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Friday, April 30, 2004

You Reap What you Sow. Results of LtCol West
This website is not a high traffic area, but some of my rants do get some notice at a modest level. The one that got the most notice is my rant about LtCol West.

If you'll recall, he's the reserve army battalion commander that decided to torture and threaten Iraqi prisoners. Despite the fact that this behavior is immoral, illegal and everyone in the military knows it, I got a lot of emails from strangers (mostly due to a google reaction to "LtCol West") and none of the respondents agreed with me that it was wrong to torture prisoners.

I'm disappointed in my fellow Americans, my fellow military personnel and my fellow Marine officers who told me that torturing prisoners is okay, so long as you "save the lives of your men." How anyone can say that LtCol West saved anyone is beyond me, but that was the claim.

Now, look at what has come to light. American soldiers are seemingly guilty of torturing Iraqis. Want to know what their defense is? They were collecting valuable information that saved American lives. Hmmm. I wonder where they got the idea that this was a good excuse?
While people across this nation, many with military training who should know better, were proclaiming LtCol West a true hero because he tortured prisoners, I was asking this question: If soldiers are told to beat up prisoners while in the presence of an officer and they are lauded for it, what will soldiers do when officers are not present?

I guess we've learned our answer. Soldiers who have been told that it's only a slap in the wrist if a Lieutenant Colonel tortures people have seemingly decided that it's okay to treat other people with indignity, torture, humiliation, threats of electrocution, and other forms of maltreatment, just so long as military intelligence is obtained.

Some of these soldiers are claiming that they were never taught how to treat prisoners. This is pure unadulterated crap. Every person entering the military is taught about the basic code of conduct and how to treat prisoners. Even were they to find some way to claim that they never received this training, there is no way any human being can claim this as an excuse.

I hope that the military puts these people up against the wall and executes them. I'd like to recall LtCol West and have him stand by and watch the result of his actions. Too bad his trial is over. If we didn't have a law against double jeopardy, I'd like to put his back up against a wall too.

This is a disgusting display of the worst type of behavior and I want the most severe actions to be taken to ensure that no one ever associates me with them, and deter anyone in the US military from thinking that such behavior is acceptable.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

War, Morality, and Victory
Quagmire. Another Viet Nam. There are a lot of different ways of portraying our war in Iraq. The traitors, our enemies, the squeamish, and the just plain confused like to use these and other descriptions.

But are they correct? With the continuing uprising in Fallujah, the usual suspects are cringing and whimpering that we might actually hurt someone and make people mad at us. I find these people morally despicable.

There is only one morally correct way to wage war, and that is total war. There is only one sure way to avoid charges of brutality and that is to win.

If one were to compare anything to the Viet Nam War, the comparison is this: By forgetting that the purpose of a war is to win, the people in charge of waging that war stopped taking all possible measures to make sure it was won. Bombing North Viet Nam was mostly off limits. Invading it was completely out of bounds. The most basic principle of war is that victory necessarily requires that you walk among your defeated enemy and control his actions. We lacked the political will to take that action and thus we lost the war.

All the hand wringing and accusations about how the war was conducted are a result of losing the war, and the anti-war party only gained strength as more and more people realized that we weren't winning. After we ignominiously pulled out of Indo China and left our South Viet Namese allies to a fate of torture, oppression, and re-education, we became easy targets of contempt and disdain.

But if we had had the political will to unleash our military, regardless of what else may have happened, we would never have gained a reputation for cutting and running when times get tough.

Likewise, we are reaching a critical point in the war in Iraq. There are two main courses of action to choose from: Either we continue this farce of "negotiating" or we destroy our enemy immediately and finally. The usual suspects are starting to cry out that we are being too brutal and there is only one way to silence them: With victory.

If we win, and win decisively, no one will question how we won so long as we remain within the letter and spirit of international law. It may sound terrible to bomb a mosque, but if the enemy are firing from one, it becomes a legitimate target. If we lose the war, all our enemies, both foreign and domestic, will harp ad nauseum about our alleged excesses. If we win the war, it all becomes a moot point.

Now is not the time to lose sight of our objectives. Now is not the time to grow soft. Now is the time for ruthlessness and the destruction of Al-Duri and the others that are organizing this revolt. Once he is dead and his army destroyed, there will be no one to defend him. Our enemy only understands a boot on his neck.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Broken Warriors but Unbroken Marines
I visited five severely wounded Marines at Brook Army Medical Center yesterday. They were in a firefight in Fallujah, Iraq a short time earlier. I don't know the official version and only got a few snips of what happened from these men. The gist of the story is that they were in amphibious tractors driving through Fallujah and were attacked. They fought incredibly bravely even after one tractor was disabled. After towing it out of the way, it was hit again and caught fire.

One or more Marines were killed, and these five were wounded severely enough to be evacuated back to the US, but the Marines did not leave their dead comrade behind and came back with a vengeance and retrieved the disabled and burning amtrak and killed many enemy in the process. From the little pieces I heard, I hope that many Marines are given medals for their bravery.

But I was struck by more than their bravery. These five Marines, most of them with permanent disfigurations, were enthusiastic about being there, and behaving in the highest traditions of the Marine Corps. Meeting them brought a huge lump to my throat.
One Marine in the most serious condition was sedated and being tended to by intensive care unit personnel and by his family (one of whom was a nurse/captain in the army I believe) received us with so much grace. The First Sergeant that was with us did most of the talking and when he said something particularly noteworthy, this good corporal would fidget and squirm and try to sit up and with difficulty he would respond "Roger that!"

The lieutenant being treated for some burns on his upper arm while we talked reported to us on the condition of each of the others even though he was just removed from intensive care himself the day before. He was a Marine officer and he knew he was the senior patient present among the Marines and he went out of his way to learn how each one was doing. Of course no one expects a severely injured officer to do anything except recuperate, but he knew that if it was possible for him to keep informed, then he felt an obligation to make sure his Marines were being well cared for. He shared the most details of the battle with us. Of course, our role as visitors wasn't to extract tales from him, but he enjoyed telling us what happened and we enjoyed hearing his account. A striking part of how he told his story is that he only used the word "I" when he said, "and after I got hit I couldn't move any more and became useless." His understated story made it clear to me that what he wasn't telling us is how much he was leading and directing the battle and how much his Marines thought of him by counter attacking to retrieve him and his vehicle.

One young corporal in the least serious condition was mobile and when we came to his ward he came out in the hallway on crutches to meet us, I assume to let his fellow warders get rest. He was the most impressive. He was only a corporal, but he too gave a full account of each of the other Marines' status. His upbeat and professional demeanor made me realize that our Marines are too good to ever fail.

Okay, I may have the story details wrong, but these are brave men and their wrecked bodies will forever etch in my mind a drive to get into this war and fight with them. The Marine Corps instills a warrior spirit in their Marines, but even more importantly Marines know that the most important part of being a Marine is to take care of their fellow Marines. These men no longer had whole bodies, but they never abandoned their identity and esprit for that which makes Marines special. We were there to cheer them up, but they ended up inspiring us.

I was moved more than I can explain. Every American should meet these five Marines.

I only regret that there are some Marines that had their lives taken that I can never meet. I never want to forget that my freedom, my life, and my country exist only because they went into harm's way for us.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Was Billy Mitchell Right?
People who know my disdain of Billy Mitchell's and Giullio Douhet's ideas would be shocked that I even ask if Billy Mitchell was right, but I was watching a news report about aviation security against terrorism and it struck me that these two buffoons might actually have something to say about this topic. I doubt that they would have much intelligent to say based on what they said and wrote while they lived.

Mitchell and Douhet (Douhet came first, but Mitchell was more influential in the US) back in the 1920's and 1930's came up with the idea that wars would be won exclusively through air power and that land and naval forces were mostly obsolete. They based this theory on the prediction that aircraft flying over a city and dropping bombs on the people would so thoroughly frighten them that they would instantly sue for peace. This laughable idea was the basis for the ineffective strategic bombing campaigns in the second world war.
Their theory has been proven wrong every time it has been tried, but that didn't stop them from making an Air Force separated from the army. Despite that their ideas have been discredited repeatedly, perhaps there just might be something to their theory after all. Just look at how the murderous Islamics have cowed us into requiring more and more intrusions of our civil rights. Look at how some people demand that they be made 100% safe from attacks and willingly surrender, and demand that others surrender their freedom of movement and freedom from searches.

It's curious to me, and it's only an observation not backed up by any systematic study, that the same kind of people who think that wars can be won by the mere threat of bombing are the same type of people who tend to cower when threatened by terrorists. That is, adherents (consciously or unknowingly adherents) of Douhet and Mitchell, are the ones who think that lobbing a few cruise missiles at an Al Qaeda camp several years ago would have some sort of deterrent effect on our enemies. I suppose that to them the idea of being attacked by a small explosive is so horrifying that they would immediately surrender. SInce they are such craven cowards they must suppose that others are too. To them it is entirely rational to surrender at the smallest provocation, or because of large scale bombardments. They forget that people cannot be controlled by bombs, they can only be controlled by people. So long as they have food and water, no bombs by themselves will ever conquer a people unless the people want to surrender.

But we've been surrendering our civil rights. We have people frightened enough to demand that all cargo coming into the country on plane or even by ship must be thoroughly inspected. We have people willing to allow the government to search each and every passenger flying on an aircraft without presenting a warrant. We have a lot of people who are afraid.

So maybe Douhet and Mitchell were right after all. Bombers can win wars. Aircraft can terrorize a people into submission and defeat. I guess all it takes is for there to be more cowards among the people. Let's hope that the American people and Western Civilization show better mettle than that.

Friday, April 16, 2004

My friend Rebecca on her blog, Voxlibre (this doesn't seem to be a permanent link, also go to here, and look at April 15, 2004, "Birthright"), discusses whether patriotism is a stupid emotion because no one chooses the country they're born in. Rebecca rightly ridicules this foolishness, but I think she is missing the most obvious fault in this statement's logic.

The most obvious thing missed in her refutation is what is sadly so commonly missed by much of our modern society: a moral judgment. And both those words are taken to insinuate opposite negative associations, with the result that most people in our culture refrain from making one -- especially on such fundamental concepts.
The thing is that morality has gotten such a bad rap and many people instantly equate morality with religious beliefs. Of course morality has little to do with religion except by limited coincidence, but many people have a knee jerk response to anything that implies religion. I am no advocate of religion, the problem is that religion has successfully claimed the province of morality despite all the evidence that the two have little to do with each other.

The other word, judgment, also causes a knee jerk response but from the opposite direction. Here our christian cultural heritage comes out against making judgment. Jesus is frequently quoted as saying "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Of course this quote is almost always misunderstood. I won't go into the context of the actual quote because I'm only concerned with the popular understanding of the quote here. Popularly, this quote is used to challenge people to not judge others. Typically the curse implied in this quote is invoked by those doing something that fails to withstand scrutiny or judgment. People should instead demand that their actions be judged and that their behavior be recognized for what it is, good moral behavior. Of course if they aren't good people, this will work against them, hence the frequent misapplication of the biblical quote.

So making a moral judgment goes against the grain of many non religious people and of many religious people. No wonder people choke on that idea.

We're missing the moral judgment, but how does that apply to patriotism? The fallacious argument is that since one doesn't typically choose where one is born and live, that being patriotic is arbitrary and meaningless. The assumption is that the patriotic individual is excused from making any moral judgment about the target of his patriotism. But why would that be the case? There is no nation today that is morally perfect, but there are certainly some nations that are better than others. Making the distinction between good nations and bad nations would require one to make a moral judgment, and the knee jerk reaction by most people is to refrain from requiring that natural behavior.

But it is easy and natural to note the difference between a good nation, such as Australia or the Netherlands, and bad nations such as North Korea, or Saudi Arabia. If you live in a bad nation, being patriotic is clearly immoral. You might love the location, the people, or the historical heritage, but being patriotic and supporting an evil regime is immoral and it is a faulty syllogism to say that since being patriotic for these nations is immoral, then being patriotic is a sign of stupidity even for good nations.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Freedom of the Press in Iraq and Russia
The United States recently shut down a newspaper in Iraq, enraging followers of Muqtada al Sadr, for inciting violence against the occupation. I think I'm not unlike most Americans in that I was shocked that the US would do such a thing. We regard freedom of speech and freedom of the press as the holiest of holy ideas of our nation. But there are two questions to ask in this case in judging whether this was a wise act or not. First, was there an abuse of freedom of speech that warranted shutting down this newspaper? Second, will shutting down newspapers that abuse freedom of speech end in favorable results?

I've been pondering this for a while and I think the answer is not as straightforward as I initially thought. An instructive example is Russia.
First, let's look at whether Al Sadr was abusing the right of freedom of the press. He is living in a society which is still under martial law following the forceful end of a despotic and violent regime. The nation is hardly a nation and there is still daily violence and threats to the safety of the people. Dissent is permissable, but calling for violence against those who, for better or for worse, are attempting to attain peaceful conditions is dangerous to all. Most Americans and most people would cheer for anyone resisting a despotic regime, and many in Iraq probably think that they are resisting an unjust occupation by attacking the Coalition Provisional Authority.

But now comes the follow-on question that many who have no moral compass are troubled by: Are these resisting Iraqis correct? Is the CPA an unjust occupying force that must be resisted by violence? If the CPA were heavy handed, unjust, torturous, or in any other way oppressive, violent resistance would be the right thing to do. But you have to examine the "if" in that statement, and one can only justly conclude that the CPA is promising to hand over power this summer to the Iraqis and they have shown every indication that they will keep to this schedule. Additionally, they have been instituting law and order and introducing freedom to a people that have not seen it in a long, long time. Resisting the CPA is not only unjustified morally, it is simply stupid if peace and prosperity are your goal.

So I can only conclude that in a violent place, where there are forces seeking to instill freedom and peace, that calling for violence against the CPA and the US military is an abuse of freedom of the press. It is irresponsible and dangerous behavior in a time of great danger. The decision to shut down this newspaper is morally justified without question, even though the gut reaction of most Americans including myself is that it was wrong.

So it's justified. Big deal. Was it a smart thing to do? Will good things result from it in the short term or the long term?

In the short term, the voice of the violent will be partially silenced. The Shiite radicals who want to create their own oppressive theocratic Islamic state will have to find other ways to spread their word. It also caused a modest sized uprising in Saddam City, a neighborhood of Baghdad where Al Sadr's goons, many of whom are trained and serving as members of the Iraqi Police rioted and stole weapons and otherwise looted key control positions and armories. It's too early to say what else will result. Some have dismissed these riots as insignificant, but if the goal was only to seize weapons, then it succeeded. Al Sadr may have just armed himself for another day.

This happened at the same time as an uprising in Fallujah, and it is natural to wonder if the two are somehow related. I have no sources of info to tell me one way or another, but I suspect that Al Sadr's Shiites are not cooperating with the Sunnis in Fallujah, who are mostly Saddam loyalists. Al Sadr was most likely reacting to events and is taking advantage of the uprising to further weaken the US Marines' ability to respond to his actions.

So, in the short term all we can perceive are tactical results of some unknown magnitude for or against a violent movement. What about the long term? Again, the gut reaction of an American is to suspect that trampling freedom of the press is like pulling out the base card in a house of cards. Freedom is a delicate construction that cannot accept violations of rights without corruption and eventual oppression or civil disorder, maybe even civil war.

But is that really the case? Does squashing the press ever result in effective results? Sadly, it does, and perhaps in this case it will have a good end. Let's look at what's happened in Russia as an example of controlling the press.

History is filled with examples of the sword successfully controlling people, and we even have recent examples in the past ten years of how shutting down the press can create a cow-like people that elect a government that silences any dissent. I'm speaking of Russia.

Russia, who so recently freed itself from over seventy years of horror, oppression, and communism, is a well educated society. They have demonstrated that many among them have no lack of entrepreneurial creativity when released from the anti-capitalist ideology they were oppressed by. But the rise of Vlad Putin, a former leader in the Soviet Secret Police, shows that even educated people who so recently achieved their own freedom can bovinely submit to allowing a leader to shut down all dissenting, peaceful voices and happily re-elect the only politician that got any press at all, Putin himself. With no one to say otherwise, Putin's treachery was unknown and he was merrily retained in power. One political opponent was threatened, framed, and run out of the country.

So shutting down the press works, and works well, and works perpetually. In this case, it works against freedom. Can it work for freedom?

Shutting down freedom of the press to save a nation for freedom is like burning down a village in order to save it from communism. But if, and this is a big if, intelligence is used to only silence dangerous voices advocating violence in a time of martial law, then perhaps this will have a good end.

I have to confess that I fear human nature and its tendency to abuse power. I fear that the CPA, once tasting censorship, will use it more frequently and with less reason. Let's hope this doesn't happen. I don't see an alternative at this time. The Iraqi people must be protected from those advocating violence. They cannot attain their own freedom if those who would use force are not restrained.

Ninth Circuit Court, Dissenter
Here is a dissenting opinion regarding the Second Amendment from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It is actually written in strong, understandable, mostly jargon-free English. It needs no further comments from me, You'll enjoy this, and it gives me hope for the future of our nation, and lawyers in general.

Russell Allen et al, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Mary V. King, et al, Defendants-Appellees

No. 99-17551
D.C. No. CV-99-04389-MJJ Northern Distsrict of California, San Francisco

Filed April 5, 2004

Before: Arthur L Alarcón, Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, and Ronald M. Gould, Circuit Judges


(I've excised the order, and skipped straight to the first dissent)

KLEINFELD, Circuit Judge, dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc:

I respectfully dissent. I join in Judge Gould's superb dissent, which explains coherently and most admirably why the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms.

Our court has erased 10% of the Bill of Rights for 20% of the American people. No liberties are safe if courts can so easily erase them, and no lover of liberty can be confident that an important right will never become so disfavored in popular or elite opinion as to being discarded like the Second Amendment.

I have spelled out in great detail why our court's view of the SEcond Amendment is indefensible, in my dissent from denial of rehearing en banc in Silveira v. Lockyer. Judge Gould has graciously noted some of the points in that dissent, and I will not restate them here.

Our court and the Fifth Circuit take opposite views. In United States v. Emerson, the Fifth Circuit reads the Second Amendment to establish an individual right to keep and bear arms. Our court reads it not to. Our court takes what to me is a position verging on droll legal humor, that the right is a "collective" right belonging to state government, meaning that it is enforceable only by the state, even when the state is the violator.

Whether the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right is more likely to affect the outcome in this case than in Silveira, the challenge was to California's ban on assault weapons. Reasonable regulation of the individual right guaranteed by the Second Amendment might well have led to the same result, no relief, as the result reached by the panel using the "no individual right" argument. In this case, by contrast, the result might well have been different if we had not erased the Second Amendment. The ordinance at issue, subject to narrow exceptions, criminalizes any and all possession of firearms on county property. The case before the panel was about apparently law-abiding persons wanting to hold a gun show at a fairgrounds.

Some people think that the Second Amendment is an outdated relic of an earlier time. Doubtless some also think that constitutional protections of other rights are outdated relics of earlier times. We The People own those rights regardless, unless and until We The People repeal them. For those who believe it to be outdated, the Second Amendment provides a good test of whether their allegiance is really to the Constitution of the United States, or only to their preferences in public policies and audiences. The Constitution is law, not vague aspirations, and we are obligated to protect, defend, and apply it. If the Second Amendment were truly an outdated relic, the Constitution provides a method for repeal. The Constitution does not furnish the federal courts with an eraser.

(The rest of the document, both the decision and the dissents are worth reading. Go to this link to download a pdf file of the decision.)