July 30, 2007

Baghdad Raid Night

By Michael J. Totten

Raid Night Pat Down.JPG

BAGHDAD – “We want to use you as bait,” Sergeant Eduardo Ojeda from Los Angeles, California, told me before I embedded with his unit on what was shaping up to be a night raid.

“Excellent,” I said. “That’s why I’m here.”

This is what passes for black Army humor in Baghdad.

“Our TST [time-sensitive target] blew up a vehicle and killed four soldiers and an interpreter in the next AO [area of operations],” he said. “He’s somewhere in our AO now.”

He could tell by the frozen and dubious look on my face that I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on the mission.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “These guys hardly ever fight back when we nail them. And they always lose when they do. Come on. Let’s go f*ck ‘em up.”

I donned my body armor and helmet, strapped my Nikon around my neck, and jumped in the back of one of the Humvees.

“I need your full name and blood type,” said First Sergeant Ray Fisher, from Keokuk, Iowa. “In case something happens.”

Everywhere in Baghdad is dangerous – even the Green Zone – but danger is relative. Not every place in the Red Zone is the same shade of crimson. The 82nd Airborne company I embedded with hasn’t suffered a single casualty since they arrived in Iraq in January even though they patrol their part of the city – the neighborhood of Graya’at, just north of the Adhamiyah wall – 24 hours a day. I comforted myself with the idea that if I’m the first to be shot here, God apparently hates me.

“Stay close to me,” said Sergeant Ojeda as he plugged his mouth with tobacco. “In the dark just look for the short guy. And call me Eddie.”

The military intelligence officers at Coalition Outpost War Eagle knew the target was somewhere in their area, but they didn’t know precisely where or for how long. My unit’s job was to go out and patrol the neighborhood known as Tunis until they could pinpoint his exact location.

We drove in the dark. The soldiers used night vision goggles. I had to rely on my eyes.

“How long are you in Iraq, sir?” Sergeant Fisher asked me.

“As long as I feel like it,” I said. “A month and a half maybe.”

“You’re lucky, sir” he said. “We’re here for 18. I just got back from leave and missed the birth of my baby boy by two days. At least I got to see him.”

“You don’t have to call me sir,” I said.

“Ok, sir,” he said and laughed.

“What’s the situation in Tunis?” I said.

“It’s not too bad anymore,” said Lieutenant Evan Wolf from Omaha, Nebraska. “It’s a rich neighborhood. Lots of educated and cultured people live there, doctors and lawyers, people like that. It was infested with Al Qaeda a while ago, so the neighborhood formed a protectionist militia. They set up road blocks, gates around the mosque, and they drove Al Qaeda out. But now the militia harasses and extorts the residents. They follow us from house to house and intimidate whoever we talk to.”

Our convoy of Humvees crossed an overpass above the Iraqi equivalent of an Interstate freeway and stopped on a dark road among trees just outside the neighborhood. Half the soldiers dismounted the vehicles and set out to patrol the streets on foot. The other half stayed with the Humvees.

“How long will we be out?” I said to Eddy.

“Could be a while,” he said and plugged his mouth with more smokeless tobacco. “Last time we had a raid night we were we out for more than twelve hours.” He spit on the sidewalk. “We chased a guy from house to house to house. Didn’t catch him that night, but he was caught somewhere else three days later.”

I could barely see anything, but the soldiers could see everything. It was next to impossible to tell who was who in the dark.

Sillouette Raid Night.jpg

Eddy was obvious, though. He was the short guy. He told me to stay next to him, so I did.

“This country would be beautiful if it were not for the invention of the plastic bag,” somebody said. “That bag is everywhere – in the trees, stuck in barbed wire, on the sidewalks, crammed in every corner. Man, when this war is over I’m coming back to open a recycling factory. I’ll be raking it in.”

The area did appear to be nice, billowing plastic bags notwithstanding. Every house was considerably larger than the average American home and seemed to be well-maintained. I wouldn’t mind living in a neighborhood like it myself if it weren’t in Iraq.

“I suppose I shouldn’t smoke,” I said to Eddy.

“You got that right,” Eddy said. “Snipers wearing night vision can see the tip of your cigarette from a mile away. They’ll watch as you lift the cigarette to your mouth and figure out where your head is. Then BLAMMO. They’re really good shots.”

I kept the cigarettes in my pocket.

“We’re being followed,” said Sergeant Fisher.

Eddy, the rest of the soldiers, and I turned around.

“Four of ‘em,” Eddy said.

I couldn’t see anyone but the soldiers standing right next to me without night vision goggles.

“Where are they?” I said.

“In the shadows two blocks behind us,” Eddy said. “There weren’t there a minute ago.”

Curfew enforcement in Tunis was total. In some areas of Baghdad only military aged males driving cars are stopped by Army patrols after 10:00 p.m. But Tunis is infested with a militia. No one is allowed on the streets after dark except licensed generator repairmen.

We kept walking. Half the soldiers walked backwards so they could keep an eye on the men following us.

Some of the soldiers stood in the light from a storefront lit by generator power.

Patrol Raid Night.JPG

I tried to stick to the shadows. Presumably the men following us were militia. If they didn’t have night vision goggles – and they probably didn’t – they wouldn’t be able to see me any better than I could see them. And I couldn’t see them.

“Five of ‘em now,” somebody said. “They’re still following.”

The soldiers took up positions, crouched on one knee, and pointed their rifles down the street in the direction of our stalkers. I ducked behind a wall separating two driveways and checked the windows and the roofs of the houses to make sure nobody saw me.

“Why don’t you send the Humvees after them?” I said to the nearest soldier.

“We’re sending them now,” he said.

“More are out now,” said another. “Seven or eight of them.”

No one knew how many were coming out of their houses on side streets. No one knew who they were, either. They could have been local militia thugs, or they could have been the point men of the Al Qaeda leader the Army was trying to home in on. They knew he was somewhere in the area. Maybe he found us before we found him. “We want to use you as bait” no longer sounded so funny.

An old man speaking on a cell phone walked toward us from the direction of our stalkers.

“Turn that phone off right now!” yelled one of the soldiers. “Right now!” He ran toward the man. “You turn it off now!” The man kept talking in Arabic.

Our interpreter told him to shut it off. He shut it off. Perhaps he was giving information to the militia. Perhaps he was talking to his wife. Nobody knew. Either way he was violating the curfew.

“Go home,” somebody told him.

Suddenly the soldiers started walking back in the direction we came from – toward the men who were following us and who hid in the shadows.

“We’re walking toward them?” I said to the soldier next to me. I still couldn’t tell who was who. “Are they still there?” I still couldn’t see them.

“They’re still there,” he said. “We’re pushing back to see what they do.”

For the first time since I arrive in Iraq, I wished I had a weapon myself. When I couldn’t stay in the shadows, I zigzagged at random to make myself a much more difficult target.

Eddie sidled up beside me.

“Stay right next to me,” he said. “If there’s shooting I’ll get you in the safest possible place.” The safest possible place, I thought, was outside Iraq. “If it escalates…” He trailed off.

“If it escalates…what?” I said.

“If it escalates we’ll deal with it,” he said.

“Four more to west,” said a soldier. “They’re running.”

This time I could see them – four men rounding a corner and running away down a street. They were more afraid of us than we were of them.

“Does this kind of thing happen around here a lot?” I said to Eddy.

“It happens,” he said.

The Humvees finally pulled up to the area where the Iraqi men lurked in the shadows. When our foot patrol caught up with them I saw that two of our stalkers had been caught.

The rule for properly building suspense in horror movies is based on how fear works in real life. Faceless and invisible enemies are scary. Real human beings with faces and fears of their own aren’t so much.

Our two busted stalkers looked a lot less intimidating in person. They seemed rather pathetic, actually, and they were not armed.

“My air conditioner is broken,” said the first through our interpreter. “I was just going to a friend’s house to get another one. I can show you the broken one now.”

I’ve been on patrol with soldiers after curfew many times. Most Iraqis out after dark don’t appear to be threatening or up to no good. This guy stood out, though. I didn’t believe he was only trying to borrow an air conditioner. He was twitchy and much more nervous than anyone I had seen captured before.

Wiping Forhead Raid Night.JPG

And anyway, aside from the twitchiness, why was he stalking Army soldiers in the dark with other military aged men?

Our Iraqi interpreter – who wore a mask over his face to avoid being recognized by the locals – checked the suspect’s identification.

Checking ID Raid Night.JPG

He did live in the area. ID cards, though, don’t say “militia man” on them.

Two soldiers guarded the second suspect while the rest of us walked to the first suspect’s house and knocked hard on the door.

Outside House Raid Night.jpg

No one came to the door. A soldier kept knocking. “Open up!” he yelled.

The residents of the house finally stirred.

“There are lots of people in there,” someone said.

I stepped back, having no idea what to expect.

A large man wearing shorts and no shirt opened the door. An old man in a dishdasha stood behind him. They weren’t armed and didn’t seem threatening.

Shirtless Raid Night.JPG

“Salam aleikum,” said the shirtless man.

“Can we come in?” said the soldier who knocked.

Shirtless beckoned us in, and so we went in.

Soldiers dispersed throughout the house and rounded everyone – four men, three women, and two children – into one room. Everyone, soldiers and Iraqis alike, were mellow and cool. No one seemed to be angry at anyone. Shirtless seemed to be the head of the household, so the soldiers spoke mainly to him instead of to the young man they had captured outside.

“You’re right, he was bad,” Shirtless said.

“The curfew is for your safety,” said a soldier through the interpreter. “We’re hot, too, okay? Finding an air conditioner isn’t a good enough reason to go outside after dark.”

“Sorry,” Shirtless aid. “Please forgive us. Anything you want, we are with you.”

“There are bad guys out after dark.”

“I understand, very sorry.”

We said goodnight and left the house. There was no interrogation. All the soldiers did was drop the guy off at home to get him off the street. Whether he really was trying to borrow an air conditioner, or whether he belonged to the neighborhood militia, I’ll never know.

The second captured man was still being detained.

“I work at the mosque,” he said through our masked interpreter. “I work there at night. I was just out getting some dinner.”

Terp and Suspect Raid Night.JPG

We had walked past the neighborhood mosque earlier and there were no lights on inside. It didn’t seem that anyone worked there at night, at least not in any normal capacity.

All of us started walking toward the mosque.

“What are you going to do with him?” I said to Eddy.

“We’re going to take him to the mosque and see if he really works there,” he said.

When we arrived outside the mosque, some of the soldiers squatted in driveways across the street and scanned the roof. I joined them as Eddy and the others took the suspect to the gate.

I crouched near the ground.

“There are four men on the roof,” a soldier said. “You can’t see them anymore. They just ducked away as we got here.”

Dark Mosque Raid Night.jpg

“They have a little bunker up there,” he continued. “You can’t see it from here, but it has sand bags and sniper netting around it.”

“What are you going to do?” I said.

“Nothing,” he said. “It’s a mosque.”

“They’re violating curfew,” I said, “and stalking us in the dark from a militarized mosque. And you aren’t going to do anything?”

“Our rules of engagement say we can’t interfere in any way with a mosque unless they are shooting at us,” he said.

We left our stalker with his “co-workers” and walked away.

*

While waiting for the call from Military Intelligence at the outpost, we walked the streets of Baghdad at midnight. If they could determine which exact house the Al Qaeda target was in, the soldiers I patrolled with would be the first on the scene. Our local infamous insurgent commander would be quietly surrounded by two dozen elite infantry soldiers, and myself with my notepad and camera, before he had any idea he what was happening.

Soldiers and Humvee Raid Night.jpg

In the meantime we chased shadows and silhouettes and dark vehicles on blacked out streets without any headlights.

We chased a car so far from our starting point I wondered if the soldiers still knew where we were. Eventually the driver pulled his car over and parked on his own. I got out of my Humvee and followed Eddy to the stopped car. Vicious dogs snarled at us from behind a gate.

Three men were inside. All were told to get out of the vehicle and were questioned and patted down.

Three Suspects Raid Night.JPG

It’s possible the three young men in the car didn’t even know we were trying to catch them. Humvees are driven in Iraq in the dark without headlights, and they don’t go very fast.

None of the young men were armed. The vehicle was searched and nothing was found. They were sent home and told to stay indoors after curfew.

Searching Car Raid Night.JPG

This is what it is like most nights during counter-insurgency warfare. “It’s like we’re Baghdad PD,” one soldier put it. It isn’t always open war and explosions and bang-bang. Much of it entails patient police work and the chasing of ghosts.

We never did get the call from Military Intelligence. The insurgent commander, whose name I know but cannot reveal, was almost, but not quite, captured that night. His capture would have saved lives, and it would have been something to see.

This isn’t the movies, however. The Iraqi counter-insurgency would be a hard war to film accurately. Most of the time it’s so quiet. But it’s the quiet of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, not of rural Middle America. Explosions, mortars, bullets, rockets…these things can come flying at you at any time.

I watched the dark city of Baghdad through bullet-proof glass. Most homes were blacked out – the electrical grid supplies only one hour of power each day. A few families stayed up late and ran their generators past midnight. Most Iraqis, I knew without seeing, slept on the roofs of their houses where it’s cooler at night.

The palm trees somehow looked both menacing and benign at the same time. They looked slightly more ominous we drove into a dense grove bathed in an eerie glow from starlight shining through dust.

Palm Grove and Starlight Baghdad.jpg

What may have been waiting for us on the road up ahead? Who may have been watching, perhaps even with the same night vision goggles the soldiers themselves wore?

Route Brewers from Grove.jpg

Suddenly the trees were gone and the sky opened up. I couldn’t see anything.

“We’re in the slum now,” Lieutenant Evan Wolf said. “It’s a nasty one, too. Some houses are literally made out of cardboard. I would kill myself before I lived here.”

I have no idea how these people survive without air conditioning and clean water. The environment here in the summer is unrelentingly hostile.

“How did you get into this job?” Eddy said.

“I was in the high tech industry a few years ago,” I told him. “I got bored of the cubicle farm and needed to get out of the office.”

“You’re way out now,” Eddy said and laughed.

“I can’t wait to get in the office,” Lieutenant Wolf said.

“Do you like your job?” Eddy said.

“I love my job,” I said. “It’s the best I’ve ever had. Do you like yours?”

“I wouldn’t say it’s the worst decision I ever made,” he said. “It’s hard for soldiers. We all want to go home, of course. But we also want to stay and make sure our buddies did not die for nothing.”

There were no street lights. All I could see was absolute darkness and the faint outlines of hovels against a backdrop of stars.

“It’s always interesting, though,” Eddy said. “No one gets to see places like this. Only Iraqis. And you. And us.”

Postscript: Please support independent journalism. Traveling to and working in Iraq is expensive. I can’t publish dispatches on this Web site for free without substantial reader donations, so I'll appreciate it if you pitch in what you can. Blog Patron allows you to make recurring monthly payments, and even small donations will be extraordinarily helpful so I can continue this project.

Blog Patron Button.gif

If you prefer to use Pay Pal, that is still an option.

If you would like to donate for travel and equipment expenses and you don't want to send money over the Internet, please consider sending a check or money order to:

Michael Totten
P.O. Box 312
Portland, OR 97207-0312

Many thanks in advance.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at July 30, 2007 05:38 AM
Comments

Great Stuff as always.

Posted by: mantis at July 30, 2007 06:32 AM

Great report.

Our ROEs are absurd.

Posted by: Moon at July 30, 2007 07:37 AM

Great post, Michael. And whoever thought this up ought to be drummed out of the service: “Our rules of engagement say we can’t interfere in any way with a mosque unless they are shooting at us,” he said.

Imagine how much quicker this war could be won had the soldiers been allowed to attack a bunker in a mosque.

Posted by: Patricia at July 30, 2007 08:11 AM

I can understand not having US soldiers attacking a mosque for propaganda reasons. But I would hope that the area could be tagged and the Iraqi soldiers could clear out the nest.

Great read. It always amazes me when I scroll through the post and it goes on forever-but when I read it is feels like it took seconds and I am left wanting more.

Best articles and comments on the WWW in my book.
Thanks MJT

Posted by: Ross at July 30, 2007 08:49 AM

Sir,

Great report as always- it is obvious that you are becoming acquainted with the more patience-trying aspects of a tour in Iraq. I appreciate all that you are doing. Be cautious and, remember, heed all directions from the First Sergeant; he’ll keep you safe.

I am monetarily off to the gym, but I have already recognized a particular detail of your report that is going to generate a bit of discussion here. This same detail has even brought me to a question:

Does your company have any support from counterpart Iraqi Army?

This is in reference to the mosque situation that you described that I am sure will become primary focus of discussion in these comments.

At the time just prior to my redeployment from Ar Ramadi back to the States, our battalion’s numbers in our Area of Operations was nearly matched, by a man, by Iraqi forces. This proved vital in dealing with situations such as hostile mosques. In Ramadi, in fact, we had one particular mosque – the largest in the city – that continued to give us considerable trouble. After time and a long list of authorizing officials, a raid on the mosque was permitted. However, American forces could not and did not wish to initiate the raid. Instead, we left that to our Iraqi counterparts. They did the work and we, basically, followed their lead. We ultimately netted various enemy weapons and equipment that were hidden throughout the ductwork of the building and stored in the minarets.

The use of Iraqi forces is fundamental to the success in Baghdad, by my assessment. The tactical focus in the States is on the “surge.” However, it is likely that people are failing to realize that the surge is primarily only a tool in allowing the more effective use of Iraqi forces to police their own. For this reason, I will be anxiously waiting to hear the status, only insomuch as you can describe without violating operational security, of such forces in your area

Your report does an outstanding job of showing the “kid gloves” that we are attempting to use in our precision-like approach to counter-insurgency in Iraq. A recent dispatch from Michael Yon describing the thought process that occurs when American consider the size and gravity of force to utilize in particular situations also does this particular aspect justice. American people need to realize the intricacies of the current situation to understand why the act of eradicating extremists is such a long, slow and tedious process. You have reported beautifully these arduous processes in the act.

I have been in the shoes of the soldiers surrounding you. Many times, in Ramadi, we knew the exact residence of a known insurgent. One enemy individual comes to mind particularly. We visited his house so often that we had rapport with his wife and family and eventually it became a running joke to guess where the family would report their terrorist husband’s whereabouts on any given raid. He seemed to be off in some foreign, surrounding country more times than not….

Again, thank you for the update. I will be back to check follow-up remarks from the interested parties here and, hopefully, I will be able to use some of my own experiences in an attempt to bring any murky details to clarity. As an aside, I predict that eventually the mosque in question will be cleared by Iraqi forces and the mission will be conducted with the utmost respect and the dignity required of such a facility. It will be interesting to see if I am correct in my prediction and, if so, what the results net.

Thank you.

Steve B.

http://educatedsoldier.blogspot.com

Posted by: Steve B. at July 30, 2007 08:49 AM

"Imagine how much quicker this war could be won had the soldiers been allowed to attack a bunker in a mosque."

Or not. A popular recruiting tool used by extremists is a photo, passing around their webs, of American soldiers siting in a mosque with boots on, thats it.

Posted by: Russ at July 30, 2007 08:52 AM

Nice job, interesting story.

Posted by: demagogue at July 30, 2007 09:04 AM

I didn't read about any of those detained after curfew having their pictures taken and fingerprinted to identify them if ever on future expeditions after curfew hours. If they are continuing to go out after curfew, believe me it is to cause no good and maybe evil..

Posted by: Jimmy D. at July 30, 2007 09:08 AM

Good read. Wondering if they ever caught the main target on this patrol. The reason I ask is because the attack he carried out was on my son's unit.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: TacticalSteel at July 30, 2007 09:09 AM

Outstanding.

Posted by: M. Simon at July 30, 2007 09:18 AM

Mr. Totten,

This is another great report. I have a question though. Why do the soldiers in your company assume that those men are "Al-Qaeda" and not "Sunni insurgents?" I ask this because it matters a great deal to properly identify the players in the field. If someone is "Al-Qaeda" you're going to supposedly be rougher on them, but if they end up being "Sunni insurgents" (who we are supposedly now working with), well, I just see so many problems with everything that's going on in Iraq.

Reports have revealed that Al-Qaeda's actual presence in Iraq is fairly small, that foreign fighters represent a tiny fraction of those who are fighting against us (whether Sunni or Shi'ite). Do you ever ask any soldier (if they even know this) what the likelihood is that someone they capture is actually affiliated with Al-Qaeda? Or is it assumed that all males 18-40 are to be considered the enemy?

I ask these questions because after four and a half years, this is not where we should be, based on the assumption that America is a very professional and very effecient country. But perhaps that assumption is wrong. Perhaps we really are this inept.

Posted by: Dan at July 30, 2007 09:29 AM

Dan,

If we know somebody's name, who they are killing, and where they are staying, we know who they are affiliated with.

Take this to the bank. Iraq is a complicated place with a lot of players, but there are some things we know for sure. One of them is that if somebody killed four soldiers that day, we are no longer working together.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at July 30, 2007 09:43 AM

Posted by: Dan at July 30, 2007 09:29 AM

I'm not sure what you are getting at, or rather I have a pretty good idea but I'd rather first give you the benefit of the doubt. The words 'Al Qaeda' play a very small role in the report. They are used in two contexts.

One, they refer to the insurgent group which had controlled this area before being pushed out by a local militia. It can be inferred that the soldiers refer to that group as Al Qaeda for one of several plausible reasons: 1) that Al Qaeda advertised thier control of the area with banners and other signs, just as street gangs advertise the control of turf with 'gang signs', 2) that the locals refer to this insurgent group as Al Qaeda, 3) that the soldiers have been provided with some other intelligence (documents perhaps) linking the previous group to Al Qaeda.

The other context that the words Al Qaeda is used are to refer to the TST which military intelligence was seeking. Again, it can be inferred that military intelligence has several ways of knowing what group this target is affliated with, either from the signiture of his methods, the targets he chooses (native insurgent groups are much less likely to target other Iraqi's), documentation that they have, or even infiltration of the insurgent network by informants. In any case, they aren't going to document these methods in a public report.

In the rest of the report, there is no indication that the soldiers think of 'these guys' as Al Qaeda. There is no indication that the soldiers treated the locals as members of Al Qaeda. Rather the assumption the report is that 'these guys' are members of the local Sunni militia group. Is there any indication in the report of the soldiers 'roughing anyone up'?

I ask these questions because after four and a half years, these are not the questions an intelligent person should be asking, especially if they begin with the assumption that America is a very professional and very effecient country. I have no idea how you would read that report and take from it that the soldiers are roughing everyone up because they assume everyone of military age is an Al Qaeda member. But perhaps my assumptions are wrong. Perhaps you really are that stupid.

Posted by: celebrim at July 30, 2007 09:51 AM

I agree with Dan. Bush has tried to make the public believe AQ is a big part of the insurgency, and it is not. A critical component yes, but if AQ were to just vanish one day, the insurgency would go on with little difference. It also does harm to our strategy to label the enemy wrong as in this BBC report.

Village disputes story of deadly attack

The US military said the dead were al-Qaeda gunmen
A group of villagers in Iraq is bitterly disputing the US account of a deadly air attack on 22 June, in the latest example of the confusion surrounding the reporting of combat incidents there. The BBC's Jim Muir investigates:

Posted by: Russ at July 30, 2007 10:01 AM

What a wonderful report.

Posted by: AG in Houston at July 30, 2007 10:18 AM

Michael:

Regarding military humor and interaction with the troops the proper response to being called 'sir' is of course to say with proper indignation: "Hey, I work for a living."

Take care..

Posted by: H. Short at July 30, 2007 10:47 AM

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 07/30/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

Posted by: David M at July 30, 2007 10:56 AM

A great balanced piece, and quite artistic. Keep up the good work, and kudos on keeping it non-partisan.

Posted by: LnGrrrR at July 30, 2007 10:57 AM

celebrim,

It can be inferred that the soldiers refer to that group as Al Qaeda for one of several plausible reasons: 1) that Al Qaeda advertised thier control of the area with banners and other signs, just as street gangs advertise the control of turf with 'gang signs', 2) that the locals refer to this insurgent group as Al Qaeda, 3) that the soldiers have been provided with some other intelligence (documents perhaps) linking the previous group to Al Qaeda.

Or, 4)the military would like us to think it was Al-Qaeda because it continues to justify our presence in Iraq, when it could just as well have been some other group. You don't make this one of your options. I wonder why...

Is there any indication in the report of the soldiers 'roughing anyone up'?

Are you kidding? With a reporter around?

Posted by: Dan at July 30, 2007 10:57 AM

I hate to hijack Mr. Totten’s thread and divert any attention from his very informative post, but I think I can quickly provide a sort of abridged answer that may quell commenter Dan’s worries about the use of the term, “Al Qaeda” in identifying Iraqi combatants.

The original remarks by Dan offered three of his own reasons as to why one might associate the term Al Qaeda with the insurgents currently faced in Iraq. The answer that you search for, Dan, is probably a mix of all three of your own answers. However, from my own experience, I am apt to advocate that your second suggestion is the most compelling cause for such application of the Al Qaeda title:

2) that the locals refer to this insurgent group as Al Qaeda

During my time in Ramadi, the term associated with enemy opposition wasn’t Al Qaeda but “Muhjahadeen.” Because of our lack of Arabic language knowledge, we would travel the city, converse with the citizens and question them about the whereabouts of the “Muhj.” This worked temporarily. After a while though, it became apparent that many of the Ramadi citizens defined the term in such a way to denote “patriot.” This would mean that, occasionally, we would be asking about the location of enemy and our Iraqi citizen friends would be telling us the location of fair-minded, peaceful Iraqi loyalists.

The point?

As much as it may be easier, in our laziness, to say otherwise; Iraqis are not dim people. They realize that Americans associate the term Al Qaeda with enemy forces. It is quite possible, and in my assessment very likely, that they are simply using the term for the ease it presents in identifying insurgents of all types. Moreover, the Iraqi citizens may be using Al Qaeda to describe a board array of insurgents and terrorist-types, while we have a very narrow, focused definition of Al Qaeda only applying to a certain organization.

I hope this helps. However, ultimately, Mr. Totten will have to supply us with the absolute answers as they apply to his current situation.

Thank you.

Posted by: Steve B. at July 30, 2007 11:33 AM

Dan,

Balls.

In every conflict, soldiers adopt names for their opponents/enemies. The names are often derogatory or denigrative, but they always elide details in favor of brevity. Germans were "krauts" or "Nazis", regardless of whether they ever ate fermented cabbage or belonged to the National Socialist Party; Vietnamese were "gooks" or the proto-PC "Charlie", that last being spectacularly absurd in the case of the Russian or Bulgarian MIG pilots or operators of SA-2 sites.

Our soldiers are no different. They are Americans, so it's easy to convince them to avoid obviously bigoted expressions like "sand nigger", but they will and do use shorthand. What you should do is copy Mr. Totten's essays into a word processor and replace all instances of "Al Qaeda" with "possibly al Qaeda, possibly remnant Ba'athists attempting to restore their privileged position, maybe Sunni or Shi'ia engaged in sectarian rivalry, perhaps tribal bravoes engaged in activity indistinguishable from gangbanging, or even one of the minuscule minority stupid enough to believe the Leftist bullshit about imperialism and think of themselves as defenders, any or all of whom may or may not be partly or wholly inspired by al Qaeda propaganda and agitation." It's clear from his essays that Mr. Totten understands the complexity; the vast majority of commenters here appear to have some grasp; and from talking with returning soldiers I can assure you that they not only know what the issues are, they are continually reminded of them by their commands. They aren't going to recite the full litany every time they see a muzzle flash, though.

In any case, tribal and ethnic conflicts can be settled by defeat or subornment, and even the sectarian rivalry between Sunni and Shi'ia is a relatively minor barrier. It is only the ideologues like yourself and al Qaeda that insist on prolonging the agony, and in that sense al Qaeda is, in fact, the problem in Iraq, and using that name as a sobriquet is appropriate.

Find yourself a molehill with more substance. That one doesn't contain enough material to build a mountain you can pose heroically upon, mounted on your magnificent hobbyhorse.

Regards,
Ric

Posted by: Ric Locke at July 30, 2007 11:39 AM

Steve B.

Thank you for that answer. I think it did very well to answer my question. I appreciate greatly your kind reply.

Best,

Dan

Posted by: Dan at July 30, 2007 11:45 AM

Ric,

It is only the ideologues like yourself and al Qaeda that insist on prolonging the agony,

Me? An ideologue? Hardly. I'm not the one who tries to make this into a battle of good vs. evil that has raged since the pre-existence!

It's alright. I got my answer. Steve B. provided it for me.

Posted by: Dan at July 30, 2007 11:47 AM

Steve B,

Forgive me for pressing this just a little further, but your answer necessitates the following question:

If your analysis is correct, would it be wrong of me to conclude that this generalizing the enemy by Iraqis into what we call "Al-Qaeda" over-hype the actual presence of the real Al Qaeda in Iraq, to a point where generals and reporters overplay both the influence and power of the organization in Iraq? This is an important question to ask as our political leaders keep pressing our presence in Iraq with the justification that our enemy "Al Qaeda" is all over the place in the country. Do you see what I'm getting at?

Posted by: Dan at July 30, 2007 11:52 AM

I agree with the "no attacks on mosques policy."

We have to win the civilian population over. Nothing would wreck this more than assaulting their mosques. Besides, soldiers can still shoot back if they are under attack.

This Rambo "fuck the rules of engagement" rhetoric is not helping anything.

Posted by: Gifted at July 30, 2007 11:52 AM

"It also does harm to our strategy to label the enemy wrong as in this BBC report" Uhm, the BBC is trying its best to harm our strategy...

I like these posts for the same reason that I like, for example, the "Village *" series of videos from Zimbabwe back-country presented by http://www.youtube.com/user/handfp

The role the embed plays is that of perhaps the closest, unbiased (CNN/BBC bias, et al) view of REAL IRAQ we are ever likely to see. Of course, I do hope that Iraq gets its act together and I can visit its awesome history and beauty in my lifetime...

Thank you for the report, Mr. Totten.

Posted by: Filg at July 30, 2007 12:03 PM

... excellent work...

Posted by: Eric at July 30, 2007 12:18 PM

Dan,

To answer your question as briefly as possible as I want to abstain from turning this comment section into a two-person discussion, I would say:

That yes, it would indeed be wrong to make the conclusions that you suggested. While soldiers on the ground and the citizens they interact with may use general terms in describing a common and broadly composed enemy, the Generals that report to U.S. officials and media have a responsibility to refrain from making such generalizations.

I don’t think the existence of this particular detail on the ground influences the rhetoric used by military officials at higher levels. When these Generals say, “Al Qaeda,” I am quite sure that they are referring to the individual terrorist organization as we know it. Whether their assessment of Al Qaeda numbers is inflated or otherwise is an entirely different conversation but one worth having. However, I would caution you from making the “jump” that you suggested in your question.

Thanks for your interest, questions, and dedicated thought concerning the Iraq situation. It means a lot to this former soldier if that gives you any sort of satisfaction.

Steve B.

Posted by: Steve B. at July 30, 2007 12:33 PM

Please, let's hear only the facts from those in Irag, not the opinions of couch potatoes or cube dwellers. (Dan)

The story is real and the commentary unbiased. What a relief. Please keep it comming.

Posted by: MIchael Sperry at July 30, 2007 12:43 PM

Thank you Steve B. for your measured and insightful explanations of the questions being raised by this post. While our host has limited internet access it is invaluable to have a resource such as yourself to explain the finer points of discussion. I enjoyed visiting your site as well.
Thanks again,
Lindsey

Posted by: Lindsey at July 30, 2007 01:07 PM

Steve B,

Thank you for your answer. I truly hope the generals don't overhype Al Qaeda, but from my vantage point, I cannot give them the benefit of the doubt. I won't continue this point, however. You answered my question very well, and I appreciate it.

I do hope things go well in Iraq. My sister is currently in Iraq.

Posted by: Dan at July 30, 2007 01:45 PM

I agree with steve on many points, yes it is on our generals to verify which groups are doing what in Iraq. But having seen the grounds myself, most insurgents recognise themselves with AQ and claim to be part of them. It is no simple thing to say well group A killed these 15 people, but these 3 were killed by B. And since all claim to be the same group...... where can we go from there??

Posted by: Ben at July 30, 2007 02:08 PM

This is one of the best articles I have read in a long time from a reporter in Iraq. He kept it straight forward and only talked about what he saw and heard not about what he thought of it politically in other words he kept it neutral. Now for some of the questions and answers I have seen on here. Having been to Iraq my self and having a brother who has been there once and is going back we do not refer to people as al qaeda as some type of generic term. We actually use frases like terriorist or insergent. When we talk about Al Qeada we mean Al Qeada. As for them not being there in any large amount. Two things it doesn't take many people to cause the damage they have and second have you missed were Al Qaeda has come out talking about Iraq being there central front in defeating us in this war. I would ask some the people who have posted here to stop always thinking the worst of the troops and the government and start understanding the Terrorist in the world really do want to destroy us and it is not something made up by our government. Or has everyone forgotten those two big holes in the ground in New York City.

Posted by: Jim at July 30, 2007 02:29 PM

"Or, 4)the military would like us to think it was Al-Qaeda because it continues to justify our presence in Iraq, when it could just as well have been some other group. You don't make this one of your options. I wonder why..."

Apparantly, because I have sinister motives. Is anyone surprised by this turn of the debate?

The reason that I don't include it in the alternatives is that it makes no sense and is broadly insulting. Essentially you are implying that the ordinary soldiers in the field are themselves anxious to continue to spread a lie in order to justify thier continued presence in Iraq, and that they (and apparantly myself) are a part of some propaganda apparatus designed to continue the illusion that Al Queda has forces in Iraq.

There really isn't any point in having this conversation because you show no sign whatsoever of arguing in good faith. I've seen what you've been getting at with your innuendo since the beginning, and its less than rhetorical dog turds.

Regardless of whether the high command or political leaders in Iraq is hyping the presence of Al Qaeda, and I've not seen anything but insinuation and suposition on that front, there is absolutely no evidence that average troops either do so or have the motive to do so. All the evidence given in interviews of the troops leads me to believe that they have a pretty sophisticated view of the situation on the ground - one that is by necessity more sophisticated than is generally portrayed by any sort of partisan media.

Stephen B is quite right to see the ambiguity in my answers. The ambiguity was intentional and he takes the discussion in a very appropriate direction. None of them imply conclusively that any particular individual actually is Al Qaeda. Intelligence can be wrong. Reports from the local population can be mere rumor, or worse simply telling us what they think we want to hear and so forth. And its almost certainly true that some things labeled Al Queda are labeled wrongly and that there is a very human institutional bias to err on the side of treating something as Al Qaeda if no counter-weighting evidence is around. But on the other hand, I've seen alot of evidence that the S-2's on the ground experiencing things first hand have come to have extremely nuanced and sophisticated understandings of the enemy and the terrain in which they work.

What you really want to argue has been clear from the beginning: that because in some cases things may be labelled Al Qaeda that are not then Al Qaeda's role in the Iraq insurgency must be minimal, and this is an entirely counter-factual claim. No one is here discounting the role of the half dozen native Sunni insurgencies, whether they be baathist holdouts or native islamists not allied with Al Qaeda, or of the criminal gangs, or the tribal militias, or of the Madr army and other Iranian backed Shia groups. But there is significant evidence that Al Qaeda is the lynchpin of the insurgency, that they are pound for pound the most dangerous, most professional insurgent group in Iraq, that they are responcible for many of the bloodiest attacks on the Iraqi's themselves, and that they have been able to successfully through murder, intimidation and propaganda assimilate many of the smaller native Islamist groups. You simply aren't going to be able to spin them out of existence.

As just one of many examples, consider the state of the Anbar province before and after the local tribal leaders turned against Al Qaeda. Or if you like, try examining some of thier own propaganda which contains video documentation of the role in the insurgency. If anyone is trying to hype thier role in Iraq, its Al Qaeda, but even taking thier stuff with a grain of salt, its still clear that what remains is significant and that Iraq cannot enjoy peace until Al Qaeda runs out of room to manuever.

I do not see any evidence that you are reluctant to jump to certain conclusions. If you want to continue to slander someone, I suggest you try a different and more reasonable tack.

Posted by: celebrim at July 30, 2007 02:33 PM

This is my first visit to your site and I enjoyed your report. To understand the reason for the rules of engagement you should read the US Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual. It explains that the ROE are a conscious tactical decision of the military (led by Gen. Petraeus) to implement the larger strategy of trying to win the counterinsurgency war over the long term by winning the populace over. By definition, ROE always limit the actions of soldiers on the ground. They do that to implement the big picture strategy. The soldiers have to live with the risks that the strategy puts them in. That is why they are heroes. They are bearing those risks for the greater good of their country.

Posted by: MT at July 30, 2007 02:50 PM

We all want to go home, of course. But we also want to stay and make sure our buddies did not die for nothing.

While the Democrats are doing everything in their power to ensure his buddies did indeed die for nothing.

Posted by: Carlos at July 30, 2007 03:30 PM

Carlos,

While the Democrats are doing everything in their power to ensure his buddies did indeed die for nothing.

Actually that would be the Republicans and the Bush administration that have been so inept and utterly brainless in running this occupation.

Posted by: Dan at July 30, 2007 04:40 PM

So, Dan.

Have you been over there in Iraq to witness all this you believe you are such an expert on?

If not, please shut up. Asking nicely.

We get quite enough of these sophmore opinions from the left wing media that is supposed to be simply an unbiased source of news.

Posted by: Michael at July 30, 2007 05:12 PM

Great report Michael. Thank you for your writing and your sacrifice. It is neat that you believe this is the best job you've ever had.

Heh, "Bait"; pretty funny.

I have to think that the troops appreciate what you are doing, though I imagine they would be a bit cynical/skeptical at first.

For those Political Partisan Posters; neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are without fault. Would be more productive to focus on solutions rather than which Party is the greater evil. (Though I confess I lean quite a bit to starboard so I am a bit biased).

We need leaders from both parties, not politicians whose primary concern is being reelected.

Posted by: Ron Snyder at July 30, 2007 05:19 PM

Dans right,
I haven't been over there but a few of these guys have...

WASHINGTON, May 15 (IPS) - Admiral William Fallon, then President George W. Bush's nominee to head the Central Command (CENTCOM), expressed strong opposition in February to an administration plan to increase the number of carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three and vowed privately there would be no war against Iran as long as he was chief of CENTCOM, according to sources with access to his thinking... [thanks cluado]

Update 6/4
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez commanded U.S. forces during the first year of the Iraq war. In “his first interview since he retired last year,” Sanchez has said that the war in Iraq is lost, and the best outcome America can hope for is to “stave off defeat.” From his remarks after a recent speech in San Antonio: Think progress

Update 5/21
One of the problems for the Bush administration with regard to the history of their fiasco in Iraq is that they invited in so many eyewitnesses from among "the willing." Gradually they will start to talk. Col. Mike Kelly of Australia, for instance, has started spilling the beans about former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He says that he urged Rummy to stop the looting in April of 2003, and that Donald over-ruled him. He calls Rumsfeld "criminally negligent."

Yesterday, the NYT highlighted former General John Batiste, who (along with General Paul Eaton) retired early to speak out against the President’s handling of the Iraq occupation and called the President to task in this video for VoteVets.

MR. RUSSERT: As you know, there’s a widely publicized search for a war czar. One of the people who turned the job down was retired General, General John Sheehan, and let me read this to you: “‘The very fundamental issues is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going,’ said retired” Gen—“Marine General John ‘Jack’ Sheehan, a former top NATO commander...

“Sheehan said he called around to get a better feel for the administration landscape. ‘There’s the” resitue—“residue of the Cheney view--‘We’re going to win, al-Qaeda’s there’—that justifies anything we did,’ he said. ‘And then there’s the pragmatist view—how the hell do we get out of Dodge and survive? Unfortunately, the people with the former view are still in the positions of most influence.’” What does that tell you?

“Mr. President, you did not listen,” General Batiste says in new television advertisements being broadcast in Republican Congressional districts as part of a $500,000 campaign financed by VoteVets.org. “You continue to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps. I left the Army in protest in order to speak out. Mr. President, you have placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women.”

“There was never enough. There was never a reserve,” he said. “Again and again, we had to move troops by as many as 200 miles out of our area of operations to support another sector. We would pull troops out of contact with the enemy and move them into contact with the enemy somewhere else. The minute we’d leave, the insurgents would pick up on that, and kill everybody who had been friendly.”

“In the Army, you communicate up the chain of command, and I communicated vehemently with my senior commanders while I was in Iraq,” he said. Of his departure from the Army, he said: “It was the toughest decision of my life. I paced my quarters for days. I didn’t sleep for nights. But I was not willing to compromise my principles for one more minute.”

- Retired Lt. Gen. William Odom called on Bush to sign the bill specifying a US troop withdrawal from Iraq. April 28, 2007
The war was `a terrible mistake', as the Royal Institute for International Affairs recently noted.

-former head of the National Security Agency, called the war `the greatest strategic disaster in American history'.

- retired general Barry McAffrey, a veteran of the Gulf War, has taken up the mantle. McAffrey has recently carried out a study of the situation in Iraq. April 22, 2007

-Retired Army Col. David Hunt, a regular FOX NEWS Contributor who recently returned from Iraq.

-The Joint Chiefs unanimously disagree that surge in troops to Iraq is the right course.

_.Abizaid and General Casey who believe an increase in troops is unwise, primarily because it would discourage Iraqis from taking responsibility for their own security.

Excerpt from Thomas Rick's interview with Hugh Hewett

"That's not a good way to go to war, and that was symptomatic of the way we went to war. So it was not a prudent act to exclude people. So when a military intelligence officer expressed concerns about some aspects of the war plan, he was not invited back at the next meeting. When General Shinseki expressed concerns, he was slapped down. The best professional military advice was disregarded, and area experts' advice, people who spoke Arabic, who understood Iraq, was disregarded."

Posted by: Russ at July 30, 2007 05:34 PM

Great Report. It is amazing to hear a non biased report from Iraq. I think the fact fact he is self supported adds to his ability to think outside the box of right or wrong, left or right.
Regardless of how you feel about the war you have to respect the troops and what they are going through.

Thank you Michael for your reports.

Posted by: Damon at July 30, 2007 05:34 PM

Dan is a self-loathing Leftist troll who has been on several other blog sites to emot his insipid doggerel crap. He has no comment in regards to the excellent writing of the author but is here to pick shit with anybody who doesn’t hate America and Bush as much as he does.

May I recommend… do not feed the trolls.

Posted by: annoy mouse at July 30, 2007 05:34 PM

Actually that would be the Republicans and the Bush administration that have been so inept and utterly brainless in running this occupation.

I can forgive this administration's ineptness, but I can't forgive Harry Reid's treason. Apparently you can.

Posted by: Carlos at July 30, 2007 05:40 PM

Russ,

We all know war is hell for those who are in it.

One of the generals (Batiste) you quoted berates the administration for leaving a secured area to attack a different front, only to have the ruthless enemy return and kill everyone friendly to us. Certainly this is reprehensible. It's a Vietnamese tactic of terror that saps resolve. It is an enemy tactic, not a failure of our military. How could such a tactic indear the populace, though. Terrorize them, yes.

I find it pathetic that you and your ilk want to abandon the entirety of Iraq to this same fate.

Well maybe they deserve it? I have never been there, but I have friends who have. None of them have said the Iraquis deserve that fate.

You want this so bad that you aid our enemy with your poison. You strengthen their resolve and show them the path to victory.

What do you think Iran will do when we leave Iraq? Just leave Iraq alone? Really think so?

Maybe we can get Iraq to pay us in oil - to stay. Hmm. Now there is a thought. Think about that Pelosi -:)

Posted by: Michael S. at July 30, 2007 06:49 PM

Russ, unfortunately for your argument, most of those comments were made prior to the offensive operations launched in June.

For a current critique, read the op/ed in today's NY Times where two fierce critics are changing their tune and admit we may just win this thing.

Its an interesting read.

Posted by: Dogwood at July 30, 2007 06:52 PM

LOL. Eddie Ojeda is also the name of the lead guitarist from Twisted Sister.

Posted by: Mark1971 at July 30, 2007 07:04 PM

"Nothing would wreck this more than assaulting their mosques."

How do you know this? Have you been to the Middle East? Or is just one of those things that has such a ring of truth to it, that we forget how we come to believe it?

If the American media has convinced you of this, I would think again. Most moderate Muslims want the killers gone, and we are playing into the killers' hands by some of our ROE.

Posted by: Patricia at July 30, 2007 07:12 PM

Your report is vivid without exaggeration. It places the reader right there next to you on the street. I look forward to reading each and every one, as I do the comments from those soldiers who comment here who have served in Iraq. Thank you each and every one.

Posted by: Barbara at July 30, 2007 07:17 PM

Another interesting and informative dispatch.

Michael, if you're only staying in Iraq till the end Aug.("a month and a half"), are you going to have enough chapters for a book?

Posted by: Tom at July 30, 2007 07:22 PM

I comforted myself with the idea that if I’m the first to be shot here, God apparently hates me.
-MJT

Thought you were an atheist... you been hanging out in a foxhole or something? ;-)

-----

"Nothing would wreck this more than assaulting their mosques."

I disagree. IMO, treating the mosques as a no-go zone creates a tremendous incentive for the bad guys to take over mosques and use them as bases from which to terrorize the rest of the neighborhood. If mosques were treated as any other building, the incentive to use them as a base vanishes and the badguys will have to find somewhere else to hide.

Yeah, there would be propaganda about American soldiers doing bad things in mosques... but that propaganda would exist regardless.

Posted by: rosignol at July 30, 2007 07:48 PM

Dogwood,
I appreciate the NY Times tip, thanks.

Micheal S.,

You assume far too much.

Posted by: Russ at July 30, 2007 08:27 PM

Really enjoyed reading that, Michael. You are doing much more important work than you were doing in the cubicle farm, whatever your job was! Stay safe.

Kudos to Dan for his excellent journalistic style of commenting! I Especially appreciate the clever editorial use of leading questions!

Dan, since you object to "Al Qaida" so much, can I suggest "scumbags"? Everyone knows what "scumbags" means, right? You've watched that show "Cops" haven't you? Anybody know how to say "scumbags" in Arabic? I bet the Iraqis would know exactly what US troops were talking about. It would suck if they tried to be smartasses and pointed at the troops interviewing them when asked "Where are the scumbags" though, wouldn't it?

Posted by: Craig at July 30, 2007 09:47 PM

Great post Michael. I would give an appendage to be over in Iraq with you. Keep up the good work. I'm sorry, but I can't let the issue of ROE go unanswered from comments above, so I posted on it, and it is one more in a continuing line of ROE articles that I have written. Michael's questions to his partner were salient and on-point. Nothing more needed to be said. I disagree with the comment made by "Gifted" who refuses to use his real name. I use my real name, and call out this issue of recruiting more insurgents by going after a Mosque a "myth."

http://www.captainsjournal.com/2007/07/31/mosques-snipers-and-rules-of-engagement/

Posted by: Herschel Smith at July 30, 2007 09:47 PM

rosignol,

I've been with Michael near a combat zone (Kirkuk) and may be the source of the "God Hates You" meme. Sometimes days in Iraq just suck and are at risk of sucking worse and saying "God Hates You" to an atheist allows them a momentary correction in their worldview.

Having said that, while Michael Totten is not actually in a foxhole these days, he is doing the closest thing to it in this war. While there are in fact atheists in foxholes, their pronouncements on chaos theory and mortality are profoundly unconvincing. In other words, nobody listens to atheists in foxholes; they've got nothing helpful to add.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at July 30, 2007 10:13 PM

In other words, nobody listens to atheists in foxholes; they've got nothing helpful to add.

Atheists and agnostics tend to be pragmatic types. As such, they wouldn't tend to spend time in a foxhole making guesses about a Deity's probable emotions or actions..

But they would tend to use reason and logic to figure out how to get out of the foxhole alive, and maybe find a safe place with cold beer. For that reason, atheists and agnostics would be the most helpful companions in a foxhole.

Posted by: mary at July 31, 2007 07:53 AM

Great read and great job on the reporting Micheal. If you read these posts or run into Lt. Wolf that his neighbor Tim and family says hi and we are praying for him. I watched him grow up and to have him serve our country says allot about the men and women in the service. There is none better.

Posted by: Tim from Nebraska at July 31, 2007 08:26 AM

mary,

But they would tend to use reason and logic to figure out how to get out of the foxhole alive, and maybe find a safe place with cold beer.

What I love about this comment is the hypothetical speculation in a discussion about a real and present situation. Most of the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines I know are quietly religious. Mostly we don't talk about religion because it makes other people uncomfortable. But I know many people with combat experiences who are simultaneously disturbingly profane, intensely practical, and religious at their core. This is reality and it is complex.

You also misunderstood my point. In combat situations nobody pays attention to the schmuck blathering on about how when we die nothing happens and there is no benevolent deity to bail us out of this mess we are in. There is no comfort or hope there, so the devoutly atheistic are cordially invited do everyone a favor and shut their gobs. To be fair, nobody is going to give much care for anybody who blathers on endlessly about religion when there is work to be done, either.

In my experience though, it is harder to get the atheists to shut up and soldier in stressful times. I suspect that this is because talking to God can be done silently, whereas irritating religious people as a stress relief has to be aloud.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at July 31, 2007 08:53 AM

Patrick said:

Mostly we don't talk about religion because it makes other people uncomfortable.

Not to mention the fact that if you talk about it, you might have to confront the reality that God might really be on al-Qaeda's side as they claim he is.

In addition, you might have to acknowledge that religion -- specifically, the belief that faith justifies the use of force against others -- is the root cause of this entire conflict.

Posted by: Michael Smith at July 31, 2007 09:47 AM

In combat situations nobody pays attention to the schmuck blathering on about how when we die nothing happens and there is no benevolent deity to bail us out of this mess we are in.

I wouldn't want to try that if I was an al-Qaeda foot soldier.

Posted by: Edgar at July 31, 2007 09:50 AM

Not having been in a foxhole, I can only guess that the reason the person is mumbling to the diety is all the pragmatism, logic, and reasoning in the world are not going to get their butts out of the foxhole. They are stuck due to forces beyond their control. Hence please to a purported higher authority.

People, homo sapien sapiens are the reason we are in this mess. Religion is simply the tool de jure. Ultimately it is the inate human trait that 'I' and my beliefs are better than you and yours that drives this and the last several large wars. That and pure greed are responsible for much of human conflict.

Posted by: Ross at July 31, 2007 10:15 AM

In my experience though, it is harder to get the atheists to shut up and soldier in stressful times. I suspect that this is because talking to God can be done silently, whereas irritating religious people as a stress relief has to be aloud.

From what I've seen, when either side brings up the subject of religion or atheism during a stressful situation, zealtory tends to follow. This tends to distract formerly pragmatic people from thinking clearly. That's why most people who deal with emergencies/stressful situations on a regular basis tend to avoid the subject altogether, using jokes and deliberately mundane conversations to keep panic at bay.

Posted by: mary at July 31, 2007 10:45 AM

Dogwood,
I read that NYTimes report, but the guys that made the op-ed are not what I'd call unbiased or known to have a good track for being right.

"It's been endlessly observed that being wrong repeatedly just hasn't disqualified experts from continuing to get platforms such as this one to continue making predictions about the disaster they helped create in however small a way by supporting the invasion and the "surge.""

Posted by: Russ at July 31, 2007 11:44 AM

Mary,

Your comments are highly off point. But since they are being allowed, I will respond with another highly off point comment. I'm sorry you have apparently never met anyone who is religious and also a thinker. Perhaps your aren't looking hard enough. They're all around you. It is preposterous to assert that religion is a hindrance to clear and rational thought, foxhole or study room, stressful situation or calm. You have absolutely no proof for your position. You need to think in terms of religion being a worldview, a construct, value system, etc., that includes all aspects of a philosophical system: metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, cosmology, etc. You have one, I have one, we all have one. I commend the first chapter of Gordon Clark's book "Religion, Reason and Revelation" to you on defining or categorizing religion. If you think you can do it without falling into his logical traps, write me and give me the solution. Bet you a bottle good wine that you can't.

Patrick is right. I have a son in the Marines. Most warriors are quietly religious, and they do just fine, thank you. The problems to which you allude are merely fabricated by you.

Posted by: Herschel Smith at July 31, 2007 12:22 PM

Ross wrote:

Ultimately it is the inate human trait that 'I' and my beliefs are better than you and yours that drives this and the last several large wars.

In the first place, that is not an "innate human trait" -- just witness the vast number of people who believe that all cultures are morally equal -- or witness the vast numbers of Americans who believe that anything non-American is automatically superior to anything American.

More importantly, the mere belief that one is superior does not automatically lead one to initiate the use of force against others. Rather, the justification for initiating force is almost always the claim that something transcends the rights of the individual and thus justifies the sacrifice of the individual to that something. That is the common root of all forms of totalitarianism and all wars.

For instance, National Socialism (the Nazis) asserted the Race to be superior to the individual and held that the function of the state was to advance the interests of the Race no matter how many individuals had to be slaughtered. Communism held that Class was superior to the individual and that members of one Class (the proletariat) had the right to take the property of all other individuals. Japanese Imperialism held the Emperor to be a Deity superior to all other individuals whose role was to serve that Deity through military conquest.

And on it goes. Religious wars, like the Crusades and the Muslim conquests that preceded and triggered the Crusades are based on the notion that God is superior to the individual, whose role in life is to sacrifice for God’s sake by conquering and/or killing the infidels. The fact that Christianity has not done this on a large scale in some time (it has done it on a small scale recently: see northern Ireland) does not change the fact that in the past, Christianity inspired many wars, slaughters, Inquisitions, etc.

The unique thing about the United States is that it was the first nation to be founded on the explicit doctrine that the individual is sovereign and that the government exists only by permission of the individuals and only to protect the rights of the individuals.

Unfortunately, these principles are under great assualt today from the Left, who claims that Society's "needs" trump individual rights and that the purpose of government is to fulfill those needs by taking whatever taxes must be taken from whoever has the money -- and from the Right, who claims that God's laws trump individual rights and that the function of government should be policing of those laws. It's a race to see who can stamp out the last vestiges of individual rights and freedom.

Posted by: Michael Smith at July 31, 2007 01:07 PM

But they would tend to use reason and logic to figure out how to get out of the foxhole alive, and maybe find a safe place with cold beer. For that reason, atheists and agnostics would be the most helpful companions in a foxhole.

Mary,

On the other hand, an atheist/agnostic may feel that "pragmatism" is best served by saving his own hide while leaving his buds to die in that foxhole. There's nothing illogical about that (cowardly, but not illogical). And who could blame him. After all, he's only got one life to live.

A religious person, however, might take his religious teachings about an afterlife to heart and dive on a grenade to save his buddies in the foxhole, thus ensuring the favor of his deity of as well as a slot in the afterlife.

Logic is not heroism, nor is it self-sacrifice. I'd rather have a self-sacrificing hero in my foxhole than someone who is merely logical.

Posted by: Carlos at July 31, 2007 01:13 PM

In addition, you might have to acknowledge that religion -- specifically, the belief that faith justifies the use of force against others -- is the root cause of this entire conflict.

Michael,

I could name a million things besides religion that people believe justifies the use of force against others-- such as freedom and democracy, or even beer money. If we can't talk about religion because it's the root cause of this conflict then we can't really talk about anything. Not to mention we didn't invade Iraq because of religion, we invaded for wholly non-religious reasons.

Posted by: Carlos at July 31, 2007 01:21 PM

I'm sorry you have apparently never met anyone who is religious and also a thinker.

I never met Einstein, but he was religious and he was also a thinker. I've met many people who are religious and intellectual. There are too many examples to name. Given that fact, I would never argue that someone can't be religious and also a thinker.

It is preposterous to assert that religion is a hindrance to clear and rational thought, foxhole or study room, stressful situation or calm.

I didn't say that. I said that atheism is not a hindrance to clear and rational thought. The presence of atheists is also not a hindrance to rational or heroic actions. Instead of being useless, they can be helpful in emergency situations. That was my point.

Most warriors are quietly religious, and they do just fine, thank you

Most warriors that I know are not religious, but that's irrelevant since it's a limited, empirical observation. In any case, dividing the world between the 'religious' and the 'non-religious' is also a limited observation. There are many people who believe in God but not in religion, who believe in religion but not in God, who believe in science but who respect religion, etc., so the generalizations rarely apply.

Posted by: mary at July 31, 2007 01:28 PM

Herschel Smith wrote:

It is preposterous to assert that religion is a hindrance to clear and rational thought, foxhole or study room, stressful situation or calm.

Religion demands the suspension of reason and rational thought on certain subjects, insisting on compliance with faith-based religious rules instead. So with respect to those subjects, what could be more of a hindrance?

Fortunately, people have the power to compartmentalize their minds, and most people in the west can maintain a belief in God in a separate compartment where its influence is limited to the occassional visit to Church. This permits them to profess a belief in God while going on with their lives as if he were not around.

However, if Christian fundamentalists had their way, religious doctrine would displace reason on a vast array of subjects. If they had their way, any doctor that performed an abortion would be put to death, any teacher that taught evolution would be jailed, any pharmacist that sold contraceptives would be shut down, any scientist that did genetics research would be put in prison, any books that even mention something like witchcraft or sorcery would be burned, any movie that features nudity or depicts a sexual act would be banned, alcohol consumption would be a criminal offence, no business would be allowed to operate on a Sunday, all children would be forced to pray in school and all children would be taught that the earth is only six thousand years old and that all geological and scientific evidence to the contrary is the work of the devil.

So if religion is not much of a hindrance to rational thought in the west, it is not because religion is "reason-friendly". It's because the Enlightenment put it in its place.

Posted by: Michael Smith at July 31, 2007 01:33 PM

Michael Smith said "Religion demands the suspension of reason and rational thought on certain subjects ..."

Of course, this is false, and Michael Smith has no proof for his assertion. He just made it up, and is allowing his bias to cloud his judgment. Religion demands nothing of the sort.

Alvin Plantinga says otherwise. Perhaps Michael should spend some time with him.

http://www.homestead.com/philofreligion/Plantingapage.html

Enough said on this subject. Let's get back to the war. Michael can write me and I'll enjoy deconstructing his arguments until the "cows come home." We should take this debate offline now. Write me, Michael.

Posted by: Herschel Smith at July 31, 2007 01:43 PM

However, if Christian fundamentalists had their way, religious doctrine would displace reason on a vast array of subjects.

If militant atheism had it's way, look at North Korea, the USSR, Mao's China. Logic and "reason" would displace archaic and illogical notions of morality, like selflessness, compassion, charity in favor of raw utility, practicality, pragmatism.

So if religion is not much of a hindrance to rational thought in the west, it is not because religion is "reason-friendly". It's because the Enlightenment put it in its place.

Or to put in another way, reason and religion are not incompatible.

Posted by: Carlos at July 31, 2007 01:50 PM

Carlos said:

I could name a million things besides religion that people believe justifies the use of force against others-- such as freedom and democracy, or even beer money.

Yes, but how many people are initiating the use of force based on such things verus how many are initiating the use of force because they think they are doing God's will? I think the ratio is heavily skewed toward the latter.

If we can't talk about religion because it's the root cause of this conflict then we can't really talk about anything. Not to mention we didn't invade Iraq because of religion, we invaded for wholly non-religious reasons.

I don't claim that we cannot talk about religion. I was just pointing out that one (possible) reason more people are not talking about it is the desire to evade the obvious contradictions this war reveals in their religious beliefs -- such as the fact that, to be consistent, Christians would have to concede that it's just possible God really is telling al-Qaeda to slaughter the infidels. It's easier to evade that conclusion if the subject just goes unmentioned.

As far as the invasion of Iraq goes, religion was indeed the reason we invaded -- not our religion, but al-Qaeda's religion. We invaded because we were convinced that Hussein had WMDs or would get WMDs and we did not want to take the risk that these would wind up in the hands of the nuts that murdered 3,000 people on 9/11 -- nuts whose religious beliefs instruct them to mass murder anyone they consider an infidel.

Had the religious-inspired attack on 9/11 never occurred, I cannot imagine Bush ever advocating the invasion of Iraq. So religion is very much at the root of this conflict.

Posted by: Michael Smith at July 31, 2007 01:54 PM

This may have been addressed previously - if so, sorry, but for clarity:

“You’re lucky, sir” he said. “We’re here for 18."

That's an example of scuttlebut. All Army tours in Iraq are now fixed at 15 months - but a great and powerful rumor still floats that it's going to be extended to 18. This in spite of the fact that General Pace on his most recent visit here said - basically - "no way".

There were some caveats attached, but extension to 18 would have to happen next year. Next year is 2008, and will feature a US Presidential election. Ergo, odds of that extension happening: slim.

Another great (and related) one you might hear soon (if not already) Michael involves the pending invasion of Iran. Ask around about that one, you'll find some folks who will assure you it's a certainty. Apply the same logic as above re: election year.

Al Q in Iraq: Generally when the locals are referencing al Qaeda, they at least mean 'foreign fighters". They know who's from out of town, much the same way an American from Wisconsin can identify an American from Mississippi as "not from around here" (and vice-versa) fairly soon after exchanging "hellos". Whether they are carrying al Qaeda membership cards and wearing secret decoder rings is beside the point. They are indeed people who've come to Iraq on a mission of "Jihad" and most are equally gleeful in killing Americans and Shi'ites. (And any Sunni they consider apostate.) At the top of the network are real, card-carrying al Qaeda boys.

Whether the most recent suicide bomber from Saudi has personally sworn fealty to Osama bin Laden or not seems hardly worthy of debate - it's not the club - it's the ideology that we're at war with.

(By the way, here's a recent related story.)

Finally, it's worth noting that the "great al Qaeda debate" has unfortunate American political overtones. One side says they're in Iraq and must be fought (I believe most in this camp understand "al Qaeda" to be shorthand), the other saying we must withdraw from Iraq and fight them elsewhere - except for leaving a small force in Iraq to fight the small al Qaeda presence there. (I fear this group has bought into someone's hype.)

Another question you might pose to the average Joes, Michael: try asking around about that "small force left behind to fight al Qaeda and not get involved in 'sectarian violence'" idea - see who would volunteer.

Again - in simple terms, it's al Qaeda and those who share al Qaeda ideology that we're fighting. (And yes, it ain't easy.) I am not spouting political talking points, I'm not regurgitating lines from PowerPoints, I'm offering my own observations from the ground in Iraq. How this fits into anyone's political ideology concerns me not one damn bit.

Posted by: Greyhawk at July 31, 2007 01:55 PM

Had the religious-inspired attack on 9/11 never occurred, I cannot imagine Bush ever advocating the invasion of Iraq.

That's not a very logical statement considering you atheists are all so logical. Even a cursory knowledge of recent events tells us the exact opposite. The plan to oust Saddam goes way back to the Clinton administration, and we'd been at war with Saddam long before 9/11, bombing him almost daily from the skies. If the sanctions had been lifted and Saddam reconstituted his nuclear program I'm almost positive it would have come down to an invasion. No religious motives came into play at all.

I think the ratio is heavily skewed toward the latter.

That may be your thinking, but it's not based on any discernible evidence. Aside from islamic extremism, most violence around the globe is based on non-religious reasons.

Posted by: Carlos at July 31, 2007 02:16 PM

Carlos wrote:

If militant atheism had it's way, look at North Korea, the USSR, Mao's China. Logic and "reason" would displace archaic and illogical notions of morality, like selflessness, compassion, charity in favor of raw utility, practicality, pragmatism.

There is absolutely nothing logical or reasonable about Communism. There is no rational, logical argument that justifies totalitarianism, slavery, or mass murder -- which is what all Communist regimes accomplish.

Reason is an attribute of the individual. It is the individual that all forms of totalitarianism are at war with. To rule the individual, you must get him to obey, not think. It is not an accident that all totalitarian movements go to great effort to manufacture propaganda in support of their regimes -- they have to do so to obscure the fact that their ideology doesn't stand to reason.

Or to put in another way, reason and religion are not incompatible.

Faith and reason are opposites. Faith is what one invokes to justify a belief that cannot be supported by reason. It doesn't get any more incompatible than that.

Reason would never permit you to believe in the existence of a cosmic Jewish zombie who is really three entities rolled into one and who is also his own father, and who can make you live forever provided you communicate to him telepathically that you accept him as your master so that he can remove from your soul an evil force that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magic tree. No, to swallow that tale requires the suspension of reason and the invoking of faith.

Posted by: Michael Smith at July 31, 2007 02:29 PM

I wanted a chance to defend my point before Herschel, rightly, closes the discussion.
The inate human trait I refer to is the bottom-up not top down motivation. The peaseant, serf, semi-literate citizen what have you that listened to Hitler, Mohommed, Pope Urban II, Abraham Lincoln, and were moved to act in ways that ultimately led to the deaths of others were motivated by the basic belief that 'I am right and you are wrong'. People have always been willing to prove that point to the death. There are very few civilizaitions that didn't hold the supremacy of their race or creed over all others. The rulers have played on that trait of the masses for recorded history. Religion is one of those tools. It is fairly obvious that that is a trait that evolution would favor. If you don't do that you will dissapear into history-survival of the fittest

Your anti-americans are just playing the tapes backwards. They still believe they are right it just happens that their belief is that the other guy is better.
The multiculturalists believe multiculturalism is RIGHT. They are currently trying (poorly) to figure out how to be tolerant of intolerance. The fundemental flaw of their beliefs. But they are proving increasingly willing to put down those who question multiculturalism. Same techniques, same groups of individuals secure in the knowlegede that what they believe is RIGHT therefore worth the struggle

Posted by: Ross at July 31, 2007 02:30 PM

There is absolutely nothing logical or reasonable about Communism.

Then by your own admission atheism doesn't ensure or guarantee logic. Thank you.

In fact, put into practice atheism doesn't seem to necessarily guarantee anything positive. Unless, of course, you believe the atheist horror show of the 20th century was positive.

Posted by: Carlos at July 31, 2007 02:35 PM

Carlos wrote:

That's not a very logical statement considering you atheists are all so logical. Even a cursory knowledge of recent events tells us the exact opposite. The plan to oust Saddam goes way back to the Clinton administration, and we'd been at war with Saddam long before 9/11, bombing him almost daily from the skies. If the sanctions had been lifted and Saddam reconstituted his nuclear program I'm almost positive it would have come down to an invasion. No religious motives came into play at all.

Carlos, the fact that you can construct a scenario under which we might have eventually invaded Iraq without the 9/11 attack does not change the reality of what actually happened. The fact is, we did have the 9/11 attack, and it was bad enough to make people finally realize that these people are so thoroughly convinced of the rightness of their faith-based beliefs that they'll do anything.

Furthermore, it is by no means a "near certainty" that we would have necessarilly invaded Iraq if Hussein developed nuclear weapons. We didn't invade Pakistan when they went nuclear.

Our motivations in invading Iraq had nothing to do with our religion -- but the religion of the Islamic terrorists that made the invasion necessary now -- not in some hypothetical future -- that religion is what motivates and moves them.

I really don't see how you can say that the enemy's motivating ideology is not the root of the conflict. It's his whole reason for starting and continuing the conflict.

Posted by: Michael Smith at July 31, 2007 02:50 PM

Carlos said:

In response to my statement: There is absolutely nothing logical or reasonable about Communism.

Carlos wrote:

Then by your own admission atheism doesn't ensure or guarantee logic. Thank you.

No, nothing "guarantees" logic. Man possesses volition, so the use of logic is a choice one must make -- nothing makes it happen automatically. It is entirely possible to use logic to reach the correct conclusion about one issue but then be totally illogical about other issues.

In fact, put into practice atheism doesn't seem to necessarily guarantee anything positive. Unless, of course, you believe the atheist horror show of the 20th century was positive.

Communism is not some automatic manifestation of "putting atheism into practice". Communism simply replaces God with "society" (or the proletariat) as the object to which individuals must be willing to sacrifice.

The philosophy I hold -- called Objectivism -- holds that nothing, neither god nor society nor the proletariat, nothing can be elevated above the individual's inalienable rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. The right to liberty obviously includes your right to believe in God and worship any way you wish -- just as it includes my right to be an atheist. What it forbids is the notion that either of us have the right to initiate the use of force against anyone else.

Posted by: Michael Smith at July 31, 2007 03:13 PM

The problem, Mr. Smith, as is the problem now in the those trying to tolerate the intolerant, is when the other guy-who believes that you are wrong-gathers up enough friends and throws you and your objectivist brethren out the window.

Darwinism of belief systems would rate this at the dodo level of survival when meeting a large crowd of determined badguys.

There is a great line from Men in Black. To paraphrase: Individuals are smart, understanding and able to deal with crisis. People are stupid, slow and prone to panic. Many of the modern belief systems are great on an individual level and fall apart on a societal level(socialism, communism, multiculturalism).

Posted by: Ross at July 31, 2007 03:32 PM

Carlos, the fact that you can construct a scenario under which we might have eventually invaded Iraq without the 9/11 attack does not change the reality of what actually happened.

I did not construct that scenario. It's historical FACT that we were intent on ousting Saddam WELL BEFORE the attacks of 9/11. FACT. Saddam was considered a REGIONAL threat by us-- and most of his neighbors-- independent of the possibility that he MIGHT pass nukes off to islamic extremists. That's a FACT, not a "construction." So to blame the Iraq invasion on 9/11 and "religion"-- when we were well on our way to war with Saddam is the construction here. Recall that it was only AFTER the invasion (and no WMD's were found) that AQ was cited as a reason for invading. Thus the real construction here is yours and it amounts to no more than a revision of history for the purposes of scoring points for on a blog thread for the cause of atheism.

So, to reiterate. As the atheists have demonstrated, violence would exist in vast quantities even in a world without religion. And such a world would not be any more conducive to logic or reason (as the atheists of the 20th century have so aptly demonstrated) than a world with religion.

Posted by: Carlos at July 31, 2007 03:42 PM

Mr. Totten, Sir, thank you for the great read! Your check is in the mail (seriously).

The comments here were interesting, too.

To summerize, Mary, Micheal Smit, Ross & Dan - want to make negative political hay about the war. They try to use big words and - for them - complex logic.

Unfortunately for them, however, Carlos & Hershel Smith are having none of it.

Mary & Co., I hope you understand how badly you've been taken behind the woodshed and whipped. Why do you keep coming back for more?

Posted by: Steve D. at July 31, 2007 03:58 PM

Steve B: To summerize, Mary, Micheal Smit, Ross & Dan - want to make negative political hay about the war. They try to use big words...

Steve. Love you man, but your spelling/grammar flame just backfired in a big way.

Posted by: Edgar at July 31, 2007 04:33 PM

Mary, Micheal Smit, Ross & Dan - want to make negative political hay about the war.

Huh? My primary complaint about the war is that we're not killing enough of the bad guys, and that our foreign policy refuses to admit that alliances change. I'm not sure why you're assuming that I'd agree with Dan, but I have to guess it has something to do with 'complex logic' or a refusal to condemn atheism?

Anyway, yes, thanks to Michael for the great read.

Posted by: mary at July 31, 2007 04:42 PM

You guys and your absurd stereotypes are funny -- anyone need more proof that religion is far more of a polarizing and conflict-provoking force than a means to transcend differences and bring people and nations together? Formal religion is just organizational trappings which try to reduce spirituality to a man-defined set of social policies and limited, simplified concepts such as punishment/reward.

Never having been trapped in a foxhole under fire, I'm amazed to hear that anyone would think that's a good time to engage in theological or philosophical debates. I suspect most soldiers are quietly spiritual.

I thought mary's initial response was meant with a touch of humor, but heaven help us (so to speak) lest that go unmolested.

Great reporting MJT -- keep it coming.

Posted by: Pam at July 31, 2007 05:20 PM

Informative and inspiring! Keep up the good work.

Posted by: john at July 31, 2007 05:56 PM

Pam,

you're more than welcome to contribute your two cents about it (apparently it's only "polarizing" when a non-atheist pipes in), but if you find the debate polarizing then perhaps it's not religion you have a problem with, but debate.

Oh, and the "silly stereotypes" started with Mary (the one you find so humorous).

Posted by: Carlos at July 31, 2007 06:27 PM

excellent read

Posted by: joedaddy at July 31, 2007 06:54 PM

I'm sorry you have apparently never met anyone who is religious and also a thinker.

Mary and I are good friends, so yes she has. And we've had some relaxed conversations about religion. I know anti-religious people who have to vent at everyone but Mary is simply non-religious and has a very live and let live attitude.

But Mary, your first comment on this topic doesn't reflect your actual knowledge of some of your friends.

Faith and reason are opposites. Faith is what one invokes to justify a belief that cannot be supported by reason. It doesn't get any more incompatible than that.

No, reason and "faith" (means different things to different people) are subsets of our complex mental/physical/emotional attempts to understand reality. The are complementary not incompatible. Atheists always try to make out religious people to be incapable of or unwilling to practice rational thought, and all you have to do is get to know a random sample of people to see that this isn't true.

You use different modes of thought for different purposes. You could apply logic and reason exclusively to a poem or a dance or a love affair, but it's missing the point. (Unless you like stalinist monumental art.) (Note I said "exclusively." You don't want to throw your brain out the window, but there is more going on.) Creationists make the opposite mistake - they want to apply faith to science, which means it isn't science anymore.

Posted by: Yehudit at July 31, 2007 07:31 PM

Pam,

http://www.oregonlive.com/obituaries/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/obits/1185488737282880.xml&coll=7
Earlier today I went to the funeral of my best friend's father, and Air Force veteran with many years of service who died of kidney failure. Charles Longstreth was interred with full military honors and the service was spoken by his brother, a pastor. Both rituals were extremely comforting and helped us all come to a sense of completion about Charles Longstreth's life.

The military ritual was performed with precision by the Willamette National Cemetery's Honor Guard and accorded honor for service. The religious ceremony was a more relaxed ritual and the pastor spoke of Charles's life. Both rituals helped the survivors deal with the passing in different ways.

One of the problems of being an atheist is that you don't get those rituals to help you deal with loss. You also don't get those rituals when you are only spiritual, instead of religious. Most troops I know are quietly religious because the practice of religion has value compared to making everything up as you go along. Also, the military rewards ritual behavior with sanction. For further reference, see Skippy's List:
http://skippyslist.com/
175. We do not “charge into battle, naked, like the Celts”.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at July 31, 2007 07:36 PM

Patrick, I agree that religious ritual can be comforting for many people, whether they believe or not -- some very spiritual people find them hollow, on the other hand. I propose that it is the community aspect -- that the ritual is shared -- that really matters in that regard, and fosters a certain appreciation of human-ness.

It's really not inconceivable that a community of atheists or existentialists could develop comforting rituals. I say that because as a Soto Zen Buddhist, I am an a-theist, but the community nevertheless has shared social rituals around life passages, which are simultaneously designed to jam your nose into the inescapable hard and sublime realities of life, and to create a comforting sense of communality.

I think the rather heated either/or argument mounted here is a bit silly. Some religious people are very thoughtful, but most do, by definition, agree to suspend empiricism and logic in some aspects of experience. Some atheists are very thoughtful or artistic and have a lively, complex inner philosophy -- it just doesn't include a deity -- which I think deserves recognition here as well.

I wonder whether it is ritual that the soldier pinned in a foxhole considers, or if it is his spirituality, his inner belief, whether that is theist, existentialist, or what have you. Never having been there, like I say, I'll have to take your word for it. I still can't imagine a bunch of guys under attack haranguing one another, 'IS a God!' 'Is NOT' 'Is TOO!' 'Is NOT!' I think that is more likely in the comments section of a blog.

Posted by: Pam at July 31, 2007 09:47 PM

Patrick - I'm sorry to hear about your best friend's father. If I'd known that you were attending a funeral today, I wouldn't have chosen this time to make jokes about religion vs. atheism in foxholes.

..and yes, religious ritual does offer comfort to atheists, agnostics, believers and everyone in between, even naked Celts.

Posted by: mary at July 31, 2007 10:15 PM

Pam, I really hate to get involved in this debate, but here goes. During my foxhole time in Vietnam, I found, in just about every case, when one felt his life to be in severe danger, he called out or whispered to himself for God's protection.

The fact that we cursed and drank beer afterward didn't change what happened in the foxhole. Perhaps it was the wounding and death around us, I don't know, but I found my belief in God to be a comfort to me, and I don't know anyone in my platoon who didn't feel the same way.

Posted by: joe at July 31, 2007 10:31 PM

Yikes.

That'll teach me to be more careful with the jokes.

Posted by: rosignol at July 31, 2007 10:38 PM

And Michael, how could I forget, what a great story. Everytime I read one of your articles, I can't get enough, fast enough, and am always hungry for more. I have a son in the Army, now at Ft. Benning, but probably soon to be in Iraq, and your stories are so very important to me. Thank you so much!

Posted by: joe at July 31, 2007 10:39 PM

I think the rather heated either/or argument mounted here is a bit silly.

Pam - Time and Newsweek recently ran articles covering the standard religion vs atheism debate. Most of the people who wrote letters to the editor about those articles complained about the same false dichotomy. Articles in newspapers and on blogs often get a similar response. I think there are a lot of people out there who have quietly moderate views about religion and spirituality that don't fit the either/or model.

Posted by: mary at July 31, 2007 10:42 PM

Wish all would stop discussing their personal religous beliefs and experiences. Go to Catholic Quarterly (or wherever) if you want discuss your religion.

Posted by: Ron Snyder at August 1, 2007 07:13 AM

Joe, I understand that in the most extreme trauma, such as torture, people almost inevitably call out for God and for their mother.

Hmmph. If MJT would post a tad more often, maybe the comments section wouldn't get quite so far astray.

Posted by: Pam at August 1, 2007 08:34 AM

"If MJT would post a tad more often..."

At the risk of being called a religious zealot, amen to that, Pam. But I'm sure Michael does the best he can. And his stories always mesmerize me. Perhaps it's his writing style, I don't know, but I read them over and over, always finding something new, something I hadn't thought about before.

And I have enjoyed the comments for the most part. Regardless of what Ron says, I believe these discussions are worthwhile, even on this blog. But Michael is the one to decide, not Ron. I'll be glad to conform to Michael's rules on his blog.

Posted by: joe at August 1, 2007 08:53 AM

At the risk of being called a religious zealot, amen to that, Pam.

But religious zealot you are. I think it's somewhat of a joke to call these comments "moderated" when people get away with offensive remarks like `amen.'

Posted by: Edgar at August 1, 2007 11:09 AM

Carlos wrote:

I did not construct that scenario. It's historical FACT that we were intent on ousting Saddam WELL BEFORE the attacks of 9/11.

Oh come on, Carlos. You are trying to re-write history. You really expect me to believe that on the morning of September 11th, as George Bush sat reading to children in grammar school in Florida, he was secretly thinking of an invasion of Iraq to depose Hussein?

So to blame the Iraq invasion on 9/11 and "religion"-- when we were well on our way to war with Saddam is the construction here.

We were "well on our way to war with Saddam"? Where do you see any evidence of that?

Even when Hussein invaded Kuwait and both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as well as the UN asked for our help -- even with Hussein poised to invade Saudi Arabia and take control of America’s single biggest supplier of oil -- even then the congressional authorization for US military intervention only passed the US Senate by a vote of 52 - 47. In the absence of similar, obvious causus belli, there is no way we were going to war with Iraq, even if they did develop nuclear weapons.

The much-touted "Iraq Liberation Act of 1998" called on the president to use "humanitarian assistance" and "international pressure" through the UN to get Hussein out of office. But here is the very last sentence of that Act:

Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize or otherwise speak to the use of United States Armed Forces (except as provided in section 4(a)(2)) in carrying out this Act .

Section 4 (a) (s) reads as follows: 2) MILITARY ASSISTANCE- (A) The President is authorized to direct the drawdown of defense articles from the stocks of the Department of Defense, defense services of the Department of Defense, and military education and training for such organizations.

The Act spells out that the “organizations” in question are "Iraqi Democratic Opposition Organizations".

Thus, the act makes clear that there was no intention to authorize the use of military force to get rid of Hussein. We may have viewed Hussein as "regional threat", but it is clear that we didn’t see him as enough of a threat to justify an invasion and occupation to get rid of him.

9/11 changed almost everyone’s thinking on that. And 9/11 was a faith-based initiative.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 1, 2007 11:10 AM

Many of the modern belief systems are great on an individual level and fall apart on a societal level(socialism, communism, multiculturalism).

There is nothing "great" about any of these ideas on any level -- not if your objective is to live in a free society under a government dedicated to protecting the individual rights of all citizens.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 1, 2007 11:16 AM

Michael Smith,

Oh come on, Carlos. You are trying to re-write history. You really expect me to believe that on the morning of September 11th, as George Bush sat reading to children in grammar school in Florida, he was secretly thinking of an invasion of Iraq to depose Hussein?

Why does it have to be on the morning of 9/11?

We were "well on our way to war with Saddam"? Where do you see any evidence of that?

Um, probably in the law passed in 1998 calling for regime change in Iraq. Seconly, the Pentagon had prepared in 1999 several war game scenarios on a full invasion of Iraq complete with a capitulation of the Baathist regime. Ironically, those war games recommended we go in with at least 400,000 combat troops.

Furthermore, the very people influencing the Bush administration called on a full regime change of Iraq in 1998:

Saddam Hussein must go. This imperative may seem too simple for some experts and too daunting for the Clinton Administration. But if the United States is committed, as the President said in his State of the Union Message, to insuring that the Iraqi leader never again uses weapons of mass destruction, the only way to achieve that goal is to remove Mr. Hussein and his regime from power. Any policy short of that will fail.

The good news is this: The Administration has abandoned efforts to win over the Iraqi leader with various carrots. It is clear that Mr. Hussein wants his weapons of mass destruction more than he wants oil revenue or relief for hungry Iraqi children. Now the Administration is reportedly planning military action -- a three- or four-day bombing campaign against Iraqi weapons sites and other strategic targets. But the bad news is that this too will fail. In fact, when the dust settles, we may be in worse shape than we are today.

Think about what the world will look like the day after the bombing ends. Mr. Hussein will still be in power -- if five weeks of heavy bombing in 1991 failed to knock him out, five days of bombing won't either. Can the air attacks insure that he will never be able to use weapons of mass destruction again? The answer, unfortunately, is no. Even our smart bombs cannot reliably hit and destroy every weapons and storage site in Iraq, for the simple reason that we do not know where all the sites are. After the bombing stops, Mr. Hussein will still be able to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. Pentagon officials admit this.

What will President Clinton do then? Administration officials talk of further punitive measures, like declaring a no-fly zone over all of Iraq, or even more bombing. But the fact is that the United States will have shot its bolt. Mr. Hussein will have proved the futility of American air power. The United Nations inspection regime will have collapsed; American diplomacy will be in disarray. Those who opposed military action all along -- the Russians, French and Chinese -- will demand the lifting of sanctions, and Mr. Hussein will be out of his box, free to terrorize our allies and threaten our interests.

Mr. Hussein has obviously thought through this scenario, and he likes his chances. That is why he provoked the present crisis, fully aware that it could lead to American bombing strikes. He has survived them before, and he is confident he can survive them again. They will not succeed in forcing him to abandon his efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. The only way to remove the threat of those weapons is to remove him, and that means using air power and ground forces, and finishing the task left undone in 1991.

We can do this job. Mr. Hussein's army is much weaker than before the Persian Gulf war. He has no political support beyond his own bodyguards and generals. An effective military campaign combined with a political strategy to support the broad opposition forces in Iraq could well bring his regime down faster than many imagine. And Iraq's Arab neighbors are more likely to support a military effort to remove him than an ineffectual bombing raid that leaves a dangerous man in power.

Does the United States really have to bear this burden? Yes. Unless we act, Saddam Hussein will prevail, the Middle East will be destabilized, other aggressors around the world will follow his example, and American soldiers will have to pay a far heavier price when the international peace sustained by American leadership begins to collapse.

If Mr. Clinton is serious about protecting us and our allies from Iraqi biological and chemical weapons, he will order ground forces to the gulf. Four heavy divisions and two airborne divisions are available for deployment. The President should act, and Congress should support him in the only policy that can succeed.

That was written by William Kristol and Robert Kagan.

Posted by: Dan at August 1, 2007 11:31 AM

Carlos wrote:

So, to reiterate. As the atheists have demonstrated, violence would exist in vast quantities even in a world without religion. And such a world would not be any more conducive to logic or reason (as the atheists of the 20th century have so aptly demonstrated) than a world with religion.

What you fail to realize is that Communism and Fascism (Nazism) are also religions -- they simply replaced God with the Party (or the proletariat) and the Race as the objects to which individuals must be sacrificed.

And instead of invoking faith to justify the dogma, they renamed it "instinct" and "dialectical materialism". But they all share one thing in common: the rejection of reason as the sole means of gaining knowledge in favor of alleged knowledge gained by something else.

The fundamental issue isn't religion versus atheism. The issue is faith (whatever its invokers call it) versus reason.

To the extent that men endorse faith, force becomes their only means of dealing with one another. When the followers of faith-based belief systems disagree on their faith-based claims, the only way to settle who is right is to take up arms. That is precisely what they've been doing for centuries.

To the extent that men endorse reason, persuasion becomes the means of dealing with those who disagree, with reality available to ultimately settle any disagreements.

Thus faith and force are corollaries -- just as reason and freedom are corollaries. When faith dominates a culture, force rules men’s lives. When reason dominates a culture, men can function under political freedom.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 1, 2007 11:37 AM

Steve D wrote:

Mary & Co., I hope you understand how badly you've been taken behind the woodshed and whipped.

How do you know they've been whipped? By faith, or by reason?

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 1, 2007 11:40 AM

Yehudit said:

No, reason and "faith" (means different things to different people) are subsets of our complex mental/physical/emotional attempts to understand reality. The are complementary not incompatible.

The 19 hijacker's faith told them it was good to murder 3,000 people on 9/11. Reason tells me that mass murder is totally evil. How, then, are reason and faith "complementary"?

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 1, 2007 11:43 AM

Dan wrote:

Um, probably in the law passed in 1998 calling for regime change in Iraq.

You apparently didn't read all of what I wrote. That law makes clear that it doesn't contemplate the use of military force to remove Hussein.

Nor does the fact that certain individuals like William Kristol and Robert Kagan were calling for military action prove anything. People had been calling for us to "finish the job" we started in 1991 ever since 1991 -- and it had not happened.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 1, 2007 11:50 AM

Michael Smith,

Actually Kristol and Kagan's article show that we were "well on our way" as you say to war with Iraq. First we had an official law set in place that the United States sought regime change. Then you had influential individuals (who would later advise the next administration) saying that the time had come for a full on invasion. Then you have Richard Clarke and Bob Woodward both writing in their books that not even days after 9/11 both Rumsfeld and Bush were casting their eye on Iraq.

The evidence is there, my good sir, that we were well on our way to invading Iraq from long before 2002.

Posted by: Dan at August 1, 2007 11:57 AM

Pam,

I still can't imagine a bunch of guys under attack haranguing one another, 'IS a God!' 'Is NOT' 'Is TOO!' 'Is NOT!' I think that is more likely in the comments section of a blog.

In my experience the conversation goes more like this:
Unpleasant threatening event: Bzzzzzz!
Atheist: You know if we die everything ends, there is no afterlife!
Non-Commissioned Commissioned Officer (NCO): Shut the F&#* Up or I'll thump you!
Atheist: You can't infringe on my First Amendment rights, I can say...
NCO: [THUMP]
Atheist: [silence]

The standards of debate are different in the military and during stress events become substantially condensed. When I was the NCO the atheist was freaking out because our warship was going to use its weapons against an enemy of the United States actively shooting at our aircraft. I "thumped" him by asking him if he was going to put up or shut up. Since he did not have the courage of his convictions to protest our ship's actions and delete his own military benefits, he shut the f&#* up and went to his station. I lost a friend that night, but the ship went into action successfully.

I did not have to physically assault him in that instance, but if the situation required me to do so, I would have beaten him bloody to get him to stand to his station. Generally wall-to-wall counseling is reserved for personnel worth salvaging, and it is extremely rare these days. Instead of beating the truly recalcitrant, we charge them with fraudulent enlistment because they lied when they swore their oath of enlistment. If you cannot serve with honor, we can help you leave the service.

I must say that although I have had discipline problems with the devoutly atheistic in my service, they are not the worst servicepersons in my experience. Satanists self-destruct much faster than atheists. Just look for cut-up knuckles on junior personnel who are screwing up. Oddly, people who give blood sacrifice are really bad at more mundane self-sacrifice.

Here endeth the lesson.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 1, 2007 11:58 AM

As usual great reporting. A number of people have picked up on the crucial bit about the rules of engagement regarding mosques. I find this especially hard to understand, not least because Muslims themselves have no compunction about destroying mosques (not just in Iraq, but in Pakistan, India, Gaza and many other places). More on my thoughts on this if anybody is interested here: http://edgar1981.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Edgar Davidson at August 1, 2007 12:00 PM

As usual great reporting. A number of people have picked up on the crucial bit about the rules of engagement regarding mosques.

The comment I was originally going to add (before being sidetracked) was that a civil engineer I know noted that style of construction used for large-scale mosques is different than other places of worship.

Unlike the delicate, ornate or deliberately simple, usually open design that characterizes most holy places, mosques are constructed using the same basic parameters that are used for forts and armories.

Posted by: mary at August 1, 2007 12:17 PM

Michael Smith,

The 19 hijacker's faith told them it was good to murder 3,000 people on 9/11. Reason tells me that mass murder is totally evil. How, then, are reason and faith "complementary"?

Holding up psycho-killers as examples of anything other than psychosis is somewhat suspect. I regularly trust my life to devout believers in Islam who are not psychotic. What gives all of us pause is the official sanction given psychotics by a number of fanatic Islamic groups.

I am somewhat puzzled by the reasons people give for surrendering to the psychotics and their supporters. The best understanding I can come up with is that there are both psychotically willing murderers and victims. I just don't want either negotiating for me.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 1, 2007 12:20 PM

Very interesting, Michael Smith. But reason itself doesn't necessarily make the murder of 3000 people evil, as reason might justify the murder of thousands to save more thousands from the same fate. Reason, in and of itself, has no belief system, therefore the grand atrocities of the 20th C. were mostly done in the name of reason, as were the excesses of the French Revolution, for instance.

It's really pointless to argue about the wars/atrocities/genocides of the past in terms of religion/non-religion, or reason for that matter. All have been used to justify mass murder.

Posted by: joe at August 1, 2007 12:28 PM

Dan wrote:

The evidence is there, my good sir, that we were well on our way to invading Iraq from long before 2002.

The evidence you have presented consists of this:

1) Two authors, who later proved to be influential in the Bush administration, wrote an article in 1998 advocating an invasion.
2) We had a law making regime change in Iraq our official policy.
3) Two other authors wrote books saying that within days of 9/11, Bush and Rumsfeld were "casting their eyes on Iraq".

The evidence I have presented consists of this:

1) In the face of the full-scale invasion of Kuwait, with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as well as he UN asking for the US to help and with Hussein poised to invade Saudi Arabia and take control of our single biggest supplier of oil, the vote in the Senate authorizing US military action passed by only 52-47. In the face of an obvious and undeniably valid causu belli, support for expelling Hussein militarily was marginal.

2) Even in the face of this obviously valid causus belli and with virtually unanimous international approval, there was never any authorization to invade Iraq -- only to expel Hussein from Kuwait.

3) The regime change law you continue to tout specifically included, as its final statement, the disclaimer that it was not to be construed as an authorization to use the US military to accomplish regime change.

4) When Muslim Pakistan went nuclear, we did nothing. We certainly did not invade.

5) When Hussein was building his first nuclear reactor at Osirak, we did nothing We did not invade.

6) When the Israeli’s bombed the reactor at Osirak, thus foiling Hussein’s first efforts to get nuclear weapons, we joined the world in condemning the attack.

I really don’t have anything else to say on the subject. If you want to continue to believe that we were on track to invade Iraq if 9/11 had never happened, obviously you are free to do so.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 1, 2007 01:53 PM

joe wrote:

Reason, in and of itself, has no belief system, therefore the grand atrocities of the 20th C. were mostly done in the name of reason, as were the excesses of the French Revolution, for instance.

This is not true.

It is myth that a reliance on reason gave us the horrors of communism and fascism. The fact is, every form of totalitarianism the world has seen, including fascism, socialism, national socialism (Nazism) and communism has been based on the rejection of reason and the elevation of some form of mysticism. Mysticism is the claim to any form of non-sensory, non-rational, non-definable, non-identifiable means of knowledge, such as “instinct”, “intuition”, “revelation” or the good old stand-by, “faith”.

For instance, let me give you some quotes from the man who launched one of the most murderous totalitarian regimes in history, Adolf Hitler:

“We are now at the end of the age of Reason. The intellect has grown autocratic and has become a disease of life.”

“We must distrust the intelligence and the conscience and place our trust in instincts. Trust your instincts, your feelings, or whatever you like to call them.”

“At a mass meeting, thought is eliminated. And because this is the state I require, because it secures to me the best sounding board for my speeches, I order everyone to attend the meetings, where they become part of the mass whether they like it or not intellectuals and bourgeois as well as the workers….”

“The masses are like an animal that obeys its instincts. They do not reach conclusions by reasoning.”

“People set us down as the enemies of the intelligence. We are. But in a much deeper sense than these conceited dolts of bourgeois scientists ever dreamed of.”

“A violently active, dominating, intrepid, brutal youth -- that is what I am after……I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin to my young men.”

“There is no such thing as truth, either in the moral or the scientific sense.”

And why preach such things? Hitler’s answer: “These are times when not the mind but the fist decides.”

And:

“I need men who will not stop to think if they’re ordered to knock someone down!”

Hitler admired the way the Catholic Church had made use of dogma:

“Faith must be unconditional. I have followed the Church in giving our party program the character of unalterable finality, like the Creed. The Church has never allowed the Creed to interfered with. It is fifteen hundred years since it was formulated, but every suggestion for its amendment, every logical criticism or attack has been rejected. The Church has realized that anything and everything can be built up on a document of that sort, no matter how contradictory or irreconcilable with it. The faithful will swallow it whole, so long as logical reasoning is never allowed to be brought to bear on it.”

The Nazis were militantly anti-reason, because they had a simple goal. To elevate Hitler to the status of a god, a being whose wisdom and will was beyond question. Herman Goering once said, in response to a criticism of Hitler’s economic policies, “I tell you, if the Fuhrer wishes it, then two times two are five.”

If you study the underpinnings of the other major totalitarian systems you will find the same determined attack on reason. Japanese Imperialism, for instance, used the same tactics as the Nazis -- they elevated the emperor to the status of a deity whose will was not to be questioned.

In communism, the rejection of reason consists of the claim that the content of one‘s mind -- one’s ideas or theories or beliefs -- are determined by the economic conditions of one‘s existence. Reason, communism holds, is irrelevant.

Here is Stalin on the subject:

“Hence, in order not to err in policy, in order not to find itself in the position of idle dreamers, the party of the proletariat must not base its activities on abstract "principles of human reason", but on the concrete conditions of the material life of society, as the determining force of social development; not on the good wishes of "great men," but on the real needs of development of the material life of society.”

Marx’s economic theories are based on materialistic determinism, i.e. the denial of free will, which is implicitly a denial of reason. If you cannot control the content of your mind, you cannot employ reason. Marx used the premise of determinism to construct a model of society in which one’s place in relation to the machinery of production determines one’s class and consequently the content of one’s mind. The owners of the machines were predetermined to be exploiters who accumulate ever-increasing wealth while those who operated the machines were predetermined to be exploited and forced to exist on subsistence wages, with the eventual, inevitable result being a revolt and the destruction of capitalism in favor of revolutionary socialism.

Of course, Marx could never explain or accept what was actually happening under capitalism -- the creation of a middle class of ever-increasing wealth -- because he could never accept the idea that individuals possess free will and reason and can act for their own benefit in free exchanges with other individuals.

It is true that international communist movement tried to position communism as a “scientifically proven system of thought”. But this was just a cheap attempt to exploit the fact that the only defenders of capitalism in the west tried to justify it on religious grounds, thus giving the communist the opening to claim that it was based on reason.

Here is the bottom line. No system that viciously stifles dissent and demands unquestioning acceptance of party doctrine can be called reasonable. The right to think and express one’s thoughts freely is the first freedom to go when totalitarians come calling.

You may argue history all you like, but the fact remains that every period of man’s history dominated by mysticism was a period of tyranny and brutality, whereas, when reason has prevailed, man has moved forward immeasurably.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 1, 2007 02:03 PM

Michael Smith,

Please read the following. The Bush administration did indeed plan for taking out Saddam from the beginning, from before 9/11:

“Everything's there: Memoranda to the President, handwritten "thank you" notes, 100-page documents. Stuff that's sensitive,” says Suskind, adding that in some cases, it included transcripts of private, high-level National Security Council meetings. “You don’t get higher than that.”

And what happened at President Bush's very first National Security Council meeting is one of O'Neill's most startling revelations.

“From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,” says O’Neill, who adds that going after Saddam was topic "A" 10 days after the inauguration - eight months before Sept. 11.

“From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime,” says Suskind. “Day one, these things were laid and sealed.”

As treasury secretary, O'Neill was a permanent member of the National Security Council. He says in the book he was surprised at the meeting that questions such as "Why Saddam?" and "Why now?" were never asked.

"It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this,’" says O’Neill. “For me, the notion of pre-emption, that the U.S. has the unilateral right to do whatever we decide to do, is a really huge leap.”

And that came up at this first meeting, says O’Neill, who adds that the discussion of Iraq continued at the next National Security Council meeting two days later.

He got briefing materials under this cover sheet. “There are memos. One of them marked, secret, says, ‘Plan for post-Saddam Iraq,’" adds Suskind, who says that they discussed an occupation of Iraq in January and February of 2001.
Based on his interviews with O'Neill and several other officials at the meetings, Suskind writes that the planning envisioned peacekeeping troops, war crimes tribunals, and even divvying up Iraq's oil wealth.

He obtained one Pentagon document, dated March 5, 2001, and entitled "Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield contracts," which includes a map of potential areas for exploration.

“It talks about contractors around the world from, you know, 30-40 countries. And which ones have what intentions,” says Suskind. “On oil in Iraq.”

It's all there.

Posted by: Dan at August 1, 2007 02:04 PM

Patrick Lasswell: I regularly trust my life to devout believers in Islam who are not psychotic

I think most of us do. But not all of us realize how important it is to tip someone who has control of our food immediately before we eat it. And believe me, some of these pizza delivery guys will become quite psychotic if you don't.

Nowadays, with the prevalence of caller ID phones in pizzerias, it's a very bad move not to leave the drivers a substantial gratuity, Muslim or not.

There are no atheists working in pizzerias. And they'll do stuff that will put the fear of God in you.

Posted by: Edgar at August 1, 2007 02:11 PM

I know at least 3 atheists who have worked at pizzerias, but they would spit on your food just as quick as the next guy...

Posted by: Lindsey at August 1, 2007 03:59 PM

>>>What you fail to realize is that Communism and >>>Fascism (Nazism) are also religions -- they simply replaced God with the Party (or the proletariat) and the Race as the objects to which individuals must be sacrificed.

Michael Smith,

so that isn't "true" atheism, you say? How tiresome. I can make similar arguments that all the crap and stupidity done in the name of God isn't true religion but a perversion of it. Round and round in circles we go. Yippeee! What fun.

Regardless, you again prove my point. Atheism (the belief there is no God) does not equal reason or utopia. Just look at all the fucked up things leading atheists have done throughout history. You can't escape the facts.

Posted by: Carlos at August 1, 2007 04:45 PM

Edgar,

I work in Iraq. I rarely have pizza there, but I regularly get into vehicles with armed strangers who are worshipers of Islam. Of course, I usually gain more from doing so than arguing with absurdists online.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 1, 2007 04:52 PM

Patrick Lasswell: I work in Iraq. I rarely have pizza there, but I regularly get into vehicles with armed strangers who are worshipers of Islam. I usually gain...from doing so

I assume you mean Kurdistan. I wouldn't want to get into a car with serious "worshippers of Islam" in Baghdad.

Far from gaining anything from the experience, you might find yourself at the beginning of a massive losing streak.

Posted by: Edgar at August 1, 2007 06:26 PM

Joe, I fully understand that it is MJT's blog, and his rules, not mine. I did not say that you, or anyone, had to stop discussing (at length, with personal examples) their religous beliefs, "no atheists in foxholes", etc.

Just stating my opinion that I read Michaels reporting for the same reason that I read Mike Yon's blog (both of which are very similar to Ernie Pyles WWII reporting- and this I mean as a very high compliment), which is to educate myself on the Middle East situation.

Thanks for your service in SEA (I served in the USAF during that event, though I did not see any combat), and best wishes to your son during his time in the service.

Posted by: Ron Snyder at August 1, 2007 06:26 PM

One of them marked, secret, says, ‘Plan for post-Saddam Iraq

That's funny. Wonder what on earth happened to those plans? Isn't the consensus that no-one had any plan for post-Sadam Iraq?

Posted by: mertel at August 1, 2007 06:49 PM

Oh come on, Carlos. You are trying to re-write history. You really expect me to believe that on the morning of September 11th, as George Bush sat reading to children in grammar school in Florida, he was secretly thinking of an invasion of Iraq to depose Hussein?
-Michael Smith

What Carlos and Dan are saying is accurate. Bush wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein back when he was a candidate, and it was no secret.

One of the reasons I voted for the guy was because I expected that he would find some way of removing Saddam Hussein from power before he left office.

That's funny. Wonder what on earth happened to those plans? Isn't the consensus that no-one had any plan for post-Sadam Iraq?
-Mertel

The media consensus != reality.

Posted by: rosignol at August 1, 2007 11:39 PM

Edgar,

You are one of the most innovative and irritating trolls I've ever seen. It's like you're a third generation troll, using deliberate misunderstanding to be annoying without getting yourself banned outright for being overtly offensive. Kind of like a anti-biotic resistant social disease, online. Traditional treatments are no longer effective.

Theoretically, this should improve our repartee skills, but that would assume that you put anything at risk. Your email address ties to a real site, but it is up for sale, so we must assume it to be fake. The trick here is to know that both cups have iocane powder in them. Everything you touch is going to be tasteless poison.

You are dismissed.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 2, 2007 12:55 AM

Patrick Lasswell,

I think you should have a look at your own responses to comments here. No matter what the topic, you either:

a) call people foolish and naive
b) mention your time in Iraq
c) accuse them of being unpatriotic

Since you seem to take yourself so seriously, answer this question: would you get into a car with armed strangers, worshippers of Islam, in Baghdad or into a car full of atheists?

Posted by: Edgar at August 2, 2007 05:37 AM

Ron, after re-reading the comments, I might just have to agree with you. In any event, thanks for the best wishes for my son. I meant no disrespect to you, I assure you of that.

Posted by: joe at August 2, 2007 06:41 AM

Patrick - you've lost me here - When I was the NCO the atheist was freaking out because our warship was going to use its weapons against an enemy of the United States actively shooting at our aircraft.

What did the guy's atheism have to do with the fact that he was freaking out? Kind of ironic. Since there are no strictures in atheism about non-violence, you would think an atheist would have less qualms about using force than a believer. Most true pacifists tend to be devout Christians - Mennonites for example. The hostility toward atheists from soldiers here is making me wonder if there isn't something to the rumor that Pat Tillman got fragged for his outspoken atheism.

Posted by: vanya at August 2, 2007 07:38 AM

Also one for the irony bucket - Dan, Carlos and Rosignol all vehemently defending one of MoveOn.org's main talking points - that Bush was planning to invade Iraq even before 9/11. Republican politicians and conservative media figures usually deny this, since that doesn't play well with mainstream Republican voters.

Posted by: vanya at August 2, 2007 07:45 AM

As long as I have 5 seconds to post, one last thought for Carlos - Soviet Communism, yes sir you are correct, indisputably atheist. There was even a museum of atheism in Moscow in the bad old days. But Nazism? Not so much - anti-Christian yes, but not atheist at all, more pseudo-pagan. Hitler made references to God and divine providence numerous times in his speeches. Hitler's kind of vague idea of a divine providence working through him may not be much like the involved God of Christianity, but it is certainly not an atheistic vision. And Mussolini was buddies with the Pope, and Franco of course was fighting to defend the Spanish Church against the atheists on the left, so again fascism is apparently never atheistic.

Posted by: vanya at August 2, 2007 07:56 AM

Dan:

It doesn’t matter what Bush wanted to do; the issue is what Congress and the American people would let him do. The facts indicate that even if Bush had wanted to get rid of Saddam the day after he was inaugurated, he wasn't close to being able to get Congressional approval for a military invasion prior to 9/11.

9/11 was the event that moved the public -- and most of the Democrats in Congress -- into favoring an invasion to remove Hussein.

If it wasn't 9/11 that did that, then please explain what did, because all of the evidence I've posted shows that there was no intention on the part of Congress to authorize an invasion of Iraq, not even when we had a very valid and obvious causus belli.

Look, here is a poll taken by the Washington Post in April of 2001: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/vault/stories/data042401.htm

Here is question 7 from that poll:

7. We'd like to know what kind of priority you want to see George W. Bush and the Congress give to some issues. For each one, please tell me if it should receive the highest priority, a high priority but not the highest, a middle priority, or a lower priority.

Here are the issues people were asked to rate:

a. Keeping the economy strong
b. Protecting the Social Security system
c. Holding down the cost of health care and health insurance
d. Reforming election campaign finance laws
e. Reducing the political partisanship in Washington
f. Cutting taxes
g. Improving education and the schools
h. Helping the elderly pay for prescription drugs
i. Protecting the environment
j. Upgrading military systems and equipment

Neither Iraq nor Hussein appear anywhere on the list. There isn't a single question about them in the entire poll. That's because Iraq and Hussein were off the public's radar at that point in time. Had Bush gone to Congress in April of 2001 and asked for authorization to invade and occupy Iraq, he’d have been laughed out of the building.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 2, 2007 08:46 AM

But Mary, your first comment on this topic doesn't reflect your actual knowledge of some of your friends.

Which friends, the atheists, the transcendentalists or the people who attend religious services on a weekly basis? In this thread, atheists are being typecast as a bunch of cowardly blathering shmucks who 'always try to make out religious people to be incapable of or unwilling to practice rational thought. From what I've seen, that's not always or even often true.

Posted by: mary at August 2, 2007 09:54 AM

Carlos said:

so that isn't "true" atheism, you say? How tiresome.

No, Carlos, I don't say that at all. They were “truly atheistic” – they didn’t believe in a supernatural God (at least the Communists didn’t; with the Nazis it isn't so clear.)

They point is that their atheism does not mean that they were pro-reason. In fact, they were anti-reason, as the quotations I provided illustrate.

Carlos also wrote:

Regardless, you again prove my point. Atheism (the belief there is no God) does not equal reason or utopia. Just look at all the fucked up things leading atheists have done throughout history. You can't escape the facts.

I didn’t say that “atheism equals reason or utopia”. It is in fact you who are conflating atheism and reason.

I posted those comments by Hitler and Stalin to illustrate that the “leading atheists” that “fucked things up” were NOT disciples of reason. Communism and fascism are not systems based on reason – they are based on the rejection of reason by elevating something above reason, instinct in one case and materialistic determinism in the other.

Atheism is not the alternative to faith. Reason is the alternative to faith. Reason does lead one to atheism, but so does the Communist tactic of arbitrarily throwing out both faith and reason in favor of Marx’s materialistic determinism. So the fact that a person is an atheist does not prove that he is a person of reason and it does not prove that whatever else he advocates is based on reason.

Thus, it is a fallacy to conclude that since the leaders of the Communist and Nazi movements were atheists it necessarily means that communism and fascism are based on reason and therefore reason is to blame for all the horrors of the twentieth century.

It is also a fallacy to claim that those horrors were caused by atheism. Atheism is a morally neutral position in the sense that it only tells you that the individual rejects a belief in the supernatural. It tells you nothing about the beliefs he accepts. Thus, the atheist Ayn Rand hated communism (after living through the Russian revolution and witnessing what communism meant in practice) and dedicated her life to defending communism’s arch enemies (the United States and capitalism) while the atheist Joseph Stalin loved communism and dedicated his life to exterminating all those who opposed it.

There are people here who claim that reason cannot provide a basis for morality. But it happens that the opposite is the case. It is the rejection of reason that allows the Hitlers, the Stalins and the Osama bin Ladens to claim the right to implement their beliefs by force. Once reason is rejected in favor of any form of mysticism -- faith, instinct, materialistic determinism, you name it -- then anything goes and anyone can claim to justify anything. And if reason is out the door, by what means will you argue against them?

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 2, 2007 10:06 AM

Michael Smith...I have never seen a particular belief system for reason. Reason itself is a tool, practiced by just about everyone at one time or another. For example, I am a geologist and I have to reason, if you will, to make daily decisions in my life and job. Yet I am a Christian and believe in God, yet I use reason on a daily basis. Reason is a tool, not a belief system.

Posted by: joe at August 2, 2007 11:04 AM

vanya,

What did the guy's atheism have to do with the fact that he was freaking out?

Part of the problem of deliberately excluding yourself from the extensive moral structures developed in traditional religion is that coping with certain extremes not in your direct experience is more challenging. Some atheists are up to the challenge, many are not. Michael Totten is an atheist I trust with my life because he can function well without rituals to help him cope. Actually, one of the things I bring to our business partnership is a spiritual grounding that lets me help him deal with certain problems that his weltanshauung doesn't equip him for. (Okay, sometimes the best solution I can come up with is a bottle of JW Black Label, but that worked pretty well last year.)

In the specific instance I was referring to, the atheists in question did not have a moral framework that could absolve them of the moral responsibility for the deaths we were about to cause. These people had gotten their heads planted firmly up their bums because they had no way of confronting this ultimate event. They had placed death as this ultimate sin, but they had no way of acknowledging and forgiving sin. Their moral map had vast spaces marked "Heer bee Dragons" and not a shred of further guidance.

If they had come to me, or anybody else, with this problem in the week we were getting ready for this event, things could have been handled better. Instead, they waited for the last possible minute to express their objections to the entire undertaking. So there they were, they had thrown out their toolset, they had no instructions on how to cope, and they were freaking out because everybody else was doing great. I did not have time to engage in endless online exchanges on matters of moral principle, so I put them to the question: Are you going to try to stop the ship from performing its mission?

The answer was that in addition to not having the moral grounding to be warriors, they also did not have the moral grounding to be real pacifists. I told them to shut up and go to your stations. The ship simply didn't have time for their crap.

There are a lot of people who go into the military with no clear comprehension of what it means and then spend the rest of their lives wingeing about the resultant trauma. It has been fourteen and a half years since that event, and I've thought about it a lot. I got lucky because I did have the intellectual and moral grounding necessary to deal with their reaction. But it was a close thing and I really wish I had had more time to come up with a better solution. I was excited and I put the needs of the ship far above the needs of the two obnoxious kids who failed to cope. But it would have taken me years to bring them around and I only had minutes.

In the end our ship participated in a massive cruise missile raid that deleted an Iraqi nuclear weapons production facility. A small handful of maintenance staff died in the middle of the night, although another ship's cruise missile was shot down and crashed into the parking lot of the Al Rashid Hotel, causing additional casualties when it's fuel tank exploded. We didn't target or hit the orphanages and old folks homes or whatever it was that the recalcitrant sailors had envisioned. It was a righteous strike and the atheists really looked like dorks afterwards.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 2, 2007 12:00 PM

joe said:

Reason is a tool, not a belief system.

I didn't say that reason was a belief system. I said I disagreed with people who claim that reason cannot provide a basis for morality. Ayn Rand has defined a morality derivable entirely and solely by reason. It is part of her philosophy called "Objectivism". You should check it out.

joe also said:

Yet I am a Christian and believe in God, yet I use reason on a daily basis.

Yes, you are free to use reason at times and discard it at other times. But in choosing to occasionally discard reason in favor of faith, you grant everyone else the right to so the same thing. And when 19 Muslims carry out a faith-based initiative like they did on 9/11, you have no grounds for declaring your faith to be valid and proper but their faith to be invalid and wrong.

Or to put it another way, all faith-based claims are equally valid.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 2, 2007 12:25 PM

Patrick,

Seriously man can you please summarize your posts. I've been reading this thread and everything you say in 60+ words can be summed up in 5 or less. All you're trying to do is look smart, when really you're not. It's annoying to read all this watered down jargon, and sift through it all to find some meaning that's obvious in the first place.

Posted by: JohnDakota at August 2, 2007 12:36 PM

Just for example Patrick, you said;
"Part of the problem of deliberately excluding yourself from the extensive moral structures developed in traditional religion is that coping with certain extremes not in your direct experience is more challenging. Some atheists are up to the challenge, many are not. Michael Totten is an atheist I trust with my life because he can function well without rituals to help him cope. Actually, one of the things I bring to our business partnership is a spiritual grounding that lets me help him deal with certain problems that his weltanshauung doesn't equip him for."

This can be easily summarized up in the terms;
"Religion provides a schema people can draw from to cope with stressing situations. Without this schema people have to make their own, explaining why Michael Totten did not cope as well."

No need to thank me. It's understood.. You are dismissed.

Posted by: JohnDakota at August 2, 2007 01:00 PM

In this thread, atheists are being typecast as a bunch of cowardly blathering shmucks who 'always try to make out religious people to be incapable of or unwilling to practice rational thought. From what I've seen, that's not always or even often true.

I agree. And the reverse is also true. Religious people aren't that either.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 2, 2007 01:03 PM

Yes, you are free to use reason at times and discard it at other times. But in choosing to occasionally discard reason in favor of faith, you grant everyone else the right to so the same thing. And when 19 Muslims carry out a faith-based initiative like they did on 9/11, you have no grounds for declaring your faith to be valid and proper but their faith to be invalid and wrong.

Yes I do, because what counts is what they do. if they commit 9-11 and claim that they do that because of their religious imperative (I would prefer to use the word "faith" as in "I have faith that you will treat me well", and "religion" for the other), and indeed the main thrust of their religion at this time supports that interpretation, I can make the judgement that their religion is bad, based on my values.

Non-religious people make those judgements all the time, why can't we? At least in Judaism, empirical results count.

This is an example of an atheist misrepresenting religion to support his biases - I see this all the time. You guys usually don't take the trouble to find out what most of us are about.

Ironically, you are being very literal about what reality is or not, and you assume the same literalness about religious people, based on the examples of Biblical literalists, who are not a majority in Christianity or Judaism (I don't know about Islam).

Without this schema people have to make their own, explaining why Michael Totten did not cope as well.

I think Michael is coping just fine, not sure where that came from, not from this blog, certainly.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 2, 2007 01:12 PM

Sorry, I meant to write "random atheist". I noticed that mistake earlier but there's no edit feature on this comment section.

Either way the summarize component of my point still stands. The posts are ridiculously long, and most of them are filler that has no point.

Posted by: JohnDakota at August 2, 2007 01:29 PM

Reason:
a)Like a computer: garbage in garbage out (ie starting with a flawed premise)
b)Works on an individual level/maybe small group level. Anyone have an example of a country, society or group of more than 10 people that consistantly act rationally?

Posted by: Ross at August 2, 2007 02:08 PM

Also one for the irony bucket - Dan, Carlos and Rosignol all vehemently defending one of MoveOn.org's main talking points - that Bush was planning to invade Iraq even before 9/11. Republican politicians and conservative media figures usually deny this, since that doesn't play well with mainstream Republican voters.

Vanya,

I've never had a doubt in my mind Bush wanted to invade Iraq before 9/11, given that the primary reason stated for the invasion was WMDs. That rational existed before 9/11. When 9/11 happened, that merely added urgency to that rationale, which is all that Republicans have been saying.

And no, Bushitler never claimed Saddam was involved with 9/11. He just said they had contacts with AQ. Big diff.

Posted by: Carlos at August 2, 2007 03:04 PM

Also one for the irony bucket - Dan, Carlos and Rosignol all vehemently defending one of MoveOn.org's main talking points - that Bush was planning to invade Iraq even before 9/11. Republican politicians and conservative media figures usually deny this, since that doesn't play well with mainstream Republican voters.

Vanya,

I've never had a doubt in my mind Bush wanted to invade Iraq before 9/11, given that the primary reason stated for the invasion was WMDs. That rational existed before 9/11. When 9/11 happened, that merely added urgency to that rationale, which is all that Republicans have been saying.

And no, Bushitler never claimed Saddam was involved with 9/11. He just said they had contacts with AQ. Big diff.

Posted by: Carlos at August 2, 2007 03:04 PM

I agree. And the reverse is also true. Religious people aren't that either.

I didn't say that they were.

Reason:
a)Like a computer: garbage in garbage out (ie starting with a flawed premise)
b)Works on an individual level/maybe small group level. Anyone have an example of a country, society or group of more than 10 people that consistantly act rationally?

That is true. If people did act rationally, we would all eat less and exercise more when we want to lose weight, we would never smoke or drink excessively and we would admit that we're wrong when we are wrong. But most of us don't do these things. Given that fact, we can't depend on reason to guide individual actions, much less large groups of people.

Posted by: mary at August 2, 2007 07:33 PM

Also one for the irony bucket - Dan, Carlos and Rosignol all vehemently defending one of MoveOn.org's main talking points - that Bush was planning to invade Iraq even before 9/11.
-Vanya

[shrug]

I'll agree or disagree with Carlos, Dan or anyone else on matters of opinion, but a fact is a fact regardless of who's saying it.

Posted by: rosignol at August 2, 2007 10:24 PM

A lot of you are Republicans. Republicans often talk about bearing arms, and the libertarians among you seem to want to get rid of almost all rules.

So, an alien army comes down, tells you you can't go out at night, and you certainly can't be armed. If they find you, they will stop you, search you, bring you back to your house, get your entire family out of bed (grandma's staying over for vakay), search your house, and continue asking questions (they don't speak English) and troubling your home until they decide to leave.

At any moment, they could decide they don't believe you, and drag you off and keep you indefinitely.

How many of you Republicans would simply take that type of treatment?

Since week four, this is why we have been continuosly losing. There are other, less important factors, but one is enough for now.

Steve B,

Your comment on the change from Muhj to Al-Qaeda is so eminently reasonable that I must thank you for pointing it out to me.

Dan,

You are right, there are people who have a mission to link Iraq and al-Qaeda. Think of it as the extension of the efforts of Feith and Luti in the Office of Special Plans.

Mosques and ROE,

Iraqi troops, yep.

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 04:49 AM

>>>So, an alien army comes down, tells you you can't go out at night,

You sound like the kind of person who blames the cops or airport security for "hassling" you. If aliens had liberated me from, say, a muslim Caliphate who made my daily life intolerable then I'd ask the aliens to stay for tea. I would cooperate with them even though it's a hassle in the same way I cooperate with, say, airport security because it's necessary hassle, and I'd thank them for doing a very difficult and thankless job.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 07:52 AM

Carlos,

Naturally, you are saying that it is the motive of the alien invaders which drives you, and not your principles about the right to bear arms or the freedom to go outside at night or to be free from arbitrary arrest, search or seizure at the hands of a power over which you have no control.

What if the aliens kept changing their story about their motives?

What if the motives of the alien enforcers were actually quite different (so our alien buddies didn't die in vain) than those of alien high command?

What if most of the people who the aliens worked closely with to create and staff the new government were Democrats?

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 08:10 AM

Yes, Carlos, what if...if...if....ifffff! What IF there had been a right to bear arms in Saddam's Iraq, what IF there had been the right to free speech, what IF there had been free and fair elections, what IF there had been a fair and accountable system of justice, what IF freedom of religion and assembly had been allowed. IF this had been the case, you bet, I would be fighting the hell out of the 'aliens', wouldn't you, Carlos?

Posted by: joe at August 3, 2007 08:28 AM

Carlos, I realize there is another way to respond to what you said.

Let's say the aliens claim that representative democracy is actually nearly totalitarianism compared to what they have at home?

Joe,

Not only was there a right to bear arms in Iraq, it was the law that every male had to be in the military or in a militia. Admittedly, many of the Home Guard militia were a joke, representing little more than a bunch of guys who collectively had a pistol in a cigar box.

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 08:38 AM

Joe, this article, by paleoconservative Edward Luttwak, should expose the fallacy you present with the historical example that saw the invention of the word "guerilla."

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 08:42 AM

Naturally, you are saying that it is the motive of the alien invaders which drives you,

No. I said nothing about "motives". Thus, whatever Bush's "secret motives" may b, the fact remains that Iraq has been liberated-- FACT-- regardless of alleged secret motives. Same with aliens.

If I was the head of that Iraqi family those GIs would have stayed for an early breakfast for bringing my BONEHEADED son back to me in one piece.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 08:50 AM

Let's say the aliens claim that representative democracy is actually nearly totalitarianism compared to what they have at home?

Why would I give one crap about what they have at home a billion lightyears away? Don't assume Iraqis practice the politics of envy just because you Libs do. That's called projection.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 08:54 AM

That's a preview version of the story, here is the updated version Luttwak gave as testimony before the US Senate this year.

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 08:58 AM

I understand, Carlos, that as long as it is your goal that the aliens are trying to achieve, you don't care how arbitrary, destructive or freedom-encroaching the method.

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 09:07 AM

Wow, Josh, quite a de-bunking you have there. But I was addressing Carlos by name, which didn't illicit a comment to me by you. Just so you know. I looked at your blog, and it is pointless for me to argue with an ideologue of the Left. You don't have an open mind.

Posted by: joe at August 3, 2007 09:09 AM

you don't care how arbitrary, destructive or freedom-encroaching the method.

Yes, how very "arbitrary" what they did to that family-- brought their son home safe and sound. If it was so "arbitrary" the insurgents wouldn't be starting to side with our GIs against AQ.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 09:18 AM

Joe,
That's not my website, that's one I think is worth reading.

Carlos,
Arbitrary: Based on or subject to individual discretion or preference or sometimes impulse or caprice; "an arbitrary decision"; "the arbitrary rule of a dictator"; "an arbitrary penalty"; "of arbitrary size and shape"; "an arbitrary choice"; "arbitrary division of the group into halves"

The fact that it happened nicely, this time, in front of Michael, was the decision of an individual, namely, the unit commander. He wasn't basing it on evidence, facts or procedure.

Hence, arbitrary.

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 09:29 AM

Josh,

our GIs are subject to very strict rules of engagement. That doesn't mean they aren't permitted to exercise their own discretion when the situation allows it. But that's not the same as 'arbitrary.'

You can't convince anybody that our policies in Iraq are despicable and outrageous, so you have to resort to silly hypos and "secret motives". It fails to move me.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 09:39 AM

Exercising individual discretion, as you say, is the very definition of arbitrary. There was no proof the kid was trouble or not. There was no physical evidence. There was no procedure that says "If you find a nice enough seeming kid outside at night, escort him home, wake up his whole family, search the house while they can't watch you, because you've corralled them in one room, and if you find nothing, go home."

I have never said anything to the effect that our policies are "despicable and outrageous."

I have only tried to point out that it if a foreign power came down and tried to impose its will on America, it would be more likely that people who value the right to bear arms(nra), and people who want as few rules as possible(libertarians), would be just the people who would resist, and there is a contradiction here, because those are the same people who seem so gung-ho to do the same thing to another country.

Nothing you've said has in any way lessened the tension in this contradiction.

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 10:03 AM

Exercising individual discretion, as you say, is the very definition of arbitrary.

That's fine. Then I guess 'arbitrary' isn't the great evil your premise implies it is. A cop exercises individual discretion every day. So do most people at their daily jobs. Even the clerk at your local 7-11 gets to exercise individual discretion, as do our GIs. So what's your point? None, apparently.

There was no procedure that says "If you find a nice enough seeming kid outside at night, escort him home, wake up his whole family, search the house while they can't watch you, because you've corralled them in one room, and if you find nothing, go home."

Do you know what procedures our GIs are supposed to follow? No! Yet you say there's no procedure for what they did. Seriously, find a real argument. Find some real outrage. Enough of this petty nagging about trifles.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 10:18 AM

Why would I give one crap about what they have at home a billion lightyears away? Don't assume Iraqis practice the politics of envy just because you Libs do. That's called projection.

Nicely put -- except if anyone hews to the politics of envy more than liberals, it is the neocons who after all demanded democratic gov't for Gaza, Iraq, Egypt... once again, Carlos, weakening your position by clinging to the polarizing labels as if they were the reality.

Just started reading 'Fear Up Harsh' by an Army interrogator stationed various places in Iraq (incl. Abu Graib for awhile) -- he offers some grueling reports which make clear what a theoretical, logistical, moral, and functional cluster-fuck our presence in Iraq was in the early going.

Not so much because of the dubious motives of the cigar-chompers back home -- but because of our almost inconceivable a-historical and geopolitical arrogance at entry. His story shows our stubborn refusal to learn or adjust our behavior as we stumbled deeper into our own nightmare, and our frequent disdain towards other human beings (Iraqi and American) as if they were too stupid to see our greed, our deception, or the chaos we left in our wake.

The 'enhanced' interrogations he describes are not what's so disturbing -- it's the casual brutality and bureaucratic self-protection and a disinterest in Iraqi citizens' wellbeing that seems to have characterized much of the early execution of the war.

It is so incredibly different than what MJT describes here, and it makes me again furious at Rumsfeld's profoundly incompetent prosecution of this war -- and thankful for Petraeus and what sounds like a much more humane, honorable, traditionally American approach, more in keeping with our style when we occupied Japan or Europe.

Posted by: Pam at August 3, 2007 10:18 AM

the neocons who after all demanded democratic gov't for Gaza, Iraq, Egypt...

Which has nothing whatsoever to do with envy.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 10:27 AM

JohnDakota,

Seriously man can you please summarize your posts.

Describing big concepts with nuance requires more words. Writing directly and to the point about philosophical concepts is fine, as long as you are on Sesame Street. When describing matters of tremendous importance that are often deliberately misunderstood, it is better to be precise than pithy.

Now roll up your copy of Strunk and White real tight and shelve it.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at August 3, 2007 10:59 AM

Humanity is going to stop a few more people from attacking us, but it isn't going to stop the Sunni/Shi'a sectionalism, or the Iranians from
arming the Mahdi, or the Saudis from helping the Sunni insurgents and letting people cross the border, or stop the Turks from arming the Turkomen, or the Syrians from letting people cross the border.

It's not going to create electricity (down to an hour or two a day in Baghdad) or jobs (unmployment still massive).

It's not going to stop the Mullahs from calling us Christian Crusaders attempting to destroy Islam and turn their women into near-naked westerners.

It is a more proper way to engage in such activities, and it is more respectable, but it's not addressing the fundamental problem.

And Petraeus's candor, which is why I was praising him after the first time I saw him speak in 2004, has evaporated. His words are now the same nonsense we can get from Pace.

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 11:05 AM

And Petraeus's candor, which is why I was praising him after the first time I saw him speak in 2004, has evaporated.

So as long as the general in charge is saying what YOU want him to say he has candor. Otherwise his candor has 'evaporated.' LOL.

That's because good news in Iraq is bad news to the Left. It has nothing to do with facts or truth, only your desired outcome, which is defeat. But I wouldn't dream of questioning your patriotism!!! Not in a million years.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 11:17 AM

An extremely liberal friend and I heard Petraeus interviewed on NPR a week or so ago, and both independently thought he sounded candid and realistic. He did not toe the WH party line.

He feels there are indications of positive development from the surge on the military front, and in alliances between the Army and local leaders. Other areas are still completely out of control.

Beating 'AQ' will not win or turn the war, since they are a high-profile high-PR distinct minority of insurgents, but stopping them will allow firmer consolidation of areas now under control or nearly so, since that's where they are targeting.

He also said if the broader political situation and infrastructure-support situations don't also show significant signs of improvement in the next few months, then what the military can hope to achieve in the short or long run is severely limited. He said if we 'win' we should expect to keep some troops there for a decade or more while the country stabilizes as a nation.

And that everytime someone tells him his Sept report will make or break the war, it feels like another rock tossed at him -- he picks it up, puts it in his rucksack with all the other rocks, and marches on.

Posted by: Pam at August 3, 2007 12:04 PM

Patrick,

So writing to the point isn't the way arguments are composed anymore? Wow Descartes and Kant should be ashamed then. Sure their works are hundreds of pages, but comparatively speaking their topics are infitely more complex than "religion allows people to cope with things easy."

So since you seem to be such a knowledgeable philosopher, could you please direct me towards some of your more important and ground breaking publications. I'd be interested in reading these. Please include journal name, year of publication, journal issue, title, and starting pages in the citations. Thanks so much.

Posted by: JohnDakota at August 3, 2007 12:06 PM

That's because good news in Iraq is bad news to the Left. It has nothing to do with facts or truth, only your desired outcome, which is defeat

Really, Carlos. If your starting premise is that your opponents are arguing in bad faith, why even bother? Just to hear the sound of your own fingers typing? Or are you trying to bolster the morale of the ever dwindling number of people who think achieving Iraqi democracy is a "victory." You yourself said "the primary reason stated for the invasion was WMDs". Well, that threat's off the table. We won years ago. We are only "losing" now because we moved the damn goalposts. Let's go home and let the Iraqis sort out their own mess.

Posted by: vanya at August 3, 2007 01:48 PM

Yehudit said:

This is an example of an atheist misrepresenting religion to support his biases - I see this all the time. You guys usually don't take the trouble to find out what most of us are about.

What have I said that misrepresents religion?

I merely make the point that once you claim that faith is a valid basis for certain of your beliefs, you have no logical basis for denying that right to others.

Yes, you can condemn Islam as being a "bad religion" because your values don't include mass murder. But how do you defend that value judgement? On the basis of faith or on the basis of reason?

If you condemn it on the basis of faith, then your condemnation is based on the arbitrary decison to believe your faith and dismiss Islam's.

If you condemn it on the basis of reason, i.e. if you can provide reasons to show that mass murder is bad, then you are arbitrarily deciding when to employ reason and when to resort to faith.

The second policy is the one followed by most religious people I know. Reason is our tool of survival so few people can jettison it consistently. Islamic terrorists, however, can and do.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 3, 2007 01:49 PM

mary said:

Given that fact, we can't depend on reason to guide individual actions, much less large groups of people.

There are hundreds of millions of people in the western world that get up every day, go to work and rationally proceed to produce the stunning level of wealth we now enjoy. Sure, they are irrational about some things, but by and large, they run their lives primarily by reason.

Let's not encourage them to be to turn further away from reason merely because they aren't rational 100% of the time or about all aspects of their life -- let's encourage them to extend the benefits of rationality to more areas of their life, not less.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 3, 2007 02:13 PM

Really, Carlos. If your starting premise is that your opponents are arguing in bad faith, why even bother?

Certainly not to convince you or your buddies on the Left, Vanya. Merely to call you out. Am I wrong? I think not. And I could ask the very same question of YOU, who it seems can't persuasively argue that on its face that the facts of the Iraq invasion are such a horrible thing so you have to argue 24/7 that it was done in bad faith, with "secret motives", i.e., for "oil", for Israel, for world domination, to weaken Islam, etc. I've heard all of the Left's bad faith arguments. Right back at ya, I guess.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 02:17 PM

"There are hundreds of millions of people in the western world that get up every day, go to work, and rationally proceed to produce the stunning level of wealth we now enjoy."

And your point is what? Most Americans believe in God, so producing wealth and believing in God are hardly exclusionary, or so it seems to me.

Frankly, even though I have been fortunate enough to acquire a good education, and have made a fairly large sum of money, and put back some for my wife and children to live on when I'm gone, the most enjoyment I have had in my life has not been related to material possessions or wealth.

I find my relationship with God to be quite comforting, and have developed the best and deepest and most satisfying relationships with people who have a like belief, many of whom have little wealth, but have sacrificed the chance for material things to serve God. I have gone to Mexico, Jamaica, and Honduras to work and serve other people not nearly as fortunate as myself because my Saviour commanded it, not because of any feeling or belief I attach to objectivism. If that particular philosophy appeals to you, good, I spent time in the service to give you that right.

I hope I didn't come off as a braggert, and I apologize if I did, I just wanted you to know that objectivism could never be a substitute in my life for Christianity. However, I have no problem if it works for you and others. My religion does not condone forced conversion.

Posted by: joe at August 3, 2007 02:42 PM

I think Carlos is a dangerous person to have in a representative democracy, and my main reason is that he:

a) is willing to offer aid and comfort to foreign invaders, as long as they strive to acheive his goals
b) believes unchecked force to achieve his goals is reasonable

He also repeatedly throws up straw men, saying that I have imputed "secret motives," and that the left generally imputes "secret motives" to the war in Iraq.

What I said was that the motives had changed. Originally it was almost all about Saddam and al-Qaeda (the Office of Special Plans), and the WMD question. After those evaporated, it was all about liberating them from a dictator. Now it is all about fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here, and creating a safe, stable, democratic Iraq.

Many people had many different motives for supporting the war in the first place. Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, believed that Iraq (along with North Korea) were cold war aggressor states which were still in power.

The media likes ratings.

The military likes to do its job.

Some people were probably thinking war enhances the power(Cheney) and prestige(Rove) of the President.

You can't deny that there are people close to the President who have serious religious beliefs, and war in Iraq could be very sympathetic to certain prostelyzing, crusading and millenarian beliefs.

And oil has been at the center of US foreign policy for many decades.

And there, of course, people (the Straussians) who think that a free republic in Iraq moves the world one step closer to utopia, and figured that a war to achieve that end was reasonable.

I don't think anything in the above counts as a secret. I don't have any particularly good source for the claims about religion, but if you want to learn more about what I am saying about the Straussians, read the introduction to Strauss's The City And Man. Strauss was, after all, basically a Nazi-minus-anti-semitism, who, because he was an Orthodox Jew, broke with Heidegger and Carl Schmidt (author of the anti-semite laws, and foremost nazi legal authority) because of the his religion.

Then, if you want to recoil in horror at what Strauss really is, read the Strauss-Schmitt letters. They hate democracy. Most of the Straussians are gone now, and we'd be sure lucky if we could gather them up and throw them in jail for their efforts to use America's military might to achieve the results dictated by their philosophical beliefs.

Kinda like Carlos.

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 03:21 PM

I think Carlos is a dangerous person to have in a representative democracy, and my main reason is that he:

a) is willing to offer aid and comfort to foreign invaders, as long as they strive to acheive his goals

Indeed. Much like the French offered aid and comfort to their American liberators in WW2.

b) believes unchecked force to achieve his goals is reasonable

Yup. That's why we have a military. To kick ass and take names. It's not a job corp for wayward yutes, and it's not the Peace Corp either.

He also repeatedly throws up straw men, saying that I have imputed "secret motives,"

Here you only flatter yourself, as you assume my arguments against the Left are based on what you say on this blog. But at least they are based on ACTUAL ARGUMENTS I've had with Lefties, and things they ACTUALLY SAY-- unlike the way you impute to me the beliefs of some dude called "Strauss", someone I barely recollect hearing about from Lefty argumentarians like you. Talk about a strawman.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 03:34 PM

By the way, is there anyone on Earth who believes Iraqis support the idea that "we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them at home?"

Or that Iraqis would think it is OK for America to use their country as a terrorist magnet?

Both pieces of garbage rhetoric should not only be discarded, but I have to hope publicly discredited, so that lower ranking war supporters don't continue to repeat them.

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 03:37 PM

Let's not encourage them to be to turn further away from reason merely because they aren't rational 100% of the time or about all aspects of their life -- let's encourage them to extend the benefits of rationality to more areas of their life, not less.

It's not an argument against using reason, it's an argument about not spinning one's wheels making arguments based on reason that most people don't listen to.

If a doctor tells his patients over and over again that they should eat less in order to lose weight, and they keep coming back to his office even fatter than before, he has to pragmatically conclude that a reasonable argument is not working.

However, if he appeals to a patient's emotions or even to his political leanings or his faith, and if that argument "works", then the emotion-based argument has merit.

Faith-based groups and political groups, and the emotional motivations they inspire can be used in a positive way, especially to motivate large groups of people who wouldn't unite otherwise.

Posted by: mary at August 3, 2007 03:40 PM

Carlos, see your post "Posted by Carlos at August 3, 2007 09:39 AM" where you accuse me directly of imputing "secret motives."

I think your view on how to use the military is not fully formed. Certainly neither of the great General Presidents, Washington or Eisenhower, used the military like that.

Killing lots of people because we can get away with it sounds a lot like mass murder.

Posted by: Josh SN at August 3, 2007 03:43 PM

Killing lots of people because we can get away with it sounds a lot like mass murder.

The reason you see strawmen is because you engage in strawmen. It's called projection.

Now respond to something I or someone on the Right has actually said.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 03:53 PM

Mary: Faith-based groups and political groups, and the emotional motivations they inspire can be used in a positive way, especially to motivate large groups of people who wouldn't unite otherwise.

Good point. But when you motivate people based on their emotions, you don't have as much control over the situation. Christianity has helped--and united--millions of people worldwide. Not all of them see eye-to-eye on crucial issues, though. Think of the dilemma over gay clergy (in the Anglican church).

In that particular case, if you appealed to both sides using reason instead of scripture, you might have a chance of reaching a compromise. Either accept homosexuality as a part of life, including in the clergy itself, or keep it out entirely to avoid a schism. Both cases can be argued using reason.

The point: even in many faith-based disputes, reason wins the day.

Posted by: Edgar at August 3, 2007 03:58 PM

He also repeatedly throws up straw men, saying that I have imputed "secret motives,"

Josh,

didn't you say this?:

What if the aliens kept changing their story about their motives?

and this?:

What if the motives of the alien enforcers were actually quite different (so our alien buddies didn't die in vain) than those of alien high command?

Posted by Josh SN at August 3, 2007 08:10 AM

LOL. Motives motives motives! You're positively obsessed with them. Yet I'm throwing up a strawman? Again, LOL.

Now try respond to things I actually say instead of throwing up the strawmen like "Strauss" and mass murder, you little projector ;-D

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 04:36 PM

By the way, is there anyone on Earth who believes Iraqis support the idea that "we fight them over there so we don't have to fight them at home?"

Or that Iraqis would think it is OK for America to use their country as a terrorist magnet?

What you are snidely implying is that the US is actively working to attract Al Qaeda to Iraq so that they can fight them there. The opposite, of course, is the case, in that the US forces are fighting to prevent Al Qaeda establishing a global terrorist base in Iraq. If you are genuinely worried about the influx of terrorists into Iraq, I suggest you take up your concerns with Syria and Iran, rather than Carlos.

Posted by: mertel at August 3, 2007 06:06 PM

Certainly not to convince you or your buddies on the Left, Vanya. Merely to call you out. Am I wrong? I think not. And I could ask the very same question of YOU, who it seems can't persuasively argue that on its face that the facts of the Iraq invasion are such a horrible thing so you have to argue 24/7 that it was done in bad faith, with "secret motives", i.e., for "oil", for Israel, for world domination, to weaken Islam, etc. I've heard all of the Left's bad faith arguments. Right back at ya, I guess.

Carlos,

You worry me. I'm starting to think you might be dyslexic, or maybe worse. When have I made any of those ridiculous arguments? I consistently come on this site and make CONSERVATIVE arguments, my opinions don't seem to differ much from many other real conservatives such as John Derbyshire, Phil Larison, William Buckley, Steve Sailer, Ron Paul, etc. etc. And your only response is to reply with a response to crackpot leftist arguments I've never made. Where did I write that the invasion was in bad faith? Have I ever said I have a problem with weakening Islam? Are you really that desperate to defend the President that you have to resort to ad hominem crap that doesn't even make sense? It's very simple - we won the damn war 4 years ago. Iraq is not a threat to the US, nor is Iran. We can bomb the hell out of them any time we want, with impunity, so let them misbehave in their own neighborhood if that's what they want to do. Face facts. Most Americans don't need or want your neoliberal fuzzy wuzzy agenda of building democracies in third-world countries. That's not our job. But it's clear you don't have time to argue, your more interested in attacking leftists than protecting the US. Go have fun with that.

Posted by: vanya at August 3, 2007 06:41 PM

I think Carlos is a dangerous person to have in a representative democracy, and my main reason is

JoshSN, what do you think should be done about Carlos? If he's dangerous, should he be locked up, or have his vote taken away, or what?

Should we start making proclamations that start out WHEREAS and make a list of big important claims, and end up with "RESOLVED: It's a damn shame!" ?

Really, I doubt he's dangerous. He's just another crazy blogger. There are lots of them, there are even lots of them that aren't semi-automated bots. They aren't dangerous.

The question for you is whether it's worth arguing with him. Is it worth your time?

I'd suggest if you bother to read him, and he says something that's a good springboard for you to say something interesting, then do it. And when he insists on the last word, go ahead and give it to him. If he says things that a person of reasonable intelligence can debunk for themselves, there's no point debunking it for them. Unless it's fun. If it's fun to argue with him then go ahead and argue to your heart's content.

Posted by: J Thomas at August 3, 2007 06:52 PM

After this FANTASTIC article, I'm eager for more.
As usual.
But get stuck in the comments.
Atheism ... reason ... booting Saddam before and after 9/11 ... too long posts (like mine, usually?).

All faiths assume that "the Truth is Good" --as does atheism. But how can atheists prove or know this? They can't, they can only believe it. Goodness is subjective. In fact, if there is no God to provide a standard of Goodness outside of man, and opinion, then the Truth is neither good nor bad, it's just true. Meaningless. Empty. Transitory. Like the life of an mayfly, or any other life.

Patrick, thanks for your fine comments, but I'm surprised you weren't answered:

"I am somewhat puzzled by the reasons people give for surrendering to the psychotics and their supporters. The best understanding I can come up with is that there are both psychotically willing murderers and victims. I just don't want either negotiating for me."

Actually, Harry Potter 7 has a good chapter on this -- Luna's father tries to betray Harry because the deatheathers have his daughter as a hostage, and he fears for her life.

I don't understand what is puzzling about surrender -- you give up, hoping and expecting to live, rather than fight a battle you think you won't win.

I can't believe you didn't read Michael's prior great piece, which ended:
“He didn’t want to say who he’s afraid of because he’s afraid,” Lieutenant Lord said. “If the insurgents find out he gave information to us, or that he helped us, he’s dead.”

The problem of the US leaving Iraq now, or too soon, is that masked killers will then win. Terrible for (most) Iraqi people, terrible for the USA.

"Victory" will have Iraqi forces willing and able to enter every mosque, and make sure they aren't weapons caches; will have Iraqis more angry at insurgents than afraid of them, and thus more willing to turn them in -- while feeling fairly safe in doing so. Because the Iraqi people will have faith in the Iraqi Army and Police to "protect" them by stopping and punishing the terrorists.

The Dems are right that the Iraqis must learn to do it on their own, just like 4 year olds must learn how to swim on their own. But the issue is how much help do they need, of what kind. I would never toss any of my kids in the deep end and let them "learn" to swim by leaving them. The surge is letting many Iraqis learn/ remember what security feels like, and hopefully re-direct their anger at the terrorists.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 3, 2007 07:01 PM

Vanya,

If I make an argument against the Left, and then you claim in their defense that I'm arguing in bad faith when I impute motives to them, then don't be so surprised if you're mistaken for one of them. I only have a general sense that you're anti-Iraq war, and anti-Bush. I don't have detailed files on every comment you've ever made and where they fall in the political spectrum. Ron Paul tends not to be heavily represented on this blog. So apologies.

We haven't won the war if we leave Iraq in the hands of AQ. And if we leave that country in chaos that's exactly what will happen-- chaos.

Posted by: Carlos at August 3, 2007 08:47 PM

Carlos, Josh is a perfect example of a leftard. His mind is made up, don't confuse him with the facts.

Posted by: John at August 3, 2007 10:29 PM

Carlos, Josh is a perfect example of a leftard. His mind is made up, don't confuse him with the facts.

Posted by: John at August 3, 2007 10:29 PM

Mary wrote:

Faith-based groups and political groups, and the emotional motivations they inspire can be used in a positive way, especially to motivate large groups of people who wouldn't unite otherwise.

Yes, you can motivate people by appealing to their emotions. Here are some examples of emotionally-motivated group behavior that I can think of just off the top of my head:

1) There were the KKK-inspired lynch mobs that hung blacks in the rural South in the 1920s.

2) The deadly cartoon riots that occurred across the mideast after those silly cartoons of Muhammad were published.

3) There was great emotional support for the Nazi movement in Germany in the 1930s. Hitler was a master at revving up a crowd’s emotions. As Hitler said, "People set us down as the enemies of the intelligence. We are. But in a much deeper sense than these conceited dolts of bourgeois scientists ever dreamed of." Millions were slaughtered as a result.

4) There was emotion-driven Terror portion of the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century which saw the beheading of thousands including people like Lavoiser, who is arguably the father of all modern chemistry. "We have no need of such intellectuals" was the comment of the head of the Revolutionary Council when Lavoiser's sentence was announced -- and indeed they did not.

5) The Sunni-Shia slaughter going on in Iraq is a faith-based, emotion-driven behavior.

6) The Japanese Imperialists in the 1920s and 1930s used state-sponsored Shintoism to emotionally unite the Japanese people behind the belief that the Emperor was a deity and that dying for him in battle was the ultimate honor. Millions were slaughtered across Indochina as a result.

Americans were treated to many examples of the faith and emotion-based behavior of the Japanese people. As the battle for Saipan island was winding down and the last Japanese soldiers were being killed, American officials watched in horror as some 10,000 Japanese civilians committed suicide rather than surrender to the Americans. Mothers took their babies in their arms and led their toddlers by the hand as they jumped off cliffs to their deaths on the rocks below. I’ll grant you that it would be very difficult indeed to convince people to do something like that based on reason.

So, yes, clearly you can use emotion and faith to motivate people. Trouble is, as these examples demonstrate, when one jettisons reason, pretty much anything goes.

I look forward to your counter-list of examples of all the good that has been accomplished by emotionally-driven and/or faith-driven mobs -- I mean groups -- who have abandoned reason.

However, I am forced to concede your larger point that there are people who simply will not respond to an argument based on reason, no matter how rational it may be and no matter how much evidence one may marshal in support of it -- and that continuing to make the argument from reason with these people is indeed spinning one's wheels, said spinning being what I have apparently been doing in these comments.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 4, 2007 07:19 AM

So, yes, clearly you can use emotion and faith to motivate people. Trouble is, as these examples demonstrate, when one jettisons reason, pretty much anything goes.

I look forward to your counter-list of examples of all the good that has been accomplished by emotionally-driven and/or faith-driven mobs -- I mean groups -- who have abandoned reason.

If you were evaluating the idea that emotional or faith-based thinking can accomplish both good and bad things in a rational way, you would probably have presented those examples yourself.

Reason is different from pragmatism. For accomplishing political goals, I think pragmatism is a more powerful tool than reason. Basing arguments on what should work is less successful than basing arguments on what does work.

Reason is a tool whose use is limited by what we already know to be a proven fact. Americans tend to be fairly religious, but they're also very pragmatic. Pragmatism acknowledges that we don't know everything, that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in fact-based philosophies.

Posted by: mary at August 4, 2007 08:48 AM

Tom Grey Liberty Dad wrote:

All faiths assume that "the Truth is Good" --as does atheism. But how can atheists prove or know this? They can't, they can only believe it. Goodness is subjective. In fact, if there is no God to provide a standard of Goodness outside of man, and opinion, then the Truth is neither good nor bad, it's just true. Meaningless. Empty. Transitory. Like the life of an mayfly, or any other life.

So without God, we cannot know, for instance, that the development of antibiotics is a good thing? But if we are willing to believe in the existence of a being that killed every last man, woman and child on the planet(except Noah and his family) because he was pissed at their "imaginations", then somehow that belief makes it possible to then evaluate antibiotics as a good thing?

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 4, 2007 08:50 AM

"...10,000 Japanese civilians committed suicide rather than surrender to the Americans...I'll grant you it would be very difficult indeed to get people to do something like that based on reason."

Really. Perhaps you need to project yourself into their place. 35,000 Japanese soldiers had just been killed, along with thousands of civilians. Many of them might "reasonably conclude", if I may borrow an expression, that they were to be killed as well, and would prefer to die rather than fall into the hands of the enemy, where they might have been tortured, raped and then murdered. That you and I know these things to be untrue, that the US would never have treated them in such a way, and know that civilian casualties were unavoidable, these people may or may not have thrown reason aside when they made their decisions to commit suicide. If I remember correctly, suicide is one of those things condoned by objectivists. Just saying.

Posted by: joe at August 4, 2007 10:39 AM

So without God, we cannot know, for instance, that the development of antibiotics is a good thing?
Of course you can "know" it, based on many possible assumptions. One of which might be that "human life is good"; a similar one that "human life is valuable'. However, such assumptions, or beliefs, can not be proven "true".

In fact, many Deep Green eco-gaia believers think humans are a too numerous near-cancer like abnormality (population bomb, etc.), and in preferring fewer rather than more humans, would quite possibly argue that antibiotics were a mistake.

Naturally, most atheists prefer attacking religion, rather than defending their own beliefs or assumptions. So what truths about goodness do you hold not based on unproven assumptions? You certainly haven't discussed any non-belief based goodness that I can read.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 4, 2007 11:33 AM

Examples of positive uses of emotion/faith:
Roosevelt's fireside chats to mobilize a nation from despair.

churchill's many speech's and collective stiff upper lip of the british: faith/emotion not reason lead the Brits to withstand the lufwaffe and the german war machine.

Pick one: Remember the Boston Massacre, Remember the Maine, Remember the Alamo, Remember Pearl Harbor.

Tianamen square, storming of the Bastille, Boston Tea party-They didn't all work out so great-but that emotion spurred the masses to try and change their lives for the better

Emancipation Proclamation-By rights this peice of paper did NOTHING legally and practically. BUT because of the EMOTIONS surronding the issue of slavery it caused the British and French to back away from recognizing the Confederate States-who had many convincing REASONED arguments for the legality of their existance and the british merchant class had many REASONED arguments for access to the raw materials and market for british products-leaving the CSA to wither on the vine.

Onecan also trot out plenty of exapmles of Reason being bastardized by villians to commit atrocities:
There were plenty or Reasoned arguments given by very intelligent non-emotional southerners to explain why slavery was good for the blacks

Although the his speeches may have stirred passions-the nazi's propaganda machine could give you plenty of rationalizations for their treatment of jews, militarization, etc.

I am certain the afoementioned Revolutonary council gave quite rational arguements for their decisions.

Your earlier statement that americans using reason get up everyday and are very productive is untrue-Starting from the shampoo they use, clothes they choose and car they drive-most every decision involved is emotion rather than reason based. They should all be wearing Sears suits (well made put inexpensive) driving Priuses or taking the train according to some very reasoned arguements-but there they go in their Armani spending 5 bucks for 30 cents worth of milk and coffee and speeding off in their SUV-because it looks cool.

Numbers lie and liars use numbers. Reason is a tool. Socrates worked over this same ground when he argued against Sophistry-the ability to argue in a logical and reasoned manner from BOTH sides of the disagreement.

Posted by: Ross at August 4, 2007 06:55 PM

Marx was rational; Lenin and Trotsky reasoned, and rationalized; Stalin, Mao, Uncle Ho, Pol Pot and others rationalized their murderous regimes; Chomsky, Herman, Porter, Vickery and many, many others lent reasoned, or certainly rationalized, apologetics to the cause (or differently, Sheehan, Halberstam, et al.), indeed Chomsky and others viciously attacked those who witnessed to Pol Pot's murderous forays, and the left rendered silent and more active obeisance to those apologetics and vicious attacks.

130,000,000 dead; myriads of lives destroyed and forced to live under totalitarian regimes, typically brutally repressive regimes that included personality cults, highly restricted access to information and continuous barrages of propaganda and disinformation from politburos and other central state mechanisms.

Zero (as in none) apologies from those who committed the mass murders, purges and terror and few apologies from former ideologues and the hoi polloi, and when those apologies were forthcoming their authors were typically vilified by those who remained faithful, by those who assurred and reassurred us, and themselves, that they were being reasonable, thoughtful, profound and eminently more caring.

Posted by: Michael B at August 5, 2007 09:04 AM

Tom Grey wrote:

So what truths about goodness do you hold not based on unproven assumptions?.

I hold that if you desire to live, then your nature as a rational being demands that you practice certain virtues. If you do not desire to live -- and it is completely a matter of your choice -- then I have nothing else to say to you except go ahead and die.

But if you wish to live, then to understand the concepts of good and bad, we need only begin with one key observation: “good” and “bad” are concepts that apply only to living entities. The question, "What is good or bad for that rock?" is nonsensical because nothing matters to an inanimate object. However, if you ask, "What is good or bad for that tree?", then you have a reasonable question.

It is only the concept of “life” that makes the concepts of “good” and “bad” possible; it is only to a living entity that things can be "good" or "bad". To divorce the concepts of "good" and "bad" from the needs of a living entity is like divorcing the concepts of "pleasure" and "pain" from beings capable of feeling them.

Because the tree in my hypothetical question is alive, science can then tell us that sunlight, water and soil are good for the tree while drought and blight are bad for it.

So it is really quite easy to demonstrate a basis for the concepts of good and bad without reference to God. The good, for any particular living entity, is a function of its particular nature and method of survival. The good, for any particular entity, is all that which is consistent with the entity’s nature and which promotes its continued life and growth. The bad is all that which is inimical to the entity’s nature and which harms or retards its continued life and growth.

Man’s particular nature and method of survival is to use his mind. He must use a process of reason to discover how to produce what he needs to survive. In short, he must think and work. Whether it is the shirt on your back, the roof over your head or the food you consumed at your last meal, it didn’t fall from the sky -- someone used a process of reason to figure out how to produce it and then someone actually did the work.

It is true that some people default on this and never do any original thinking; they survive by simply repeating a work process someone else reasoned out. Others survive by robbing from those who produce. But the fact remains, unless someone, somewhere is thinking and producing, no one will survive. (You can attempt to survive without the benefit of thinking and producing by going into the wild living as an animal does: sleeping in a cave, eating wild berries and fruits, trying to catch animals to eat. However, your lifespan will be short and your quality of life will take a noticeable hit.)

Knowing that this is man‘s nature, we can immediately identify two virtues -- two things that are good for man -- and two vices -- two things that are bad for man. Rationality -- the use of reason to discover knowledge and learn how to produce what is required for survival -- and productiveness -- the willingness to work to support one’s own life -- are obviously good. Irrationality in any of its forms -- the refusal to think, the decision to remain ignorant, the choice to act on emotion in defiance of reason -- and parasitism in any of its forms -- any attempt to exist at the expense of other people, either through looting or stealing or defrauding -- are obviously bad.

Rationality and productiveness are not the only virtues and this is not a complete and thorough explanation of how Objectivist ethics are derived. But this is the essence of the approach to defining “good” and “bad” without reference to the supernatural.

So those are some of the truths - a few of the very basic ones -- that I hold about "good" and "bad" -- and I made no assumptions in establishing those truths. Do not tell me that I have assumed that everyone wants to live and that everyone will be rational. Clearly, there are those who do not wish to live and I invite them to exit the world as soon as possible. Clearly, there are also those who do not want to think or work and instead want to rob those who do -- and since I acknowledge that such people will always exist, I advocate the existence of a government to stop them.

There are also people who will misuse the concepts of "good" and "bad" by, for instance, claiming that they apply to inanimate objects. Environmentalists will continue to speak of the "good" of the planet -- which is a completely invalid use of the concept of "good".

But an invalid use of a concept proves nothing about the concept. If I claim that the concepts of "hot" and "cold" can apply to an attribute like "velocity" -- and I demand to know, "What is the temperature of 30 miles per hour?" -- that question will prove nothing about the proper use of the concepts of "hot" and "cold" -- it is simply an example of an invalid use of those two terms. It will not change the fact that "hot" and "cold" are concepts that apply only to entities, not to attributes of entities like velocity or color or weight. And we won't need a belief in the supernatural to understand the proper use of the concepts of "hot" and "cold".

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 5, 2007 11:51 AM

Ross said:

churchill's many speech's and collective stiff upper lip of the british: faith/emotion not reason lead the Brits to withstand the lufwaffe and the german war machine.

If the British had been motivated strictly by “faith/emotion”, they would not have realized the stupid futility of fighting in some situations (like Dunkirk) where they had no chance to do anything but die while recognizing the wisdom of fighting in other situations (like the Battle of Britain) where they have at least a shot at winning and have no escape anyway. “Faith/emotion” doesn’t give you the ability to recognize those different situations and adjust tactics accordingly; reason does.

You also wrote:
Pick one: Remember the Boston Massacre, Remember the Maine, Remember the Alamo, Remember Pearl Harbor.

In other words, "remember the reason why we are in this fight." These are not appeals to “faith/emotion”, they are reminders of the facts of reality that justify current actions.

Emancipation Proclamation-By rights this peice of paper did NOTHING legally and practically. BUT because of the EMOTIONS surronding the issue of slavery it caused the British and French to back away from recognizing the Confederate States-who had many convincing REASONED arguments for the legality of their existance and the british merchant class had many REASONED arguments for access to the raw materials and market for british products-leaving the CSA to wither on the vine.

There is no argument in reason for slavery and the CSA didn’t attempt to present one. Instead, they invoked the false doctrine of “states rights” and whipped the southern population into a war frenzy by depicting the northerners as “devils“ intent on destroying the south. And it worked, too, because they managed to get hundreds of thousands of non-slave-owning whites to fight to the death to protect an institution that provided no benefits to them at all, a thoroughly irrational act on the part of those southerners who joined up to fight.

Onecan also trot out plenty of exapmles of Reason being bastardized by villians to commit atrocities:

So what? Many tools are misused, which discredits the person misusing the tool, not the tool itself.

In addition, the fact that many Americans are spending money on items that you don’t approve of is hardly evidence that they are being irrational. Come on.

Posted by: Michael Smith at August 5, 2007 12:36 PM

I just wanted to tell all of you who posted comments here thank you. It reminds me what my husband is fighting for, for your freedom to do or say whatever you want. My opinion is mine and your is yours, but lets all come together to show support for the boys who make it so.

Posted by: Mrs. Miller at August 5, 2007 05:53 PM

Tom Grey:
A Harry Potter spoiler? REALLY! Is nothing sacred?

Posted by: Lindsey at August 6, 2007 09:35 AM

Ross,
'Emancipation Proclamation-By rights this peice of paper did NOTHING legally and practically. BUT because of the EMOTIONS surronding the issue of slavery it caused the British and French to back away from recognizing the Confederate States-who had many convincing REASONED arguments for the legality of their existance and the british merchant class had many REASONED arguments for access to the raw materials and market for british products-leaving the CSA to wither on the vine."

Wrong. The Emancipation Proclamation wasn't issued until 1863 - just over two years after the war started. The British and French had already found alternate sources for the raw materials. The British were very against slavery in general, and the British Navy had already enforced the prohibition on the international slave trade for decades.

Posted by: exhelodrvr1 at August 6, 2007 02:58 PM

The trolls should make an effort to understand who's really causing the trouble in Iraq. Read something besides dailykos, for example:

http://billroggio.com/archives/2007/07/islamic_state_of_ira.php

http://billroggio.com/archives/2007/07/the_attempts_to_mini.php

For a while Saddam's dead-enders welcomed al Qaeda to help them attack the Coalition -- now al Qaeda are the bad guys for both us and Saddam's dead-enders. Only takes beheading a few of their children to turn them against you...

http://www.michaelyon-online.com/wp/bless-the-beasts-and-children.htm

BTW, I recall earlier on, our guys would call bad guys "Ali Babas" -- I wonder if that's still the case?

Posted by: Dubya at August 6, 2007 03:04 PM

EVE Online ISK

EVE Online ISK
EVE ISK
Buy EVE Online ISK
Buy EVE ISK
Cheap EVE Online ISK

EVE Online ISK
EVE ISK
Buy EVE Online ISK
Buy EVE ISK
Cheap EVE Online ISK

EVE Online Guide
EVE Guide

Runescape Gold

Runescape Gold
Runescape Money
Buy Runescape Money
Cheap Runescape Money
RS Gold
RS Money
Buy Runescape Gold
Cheap Runescape Gold

Runescape Gold
Runescape Money
Buy Runescape Money
Cheap Runescape Money
RS Gold
RS Money
Buy Runescape Gold
Cheap Runescape Gold

Free Runescape Money
Free Runescape Gold
Runescape Gold
Runescape Money
Runescape GP
Runescape Guide
Runescape Guides
Runescape Cheats
Runescape Hacks

WoW Gold,World of Warcraft Gold

WoW Gold
Buy WoW Gold
Cheap WoW Gold
World of Warcraft Gold
Warcraft Gold

WoW Gold
Buy WoW Gold
Cheap WoW Gold
World of Warcraft Gold
Warcraft Gold

WoW Guide
WoW Powerlevels
WoW Power level
WoW Powerlevel Guide
WoW Powerleveling Guide

Lineage II adena

Lineage II adena
Lineage 2 adena
Buy Lineage 2 adena
Buy Lineage II adena
Cheap Lineage II adena
Lineage II Gold

Lineage II adena
Lineage 2 adena
Buy Lineage 2 adena
Buy Lineage II adena
Cheap Lineage II adena
Lineage II Gold

Maple Story Mesos

Maple Story Mesos
MapleStory Mesos
Buy Maple Story Mesos
Cheap Maple Story Mesos

Maple Story Mesos
MapleStory Mesos
Buy Maple Story Mesos
Cheap Maple Story Mesos

Maple Story Mesos
MapleStory Mesos
Buy Maple Story Mesos
Cheap Maple Story Mesos
Buying Maple Story Mesos
Maple Story Mesos for sale
Cheaper Maple Story Mesos

Everquest II Plat

Everquest II Plat
Everquest II Gold
Buy Everquest II Gold
Buy Everquest II Plat
Everquest 2 Plat
Everquest 2 Gold

Everquest II Plat
Everquest II Gold
Buy Everquest II Gold
Buy Everquest II Plat
Everquest 2 Plat
Everquest 2 Gold

Gaia Online Gold

Gaia Online Gold
Gaia Gold
Buy Gaia Gold
Buy Gaia Online Gold
Cheap Gaia Gold

Gaia Online Gold
Gaia Gold
Buy Gaia Gold
Buy Gaia Online Gold
Cheap Gaia Gold

Final Fantasy XI Gil

FFXI Gil
Cheap FFXI Gil
Buy FFXI Gil
Final Fantasy XI Gil

FFXI Gil
Cheap FFXI Gil
Buy FFXI Gil
Final Fantasy XI Gil

FFXI Gil Guide
Final Fantasy XI Guide
Cheap FFXI Gil
FFXI Guide

SilkRoad Online Gold

SilkRoad Online Gold
SilkRoad Gold
Buy SilkRoad Gold
Cheap SilkRoad Gold
Buy SilkRoad Online Gold
Cheap SilkRoad Online Gold

SilkRoad Online Gold
SilkRoad Gold
Buy SilkRoad Gold
Cheap SilkRoad Gold
Buy SilkRoad Online Gold
Cheap SilkRoad Online Gold

WoW Powerleveling

WoW Powerleveling
WoW Power leveling
Buy WoW Power leveling
Buy WoW Powerleveling
Buying WoW Powerleveling
Cheap WoW Powerleveling

WoW Powerleveling
WoW Power leveling
Buy WoW Power leveling
Buy WoW Powerleveling
Buying WoW Powerleveling
Cheap WoW Powerleveling

WoW Powerleveling
WoW Power leveling
Buy WoW Powerleveling
a href="http://www.powerleveling-wow-powerleveling.com">Cheap WoW Powerleveling

Lotro Gold

Lotro Gold
Lotro Gold for sale
Buy Lotro Gold
Buying Lotro Gold
Cheap Lotro Gold

Lotro Gold
Lotro Gold for sale
Buy Lotro Gold
Buying Lotro Gold
Cheap Lotro Gold

Lotro Guide
Buy Lotro Gold
Lotro Gold
Lotro Powerleveling

Video Game Powerleveling

Runescape Powerleveling
Buy Runescape Powerleveling
Lotro Powerleveling
Buy Lotro Powerleveling
Lineage 2 Powerleveling
LineageII Powerleveling

Runescape Powerleveling
Buy Runescape Powerleveling
Lotro Powerleveling
Buy Lotro Powerleveling
Maple Story Powerleveling
MapleStory Powerleveling

Vanguard saga of heroes Gold

Vanguard saga of heroes Gold
Vanguard Gold
Buy Vanguard Gold
Cheap Vanguard Gold

Vanguard saga of heroes Gold
Vanguard Gold
Buy Vanguard Gold
Cheap Vanguard Gold

MMORPG Games Guide
MMORPG Games
Video Games
Video Games Guide
PC Games

Posted by: EVE Online ISK at August 6, 2007 07:24 PM

Mike, it looks like your blog's been infested by a gamer/phisher cockroach -- I suggest a big can of whoop-ass to rid it of EVE Online ISK.

Posted by: Dubya at August 6, 2007 08:09 PM

M. Smith, thanks for your quick Objectivist note (would you call yourself a Randroid?).

But starting with "I hold that if you desire to live, then your nature as a rational being demands that you practice certain virtues." you mix a lot of reasonableness with certain absolutes like "demands" which are highly uncertain.

In fact, humans are both rational and non-rational emotional. There is no consistent rational answer to the big questions: Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? Does life have meaning? What happens after death? Is human life sacred?

Insofar as answers to these questions cannot be proven by experiments, the ability to determine the truth or falseness of any answer remains outside the scientific method. The emotional portion of humans, that which is happy (an emotion!) when doing good, also wants to feel like they know the answers to the meaning questions.

In fact, because Scientology answers these questions better than Objectivism, it's no wonder that it is growing faster in terms of believers and influence.

The nature of most rational-emotional humans is to be a pragmatic believer. With some high ideals, that are usually not met, but the constant HOPE of achieving or at least improving. Religions offer this hope, and most believers understand the need for a little hypocrisy as "oil for pragmatic reasons" to get by.

But this disagreement doesn't quite belong here -- yet it's better than EVE spam.
I think.
Or do I just feel that way?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at August 7, 2007 12:10 AM

Mr Totten
Your article dated July 30, 2007 was great. Eddie is our son. He is on his third deployment in Iraq. WE are very proud of him and support all of the troops, who are serving in the military defending our country. Eddie doesn't give us much detail of what he is doing in Iraq. Thank you for giving us a first hand look at a typical day for him.
Thanks Ed and Toni Ojeda

Posted by: EDUARDO OJEDA JR at August 8, 2007 10:12 PM

Why cant the American Military sponsor Hammer? It seems as though we are missing a great opportunity to bring this great guy to America, keep him in the military if he wants, and he can teach our men customs,language etc to soldiers that are going to Iraq.
I would think that the military would have already thought of this idea and tried to put it into effect. But it seems not. We needs to call their congressmen and senators and DEMAND that they do something to help these brave men out and at the same time utilize their skills to our benefit.

Posted by: Debby Cincotti at August 11, 2007 08:43 AM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Pajamas Media BlogRoll Member



Testimonials

"I'm flattered such an excellent writer links to my stuff"
Johann Hari
Author of God Save the Queen?

"Terrific"
Andrew Sullivan
Author of Virtually Normal

"Brisk, bracing, sharp and thoughtful"
James Lileks
Author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food

"A hard-headed liberal who thinks and writes superbly"
Roger L. Simon
Author of Director's Cut

"Lively, vivid, and smart"
James Howard Kunstler
Author of The Geography of Nowhere


Contact Me

Send email to michaeltotten001 at gmail dot com


News Feeds




toysforiraq.gif



Link to Michael J. Totten with the logo button

totten_button.jpg


Tip Jar





Essays

Terror and Liberalism
Paul Berman, The American Prospect

The Men Who Would Be Orwell
Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

Looking the World in the Eye
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

In the Eigth Circle of Thieves
E.L. Doctorow, The Nation

Against Rationalization
Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn