The case for war

by John Q on November 27, 2004

Norman Geras presents a central part of the argument for war, arguing that war can be justified even when it is predictable in advance that it will do more harm than good, and that even aggressors aren’t fully responsible for the consequences of the wars they start. Here’s the crucial bit

in sum, those in the anti-war camp often argue as if there wasn’t actually a war going on – the real conflict on the ground being displaced in their minds by the argument between themselves and supporters of the war. Everything is the fault of those who took the US and its allies into that war and, secondarily, those who supported or justified this.

Except it isn’t. As I said in the earlier post, the war has two sides. One counter-argument here is likely to be that those who initiate an unjust war are responsible for everything they unleash. But first, this begs the question. Much of the case for the war’s being unjust was that it would have bad consequences. Yet, many of those bad consequences are the responsibility of forces prosecuting a manifestly unjust war – in both its objectives and its methods – on the other side. Secondly, it’s simple casuistry in assessing the responsibilities of two sides in a military conflict to load everything on to one of the sides – even where the blame for having begun an unjust and aggressive war is uncontroversial. Were the Japanese themselves responsible for the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Adolf Hitler was responsible for many terrible crimes during the Second World War. But the fire bombing of Dresden? This is all-or-nothing thinking.

To respond, I’ll begin by asking a question. Suppose those of us on the Left who opposed the Iraq war had prevailed. To what extent, if any, would we have been responsible for the crimes that Saddam would undoubtedly have committed while he remained in power?

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Murder in Baghdad

by Chris Bertram on November 27, 2004

Not only is “child malnutrion”: soaring in Iraq, but so are deaths from crime. “The Times reports”:,,7374-1376189,00.html that in Baghdad alone more that 700 people are killed every month:

bq. Shot, stabbed, blown up,burnt: the bodies of Iraqis killed in Baghdad lie piled in overcrowded refrigerators at the city’s central mortuary, their ever-increasing number overwhelming both staff and storage space in a wave that marks the city’s descent into a Hobbesian world of crime and brutality.

bq. “Our morgue was designed to cope with between five and ten bodies a day,” explained Kais Hassan, the harrassed statistician whose job it is to record the capital’s suspicious deaths. He gestured into the open door of a refrigeration unit at the stomach-turning sight of tangled corpses inside, male and female, shaded with the brown and green hues of death. “Now we’re getting 20 to 30 in here a day. It’s a disaster.”

To be fair, the article also reports that the hospital staff cannot agree on whether on not the situation is worse than under Saddam, since they remember the Baathists dumping large numbers of unclaimed bodies at the morgue. No doubt there’ll be blog commentary to the effect that (a) the crime-related death figures are invented by anti-war ideologues and (b) the Coalition can in no way be held responsible for deaths from crime. (via “Juan Cole”: )

Top books

by Eszter Hargittai on November 27, 2004

Since people on CT seem to enjoy book lists (of ones not read, favorites, ones every educated person should read, ones lesser-known) I thought I’d post a link to the OCLC Top 1000 list.

OCLC Research has compiled a list of the top 1000 titles owned by member libraries—the intellectual works that have been judged to be worth owning by the “purchase vote” of libraries around the globe.

The complete list page has links to top lists by genre. The site also features a page with fun facts about the list plus pointers to other top book lists.

Hat tip: Neat New Stuff.