War Is Hell


Cynthia Cotts of The Village Voice has written a roundup of "some of the most unflinching stories" of the war, by which she means stories in the western press that do not show western behavior in a kind light. Some of these tales fall into a moral gray zone: I'd like to learn a bit more about those cash seizures, for example, before passing judgement. Others, like the use of cluster bombs, are unquestionably outrageous.

The other side, meanwhile, has committed outrages of its own.


NEXT: Toppling Saddam

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  1. Usually around 1 for 7. Babies are cute but they can’t handle an assault rifle for shit.

  2. It’s not news that civilians die, and die horribly, in war. But is anyone seriously going to argue, especially after today’s TV images, that the people of Iraq were better off before the war?

    As for cluster bombs, I’d be very surprised if the US had no plans for cleaning up unexploded bombs after this war. Why don’t we wait and see what happens?

  3. “It’s not news that civilians die, and die horribly, in war. But is anyone seriously going to argue, especially after today’s TV images, that the people of Iraq were better off before the war?”

    The dead ones were…

  4. “But is anyone seriously going to argue, especially after today’s TV images, that the people of Iraq were better off before the war?”

    Before the war, were 10,000-30,000? people dying violently every week?

    But the important comparison isn’t between last week and 12 weeks ago, or even 12 weeks ago vs today. The important question is, “Will the Iraqi people be better off in a year than they were a year ago?” I dunno. The new gov’t doesn’t just have to be better than Saddam – it has to be so much better that the many, many thousands of deaths were worth it. That’s a tall order. If they get American/Euro/Japanese/Israeli style democracy, the country holds together, and domestic terror isn’t too overwhelming, then it probably will be worth it. If they get a strongman of the sort we used to install in Latin America, or if their country descends into anarchy or civil war, of if active terrorist groups are a constant presence, then they probably won’t be better off than they were before the war.

    Cluster munitions aren’t necessarily evil, as long as 1) they aren’t used anywhere near civilians, and 2) those using them clean up their mess.

  5. “Before the war, were 10,000-30,000? people dying violently every week?”

    I think you need to give a source for these figures. Otherwise your argument is a bit thin.

  6. I think it was Holmes who remarked that beliefs are forecast of the future that we have to act upon with uncertainty today. Or something along those lines. Its something I think a lot people have a hard time accepting.

  7. I don’t think cluster bombs per se are illegal or a problem when used correctly and when they work as expected. It’s that they are sometimes defective, and the submunitions don’t all go off, becoming land mines. See Human Rights Watch’s site and search at command-post.org

  8. Regarding Fisk’s shrapnel, there’s no proof that it came from that particular strike. He does however, have a serial number; search at CP for links to discussions. VV could actually do some good by investigating that serial number.

    BBC’s Gilligan thinks the Iraqis might have bombed AJ.

    ‘shooting suspects’: several Coalition soldiers were killed by suicide bombers, including a pregnant woman.

  9. Oh, and is this the best they can come up with? I thought the U.S. was supposed to go over to Iraq to commit genocide against People of Color, or something.

  10. My casualty figures are a wild ass guess, as I hoped to convey via the question mark and broad range. We’ll know soon.

    How about “Were several thousand (possibly many thousands of) people dying every week?”

  11. My casualty figures are a wild ass guess, as I hoped to convey via the question mark and broad range. We’ll know soon.

    How about “Were several thousand (possibly many thousands of) people dying every week?”

    According to the CIA’s factbook, Iraq is a country of 22 million people with a death rate of 6.56 per thousand. Some quick math tells us that this means that roughly 146,000 people will drop dead annually under normal conditions, roughly 3,000 per week. Let’s assume that 30,000 civilians die. In prospective, that raises the mortality rate less than 2%, to around 8 people per thousand, lower than Italy, France, or the U.S. I think a percent and change increase in mortality rate isn’t that high a price for freedom, as long as I’m not on the short end of that stat.

  12. junyo,

    September 11 caused our mortality rate to rise far less than 1%. I guess that was no big deal either.

  13. >How about “Were several thousand (possibly many thousands of) people dying every week?”

    OK. I won’t argue about that actual number of civilian casualties, since we just don’t know. But no, probably not several thousand a week. But it would have gone on indefinitely under Hussein, had been going on for decades. The war, on the other hand, is a matter of weeks, or months. So do you prefer the pain of surgery to cut out the tumor, or slow death by cancer?

    There is much reason to hope that Hussein’s degree of brutality is a thing of the past. Sure, Iraq won’t be Honolulu anytime soon. But it’s a huge improvement for them, painful though the transition has been and will be.

  14. Dammit, Jesse stole my line. How can you say you won if you’re drinking Pabst?

  15. You put it better than I did, Russ.

  16. Um, Jesse, just what’s wrong with cluster bombs? Aside from the fact that they kill people? That is, there are quite a few things the Army uses that kills people; why single this one out? Is it the ‘unexploded bomblets’ that you object to? Just wondering.

    Also, any story that references Fisk as a reliable source loses a lot of credibility right there. It’s not for nothing that the term “fisking” has been defined as vigorously critiquing a badly-written, biased, unfactual article.

  17. Jaysus, what a bunch of namby-pamby crybaby limp-wristed sore losers.

    This ain’t the time for post-mortems on “alleged” atrocies. It’s time to climb on top of your car in the middle of a busy intersection, crank up Queen’s “We Will Iraq You!” and violently flip-off every hippie in sight.

    Those poor bastards can have their candlelight vigils. I’m going to crack open a Blue Ribbon.

  18. In the good old days, people were killed with painless weapons that left no disfiguring marks. Their deaths were meaningful and significant, their lives fulfilled and complete.

    There was litle bit of blood, maybe a trickle from the mouth (easily wiped away by those attending), and you knew they were dead because they sighed and closed their eyes.

    Not like those nasty cluster bombs and such like…

  19. Casey: They’re wrong for the same reason leaving land mines in a public park is wrong. Lots of weapons kill people, but some are especially likely to kill civilians.

    As for Fisk, his stories listed here were corroborated by other sources, as Cotts points out. He does get stuff wrong, sometimes grossly so — but then again, so do most of the people who use the word “Fisking” with a straight face.

    Sven: You have bad taste in beer.

  20. What’s outrageous about the use of cluster munitions? You want to kill a massed group of darn near anything and cluster munitions are highly effective. Maybe not the absolute best choice for dropping in the middle of a neighborhood, but an absolute gem for cratering runways or decimating an enemy formation. Robert Fisk doesn’t think their use is justified? Well that just decides it then doesn’t it?

    Most of the instances in the articles seem oddly removed from context, seemingly designed to generate controversy without actually examining whether there might be a reason for the given action. For example, the “Killing babies” section could’ve just as easily focused on all of the 11 civilians killed (10 of whom presumably were not infants), and examined whether they were in the line of fire through their own actions, someone else’s or carelessness on the part of whoever authored, authorized or carried out the attack (in which case it is outrageous, and a newsworthy story). They could have focused on the fact that two thirds of those killed were apparently not civilians (i.e. were combatants, soldiers, legitimate targets) and asked if that was an acceptable kill ratio. But instead they go right for the emotional jugular. Propaganda raised to an art form.

  21. Just out of curiosity, Junyo, what is the acceptable soldier-to-baby kill ratio?

  22. Todd, your post assumes that everything will be hunky-dory from here on out. As I said in my original post, the worthwhileness of this war will be judged (from a purely pragmatic perspective) on the conditions the Iraqi people actually live under now that the war is over.

    Is Saddam’s secret police killed 300 people per week, and the new strongman’s secret police kill 150 per week, would that make 20,000 casualties acceptable? 5000? 100,000?

  23. joe,

    The emotive triumphalism you appear to be bitching about is the neccessary after-effect of victory in war. Everyone gets on the bandwagon and praises the doings of the mighty leader, etc. What happens in the peace is after-thought for most of these folks. You just have to live with it.

  24. joe, nothing I said matches “hunky dory”. Your belief that thge future could be worse then what they have already lived through is bizarre, and seems a bit desperate to me.

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