Clarification and a thinkpiece
Rich Gardner | 08.25.2008
First section has definite conclusions, second is more of a throwing-thoughts-out-there
I had a conversation with a conservative a little while ago where we discussed whether or not Pro-President Bush people were war criminals. Of course, as many people remember, a Nazi on trial at the Nuremberg Tribunal plaintively cried "But I was just following orders." The Tribunal concluded that no, that wasn't an all-purpose excuse, that no one had an excuse to follow illegal orders no matter how insistent their military superiors were. People, both in uniform and out, are expected to know the difference between legal and illegal instructions and to react accordingly. No one among the netroots considers the actions of our telecom companies in assisting the government to stomp all over our Fourth Amendment rights to be justified. The telecom companies have used reasoning very similar to that of the Nazi at Nuremberg, but as they have large staffs of expensive lawyers, we don't accept their reasoning. They knew full well they were doing something that was completely illegal and they should be jailed for that.
Many religious authorities during the build-up period for the Iraq War examined the issue as to whether or not the proposed invasion of Iraq fit the definition of a "just war" and largely concluded that it did not. Is it fair to condemn pro-Bush people for fighting in or supporting that "unjust war"? A major problem with doing that is that our traditional media was keeping up a steady drumbeat about how Saddam Hussein had something to do with Osama bin Laden and therefore with 9-11. I can't even count how many cartoons I saw that featured Hussein and bin Laden sitting in a cave together. Were cartoonists formally instructed to use this visual metaphor or did they simply read the news in the traditional media and interpret that as what "everybody" was saying?
The number of people who believe there was a Hussein-bin Laden connection is still alarmingly high, but as the traditional media has never really pressed very hard to inform people of the change in the storyline, that's not terribly surprising.
As people are pointing out in connection to the Bruce Ivins/anthrax case of October 2001, the American people were strongly encouraged by our Establishment to believe that America was under attack from beyond our shores and that Hussein was probably guilty. ABC News especially has been fingered as having passed on stories about the anthrax attacks that were very favorable towards the end of heightening citizen fear and paranoia.
I didn't watch Secretary of State Colin Powell's dramatic presentation at the UN (I was too busy preparing for the February 15th demonstration), but my brother-in-law did and he described the presentation as "Convincing, if you were looking into the whole situation for the first time. If you were familiar with the evidence before that, it wasn't persuasive at all." The alternative media (The left blogosphere didn't exist yet) pounced on Powell's speech and quickly tore it to bits, but the traditional media was absolutely floored, awestruck and amazed by how utterly convincing Powell's case for war was. "Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise" than that Iraq was guilty, proclaimed an allegedly liberal columnist.
Add to these the usual "Rally 'round the flag" tendency of citizens to support their government in times of perceived crisis, and you have a pretty compelling case for citizens to support the war that's still ravaging Iraq and driving so many Iraqis to seek shelter in foreign countries.
So, although war crimes are never forgivable and as the invasion of Iraq counted as a "war of aggression," but as it's really not clear how many American citizens were fully and truly informed on that issue, we on the left don't automatically count all pro-war people as being war criminals.
Also, we discussed whether someone is really a warrior if they're in the military, but in a relatively safe part of the military. We on the left apply the term "chickenhawk" to a very small number of people who actually wore military uniforms during the Vietnam War precisely because there is indeed a large gray area between being in the military and between being "in harm's way." If one was back in the Roman Army or one was a fighter in a German tribe, there were no two ways about it. If you were part of the army or were considered a "warrior," you were a front-line fighter who made direct contact with the enemy. Sailors were no exception as, in the days of the wooden ships, the call to "repel boarders" was heard frequently.
Since at least America's Civil War, we've had specialties within the military that do not involve front-line fighting. We've had military specialties like supply clerks or Yeomen or Hospital Corpsmen (My own Navy specialty, Personnelman, is distinct from Yeoman in that I dealt with Enlisted persons as opposed to Officers. Since I left, the PN specialty has been merged with that of the DKs, or Disbursing Clerks). And since Navies all over the world went to metal ships, there hasn't been much hostile boarding. Generally, the attitude on that is to give the great majority of all military members the benefit of the doubt as to whether they really count as warriors or not. In my capacity as a member of the Damage Control/Firefighting team, yes, there was a possibility of my being physically injured, but the risk of injury was far lower than it would have been had I served on a wooden ship or in America's Army during the Revolution or during the Indian Wars.
An Army officer was talking to some shipmates of mine and was trying to get them fired up and enthused by declaring they were "killers." They agreed with the officer, but later said among themselves "Well, yeah, we're killers. We push a button and ten miles away, something blows up. So...yeah, technically, we count as killers, but...well..." As I said, there's a large gray area between being in the military and between being an actual warrior.