without positing any kind of moral equivalent, or measuring them against one another in terms of number of lives lost, or ignoring their clear and obvious differences, 9/11 and haditha are both unacceptable and unjustifiable takings of innocent human life. i would like to think this is something on which all reasonable people can agree.
what's fascinating to me is to watch the right wing increasingly self-destruct as it tries to argue its way out of various utterly untenable positions into which it has argued itself. some of these apologetics are easily refutable, but some are actually so perverse that they boggle my mind.
with respect to haditha, the standard right-wing line of defense has become "of course killing innocent civilians in war is wrong, but...."
and in every case, what follows the "but" serves as the excuse, the rationalization, the defense of why killing innocent civilians is not wrong, or at the very least that it's a wrong we are willing to accept. typically these apologetics take the form of some combination of the following: 1) americans are the exceptions to the rules of war, 2) nevertheless shit happens and war is dirty business, but 3) history will forgive us.
rich lowry ends his national review online op-ed piece, "If Marines in Haditha did what they are accused of, it’s a terrible crime unrepresentative of the American military. Period." but of course there is no period because his whole reason for writing the piece is to engage in apologetics. "No military in the history of the planet has ever been as observant of the rules of warfare and as discriminate in its use of force as ours," he writes in spite of plenty of evidence to the contrary. "But no large organization can be utterly free of weak or evil men." in other words, americans are the exception but sometimes succumb to the norm. lowry's brand of exceptionalism thus turns out to be no exception at all.
bill kristol reverses the usual order and starts off with the "but": "But here's the hard, Trumanesque truth" -- in the sense, one wonders, of harry truman or jim carey's film character who lives in a fabricated world of illusion? -- "In war, terrible things happen, including crimes and abuses and cover-ups. Let's be clear: Crimes and cover-ups cannot be excused or tolerated." but clearly they can. kristol would seem at first to be dispensing with american exceptionalism and serving up a "shit happens" argument pure and simple. don't be fooled; kristol is of course much smarter than lowry, so his brand of exceptionalism will appear more rigorous:
that is, american liberty and justice for all is a truth held to be self-evident and transparent, a presumptio juris et de jure: law that cannot be rebutted or refuted with evidence. which is of course nonsense.What makes us exceptional is that we stand for liberty, and that we are willing to fight for liberty. We don't need to "prove" we are different from the jihadists by bringing our own soldiers, if they have done something wrong, to justice. Of course we must and will do this. But our doing this "proves" nothing. Even if there were ten Hadithas, we would still not have to "prove" that we are "different from the jihadists." The idea would be offensive if it were not ludicrous.
the NRO's W. Thomas Smith Jr. offers a sort of "delayed 'but...'," that is, what follows his "but" does not make a logical contrast with what precedes it. watch:
in other words, there's no excuse but we should understand and learn from the alleged events at haditha. huh? sorry, there's no logical contrast there, w. thomas. what you really want to say is...Now, I'm not excusing what may--with "may" being the optimum word here--prove to be a shameful day in the history of our Marine Corps. But it benefits no one if we do not attempt to understand the men involved and the dynamics of the system, and how it all could have temporarily broken down, if it did.
in other words, the "shit happens" defense, but this time with a unique and subtle twist: it's the very risk of shit happening that makes our soliders more moral than any other soldiers. american exceptionalism sneaks in the back door here.Are Marine infantrymen, by virtue of the nature of their work, "cold-blooded" killers? On the contrary: It is because of the nature of their work--usually performed under extreme stress and fatigue--that Marines truly have to be some of the most moral men on the planet if they are going to be effective warriors. That doesn't mean they are flawless.
here's a few from the "history will forgive us" defense, which i suppose is in some sense just a species of the american exceptionalism defense but here goes:
actually boot's position isn't so much "history will forgive us" but "we'll forgive ourselves."Like Abu Ghraib, Haditha is a war crime that should be swiftly punished. But it should not be used by opportunistic elements to tarnish all those serving in Iraq. History will be their judge, and something tells me it will treat them kindly.
--Mark Dooley, "US Army Was Betrayed By A Few 'Sadists'," The Sunday Independent (Ireland), June 4 2006
Many supporters of the wars in question are happy to see as few convictions as possible. They worry that prosecutions will poison public sentiment. This concern is overblown. What matters most to most folks back home is whether their "boys" are fighting for a just cause and whether they are winning. If the answer to both questions is yes, the public will forgive a great deal of misconduct.
-- Max Boot, "Win Baghdad and we'll forgive Haditha," Los Angeles Times, June 7 2006
as we move further out into the lunatic fringes of the right wing, however, the apologetics get increasingly desperate. rush limbaugh goes for flat out denial and conspiracy theory:
there is actually a shred of truth here: what we do have are allegations and not incontrovertible fact. but it's also clear that it's not critics who are making things up (a curious charge coming from a notorious fabricater like limbaugh) but the military who appear to have made things up in terms of their initial report of what happened at haditha. from the existence of allegations over incontrovertable fact, however, limbaugh proceeds to spin a paranoid vision of denial, fabrication and "gang rape."I told you last week, the officials that know whatever in the process of this investigation cannot say a word for fear of having any conviction or any verdict thrown out because they've been involved in shaping opinion about it. So it's going to be a one-sided story. The critics are going to have a field day, and the critics are going to be able to make things up. The critics are going to be able to go out there and tell you things happened that they don't know happened. They're going to be able to use all these anonymous sources, and it's going to be -- folks, let me just put it in graphic terms. It is going to be a gang rape. There is going to be a gang rape by the Democratic Party, the American left, and the drive-by media to finally take us out in the war against Iraq. Make no bones about it.
Now, I remind you of this simply because nobody yet knows what happened in Haditha. All there are, are the horror stories right now, and if there are charges, there will be a defense. And I just -- I can't -- I cannot emphasize enough, ladies and gentlemen, the efforts that are under way and will be continuing, to use this Haditha story as the absolute final drill to destroy our effort to achieve victory in Iraq altogether. You can just -- you can see it; you can hear it. (his nationally syndicated radio program, june 5)
curiously, rush is not as far out on the fringe than chris matthews, for whom killing civilians and covering it up is perfectly plausible:
most perplexing of all tho, to me at any rate, is tony blankley's piece, "media dance macabre." i mean this is of course a guy who called george soros "a jew who figured out a way to survive the holocaust" so i don't suppose we should expect reasonable discourse from this man. and here he calls limbaugh's coinage of the phrase "drive-by media" a "a scientifically accurate description." and after a few paragraphs of fomenting rage at the media for daring to report these alleged war crimes, blankley trots out the standard "shit happens" defense but with a little shrug of wonder that more war crimes don't occur -- "It is commonplace to observe that since the dawn of man -- and currently -- in the crucible of battle, warriors sometimes cannot contain their emotions and their violent actions. It is amazing our troops act as civilized as they do in combat" -- immediately followed by the standard american exceptionalism: "No other military force in history has been so tightly limited in its defensive actions. And probably no other military force has been sufficiently disciplined to maintain such restrictive rules in the heat of combat. God bless our troops -- if not necessarily the policy that so restricts them."Apparently, what happened in this case is they had a -- guys who went nuts, you know, they shot everybody in their family out of rage because the most popular guy in the unit had just been blown up, and then somebody said, "What good does it do to advertise this around the world?" I can see doing it for patriotic reasons, by the way. You'd say, "Why do we want the world to know we had a few mad dogs who went nuts in some house? Let's cover this baby up." (MSNBC's Hardball, June 5)
um, what policy is that, not killing civilians? notice already what's happening here with this conditional "if" clause: blankley is hinting that he wishes there were no rules of engagement or code of military justice against killing civilians. he continues: "For the parents, wives, husbands and children of our young warriors who are killed because they followed the restrictive rules and didn't fire first, this is a damned bitter pill to swallow -- whatever the geopolitical wisdom of it." get it? it's a damn shame and bitter pill that soldiers cannot kill civilians in order to prevent being fired on first. this is a kind of preemptive warfare that i think would put a chill in the spines of most living breathing humans.
but don't linger over this too long because blankley is merely building up to the "of course...but" that marks all rightwing apologists for haditha:
it's stunning, really. here is blankley, a "journalist," calling for censorship. no freedom of the press in blankley's amerika: those who do open and honest reporting of facts and events in the global war on terror are nothing more than domestic enemy propagandists. here indeed is the true lunatic fringe where conservativism bends over backwards and ties itself into fascist military dicataorship, plain and simple.Of course if an American soldier, sailor, Marine or airman is found by a court martial made up of seasoned officers with a practical understanding of the exigencies of combat to have violated the standards of combat, he or she must face American military justice. But in time of war, there is no reason why military censorship should not be enforced to shroud the carrying out of justice from the eager eyes and ears of enemy propagandists -- domestic and foreign.
(part two, on rightwing apologetics for the recent claim by the author of books called "treason" and "slander" that family members of 9/11 victims "enjoy" those deaths...)