Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Intellectual Dishonesty

I think I've finally done it. I no longer identify with the left side of politics any more.

Not that I ever really did, but in the past it was the most natural fit for me. Not any more.

I am not the smartest person in the world, nor am I always right. But at least I don't frequently state things I know to be untrue in order to smear someone whom I don't particularly like.

I don't like George Bush or Dick Cheney very much. I don't particularly like John Howard either, although I've started to think he's not all that bad. But I can not abide those who will do anything, not only including but especially lying and slandering in order to bring down their political opponents.

Oh sure, it's politics, some people will say. Well, that may be the case while you keep your smears to the politicians. But when the smear extends to fully half the population, that's just too much. Why am I vilified for defending someone who I may not like, but who happens to be correct? Why do people on the left think the truth doesn't matter any more - while at the same time raising a stink when they claim someone they oppose has lied?

It's just pathetic. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms to be made about Bush & Co. Why stoop to making stuff up?

I've had enough. The ignorance and the lies have to stop. Now that I have the choice between people I don't agree with, but who at least appear to be somewhat honest, and those who are straight-out liars, I'm going to choose the former. At least there is honor.

Please, no more reality shows, I'll tell you what you want to know!

Here's a good, and surprisingly civil discussion about torture. Personally, I'm of the opinion we need to decide what we can all agree is torture and come up with a good definition and outlaw it (I'm pretty sure it already is, but let's make it clear). It should also be thoroughly enforced. Those things we can't agree on could be dealt with immediately afterwards with debate, and perhaps allowed under explicit circumstances.

I'm a fan of clear laws, we might as well spell this one out.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Inside Their Minds

Hamidreza has asked me "...what is your opinion about western leftists taking the side of such repressive and unsavory folks like Zarqawi and Baathists and Sadr in Iraq. What makes them identify with these unsavory characters? "

I think I'm in a fairly good position to answer this since I am a westerner (not literally, but in the sense which we use the word), I live in a fairly leftward leaning country and I have voted for the left-most major party in politics here a number of times.

There are a number of reasons, but I believe that the main answer to this question is: because it's easy, because they're full of themselves and because they've lost their perspective on the American people and people in general.

Most of us in western countries (and in others besides) want to be "good". We've been taught that certain things are bad - hurting people, killing people, coercing people. If we do any of these things we'll almost certainly be punished for it, and we are lucky that they are relatively uncommon in our societies due to the culture we have developed and the policing and judicial systems we have.

We also want to be part of a larger entity, and we want that entity to behave in the manner we believe is consistent with our own behaviour. So, essentially, we want our country and our fellow citizens to behave in what we believe is a moral manner. If murdering another person is indefensible, why isn't being part of a country which sends overseas its armed forces which then proceed to kill people, also not indefensible?

To believe that engaging in or even instigating a war could be moral requires a lot of mental effort. If you say to yourself "we should never go to war", that's the end of that. However, if you say to yourself "we should never go to war, except..." then try to answer the question of "when it is permissible, and what is permissible", that is very difficult and involves complex analysis of local and domestic issues, human rights, an understanding of the military, and various other topics on which ordinary people are typically not well versed. Gun control and other such logic also causes problems here. If guns are inherently bad, then the military is bad, and therefore anything the military does is bad. Most people who believe such things don't have any problem with police carrying guns, though.

There is plenty of information available about what makes for a just war, the history of warfare and nations - everything that we need to create an informed opinion of how the events of today compare to the events of the past, in order for us to avoid making old mistakes over again. I'm afraid most people are not sufficiently aware of this type of information. They're so naive, they often believe what is fed to them without questioning it. I think this is a failing of our education system. We've abandoned reasoned thinking for regurgitation of what we have been taught, and when these people leave high school or college, they continue to behave as if what they are seeing and hearing is the scientific truth which should be believed. Without a healthy amount of skepticism, how is anyone to make sense of what the media presents to us daily? But it's easier to just read it, assume it's true, and move along than it is to question and try to build a logical framework for the barrage of information we are subjected to, within which some of it fits and some doesn't.

In short, grand moral questions are not something that most people want to spend their time thinking about - even if they want to appear as if they do. They tend to fall back upon much simpler rules - those same rules which govern our society. The problem is, global morality is a lot more complex than societal morality, because the world does not have the same police or judicial constructs or agreed-upon laws to govern it.

Interestingly, the basic desire to be good cited here does not seem to translate into universal compassion for other people. Otherwise how can these same people who claim war is wrong justify bombers who target innocent people and otherwise behave abominably, and how can they fail to consider the wellbeing and freedoms of the people who would be most radically be affected by our retreat from the current conflicts? Of course, not all of them do, but there certainly are examples of this type of behaviour. I believe their ego is clouding their judgment - they don't realize that even if a given thing is wrong, it is not necessarily true that every possible way to oppose it is right. Then again, many of these people seem to be more obsessed with what is "legal" than what is "right", which should be a hint as to how much they actually care about the victims.

Another important reason is hatred of America and Americans. And yes, I believe a lot of Americans harbour these feelings too. It's an extreme form of cynicism - the belief that foreigners, or people from other states, are somehow abnormal compared to the people that you associate with. I simply can't correlate the Average American that I have met with those who seem to occupy the minds of people who believe that Americans are capable of such evil.

Many people here are perfectly willing to believe that American soldiers will kill civilians for fun, torture people without asking any questions, and generally behave in a manner which they themselves would never consider behaving. They think people who join the armed services are poor and dumb, and they only do it for the benefits. This seems to me to be a stark contrast with the US military members I converse with. They seem to have on average, if nothing else, an above-normal amount of common sense.

Of course, we know that monsters such as many believe make up the bulk of the US military do exist. They are the kind of people who explode a bomb purposefully in the middle of a crowd of church-goers or a group of children. I am under no illusions that there are no such people in our society, in our governments or in our military. However I believe these kind of people to be aberrations and the rest of us would not tolerate their behaviour if we saw it. That includes the members of the US armed forces. So, while abuses and criminal behaviour (like at Abu Ghraib) do happen, they're the exception, not the rule. Why should I believe these people, who live normal lives at home, and seem to be determined to serve their fellow citizens in any way possible, are any better or worse a group of people than any other?

In conclusion, I believe it is the combination of intellectual laziness, naivete, an inflated sense of self-worth and the willingness to believe the worst of the average American which forms the seed of these beliefs. They are solidified and perpetuated by GroupThink. These beliefs allow the holders to feel morally superior without having to do any of the difficult philosophising which is required to have a truly strong set of morals. It ignores the lessons of history - but I believe the "new left" is an organization based upon appealing to the ignorant. Where else would you find a subset of people who believe Communism can work, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and who ignore the horrors that were inflicted upon the poor subjects of those experiments?

This is not to suggest that the "right" are somehow magically perfect - far from it - and yes, I think they do suffer from GroupThink at times too. However, despite disagreeing with many on the right on many issues, I find that they at least have a historical perspective. After all, as I paraphrased earlier, "Those who can not remember the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them."

Hamidreza, I hope this answers your question in a clear enough manner. I'm afraid I've used some fairly complex sentences, and this is very long, but I've found this hard to explain otherwise.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

How Do We Know When We've Won?

A commenter on a post at the Fourth Rail asked some interesting questions about something I said which I thought I would post here.

His question was:

In all seriousness, what is YOUR definition of winning? When will you think we've won, what is your metric for victory in Iraq?

He was suggesting that by his own definition, we've already won and should leave. I think that would be a mistake at this point and here is why:

I don't know for sure when we will have "won", but with around 100 attacks per day I'm pretty sure we're not there yet. That's not a good enough security situation yet. If we leave now, will it get better or worse? I'm not sure, which is why I'm uncomfortable saying "we've won" yet and leaving.

I'd say, at the point we're pretty confident that the security will continue to improve until Iraqis can basically get on with their every-day lives and reconstruction can proceed without too many problems then we can stop worrying and the Iraqis can probably handle themselves. The situation does seem to be heading in that direction but I think it will be a while yet. I suspect over the next 6-18 months Anbar will get a lot better. That will leave Baghdad and one other province which are serious problems... so, I think, there are still offensives required yet. (I read an interview where a Marine office said he thinks Fallujah will be much better in 6 months too).

Regardless of when is the right time to leave, which nobody really knows, I'm pretty sure it's not yet. What's the point of getting out, if within the next few years a new Saddam might come along and have us back in the same situation? It would just be exchanging the old problem for a new one, with all the loss of life for nothing.

I could be wrong... maybe if we left now they would be OK.. but considering about half the desired forces aren't up to scratch yet, and considering that every time we even talk about getting out or backing down it emboldens the terrorists, I don't think so.

I think asking "how do we know when we've won?" is a much more important question than "how quickly can we get out?"

The former is a question which needs to be asked in order to properly strategise. The latter is only relevant if you consider surrender to be a viable option. Since, if you ask the latter without asking the former, you're acknowledging that you're willing to leave without knowing whether you've achieved your goals yet - which is basically just giving up and going home.

In a related point, asking "what exactly are we trying to achieve" is useful too. Given the "Global War on Terror" label, I think the goal would be "do whatever is necessary to defeat terrorists and remove the causes for terrorism", but how to achieve that is extremely complex and also not very clear-cut. I DO believe that if we can make Iraq into a country that any of us would be proud to live in, we've created some of the pre-conditions which could be very useful for satisfying those goals.

Quantifying success requires some metrics. This is a very basic analysis and likely not accurate, but I think it's a worthwhile thought experiment.

Let's say for the sake of argument that due to experience, training and equipment the average coalition soldier is about twice as effective as the average trained Iraqi soldier at the moment. (This may change over time, but let's suppose it's true for now, I don't think it's too far off). Of course the Iraqis have big advantages too because they're locals...

There are currently ~160k coalition troops in Iraq and 211k Iraqi police/soldiers. (I see that only about 32k are supposed to be level 1/2 but I seem to remember thinking there were more than that). Anyway, other reports suggest that about 1/3 to 1/2 the Iraqi troops are level 1 or level 2. So, that gives us 160k*2 + 211k/2 = a 425k equivalent soldier force.

The stated goal for total ISF is 270-350k. So right now effectively there is an overall more capable forces there right now than there will be when we leave, even with fully trained Iraqi forces. As it is, operations are being successful right now (if Bill and others are correct), but there isn't much extra troop capacity (there is a bit for the elections).

So, until the security situation is improving (or stable and adequately good) WHILE the troop level can be brought down to the equivalent of 270-350k level, including the mix of coalition and Iraqi forces, the coalition presence will be necessary. When all the current Iraqi forces reach level 1 or level 2 readiness, that will mean that under the equivalent of the current security situation, (425-270)/2 = 77.5k coalition troops will be required. If the security situation improves, probably less. This is the number of troops I think we'll be seeing about 18 months from now.

The other commenter, "Desert Rat", then asked me:

Whom are the 100 attacks aimed at each day?
If at our troops, the attacks are not worthy of the name, we lose so few troops to them. If they are against Iraqis, that is something else, not a military threat, but a Police one.

They're aimed mostly at US troops I think (based upon interviews I have read with soldiers). I agree, they're pathetically ineffective, but apparently still effective enough to upset a large portion of the American populace. Compared to other wars, the casualties are low, but every soldier killed or maimed is sad and I wish it could be avoided.

Not many attacks are aimed at Iraqis but those which are tend to be more effective since they have less armour (and the ones at civilians even worse).

Then he states:

President Talabani believes that the conflict is an Iraqi Civil War. Baathists vs Federalists. Perhaps the Jordanian, Mr Z, sees it differently, as a Mohammedan Civil War, Sunni vs Shia.
For US our Goals are pronounced in the Authorization. The Goals are quite secular and Security related. They have been achieved. Iraq, as a Nation State, no longer poses a threat to US.

Since most of the attacks seem only to be aimed at creating carnage and/or headlines I would have trouble tagging it as a civil war. Typically engagements in a civil war would be towards some kind of goal of victory, and I don't believe "chaos" would be a valid goal. But perhaps some people think it would, and out of the chaos they could assert themselves. They know better than I do, I guess.

Regardless of how we call it, I don't believe that Iraq as it is now "poses no threat to the US". I've already touched on why, but I'll elaborate.

Number one, if we leave now and it does break out into a full civil war, Iraq will probably end up under a dictator again. That may not be an immediate threat but I promise you if that happens, not only will terrorism globally end up worse than it otherwise would, but this new dictator would probably be a direct threat to the US in the medium turn (~20 years). I don't think any of us want that, so we should be sure before anyone leaves that's not going to happen.

Number two, I believe a large part of the reason why terrorism is on the rise is the dysfunction of the Middle East. It is a cultural, not racial or religious problem (although I don't think the religious aspects help one bit). Great Arab leaders are far and few between, and Great Arab Countries are practically non-existent. You can blame this on the British Colonial Rule of the past but I don't think it's the true cause. However, the colonial rule left a bunch of countries which didn't really understand how to govern themselves.

Helping the Iraqis create a well-governed and prosperous nation in the middle-east should prove a moderating influence in several aspects. It should help restore Arab pride and show them that there's nothing about their situation which means they can't have what we have if only they try to achieve it. I believe it will do a lot to heal the rifts which are responsible for the level of terrorism today. I'm sure it won't stop it altogether but it's a step along the way. I certainly don't see us stopping terrorists without doing something about the malaise which infects the middle east, and I don't see that going away with Iraq in turmoil, even with Saddam gone.

I could go on for a while, but Den Beste has already written a much more in-depth analysis than myself, which I think is excellent, so if you're interested I suggest that you read it. Tigerhawk posted an updated version, but I prefer Den Beste's because of its terseness (making it easier to read).

In short, I think Iraq's stability is more closely tied in the long term to America's safety than Desert Rat suggests. He COULD be right - if we leave now maybe they'll be OK. But I don't like to take risks. I'd rather stay and make sure.

"Desert Rat" argues that "staying the course" is a poor strategy. "Staying the course" does not necessarily imply "... and keep doing things exactly the way we have been so far". In fact I would argue the strategy in Iraq has been evolving significantly over the last few years. To claim there's a single rigid strategy at work seems odd to me. You certainly can argue that some changes to the current evolution of the strategy would be a good idea. However, it seems to me right now significant progress is being made so at least for the next few months, I wouldn't make any significant military changes. I WOULD make some pretty dramatic changes to speed up the reconstruction efforts.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Forfty percent of all people know that....

...[one] can come up with statistics to prove anything. (quoth my hero, Homer Simpson).

I'm an avid consumer of statistics on the situation in Iraq. Partly this is because I find it difficult to get a handle on what's happening over there with the lack of good information. People like Michael Yon and Bill Roggio help, but don't tell the whole picture. One good source of statistics is the Brookings Institute Iraq Index.

Of course, the problem with statistics is how you interpret them. It seems possible for different people to interpret the same set of statistics to come to different conclusions (possibly supporting their preconceived notions).

Personally, my take on the situation is positive. Not all the statistics are positive, but some are, and I mix in my reading about events over there to make the full picture.

Currently, the best trends are those which show that Iraqi civilian and soldier/police deaths are dropping off rapidly, as are car bombs and such. The bad news is that Coalition deaths and injuries don't seem to be dropping off much, and reconstruction of infrastructure like electricity is not advancing as well as we would like. However, I believe there is a good reason for the trend in coalition casualties, which supports my belief that progress is being made, slowly but steadily.

Basically, what I see happening is that the fighting from the point of view of the coalition and IAF is shifting from being a defensive battle to being a more and more offensive one. A lot of deaths and injuries are currently occurring in the Anbar province - the sector in which the terrorists and insurgents are currently being targeted relentlessly. Troops fighting offensively are naturally at a disadvantage and can expect to be hurt more often.

In short, when areas become safer and therefore coalition casualties drop, that's an indication that it's time to move some troops into more dangerous areas, as they are no longer needed where they are. This creates a rise in casualties. Essentially, if the battles are being fought intelligently and troops are being distributed properly, coalition casualties should be essentially flat. And for all statistical intents and purposes, they are.

I don't believe the "oil spot strategy" is 100% correct, but I do believe that it is in part what is happening here. As areas are cleared of enemies, the number of peaceful areas (or relatively peaceful, depending) in Iraq goes up. The remaining enemies are squeezed into a smaller space. Meanwhile, those areas which are not being offensively targeted are instead being patrolled enough to at least prevent the situation from getting worse, especially with the influx of fighters from other regions. Ultimately, I believe their last stand will be Baghdad. Baghdad has been the most consistently violent place in Iraq, despite the large security force presence.

There are several obvious reasons for this - it's where the journalists are, it has the highest concentration of targets, it has the most mixed and varied population, it's easier to hide in a big city and one has to be careful mounting large scale military operations in such a densely populated area.

So, as other provinces become more normal, Baghdad will probably stay bad. Operations will eliminate some of the rotten eggs there, but others forced out of outlying areas will probably move in to take their place. The problem for them will be that their lines of supply will be cut. No new foreign fighters, no new weapons... it will be a sort of siege-from-within which will force them into submission. Of course, weapons are not hard to come by in Iraq - it was estimated they had 412 012 tons before the war and most of that fell into the wrong hands. But caches are being constantly discovered and destroyed and without outside supply they will eventually run out.

I think we really are seeing a move in this direction. Some people say "well, if we're winning, we should be able to pull our troops out now and let the Iraqis take over, right?" Well, it's not quite that easy. What I see happening over the next 6-12 months is that as more and more Iraqi police and soldiers take over defensive tasks, coalition troops will go more and more on the offensive. We're already seeing it now, it will happen even more soon. When this happens to the extent that all the offensives which are desired are already in progress, coalition troops will start coming home. I suspect, though, that probably about 25% of the number there now (say, 30-40 thousand) will be staying for a while. There are still a lot of internal and external threats that will need to be dealt with. We shall see - to a large extent it will be up to the Iraqi government to decide. I don't think the 25% level will be reached until at least 2-3 years from now.

I suspect if we cut and run now, two things would happen. Firstly, it would so embolden the terrorists that they would go on a major offensive. Secondly, the Iraqi security forces would be forced on the back foot, because we would no longer be placing pressure on the terrorists and insurgents by going after them. They will be forced to become purely defensive, and instead of the pockets of unrest shrinking, they will grow. That will probably continue until much of the country (probably minus the Kurds) are engaged in a civil war. We don't want that. We don't have to stick around much longer before we can effectively break the back of the terrorist network and allow the Iraqi forces to gracefully transition into a defensive posture, one where the situation is improving rather than degrading.

Of course, we hope the December elections will also help calm things down. It should provide Iraq with a fully representative government. There is evidence that terrorist and insurgent groups are splintering and disagreeing too. It's likely that with the representative government, if more reconstruction progress can be made (and despite some problems, progress is being made) a lot of people will realize they're better off and things are only going to get better over time, and some will stop their bickering and get back on with their lives.

So, when exactly will troops start pulling out? I'd say it will be when there are obvious and permanent drops in coalition casualties. This will be indicative of the pace of operations dropping. To pull troops back now would be to reduce the pace of the offensives, which would only draw them out, and require a longer presence. Why would we want that? Better to stay there until some of the coalition troops are just not needed any more, so they won't be making the job of their buddies who stay behind harder when they leave.

At least, that's my hope. I think we have passed the point of inflexion recently and we will see the rate of good news climb from now on. It is in everyone's interest (other than terrorists) to do this right.

Then we only have to worry about Syria, Iran, North Korea.... *sigh*

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Saddam had no NBC weapons...

...except for Sarin gas, Mustard gas and at least two mobile Biological Weapon production laboratories (designed to circumvent UN inspection).

Here are pictures and information on the two BW labs:

There's also plenty of evidence that NBC weapons and weapon-related research and development activities were hastily destroyed and/or hidden in the run-up to the invasion. Still, these labs are the most damning of the evidence found.

Here's some information on the Sarin gas shell found and why it was probably made after the first Gulf War (i.e. in violation of the ceasefire agreement):

Here's info on the Mustard Gas. It probably WAS left over from the first Gulf War. It's still a chemical weapon floating around in Iraq though:

He had plenty of uranium too, including some which was moderately enriched. Not enough to make a bomb, but part of the way there, and he also had hidden the equipment necessary to finish the bomb-making process. Still, most of this was probably known from the inspection days. Supposedly the IAEA put it under a "seal". I guess he was waiting for the inspectors to go away before he resumed the production of nuclear weapons:

This is all stuff that for whatever reason wasn't destroyed or hidden prior to or during the invasion. I wonder what they really had? Maybe some of it was hidden in a friendly neighbouring country like Syria?

I found all these easily on google.

Now, repeat after me...

Saddam had no WMD...

Once again, with feeling!

Update: this article by "Gay Patriot" links to a UN report detailing the evidence which shows that much of Iraq's NBC weapon and missile components were smuggled out of Iraq before and during the invasion.

Monday, November 14, 2005

How to Lose an Argument

There's some common wisdom on Usenet which goes like this:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. Once such a comparison is made, the thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress.

Well, if that's the case, I've lost this argument before I started it.

I was watching a documentary on ABC TV about Iran, and they were showing thousands of Iranians in a mosque or shrine. This was the day after the "Koran Flushing" allegations, which turned out to be false. These thousands of Iranians were shouting "Death to America!".

You know what it reminded me of? One of Hitler's parades.

It doesn't help that the President of Iran recently vowed to kill all the Jews (and America while he was at it).

Now, I have a little rule I live by, which goes something like this:

Never declare war on, or make public your intent to eradicate, someone who owns enough nuclear weapons to turn your country into rubble, then turn the rubble into dust, then turn the dust into glass, then break the glass, then bounce the pieces around for a while, and still retain most of their weapons.

Apparently the President of Iran hasn't heard my little rule. He also must not know what happened to Hitler.

I'm afraid of what's going to happen. I'm afraid Iran is going to go crazy and we're going to have WWII all over again, except this time with suicide bombers and nuclear threats and it's going to be horrible. Note to Iran: please save yourself destruction, get off your high horse, and learn to live in the 21st century.

Weapons of Choice

I'd like to touch here on something which has been bothering me a lot recently.

It's related to the White Phosphorus controversy of late. In case you haven't read about this, here's a summary.

Some Italian Journalists published a documentary claiming that US forces in the second Battle for Fallujah used "chemical weapons" on the city and killed some civilians in the process. They showed some footage of what they claimed was a helicopter dropping this "chemical weapon" which is called White Phosphorus and pictures of some decomposed bodies they claimed were burned to death, but their clothing was intact. Supposedly, this is characteristic of being burnt by WP. They also had some interviews with a couple of Americans who stated (seemingly second-hand) that they knew of WP being used indiscriminately.

We've pointed out a number of serious problems with these claims. In short, they are:

  • WP is not a chemical weapon, it is an incendiary. If you read the Chemical Weapons Convention (which seems like a fine source of definitions relating to Chemical Weapons to me), you will find that a Chemical Weapon is defined as something like "A weapon whose primary effect is through its toxic property". WP is actually used primarily to generate smoke for cover. Illumination flares often also contain WP. It has secondary incendiary effects, which are mostly useful against materiel, not people (i.e. destroying vehicles, fuel and other inanimate objects). It has minor toxic effects; it works something like a weak tear gas if used in a confined space. But since that's not its primary (or even secondary) use, that doesn't make it a chemical weapon, and it's almost never used as such. People hit by fragments of burning WP do face a toxic hazard, but the burns are the more serious of the two considerations.
  • WP is not, as many people state, outlawed. The CCW is an international agreement governing certain conventional weapons. One of these categories is Incendiaries, which WP falls under. Firstly, it specifically excludes smoke- and light-generating weapons. Secondly, it only outlaws the use of incendiaries on civilians, which I would not like to see (think Dresden or Tokyo), and I don't think anyone else does either. The use of incendiaries on military targets is OK under the convention, as long as reasonable steps are taken to avoid civilian casualties. Thirdly, the US did not ratify this part of the treaty - so it's not legally binding. Still, morally, you would hope they would uphold the ideals (and so far as I can tell, they do).
  • WP was used in Fallujah for three main purposes. To make light/heat (although in this case, it isn't really WP shells being used, rather they are flares which contain WP). To make smoke. And as a "psychological" weapon, used to flush out enemies. Supposedly this works by firing smoke at them, which is usually used to cover an advance and assault. Thinking they are about to come under attack, they leave their defensive positions and expose themselves to fire. The weak tear-gas-like effect may help flush them out.
  • WP doesn't burn someone without burning their clothes. WP can burn through steel! It's really hot and will go right through your clothes, probably setting them on fire, if it hits you. Therefore, burned bodies with intact clothes would not be a sign of the use of WP.
  • The pictures of bodies (at least the ones I have seen) were not burnt. Many of them were dismembered or otherwise traumatised, but the skin was black due to decomposition, not fire. I know because burnt skin would be charred, blistered and/or broken. Smooth skin on a corpse indicates a lack of burning. I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure of this.
Anyway, the whole thing was pretty much just a hysterical set of accusations aimed at making the US look bad. Nobody tries harder than US forces to avoid civilian injuries and deaths wherever possible. The "chemical weapons" smear is obviously false and as far as I am concerned, the people making these accusations have no credibility. If there were valid accusations, I don't understand why they would be made in such a misleading and incorrect manner.

This is not really why I am writing this post. The above is the background. What I ended up saying at one point was this:

Why are certain weapons thought of as being immoral, while others are not?

I came to a couple of conclusions:

One: We don't like indiscriminate weapons, because they cause a lot of "collateral" damage - in other words, they are likely to hit people you're not aiming at. It's pretty obvious why this is bad. Guess what? The US does not want to look bad by killing innocent people, so they won't use indiscriminate weapons.

Which weapons are indiscriminate? Well, "Weapons of Mass Destruction", i.e. NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) weapons TEND to be indiscriminate killers. However, there is nothing specifically immoral about them beyond this. For example, Tear Gas is a chemical weapon, but it isn't really all that bad. Lobbing a perfectly legal 2000 pound high explosive bomb into a crowd of people is a lot worse than lobbing some tear gas shells. The former is pretty much legal; the latter is not. Why? Well, it's pretty arbitrary. But most chemical weapons are indiscriminate (Mustard gas, Sarin, VX, etc.), as are most biological (which can spread) and of course high-yield nuclear.

But my point is, it's not the fact that a weapon is NBC that specifically makes it immoral, it's the fact that most of them aren't useful for anything other than wiping out large groups of people. Those NBC weapons which can be used to target specific individuals who are the enemy, are not necessarily bad in and of themselves.

So, even if WP was a chemical weapon, why would that suddenly be so horrible? The military people I've read comments from state that WP is often used in place of HE for the very reason that it causes less collateral damage in certain situations. That's good! So, my conclusion is:

Discriminate weapons are good weapons, regardless of how they are classified.

(Of course, weapons are used to main and kill people, which isn't nice, but if you want to make some omelets, you have to break some eggs...)

Two: The other reason weapons are "bad" (immoral) is because they tend to leave horrific injuries without actually killing the targets. Well, this is a bit of a gray area, but I can certainly see how it's bad if you burned lots of people horribly. Still, I'm not sure dismembering them into death is all that much better. But there certainly is a stigma attached to weapons like flame throwers and fire-bombs (think Napalm; although modern fire-bombs are not Napalm; they're more effective). They're still legal, because in reality they're just effective ways to kill people, like regular weapons (guns, bombs, etc.) but the trick is to only use them on people you are fighting and expect to have to kill. It still comes back to discriminate vs. Indiscriminate.

Another example: expanding, hollow-point, dum-dum etc. bullets are illegal on the battlefield, because they create horrible wounds. Well, you certainly could argue, that makes them effective munitions. The result of this outlawing is two things:

  • People find ways to have these effects without breaking the "laws". Unstable bullets which spin when they enter a person to create a big wound are an example. The result is a legal weapon which is more effective, but less "humane". (The concept of a humane weapon is kind of silly).
  • Instead of shooting you with one expanding bullet, someone will probably just hit you with five or ten regular bullets. To make sure the less-effective rounds do the required job. Again, not much of an advantage for you.

In conclusion:
illegal vs. legal weapons is not the important argument, as far as I am concerned. If you're trying to prosecute someone in a court of law it may be. But for me, the real question is moral vs. immoral, and it's not as cut and dried as some people try to make out.

An exercise for the reader: which weapons are moral and which are immoral? Does the target affect this choice? Is it more important which weapons are used in battle, or how they are used?

And just to make my intent clear: I tend to assume people I haven't met are good people and should not be injured or killed. I don't want anyone to die. But sometimes diplomacy breaks down and you're faced with a choice: go to war, and kill some people, or do nothing and let even more people die, while others are oppressed. It's a tough choice but going to war is sometimes the right decision. That is why I am defending the military; I believe they are doing a good job and a necessary job. That doesn't mean it's a nice thing for anyone.


I'd like to start with someone else's words - one of my favourite authors, Dick Francis.

He wrote these in 1977 or so, in his book "Trial Run". I hope posting them here is covered by "fair use".

I looked across for the last time at the naked hate-filled faces of international terrorism, and thought about alienation and the destructive steps which led there.

The intensifying to anger of the natural scorn of youth for the mess their elders had made of the world. The desire to punish violently the objects of scorn. The death of love for parents. The permanent sneer for all forms of authority. The frustration of not being able to scourge the despised majority. And after that, the deeper, malignant distortions . . . The self-delusion that one's feelings of inadequacy were the fault of society, and that it was necessary to destroy society in order to feel adequate. The infliction of pain and fear, to feed the hungry ego. The total surrender of reason to raw emotion, in the illusion of being moved by a sort of divine rage. The choice of an unattainable end, so that violent means could go on and on. The addictive orgasm of the act of laying waste.

I would classify his books as crime/suspense. He was a famous jockey in England, so they all refer in varying degrees to horses. They're easy to read, I recommend any of them. Go pick some up second hand, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy reading them.

It's amazing how true these words still ring today. I guess 28 years is not all that long in some ways.


After months of posting horrible comments on other peoples' blogs, I finally set up my own. I guess I should have done this a while ago.

Someone asked me if I liked "the smell of death in the morning" (obviously trying to make it sound like I'm some kind of monster). I wanted to reply "no, I prefer the smell of freedom".

Freedom from oppression. Freedom from war. Freedom from genocide and democide. Freedom from corruption. Something many parts of the world are still struggling to achieve - and some aren't really getting anywhere.