certainly have made Mohammed Atta feel stupid as he stood in the airport lounge, boxcutters in hand.

29

BigMacAttack 01.14.04 at 8:31 pm

John Kozak,

Not necessarily, see I think the circumstances, the results, and goals are very important.

In an abstract vacuum I do not necessarily have a problem with what Bin Laden did.

The particulars. His odious goal. The likely effectiveness of his tactics. And so on are the reasons why I consider his actions immoral.

If I thought restoring some brutal primitive system was a worthy goal. If I thought the US was attacking and killing millions of Muslims. If I thought smashing a plane into the WTC would help stop those attacks and restore the Caliph well then I would have a very different view of the morality of the WTC attack.

30

Chris Bertram 01.14.04 at 8:33 pm

Sebastian Holsclaw: _please pay attention_ . My comment about using an innocent child in self-defence was _not_ about drawing an analogy between Iraq and an innocent child. It was about rejecting the proposition that any act, however immoral, is permissible in self-defence.

Having said that, I’d want to notice that Saddam’s Iraq did contain many innocent children (some of whom were killed in the recent war). Since I’m not a pacificist I’m prepared, however, to accept that innocent children will get killed in wars that it is right to prosecute. If, for example, the human rights argument for the war were conclusive, then I’d accept the killing of innocent children in such a war (I believe in the principle of double effect). What can’t be right, though, is to commit an act that involves the killing of innocents simply for the demonstration effect (as suggested by Friedman’s “real” reason for the war).

As for bigmacattack’s point about utilitarianism: counterexamples involving the killing of innocents which are compensated for by overall utility gains are, of course, part of the standard repertoire of objections to utilitarianism as a moral theory. But they don’t “refute” utilitarianism, since utilitarians can always choose to bite the bullet. I happen to think that utilitarians have a rather impoverished view of what morality is and a perverse and implausible view of what it requires. But if you want to insist on utilitarianism in the face of all any any demonstrations of its unpalatability then there’s not much I can say to you.

Oh. I can say this. Utilitarians at least have to tell a plausible story about how the actions contemplated are likely to lead to the desirable consequences. Neither you nor Thomas Friedman (whom I’m willing to bet isn’t a utilitarian anyway – at least not consistently) can do that.

31

BigMacAttack 01.14.04 at 8:38 pm

ryan b,

Really? What color am I thinking of? No I am not basing my support for the war(what war?) on that quote. Do I support the war? Please let me know what I think.

As I have already stated I was responding to stu’s comments regarding the Totten link and the Benny Morris interview.

32

Antoni Jaume 01.14.04 at 8:50 pm

The failures of the UN are most of the time due to the will of the USA.

DSW

33

Andrew Boucher 01.14.04 at 8:59 pm

“What can’t be right, though, is to commit an act that involves the killing of innocents simply for the demonstration effect (as suggested by Friedman’s “real” reason for the war).”

As someone already pointed out, Friedman makes a distinction between the “real” and the “right” reasons. But apparently that distinction is too subtle for many.

So Friedman is *not* “advocating that a state kill people … for demonstrative purposes.”

He would, however, I think the following. Suppose there are two countries, A and B. The “right” reason to attack applies in both cases. The “real” reason applies only to A. Then you are more right to attack A than B.

34

BigMacAttack 01.14.04 at 9:02 pm

Chris Bertram,

Nice response. I am not sure I am a utilitarian and I agree a plausible explanation is required.

But I do feel that in the abstract such a use of power could be plausible justified.

35

robin green 01.14.04 at 9:04 pm

Sebastian:

“Saddam was additionally attacked because he had set himself up as THE symbol for Arab ability to fight the US and win.”

Win?

Win?

What kind of alternate reality are you living in?

Name one time after the invasion of Kuwait (after Iraq very suddenly became not a US ally any more) when Iraq “won” against the US. Iraq the nation, that is, not Saddam the person.

“Furthermore, he supported terrorism in the region.”

Certain Saudi Arabian royals and Pakistan officials are believed to have been involved in funding the September 11 hijackers, but Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are apparently our allies. Certainly, irrespective of the truth of those particular allegations, funding terrorism was hardly unique to Saddam.

Removing terrorism funders from power must be a measured utilitarian response, and it can’t be a valid justification if more innocent people end up dead and maimed (several thousands, in fact) than were killed and maimed by the terrorists he supported in the first place. It wouldn’t be justified to carpet-bomb cities in the US where certain IRA funders reside, and it should no more be accepted as justification for the case of Iraq.

As for Saddam’s other commonly-cited crimes, the chemical gas attack at Halabja and the invasion of Kuwait, they were both committed with the US’s pre-approval (duplicitious pre-approval in the second case, of course). It is particularly perverse for the US to say that it is justified for them to kill thousands of innocents to get at one man (not the regime – they don’t mind the regime, see Milan Rai’s book “Regime Unchanged”) who they egged on, and who in the former case was their ally.

Our governments have funded terrorists, too. The US government employed ex-Nazi Klaus Barbie, who was wanted for war crimes in France, and who went on to commit more crimes against humanity in Bolivia.

If the US was actually interested in stopping terrorism in general, as opposed to certain terrorism directed at it and its interests, as Noam Chomsky points out, it would do two things: stop funding terrorism, and stop committing it. Of course, its actions are unlikely to reduce even attempts at terrorism directed against us in the long run, as many far-from-pinko-commie commentators have observed.

It would also pay more attention to real security (like it would have done a bit more than it did about security at nuke plants after 9/11) than PR-driven and porkbarrel-driven flaky security (e.g. facial recognition software that doesn’t work, or name matching software – gee, terrorists are going to use their real name, aren’t they?)

36

Chris Bertram 01.14.04 at 9:06 pm

Andrew, you are correct to say that Friedman refers both to the “right reason” and to the “real reason”. But I can’t read what he writes about the “real reason” without concluding that he also endorses that reason.

37

Luke Weiger 01.14.04 at 9:22 pm

Chris: you seem to grant that the human rights argument has some strength. Yet you haven’t explained why directly promoting human rights by ousting the violators from power (in part by killing troops and civilians) shows proper regard “for the humanity and individuality of those who have died” while indirectly promoting human rights by sending a message (in part by killing troops and civilians) that the violators of human rights would heed would show “complete disregard…”

38

Andrew Boucher 01.14.04 at 9:41 pm

Chris: It would seem the burden is on you to explain why. Specifically, do you think Friedman would endorse the “real” reason if there wasn’t also the “right” reason? And if so, why? Where does Friedman say or imply this?

39

rea 01.14.04 at 9:45 pm

“The thing is, OBL agrees with Thomas Friedman. He specifically said in his CNN interview that he learned from Somalia that the U.S. lacks resolve and can thus be beaten with a single punishing blow. Now then, if bin Laden is telling the truth, and he came to the conclusion during the 1990’s that the United States lacked any kind of political will when it came to foreign policy, it stands to reason that the best way of discouraging such thinking in the future is for the United States to do something incredibly willful.”

That’s it? Your justification for the war is that we had to impress a crazed mass murderer by being even crazier and killing more people?

Good thing your lot weren’t in charge when Hitler and Stalin were around . . .

40

Sebastian Holsclaw 01.14.04 at 9:55 pm

“What kind of alternate reality are you living in?

Name one time after the invasion of Kuwait (after Iraq very suddenly became not a US ally any more) when Iraq “won” against the US. Iraq the nation, that is, not Saddam the person”

It isn’t my alternate reality, it is the alternate reality of the huge number of Arabs who lionized Saddam over the past 10 years. Don’t shoot the messenger. But do accept the fact that Saddam got much of his fame from being able to successfully stand up to the US. The rest of your statement flows from that error, and your Chomsky catagory errors are just too much.

41

John Kozak 01.14.04 at 10:11 pm

bigmacattack: I think we can safely assume than ObL does see the world much as you suggest (he’d use different terms, of course). My point is that a moral (meta-)principle that can’t spot the fault in the 9/11 attacks isn’t much use, really. For example, there’s the issue of proportionality: as stated your principle allows me to cause megadeaths to avoid a broken leg.

42

Simon Kinahan 01.14.04 at 10:32 pm

So Friedman is saying that the answer to terrorism is, in fact, terrorism ? Marvelous.

43

Asymmetric Hack 01.14.04 at 11:09 pm

It should not go unmentioned that Friedman is a blabbering hack who changes his “real” reasons for supporting the war like most people change underwear.

44

Don Meaker 01.15.04 at 6:51 am

War is killing people and breaking things until your opponent gives up. That you are shocked and saddened does not change the nature of war.

Because War is terrible, there are rules put in place to protect noncombatants. These rules are routinely disregarded by the Palestinian Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists, by the bin-Ladin terrorists, by Abu Nidal who found haven in Baghdad, and by the Fedayeen of Saddam Hussein. That makes War more terrible, but it is those who break the Hague and Geneva Convention who bear that responsibility. Such people are not impressed by kindness and humanity.

45

Chris Bertram 01.15.04 at 8:30 am

Don Meaker: I’m not sure I understand what you are saying. But since Friedman’s “real reason” is a breach of the laws of war, I take it that you are condemning acting in that way.

Andrew Boucher: Friedman refers to two kinds of reason but doesn’t explain the distinction between them clearly and doesn’t condemn the “real” reason as being misguided. The plain reading of the paragraph in question suggests endorsement. Most competent users of English will, I think, take that message from the paragraph. Only someone determined to put a positive construction on Friedman’s outpourings would read it differently.

Luke Weiger: If terrorists take some hostages and are torturing some and killing others and we burst in, knowing that we are likely to kill some but save others, then I think we show appropriate regard for the humanity even of those we kill. If we try to impress the hostage-takers of our willingness to act by killing an innocent civilian in front of them (thereby sending a message) we clearly treat that person as a means only and show no regard to their human dignity.

46

Andrew Boucher 01.15.04 at 12:12 pm

“Most competent users of English will, I think, take that message from the paragraph. Only someone determined to put a positive construction on Friedman’s outpourings would read it differently.”

Of course you can turn this around and make the exact opposite declaration: that only someone determined to put a negative construction etc. I don’t know what your over-all position on Iraq is; but perhaps you should ask yourself, do you have personal biases on Iraq which might tend towards an unbiased reading ? A little self-reflexivity could go a long way.

Anyway, I guess we’re condemned to conduct a poll to determine what “competent users” would say. I’m not about to conduct one, so I’ll leave it here.

47

Dr Zen 01.15.04 at 12:32 pm

Simon Kinahan says:
“So Friedman is saying that the answer to terrorism is, in fact, terrorism ? Marvelous.

What would be wrong with saying that though? The answer to war perpetrated by the Nazis was war.

Chris said:
“…Friedman is advocating that a state kill people (including innocent people) for demonstrative purposes. “

As states often do. Most of the population of Hiroshima was “innocent” by any measure.

If it were true that the “terrorists” were agents of the states in question, encouraged, supported and funded by the states in question, Friedman would be saying nothing different from those who advocated bombing German cities in WWII. States *do* answer war with war – it’s definitive of them that they do.

Chris says:
“It is a peculiar way to demonstrate the impermissibility of the very acts he deplores.”

This ignores that he deplores them because they are perpetrated against us, not because they are wrong in some abstract sense.

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Chris Bertram 01.15.04 at 1:37 pm

Dr Zen. Since I do in fact think that the bombing of Hiroshima was unjustified and that some of the bombing of German cities was too (Dresden in 1945 for example), your examples don’t worry me (though they might worry others). I’d like to be able to point you to an online version of John Rawls’s essay “Fifty Years after Hiroshima” but there isn’t one. It can be found in his _Collected Papers_ .

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Dr Zen 01.15.04 at 4:17 pm

Yes, I think my point was not that I thought Friedman was right to suggest it, but that he was by no means alone. It’s often true that states ignore the individuality of those who have died by their actions, but the state is usually broadly supported in doing it. So I think my suggestion there was that Friedman ought not to be harshly treated for his view, since he is simply parrotting a commonplace.

What was more interesting was your last sentence. You surely wouldn’t expect him to be Kantian about it? He’d reply to you that he is much more permissive with his own people than with others. He might even claim that more should be permitted for those fighting for a “free and open society” or whatever he calls it exactly.

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DJW 01.15.04 at 5:31 pm

dr zen:

So I think my suggestion there was that Friedman ought not to be harshly treated for his view, since he is simply parrotting a commonplace.

If you are correct and this is a commonly held view (I don’t really think it is, thank God), then it becomes all the more important to point out just how appalling it is. People who casually tolerate war crimes and massive deaths because they are really angry and a little bit racist don’t deserve complacency. I don’t know the names of all the fallacies, but suggesting that widely held views should be treated with kid gloves because they’re widely held must be one of them.

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Luke Weiger 01.15.04 at 6:09 pm

“Luke Weiger: If terrorists take some hostages and are torturing some and killing others and we burst in, knowing that we are likely to kill some but save others, then I think we show appropriate regard for the humanity even of those we kill. If we try to impress the hostage-takers of our willingness to act by killing an innocent civilian in front of them (thereby sending a message) we clearly treat that person as a means only and show no regard to their human dignity.”

Maybe. It might be hard to argue that you’re treating the civilian(s) you’re sure to kill in the first hypothetical as tools (or “mere” means)–at the moment, I certainly can’t see how such an argument would go.

However, I think it might be interesting to take a rational contractor approach. Suppose that you’re faced with the following dilemma behind the Rawlsian veil: you know that you’ll be one of the hostages. The police have two options. They can directly assault the hostage takers, in which case they’ll end up killing some of the hostages as well. Let’s suppose you know your odds of dying would be 1/20 if the police use this strategy. Or the police can somehow nab a single hostage (without harming anyone else), proceed to kill him, and successfully send a message to the hostage keepers that will induce them to release the hostages. Let’s suppose you know your odds of dying would be 1/100 if the police use this strategy. What strategy would you want the police to use?

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wtb 01.15.04 at 6:54 pm

“Apparently it’s common knowledge that Friedman is an idiot. Why is he such a pundit then? I don’t get it…”

What we would talk about if we didn’t have common knowledge?

I thought it was common knowledge that Friedman is a pundit because, whatever your opinion of his intellectual abilities, he has influence as a policy maker. Although he can’t claim status as a shadow statesman, he, more than other pundits, sees his punditry influence policy. People with real power and reponsibilty respect his judgment. When he’s talking about policy that he’s helped to shape, he knows what he’s talking about.

It’s easy to underestimate Friedman’s intelligence if you hold him to the standard of elegance in prose style. He’s not trying to impress the literati; he’s trying to communicate to the general reader (and voter). As a public librarian, I know the general reader and let me assure you, Friedman knows what he’s doing. I guess that makes him stupid in the same way Bush is stupid.

What I don’t understand is how anyone could fault the intelligence of what Friedman has said about the Middle East since September 11, and this in particular. I’ve been reading him regularly since then and have found him moderate, cautious, humane and nonpartisan in his views. Above, he’s been right. He’s called them better than anyone else.

As for the alleged “criminality” of Friedman’s view of the Iraqi war: if I read that paragraph correctly Friedman said that the US invaded Iraq in order to defend itself. Although Friedman’s on record as supporting the US invasion, nothing in this paragraph can be used to warrant the assertion that he’s endorsing an abstract maxim that it’s permissible for “a state kill people (including innocent people) for demonstrative purposes.” Indeed, there’s a noticeable lack of abstract or general thought in anything that Friedman writes.

That’s not a condemnation. Friedman doesn’t claim moral or intellectual authority. But, in my opinion, he can tell you how people and societies respond to events. Far from “cutting himself off from real experience” as the first post in this thread claims, he’s immersed in experience. In fact, as I mentioned before, he has some small part in shaping people’s experiences in the Middle East.

However, even if in this paragraph Friedman were endorsing either the Iraqi war or an abstract principle of statecraft, it’s hard to see why “it is a peculiar way to demonstrate the impermissibility of the very acts he deplores.” The acts he deplores are violence against innnocent human beings. If you are going to prevent this, violence is sometimes the only option. When that’s the case, isn’t refraining from violence showing greater “disregard for the humanity and individuality of those who have died” than taking action and perhaps killing innocent people?

Can you philosophers and political scientists out there please get to work on some real problems? They call us moral agents because we act and, we hope, are moral. So give us some options that work. Trying to find a moral posture which allows you to remain both inactive and an inviolable, pristine moral being doesn’t help our boys in blue.

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Chris Bertram 01.15.04 at 8:54 pm

wtb: clearly we are reading different articles: “smash[ing] something – to let everyone know …” is not about self-defence, but about sending a message.

I must say I don’t much appreciate the final thought: “Trying to find a moral posture which allows you to remain both inactive and an inviolable, pristine moral being doesn’t help our boys in blue.” The fact is that John Rawls, whose paper on Hiroshima I mentioned above, was a footsoldier in the Pacific War. The Hiroshima bomb almost certainly increased his own chances of surviving the war, yet he thought it unjustified. It isn’t at all a matter of a narcissistic concern with one’s one moral purity: rather one of approaching questions of war and peace and the conduct of war with the moral seriousness they demand, rather than helping oneself lazily to mantras of “self defence” and “anything goes”.

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Dr Zen 01.15.04 at 9:02 pm

In response to:
“So I think my suggestion there was that Friedman ought not to be harshly treated for his view, since he is simply parrotting a commonplace.”

djw said:
“If you are correct and this is a commonly held view (I don’t really think it is, thank God), then it becomes all the more important to point out just how appalling it is.”

There were no mass demonstrations against Hiroshima.

I really do think it’s a common view that demonstrative murder of civilians in other countries is more or less okay. “We need to strike back,” was the cry, I recall. That boiled down to “We want to see someone die”.

It’s not a question whether it’s appalling. It’s *what* is appalling that is in question here.

Is it appalling to want to defend your own?
Is it appalling that civilians should die in a war?
Is it appalling to compel others to do your will?

None of these are as straightforward to answer as they seem. They’re all contingent. I wonder whether you could find scenarios in which you’d be able to answer “No, it isn’t” to all three.

For Friedman, the scenario begins and ends with his own nation’s being the one doing the defending, killing and coercing. I do think it’s a common view that one’s own nation need not meet the standards one believes others ought to. I might not agree with it myself, but my agreement or otherwise doesn’t change others’ feeling about it.

“People who casually tolerate war crimes and massive deaths because they are really angry and a little bit racist don’t deserve complacency.”

We are not talking about “war crimes”. We are talking about what Friedman considers legitimate acts of war – an opinion of them he shares with most people. There’s no suggestion of anger in what he says. I’m not sure that it’s necessarily racist to be the kind of patriot Friedman appears here. Ignorant, sure. Racist? It’s an easy word to bandy around.

“I don’t know the names of all the fallacies, but suggesting that widely held views should be treated with kid gloves because they’re widely held must be one of them.”

Yes, and so too, I should think, is making out a guy is some kind of screeching nutter when all he does is repeat the widely held view with butter on.

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wtb 01.15.04 at 10:55 pm

Chris, you wrote: “It isn’t at all a matter of a narcissistic concern with one’s one moral purity: rather one of approaching questions of war and peace and the conduct of war with the moral seriousness they demand, rather than helping oneself lazily to mantras of “self defence” and “anything goes”.”

But what about those cases in which killing innocents is a matter of self defence? My point is that much dicussion of morality in wartime avoids the seriousness you call for. Yes, it’s all too easy to take moral short cuts under the guise of “self defense”. But it’s also easy to avoid action under the guise of sticking to the moral high road. Both are equally serious evasions of responsibility.

I’m willing to accept that Rawls was deeply serious in his opposition to the Hiroshima bomb. But what if John Rawls and Harry Truman had switched places in 1945? How easy would it have been for Rawls to oppose using the Hiroshima bomb if it were not merely a matter of being willing to accept grave personal danger, but of calling upon others to accept personal danger from an enemy whom they did not choose to fight?

Rawls’ position may be an admirable example of personal integrity, but it doesn’t provide much help to those who are charged with responsibility for those, such as children, who are incapable of appreciating or accepting the consequences of such a position.

In any case, when discussing the morality of self defense, why only Rawls? Why not the example of one, like Truman, who struggles with the morally distasteful necessity of killing innocents in order to protect other innocents? I can’t help but think we prefer Rawls because we can more easily imagine ourselves as Rawls. After all, in war time most of us are more likely to be the drones than the queens. More importantly, it simply makes us feel better to imagine ourselves as Rawls than as Truman.

“clearly we are reading different articles: “smash[ing] something – to let everyone know …” is not about self-defence, but about sending a message.” We’re not reading different articles but we’re certainly reading the same article differently. The smashing and message sending IS the self defense. Male gorillas do the same thing. In order to avoid a more serious confrontation, they beat their breast to signal that they will defend themselves if rival gorillas come any closer. They order these matters better in Gorilla land. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of beating our breast.

It’s debatable if America’s Iraq strategy is a strategically effective self defence. It’s also debatable if it’s morally acceptable. But I accept that it is in fact a self defence. That’s where we differ in our reading of Friedman’s article, I think.

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Antoni Jaume 01.15.04 at 11:13 pm

//
It’s not a question whether it’s appalling. It’s what is appalling that is in question here.

Is it appalling to want to defend your own?
Is it appalling that civilians should die in a war?
Is it appalling to compel others to do your will?

None of these are as straightforward to answer as they seem. They’re all contingent. I wonder whether you could find scenarios in which you’d be able to answer “No, it isn’t” to all three.
//

I’m not sure to understand what you are saying. I think that except for the first the answer must be “yes”.

As to the opinion on war crimes, the defendant is never to be trusted. And less allowed to define what is a crime.

DSW

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Jeremy Osner 01.16.04 at 6:56 pm

As a data point regarding whether “it’s ok to wage war to send a deterrent signal” is a commonly held view I can offer the following anecdote: a few weeks after Sept. 11, 2001 we drove from New York City to Great Neck to celebrate Rosh Hashana with my brother-in-law’s family. One of the guests argued quite vociferously that the US should have retaliated against Afghanistan in the days immediately following the attack. She made it quite explicit that she wanted to see the country and people of Afghanistan laid waste.

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