Doolittle on Fallujah’s Invisible Civilians

Jerome Doolittle of Bad Attitudes talks interestingly about the parallels between the current operation in Fallujah, and military spokespeople’s efforts to assure us that only Very Bad People are being killed by our side, and the role he played during a previous conflict, in which he lied in precisely the same way: Collateral damage.

19 Responses to “Doolittle on Fallujah’s Invisible Civilians”

  1. Craig Says:

    There is no doubt that there are true innocents of war who die directly at the hands of the US military. No reasonable person can deny it. As much as the our military tries to avoid it, such deaths will happen. It’s a saddening and regretful aspect of the horror of war. What angers me is when the topic is the death of innocents in this war, the focus of outrage goes to strictly those casualties caused by the US military. Does the PURPOSEFUL targeting of innocents by the insurgents, by way of car/truck bombings, somehow not count in this tragedy? Does the PURPOSEFUL tactic of mixing with innocents during battle, and thereby drawing fire upon both, somehow evade moral condemnation? Does the use of human shields of innocents somehow fall outside the definition of abhorrent behavior? Who mourns for these people? Are their deaths any less tragic?

    When it comes to the ugliness and unfairness of such aspects of war, its reprehensible to narrow the topic to fit political agendas.

  2. Eric Lee Says:

    I think the reason that the innocents who die are mourned for in Iraq by many of us is because nobody else over here will. General Tommy Franks said, “We don’t do body counts,” which makes it hard to, well, count all the “collateral damage.” And according to Just War theory (which I respect but disagree with), you cannot have any innocent civilians killed. Of course we mourn the innocents targeted by the insurgents, just like everybody else is doing. We’re just giving voice and remembering those lost because the Bush administration sure as hell could care less. Otherwise they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. I’ve seen plenty of reports of Vietnam-style “free fire”-style zones and the reporting done by Sy Hersh clearly shows that the U.S. military far too often treats Iraqi soldiers and civilians like dogs.

    It’s not even an issue of being “balanced”– Bush and the GOP won’t even let caskets be photographed coming back from Iraq, let alone even talk about mourning the innocent deaths of Iraqis who will never experience Bush’s version of “democracy.” Remember, it was the U.S. military that invaded Iraq, and not the other way around, so the U.S. started this war in the first place and began the casualties in “this war.”

    When it comes to the ugliness of war, it’s also reprehensible to accept collateral damage as another statistic and not even mention the innocent Iraqis lost.

  3. Craig Says:

    We will obviously never really agree on my point here. Sadly, I get this same response whenever I mention the “politicizing” of civilian deaths. The response is a half-hearted, “yeah, yeah, all civilian deaths are bad, but let’s get back to my tirade about the guilt of Bush and the US military!! Or the response is , “yeah but I can only comment about people fighting in Iraq in my name”, or “yeah but the US are the aggressors in this war”.

    People can’t seem to get their minds past a reflexive political response and accept the full picture. How depraved does a group of militants have to be to purposely seek out fellow countrymen who are simple innocents just trying to survive this war and kill and wound them by the dozens, hundreds and thousands for the political cache they will bring? Or deliberately putting innocents in harm’s way during battle for the psychological affect of generating a morbid body count? For them this isn’t collateral damage, this is calculated slaughter!

    Who is it again who “sure as hell could care less” about civilian deaths?

    Relativism is sometimes a slippery concept when discussing civilian deaths in a war. The differences I might see in how each side values innocent lives in a war, may not be what someone else sees. But from a purely human perspective, surely the deliberate and souless use of civilians deaths as simple tools for a cause should generate more of a response than an emotionally hollow shrug of the shoulders! If the reason articles like the one above spark anger is because of the unfairness of how the horrors of war touch so many beyond the combatants involved, then why aren’t DELIBERATE mass civilian casualties fueling equal, if not greater, outrage? By whose hands does a civilian have to die before it is deemed properly senseless and tragic, and therefore worthy of being Exhibit A in a political argument?

    All such deaths are the mournful inevitabilities of the horrors of war.

    Aren’t some issues beyond viewing through political prisms?

  4. Steve Wilder Says:

    I’m not quite sure I understand your point Craig. We know that human beings beyond our control are capable of ruthlessly immoral mass murder. We’re past the point of outrage about it. We should be to the point of figuring out the best way to deal with these people, which is exactly what I think we’re doing (even if we’re not doing it in the most efficient manner).

    We view ourselves in an entirely different way. We view ourselves as inherently moral; we’re the good guys. So when people under our command do bad things, we become outraged that they are ruining our image. Here as well, I think the best next step is figuring out how to deal with the situation.

    I think the first step in dealing with the situation is admitting we have a problem.

  5. Craig Says:

    I simply am tired of reading civilian death stories framed solely as part of the “Bad Bush-Bad US Military” argument. Such deaths are a human tragedy of war that should be beyond political spinning. And proclaiming the immorality of the US due to civilian deaths in the course of battle, despite great efforts to avoid it, while displaying significantly less passion or vocal concern to the very deliberate and calculated massacre of civilians by insurgents, is spinning of the most heinous kind.

    If the “Big Picture” of injustice here is the tragedy of civilians killed in the course of war, why should only deaths inflicted by US forces be held out for contempt? On a very basic, human level, are insurgents and terrorists not to be held to, and judged by, a moral code that the world can measure them against?

    It’s okay. I’m use to being outnumbered in arguing this point. I’m either totally in left field, or there are people who can’t let go off the political angle of this issue because somehow it will seem like they are conceding a point in their list of grievances against the war.

  6. Ichi Says:


    You almost moved me to tears when you talked about “human tragedy of war”. It seemed that you actually care for those dead Iraqi little children, for the loss of their limbs, for their pain of being left an orphan. But then I thought, Craig, you forget, where are the weapons of mass destruction that were the justification for this war? where are the connections with al-Qaida? …yeah, it’s old news, but the invasion of Iraq was based on the lies of your government. Or, let’s say, heinous spinning of reality from your government.

    I know is hard to confront the crude truth but this is in fact an immoral war of choice. Every one of those Iraqi innocent civilian deaths inflicted by the US Army is immoral, not a “brush, brush, mere inevitable casualty of war”. And look, I’m not saying the US Army is inherently immoral, let’s not get distracted in false arguments here, they are the chess pieces of the immoral neocon colonialist agenda.

    And yes, insurgents or anyone who kills innocent civilians are bad, bad, bad people. But you know what, we don’t have any control on these insurgents, therefore we can’t affect their decisions. On the other hand, we should be able to affect the decisions of our democratic elected government and held them responsible for their actions.

  7. Craig Says:

    Like I said, I’m use to my point being rationalized or spun back into the anti-Bush machine.

  8. John Callender Says:

    Well, maybe the fact that everyone keeps making the same criticism of your criticism should tell you something.

  9. Craig Says:

    It does tell me something, but maybe not what you are implying.

    Although sad to say, that it appears to be a point in which people would have to agree to disagree.

  10. onan Says:

    Sorry, the US does not get credit for “great efforts” to avoid civiliion casualties. The US did not expend the very small, indeed negative amount of effort require to not invade other people’s nations and start killing them.

  11. Eric Lee Says:

    I rather agree with Ichi, and like usual, I was was completely misread and misrepresented. Any attempt to remain “spin free” is pretty pointless, especially if you come at the problem with the presuppositional spin that war is necessary, especially this one.

    If you’re so tired about hearing tirades about Bush, that’s not my problem. The reason so many people bring it back to that is because it was the Bush administration who started this war, not the insurgents.

    Who is it again who “sure as hell could care less” about civilian deaths?

    If you didn’t hear it the first time, that would be the Bush administration. They “don’t do body counts,” remember? How can one even come close to caring if that is one’s policy on counting the dead.

    I’m a Christian who believes in active non-violent pacifism. I make no apologies for my faith tradition. That is why I make no apologies for attempting to pull the plank out of my own eye before pointing out the speck in somebody elses, and when it comes to how my tax dollars are used, this means talking about the evils perpetuated by the Bush administration and acknowledging what they have caused.

    All such deaths are the mournful inevitabilities of the horrors of war.

    Again, this is true, but the “inevitabilities” are only true if you come at the situation with the spin that war, even this one, is inevitable. And this war was not inevitable, as the intelligence has shown: there was no imminent threat of WMD, no collaborative connections with al Qaeda, and the list goes on. This war doesn’t even come close to meeting the standards of the Christian Just War theory, either (which I respect but disagree with). And even the particulars, which must be talked about, are not inevitable. Abu Ghraib didn’t have to happen, but the way was paved for it; all the civilian deaths on both sides didn’t have to happen, but the way was paved for it by going to war in the first place. And don’t misread me here either: yes, all these deaths are indeed mournful. I’m just attempting to put the right perspective on this. One must not fall into the trap of always blaming the other first, especially when the history of the U.S. foreign policy has allowed the ball to start rolling on many of these events to begin with (the CIA training of al Qaeda coupled with the U.S.’s blind support of Israel’s violence against the Palestinians that caused the blowback on 9/11). That is why the U.S. must examine the plank in its own eye first.

  12. Craig Says:

    Seriously, I don’t want to keep talking about this issue anymore. I read these responses and I don’t know whether to laugh, be sad, or be a little afraid! No one seems to have come within a mile of, what I feel, was a very simple comment on civilian deaths. I even thought that it was such a basic principle on the value of an innocent life and the dangers/ethics of politicizing it, that we actually might agree on it at some level (silly me).

    Maybe its because some people are too affected by an “all roads lead to Bush” mindset these days when it comes to anything with any connection to this war. There are plenty of stubborn-minded people on either side of the war issue these days, but I kind of feel like I’m talking to the “Stepford Partisans” in this particular thread! I can be single-minded about my core beliefs and opinions at times too, but the way my basic premise keeps getting pulled into this tangent Bush whirlpool just blows me away!

    I’m really not trying to act smug, or judgemental or condesending here. We’re all obviously people of some intelligence and sincerity here. Maybe that’s why it shocks me so much.

    Like I said before, let’s just agree to disagree and close the book on it.

  13. Thom Says:

    Craig – why do you even waste your time with these people?

  14. Brian Says:

    Wait a minute Thom. Craig is not”wasting his time with these people”as you would put it.He is expressing his opinion in a calm , respectful manner.That sort of “waste of time” is the backbone of democracy. Remember democracy?It was a lot more prevalent in this country before Bush’s regime came along (at least Ashcroft is gone , thank God).And Craig’s argument would actually be valid if not for one minor glitch.The undisputable fact remains that this war was not necessary.There were no WMD. There was no Al-Quada ties. There was no 9/11 ties. In fact , the only rational that WAS true was the fact that Saddam Hussein was killing and torturing thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. Oops…That sure sounds familiar

  15. ymatt Says:

    This isn’t about making civillian deaths political, it’s part of a discussion about justice. When innocent people die, it is a sad thing indeed, no matter how it happens. When innocent people are killed through the actions of men, you want to hold these men accountable. We do our best to hold others who kill without justification accountable, such as the insurgents of Iraq.

    There is no question that our side also kills innocents in their best efforts to do the right thing. Sometimes innocent people do die in the process of doing great good for a larger body of innocents. However, when we are the ones making those choices, we must look carefully at the sacrifices being made and make sure it’s worth it. We can’t do that without looking frankly at who is dying and at whose hands.

  16. afghanihash Says:

    Now that GWB has won the vote he can begin to clean up the mess he has made in Iraq. Immediate withdrawal would not be the disaster that has been predicted. We can leave and those people will continue to kill each other ,like they have been doing for all time. Whats so bad about that?

  17. John Callender Says:

    The short version is that by pulling out now, without putting something at least as stable as the pre-existing Saddam Hussein regime in place first (and yeah, I realize how that sounds), we would be creating a “failed state,” similar to the failed states we’ve seen over the past ten years or so in Somalia and Afghanistan, in which al Qaeda would be free to organize and operate, leading to an increased risk of future anti-Western terrorism.

    This is essentially the critique of the Bush invasion of Iraq that led people like Richard Clarke and Rand Beers to quit their positions in the Bush administration and go public with their denunciations of his counterterroism policy.

    Clarke spells the case out pretty clearly in his book, Against All Enemies. He describes how, during the Clinton years, US counterterroism policy shifted from a focus on state-sponsored terrorism to a focus on the problem of terrorism operating from within these failed states. When the Bush people took over in 2000, though, they didn’t want anything to do with what had been going on during the Clinton years. They didn’t do “nation building.” Instead, they made a hard turn back to the problems they’d been working on eight years before, during Bush 41’s term; things like anti-missile defense and the containment of (and, as we now know, the preparation for the invasion of) Iraq.

    This continued through the summer of 2001, during the infamous interval during which Clarke and others were “tearing their hair out” trying to get Condoleeza Rice and George Bush to pay attention to the problem represented by al Qaeda. But Rice and Bush knew better, so they largely ignored that problem, until it bit us all in the collective butt.

    Note that Clarke’s argument has never really been refuted. When his book came out, and he gave his 9/11 Commission testimony, the best the Bush people could come up with was a lot of smoke and mirrors, trying to smear him as a partisan hack (which he clearly wasn’t and isn’t). But as with any number of other similar cases, the Bush team was very adept at manipulating the media into reporting on what was actually a policy dispute, in which the facts supported their opponents’ position, as if it were just a garden-variety political argument, in which facts were just replaced by each side’s talking points and the underlying issues got buried in the Bush-team’s drummed-up fog of partisan denunciations.

  18. a_stupid_box Says:

    1) People die in war.

    2) It is tragic, and I agree with Craig that civilian deaths should be “above” political spin.

    3) Both U.S. forces and Iraqi “insurgents” kill civilians.

    4) Regardless of motive on either side, it’s more morally reprehensible when the U.S. forces do it.

    a) Because the U.S. has the technology to spot a penny on the ground from orbit.

    b) Because the U.S. are supposed to be the “liberators.”

    i) U.S. forces are automatically held to a higher standard.

    ii) U.S. invaded in order to help people, not kill them.

    Summary: It is squally tragic when anyone dies (even the “insurgents”), however, it’s more morally reprehensible when the U.S. is responsible for the death. Just as it’s more morally reprehensible when parents kill their own children rather than a stranger killing them.

    Clincher: Basicly, the U.S. is cutting off Iraq’s fingers to stop them from smoking. How many fingers can they cut off before Iraq realizes that they could’ve quit on their own all along? And how bad will the backlash be?

  19. Mike Says:

    A Stupid box:

    The logic of your points is simple. Unfortunately, too simple.

    The west has been in conflict with Iraq and SH since the time of the Gulf war. We have taken action against Iraq on two different fronts over a period of roughly 15 years. One: Diplomacy Two: Military force.

    Of the two approaches, Diplomacy is the hands down failure.

    As Iraq was preparing to invade Kuwait, Diplomats were given the task to stop it. They failed, and many Kuwaitis lost their lives as a result. They tried to expel Iraq, but again, the diplomats failed, and the loss of Kuwaiti propertey was massive.

    Finally, America asserted a military approach, which was a stunning success.

    Unfortunatly, “the powers that be” decided to suspend the successful military actions, and revert to diplomatic action in a cease fire agreement with Iraq.

    The results of this are tragic. Western diplomatic efforts are credited with the deaths of about 100 thousand Iraqi civilians per year averaged over a period of about a decade. Over a million civilian deaths.

    After 9/11, America once again saw an opportunity to displace the failures of diplomatic action, and the massive civilian death toll that went with it, replacing it with, once again, the military option.

    The success has been astounding. Civilian death rates under this approach have plummeted to 1/10th of the diplomatic asaults.

    To find moral fault by those who have reduced western caused civilian deaths to a fraction of their former rates is flawed reasoning by any measure.

    My challange to ANYONE is to say what other western option would result in Iraqi civilian death rates THIS LOW.

    You won’t, because you can’t.

    Saving lives that would have been otherwise lost is the higest moral endevour.


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