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February 20, 2004 6:47 AM   Subscribe

Disappearing the Dead: 'casualty agnosticism', and the Idea of a `New Warfare' A new report ( See Boston Globe story ) by the Project on Defense Alternatives details how, in promoting it's "New [sanitized] Warfare" concept, the Pentagon has refused to release it's estimates of civilian casualties and sought to "sink the whole issue of war casualties in an impenetrable murk of skepticism" (also with the aid of Psyops campaigns). This has, the report claims : 1) made the postwar stabilization in Afghanistan and Iraq far more difficult and 2) damaged the U.S.' international reputation. [ via Cursor ]
posted by troutfishing (37 comments total)

 
As an aside, the new head of MSNBC was involved in a little Pentagon domestic Psyops scandal a few years ago.

Oh well. Nobody's perfect, and everybody's impartiality is equally questionable - although some are more equally questionable than others. Especially at the upper echelons of the 4th Estate.
posted by troutfishing at 6:55 AM on February 20, 2004


2) damaged the U.S.' international reputation.

Oh, come now. How could the U.S.' reputation possibly get any worse?
posted by spazzm at 6:57 AM on February 20, 2004


Isn't "Project on Defense Alternatives" just a sneaky way of saying "We're Anti-War"?
posted by techgnollogic at 7:04 AM on February 20, 2004


I do believe the Pentagon's position has been something along the lines of "If you're going to turn every civilian casualty in to front page anti-war propaganda, we're not going to help tell you about them." How is this surprising?
posted by techgnollogic at 7:06 AM on February 20, 2004


When the Pentagon goes to the lengths it does to try to prevent civilian casualties to the point that this report estimates there were 6000 civilian casualties total in TWO WARS in two separate countries with a total population of 53.3 million people, and the report still claims that the DoD has "shirked responsibility for the occurence of casualties," what is it supposed to do? Oh, that's right, "it's not supposed to fight any more wars." This kind of report is precisely why the DoD no longer wastes its time reporting civilian casualties.
posted by techgnollogic at 7:15 AM on February 20, 2004


techgnollogic - Have you read the report? It's actually fairly clinical. The center bills itself as non-partisan - ho ho - but it is still judicious in it's rhetoric. I can't think of any truly "non-partisan" entitities at the moment, in fact.

The report is a fairly detailed analysis of how this Pentagon approach has backfired. Second guessing? Maybe, or maybe not.

They have an agenda, sure, but that doesn't undercut their actual argument.
posted by troutfishing at 7:21 AM on February 20, 2004


Thanks for this, trout - good stuff.
posted by stonerose at 7:27 AM on February 20, 2004


http://www.iraqometer.com/


It actually claims over 8000 dead, but hey - what's a couple of thousand dead civilians among allies?
posted by spazzm at 7:28 AM on February 20, 2004


Oh fer chrissakes. troutfishing, you know I respect you and generally agree with your viewpoints, but that Cockburn report is pure hogwash, pure know-nothing FUD.

I mean, I'm sure folks from the 4th POG did work in the CNN HQ, that it's true that far. But anyone who knows anything about the way these things work understands that PSYOPers are neither trained nor equipped to frame stories for domestic consumption in the sinister way Cockburn insinuates. (That job falls to the Public Affairs shills.)

US Army PSYOP, in my five-year acquaintance with it, is actually a rather harmless organisation, not the uber-spooky outfit Cockburn implies (and I frequently enough wished it were). We did surrender leaflets aimed at North Korean soldiers; comic books featuring Superman for East Timorese children, warning them not to play soccer with unexploded ordnance; pulp newspapers in Serb and Croatian. Most of these initiatives could be described as modestly successful, with limited aims and corresponding reach.

In my time in PSYOP, including time as a specialist in a line unit (the 361st PSYOP Company, out of Bothell WA) and as a sergeant in a staff section at 7th Group headquarters never saw, heard, or heard tell of anything remotely construable as disinformation for domestic consumption.

I'm not denying, mind you, that such initiatives may be undertaken by our lovely government. But if so, they certainly aren't originating from within the US Army's PSYOP apparatus. Cockburn, and those sympathetic to his viewpoints, need to be a lot more careful with their attribution and fact-checking.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:38 AM on February 20, 2004


Oh, and techgnollogic, you're a straight-up tool. "Civilian apologist for the Pentagon" is a job few indeed are low enough to take on, verily.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:55 AM on February 20, 2004


The point about PSYOP personnel interning at CNN is not so much that they're clandestinely rewriting stories, as that it implies a certain level of institutional cooperation that is unacceptable for a news organization that aspires to objectivity. It would be the same as if the Republican or the Democratic Party had paid staff members interning at the Washington Post who had "helped in the production of some news stories" - how seriously could we take the Post's political reporting after that? It would be like getting all your Chinese government news from Xinhua.

CNN shouldn't be entangling or associating itself with the military on which it must report every day. That goes for the military analysts as well; active-duty personnel simply shouldn't be regarded as objective sources, and even retired officers should be seen as persons with a possible pro-military bias, and vetted or counterbalanced as appropriate. This is, of course, assuming that CNN still takes its objectivity seriously.
posted by skoosh at 8:11 AM on February 20, 2004


The US Army has been in the business of making bodies disappear, and appear, for that matter, for a long time. But that is less a PsyOp than it is in the shadowy, mysterious realm of the Quartermaster Corps.

The Pentagon learned that people don't want to know about what the Quartermasters do. So why not hide in plain sight? A QM helicopter or truck can pick up or deliver large numbers of bodies in short order, no questions asked.
posted by kablam at 9:23 AM on February 20, 2004


. . . estimates there were 6000 civilian casualties total in TWO WARS in two separate countries with a total population of 53.3 million people

using this same argument, the US has a rough population of 300,000,000 million - and 3,000 innocent civilians were killed on 9-11, and look at how we responded - by killing twice as many innocent civilians all in the name of "fighting back".

and if you look at it on a percentage basis alone - those TWO WARS killed significantly more of each of respective countries general population than the attacks on the US did.

This kind of report is precisely why the DoD no longer wastes its time reporting civilian casualties.

i guess then, that it was a waste of sooooo many politicians breath to use the # of dead American to justify retaliatory war.

how can you even consider that the people of the United States, who pay for each and every military action taken and consequently are implied in it's ramifications by our very status as citizens, should not know or be informed of how many lives of innocent people have been taken in order to "do what's right". if we're going to use the headcount of dead Americans as justification of war - we should know what and how much of the VERY SAME EXPERIENCE we're delivering to other civilians.

or are you implying that the lives of the US civilians are more valuable than those we fling our war machine upon?
posted by nyoki at 10:31 AM on February 20, 2004


The mission of the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) is to deploy anywhere in the world on short notice, and plan, develop, and conduct Civil Affairs and Psychological operations in support of Unified Commanders, coalition forces, or other government agencies as directed by the National Command Authority.

The 4th POG (A) personnel (soldiers and civilian) include regional experts and linguists who understand the political, cultural ethnic, and religious subtleties of the target audience. They also include functional experts in technical fields such as broadcast journalism radio operations, print, illustration, interrogation layout operations, and long-range tactical communications.

The 4th POG (A) is capable of providing PSYOP support ranging from propaganda and product development, to media production, to strategic, operations, and tactical information dissemination. The 4th POG's organic media assets include light-to-heavy print production; audio production; amplitude modulated (AM), FM, and shortwave radio broadcasting stations; audiovisual production and dissemination; and tactical loudspeaker dissemination.

posted by clavdivs at 10:54 AM on February 20, 2004


nyoki: I left the "only a couple thousand died on 9-11, we killed more" point out of my post specifically so that someone could sincerely make that ridiculous argument. The fact that ONE ATTACK killed half as many civilians on 9-11 as died in BOTH our wars so far should tell you something about the intentions of both sides of this conflict regarding civilian casualties.

i guess then, that it was a waste of sooooo many politicians breath to use the # of dead American to justify retaliatory war.

Anyone in Iraq or Afghanistan who wants to justify retaliation against the US is going to have a hard ass time doing it with comparisions of how many of their civilians we killed versus how many died under the regimes we destroyed.

how can you even consider that the people of the United States, who pay for each and every military action taken and consequently are implied in it's ramifications by our very status as citizens, should not know or be informed of how many lives of innocent people have been taken in order to "do what's right".

I didn't say we shouldn't know. I said I don't think it needs to be Pentagon's responsibility to spend it's time and resources providing information to the media for the sole purpose of anti-war propaganda. And that's what these statistics end up being used for. No one reports the lengths to which the DoD goes to avoid civilian casualties and collateral damage, only that 15 people died here and 20 there and 10 here, because they're looking to illegitimize any conflict the United States involves itself in. This does not mean that the Pentagon should not respond to legitimate claims of illegal activity, and by no means should the Pentagon be exempt from responsibility for negligence.
posted by techgnollogic at 12:19 PM on February 20, 2004


or are you implying that the lives of the US civilians are more valuable than those we fling our war machine upon?

Do you live in some kind of bubble where people don't look out for their brothers, neighbors, and countrymen?

Do you think the concept of universal human rights somehow invalidate the concept of loyalty to one's tribe?

Hypothetical situation: If your brother threatens my daughter and then I kill his bitch ass, would you have the balls to then ask me "are you implying that the life of your daughter is more valuable than my bitch ass brother's was?"

US citizens are more important to me than non-US citizens. Does that mean that I don't give a fuck about foreigners? No, unless you think loving your mom means you hate your neighbor. All this feigned shock and outrage that the US government seems to be more interested in protecting the lives and interests of Americans than citizens of other nations is fucking stupid. Of course it is, that's its fucking job.
posted by techgnollogic at 12:34 PM on February 20, 2004


i'm arguing that the actual death toll numbers of civilian casualties, both the numbers that we sort of know and the numbers that may be hidden because as you say “may be used as anti-war propaganda” are a significant factor to consider on our "for-as-fas-as-the-eye-can-see-war-on-terrorisim".

from my perspective, it's a significant component as we try to convince those previously terrorized populations that we're now killing them for their own good. indicating that they should think “big picture” here and not worry about it. By not understanding that killing innocent people, no matter how intentional or unintentional, does as much damage to the worlds perception of our "help" than just about anything else.

you might think that it's an appropriate level or even a commendable level of killing innocent people by the Pentagon as a noted by-product of war. i just happen to strongly disagree.

i'm not even going to touch your flamebait about my bubble and my brother. the war with Iraq is a sham. to me, that means that any civilian deaths that result are a mark against the US, in whatever light you might like to shine on it.

killing innocent people because the current administration lead us to the Iraq war by manipulating the truth about WMDs, and now seeks to back peddle and tell us how our actual intention was the liberation of the Iraqi people, those very same liberated people are being killed by us now instead of Sadam. US soldiers are also being killed by this fabrication of the truth.

My (american) brother/sister and my (foreign) fellow human beings are dying because of a few white american "christian" mens greedy lies. A bold face pile of LIES. Tell me that that is not wrong. didn't that same christian god issue the commandment "thou shall not: murder, bear false witness against your neighbor, covet your neighbors house".
posted by nyoki at 1:37 PM on February 20, 2004


the war with Iraq is a sham. to me, that means that any civilian deaths that result are a mark against the US, in whatever light you might like to shine on it.

EXACTLY. You disagree with the war, and THEREFORE the civilian casualties are a mark against the US. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. You are not opposed to the war BECAUSE of the civilian casualties. No matter how few innocent civilians were being killed by the Pentagon, it wouldn't affect your view of the war.

killing innocent people because the current administration lead us to the Iraq war by manipulating the truth about WMDs, and now seeks to back peddle and tell us how our actual intention was the liberation of the Iraqi people, those very same liberated people are being killed by us now instead of Sadam. US soldiers are also being killed by this fabrication of the truth.

1) How did the administration manipulate the truth? The evidence presented by Colin Powell at the UN of Iraq's WMD programs represented the legitimate conclusions of American, British, French, German, Russian, Israeli, and other foreign intelligence agencies. Even Saddam and much of the Republican Guard leadership believed Iraq possessed WMD. Are you accusing the Bush administration of "manipulating the truth" by believing what the world's best intel believed?

2) What is your evidence that the administration has backpeddled on the reasons we went to Iraq? Has anyoned claimed that we didn't go primarily because of the threat posed by Saddam's WMD programs? Admitting the intelligence estimates of Saddam's weaponized stockpiles was flawed, but verifying that he was intentionally in gross violation of the UN sanctions against him, and noting the obvious benefits of his fall from power is backpeddling?

3) The vast majority of innocent civilians dying in Iraq right now are people are being killed by terrorists and remnants of baathist resistance - people American soldiers are dying while trying to defeat.
posted by techgnollogic at 1:55 PM on February 20, 2004


yeah, check out those casualty figures from the 'non-believer' soviets in afghanistan and tell me again about morality.
posted by clavdivs at 2:00 PM on February 20, 2004


1) because there were no "new" findings in the intelligence before the war began - just highly selected proofpoints to make the threat seem scary and imminent that have now been proven to have been WILDLY incorrect. the base level intelligence that all the world knew about was the same as it was before the bush administration gave aim to war in Iraq. there has been no compelling evidence presented that any "new" findings had emerged or have even been found that would indicate that Sadam was a more significant threat at that very moment than before.

2) uhhh - how about "so what's the difference" for one. or just about any of these will suffice.

3) aren't we supposed to be fighting a war against terrorism? the links have NEVER been made that Sadam was actively participating with our number one known terrorist threat, which is supposed to be Al-Qaeda. finding out that Al-Qaeda is now fighting us along with the baathist resistance should not come as any big surprise. their goal is to fight us on a falsely religious pretense of holy divine right. we are proving ourselves to not be above their standards in our zealotry that we are right above all suspicions of wrongdoing.

considering that the hard right can not even allow a discussion on the idea that the concept of war as justifiable preemptive action might have been irresponsibly abused in this particular instance . . . i would think those that honor the strength and valor of our military would be gasping in horror that such power was abused and our goodwill made to look so ugly.

In the words of GWB: "Events during the past two years have set before us the clearest of divides: Between those who seek order and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man and those who deliberately take the lives of men and women and children, without mercy or shame"

This is one of those discussions that neither of us will convince the other of the rightness of our positions. But I believe that my arguments fall on the side of seeking order and working for peaceful change, and you and the bush administration are the very ones he suggests are the spreaders of chaos, using gangster methods, deliberately taking the lives of women and children.
posted by nyoki at 2:54 PM on February 20, 2004


How does a list of old quotes from last may, based on apparently flawed intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons stockpiles, support your claim that the administration has been backpeddling after failing to uncover weapons stockpiles?

I asked you to show me who is now claiming that we didn't go because of WMD and you provide evidence that we did. I'm not arguing that WMD was not a highly motivating factor in going into Iraq. It was.

It has always been blatantly obvious that Hussein never complied with UN resolutions regarding WMD. He was in material breach of 1441 - no knowledgeable person can deny that.

Did 1441 grossly overestimate the threat posed to the Middle East and the world by Saddam Hussein, or was it a legitimate and applicable condition of the ceasefire of 1991? According to 1441, which was unanimously adopted by the Security Council, Saddam had one final opportunity to comply. He intentionally failed to do so.

Are you're claiming that the war was illegitimate because the Security Council resolutions agains Iraq were illegitimate and or senseless? That despite the wording of 1441 and the deadline to disclose it imposed on Hussein, he was not a real threat to order and peaceful change?
posted by techgnollogic at 3:59 PM on February 20, 2004


I left the "only a couple thousand died on 9-11, we killed more" point out of my post specifically so that someone could sincerely make that ridiculous argument. The fact that ONE ATTACK killed half as many civilians on 9-11 as died in BOTH our wars so far should tell you something about the intentions of both sides of this conflict regarding civilian casualties.

Actually, yours is the stupid argument. Here's a little thought exercise for you: estimate how many extraneous civilians are likely to be killed by a soldier from a rich country (particularly a country with enough economic strength to assert its vast will without acute, overt military action) packing his scoped rifle and laser guided bombs, versus a soldier from a poor country who thinks he has little recourse but outright violence, and who has to construct bombs out of jet airliners, autos, tin cans and gravel.

America sure as shit doesn't hold any moral high ground in this fiasco, particularly when one looks at America's long term watering of the roots of middle eastern terrorism.

He was in material breach of 1441 - no knowledgeable person can deny that.

Oh, techngnollogic, please. 1441. Are you trying to imply with your little U.N. screed that "the world" supported the preemptive invasion of Iraq?

That's not very honest, now is it? But about par for the course for an administration and its supporters who first tried to sell the terrorism connection, then WMDs, then "peace in the middle east", then "it was an intelligence failure...we weren't anxious to overthrow Saddam for our own little neocon fantasies, you understand", and now "well, at least we got rid of a bad guy"... all rationalization and backpedaling regardless of how many miserable lies we had to tell and how many thousands of innocent people we had to kill to do it.

And about on par with your entire argument, which basically boils down to "the terrorists killed civilians", so it's quite all right if we do the same thing, particularly if we do it in our fabulous high tech manner. It's cleaner, right?

But I have to congratulate you: right now there are no doubt a bunch of loser terrorists sitting around their campfire in Iraq, talking about the injustices they've seen, plotting their next killing, and justifying said killing in exactly the same bullshit way you and President AWOL continue to attempt to do. The eternal "they" did it to "us", so by God/Allah, we'll make them pay.

Pathetic, if not outright disgusting.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 5:34 PM on February 20, 2004


So its obvious that our soldiers are vastly more capable of producing civilian casualties, and yet our two wars - consisting of hundreds of thousands of personnel and hundreds of billions of dollars in expenditures - have produced twice as many as one single Al Qaeda attack. Who has the capability but not the desire, and who has the desire but not the capability?
posted by techgnollogic at 5:58 PM on February 20, 2004


The fact that ONE ATTACK killed half as many civilians on 9-11 as died in BOTH our wars so far should tell you something about the intentions of both sides of this conflict regarding civilian casualties.

technollogic: Only one problem with that argument: there is more than one conflict here, although all of them are put under the umbrella of "the war on terrorism". They include, but are not necessarily limited to: the war against the Taliban and their al-Qa'ida allies in Afghanistan; the campaign against al-Qa'ida elsewhere in the world; the largely invisible, and substantially underreported global campaign against terrorism in general (which includes military "advisors" in the Philippines and American mercenaries in Colombia); and the war in Iraq. Each conflict has its own set of actors; the only thing they have in common is that the United States is a player in all of them. Specifically, al-Qa'ida had little connection with the Iraqi Ba'athists before March of 2003, and after the American army leaves Iraq, their presumed alliance in the insurgency will likely disappear, just like the one between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. after World War II. Or to put it more succinctly, there is "no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11 attacks." So Iraq was not even a "side" in the war begun on that day.

I didn't say we shouldn't know. I said I don't think it needs to be Pentagon's responsibility to spend it's time and resources providing information to the media for the sole purpose of anti-war propaganda.

According to the report, "... the strong implication that the US armed forces did not estimate enemy casualties during the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts is false. Estimates were made frequently and at every level." So the Pentagon is already collecting the information for its own purposes. It's just refusing to share its totals with the press. Are you saying that the Pentagon has the right to refuse to disclose basic information, which it, out of all other organizations, is in the best position to provide, which it already collects, and which would take about ten extra seconds to provide to the public in one of its daily press briefings, simply because of the possible political effect? What gives the Pentagon this right?

techno, you say that estimates of civilian casualties are only useful as anti-war propaganda. The flipside of that is that the exclusion of civilian casualties from public discourse only serves to further the pro-war cause, by removing the natural barriers anyone with a conscience would have against choosing to start a war. It's so much easier for people in Arab and Muslim countries to feel okay about America getting its comeuppance on 9/11, and maybe even cheer Osama bin Laden as a great hero, if they don't know that 3,000 people died horrible, fiery deaths that day. Similarly, it's much easier for people in the U.S. to support endless wars and bombing campaigns when they don't know how many people they kill that way. Now, I can understand the institutional self-interest driving the Pentagon to keep those 6,000 civilian deaths quiet, but government agencies squashing information for the sake of political expedience is unacceptable in a democratic society. And regardless of whether the Pentagon tells us about those deaths or not, we as Americans will be held responsible for them in the eyes of the world.
posted by skoosh at 6:27 PM on February 20, 2004


skoosh: you mean it doesn't count for something that even including civilian casualties during every phase and facet of the war or terror, the total is still only twice the number of civilians killed in the single coordinated attack on 9-11?

You have people on the other side of this argument denouncing the war in Iraq for killing civilians despite its positive effects. Would Libya have rolled without military intervention in Iraq? Without the war, would Saddam's WMD programs still be ongoing despite over a decade of resolutions and sanctions? Would Saddam's funding of Palestinian terrorists still be ongoing?

The fact is there is no way we could have made the progress we have without some civilian casualties. Whether or not this is a reasonable trade is obviously up for debate. If your opinion is no war should be fought if we can't guarantee the safety of civilians, then we cannot defeat these terrorists. If your opinion is that the deaths of 6000 or 8000 or 10000 civilians cannot justify the overthrow of two regimes responsible for over a million murders, you shouldn't waste your time debating the war with realists and pragmatists. Some people, like myself, do not see a disproportionate number of civilian casualties occuring in Iraq and Afghanistan compared to the progress we've made in prosecuting the war on terror the way we have.

I am in no way arguing that estimates of civilian casualties are only useful for anti-war propaganda. If civilian deaths numbered in the tens or hundreds of thousands or a vast majority of Iraqis and Afghans were hostile to our forces because of a perceived indescriminant attitude towards civilian deaths, maybe my opinion would be different. If the Pentagon was hiding casualties by destroying evidence or bodies or whatever, I'd feel differently. I just don't understand how the current civilian casualty situation can motivate an external observer who understands the realities of conflict to oppose these wars on those grounds.

If the Pentagon says "we want to avoid civilian casualties" and then reports "30 civlians dies in this attack on monday" then people turn around and say "Ah HA you dirty lying sons of bitches you said you wanted to avoid casualties and then you went ahead and killed people anyway." This is pointless and stupid.
posted by techgnollogic at 8:21 PM on February 20, 2004


I just spent almost three hours writing up a very long post on the legitimate use of force under international law, when I suddenly realized that this issue has absolutely nothing to do with whether civilian casualties matter, or whether the Pentagon should disclose its estimates of civilian casualties.

you mean it doesn't count for something that even including civilian casualties during every phase and facet of the war or terror, the total is still only twice the number of civilians killed in the single coordinated attack on 9-11?

Let me reiterate that the war against the Iraqi Ba'athists is distinct from the war against al-Qa'ida, and so citing statistics from the latter war to counterbalance statistics from the former war is completely meaningless. 6,000 civilian deaths (at a minimum) is a lot less than the number of Chinese civilian deaths under Japanese occupation in the 1940s, too. So what? It's still 6,000 dead civilians (3,750 dead civilians in Iraq, plus or minus 15%). I haven't made the claim that the Pentagon has not made its tactical decisions with an eye towards minimizing civilian deaths. I do believe, however, that any large-scale use of military force in populated areas, especially the aerial bombing of cities, will inevitably lead to many civilian deaths.

This fact should be reported upon in any conflict, and the Pentagon should not keep information about it under wraps, any more than it should keep its records of any war crimes or looting committed by American soldiers under wraps. We have a right to know. Making these estimates public knowledge helps to keep the military (and us, the American public) honest and honorable; obscuring them frees them up (and us, psychologically) to kill civilians more indiscriminately. Keeping a lid on the numbers also allows unscrupulous government officials to advance the notion of "new war", wherein smart weapons and precision strikes mean that hardly any civilians get hurt. As you just said, this is a lie; anyone who understands the realities of conflict knows this is a lie. The trouble is that without information on civilian casualties, we cannot truly understand the realities of conflict, and so it becomes all too easy to believe the lie. "No information on civilian casualties" is too easily transformed in our minds into "no civilian casualties". And that kind of cultivated misunderstanding of warfare's consequences is an extremely serious danger in our hyperbelligerent age.
posted by skoosh at 11:17 AM on February 21, 2004


What constitutes "large-scale aerial bombardment of cities" and when did we use such tactics in Iraq?
posted by techgnollogic at 12:02 PM on February 21, 2004


Would Saddam's funding of Palestinian terrorists still be ongoing?

i haven't heard about this - can you explain more?
posted by nyoki at 12:44 PM on February 21, 2004


What constitutes "large-scale aerial bombardment of cities" and when did we use such tactics in Iraq?

That's not quite the phrase I used - "large-scale" was meant to modify only "use of military force", and not "aerial bombardment of cities" - but hey, why nitpick your nitpicking? I admit, it's hard to precisely define "large-scale", so I'll just give you some numbers, and you can decide for yourself:

"Large-scale":The air war against Iraq involved 1,801 coalition aircraft. The largest number (863) were from the United States Air Force. The U.S. Navy had 408, the Marine Corps 372, the U.S. Army 20 (not counting attack helicopters), the British 113, Australia 22 and Canada three. The 794 "shooters" comprised fighters and heavy bombers from the U.S. Air Force (344), the U.S. Navy (232), the Marines (130), Britain (66) and Australia (22). The 1991 Gulf War used 2,700 aircraft.

These aircraft flew 20,753 combat sorties and used 18,467 smart bombs and missiles and 9,251 dumb bombs. Most of the smart bombs were JDAM (6,542) and laser guided (8,618). U.S. Navy ships also fired 802 cruise missiles. There were 153 air launched cruise missiles used, 98 EGBU-27 GPS/Laser Guided bombs and 408 anti-radar missiles. There were 908 guided cluster bombs dropped. Other missiles used include Hellfire (562), Maverick (918), AGM-130 (4), AGM-84 SLAM ER (3) and AGM-54 JSOW (253).


And as for "aerial bombardment of cities": Meanwhile, huge explosions and multiple flashes of light were heard and seen over mostly blacked-out Baghdad early Saturday, hours after hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Iraqis fled the capital.

Explosions were so intense that parts of the city were lit up by fireballs. At times, successive explosions jolted the city for minutes.

-----
We've had a resumption of extremely heavy bombing, heavy in the sense that the bombs themselves-- nothing like as many sorties or as many missiles as we saw on Friday night through Saturday when there was a real holocaust of fire and destruction across the river in central Baghdad from where I'm now speaking, nothing like that-- but bombs which appear to be very, very large bombs. They seem to be being dropped some way away to the southwest of the city. Inside the city, not I think far enough out yet to be aimed at Iraqi defensive positions now facing the third infantry division as it comes up from Karbala, because that's, as you know, 60 miles outside the city.
------
The US unleashed a withering air assault on Iraq yesterday, striking Baghdad and targets throughout the country with 1500 precision-guided bombs and cruise missiles in an escalating campaign to drive Saddam Hussein from power.

As waves of ground forces headed steadily north toward Baghdad, the aerial strikes shook the ground in the capital, spewing orange flames and turning night to day with explosions amid flashes of anti-aircraft fire.

Dozens of government buildings were destroyed or damaged within minutes, including several of Saddam's presidential palaces.

"The earth is literally shaking in Baghdad," correspondent Khaled Oweis said.


I'm not sure if you were under a rock last spring, but news reports about the bombing of Baghdad were not hard to find. Why are you even trying to deny this? Yes, the United States fought a war of no small significance last year. It was short, but it was very intense while it lasted. No, there wasn't a firebombing of any cities like Dresden or Tokyo in 1945, but nobody said there was. Even "ordinary" aerial bombardments can have serious effects on non-targeted surrounding areas, and in cities, that means dead civilians. I thought we both agreed on that.
posted by skoosh at 1:04 PM on February 21, 2004


You have people on the other side of this argument denouncing the war in Iraq for killing civilians despite its positive effects.

positive effects. positive effects you say. what would all of that money have done for the US in the mean time?? And the world at large for that matter?? And give us something else instead of the great benefit of flipping Libia and giving saddam a private shower dance. Take that you bad man who tried to kill my father.

the quibble here techgnollogic is that you're arguing the fundamental principles of war from a position that views itself our most advanced means of dealing with serious conflict - that there are things that happen that we just have to accept as necessary in the long term goals in the overall concept of war as solution.

The fact is there is no way we could have made the progress we have without some civilian casualties. Whether or not this is a reasonable trade is obviously up for debate.

Or perhaps we just received some bad intelligence? Could it be that we had been mislead?? Is it possible that the intelligence was not bad per say, but more like three day old tofu. Still technically good, it says so on the label, but that because the expiration date was just two days away, any little signal, no matter how microscopic or unimportant or planned for ten years, looks much more significant. Maybe something like 1441, an indicator of the expiration date. Yes, that’s it. A plan who’s expiration date had expired. The plan, created in a different time and a different climate, hadn’t been reexamined for validity because it was completely assumed that this was the correct plan of action. and guess what, they're finding out now that it might NOT have been the best plan of action. We've all got to step back and reexamine what the hell has gone wrong. no one, in any country, anywhere, wants permanent warfare. no one. however, our governments on the other hand, are using serious events to play a version of the game "CHICKEN". you know that game. with that sort of mindset, anything less than straight ahead means you're a wuss. and we're not wusses - we're AMERICANS (beating chest and flexing muscles) we don't back down from a fight. we don't need a permission slip. we can do whatever the hell we want and since we have an arsenal of lawyers, we'll be sure to do it all within the legal boundaries of international law.
posted by nyoki at 1:21 PM on February 21, 2004


"...Saddam's WMD programs ..."

What the hell are you talking about? There were no weapons programs, only sneaky scientists ripping off Saddam.

What progress have we made in Iraq or even on a world front? We've made a terrorist hotbed and HQ for new Al-Queda recruits who will have instant access to American targets. We have raised the level of anti-American sentiment to new heights around the globe. We are in worse shape than we ever were.

If the Pentagon says "we want to avoid civilian casualties" and then reports "30 civilians dies in this attack on monday" then people turn around and say "Ah HA you dirty lying sons of bitches you said you wanted to avoid casualties and then you went ahead and killed people anyway." This is pointless and stupid.

Sure that's right if everyone in the country is as much of a reactionary as you paint them to be, as much as you seem to be.

Your argument that you can't make an omelette with out breaking a couple of eggs is true, but in a democratic society we have the right to know how many eggs we broke, regardless of the flip-flop. Or perhaps you prefer fascism?
posted by velacroix at 1:46 PM on February 21, 2004


Skoosh, you said: "I do believe, however, that any large-scale use of military force in populated areas, especially the aerial bombing of cities, will inevitably lead to many civilian deaths. "

I don't understand how you interpret that sentence without applying "large-scale" to "aerial bombing."

You're saying that any large scale use of force will inevitably lead to many civilian deaths - ESPECIALLY (particularly) the aerial bombing of cities.

But whether or not you intended to characterize our bombing of Baghdad as "large-scale", you're saying that bombing Baghdad from the air will inevitably lead to many civilian deaths. So you can't perpetually drop bombs on Baghdad without producing many civlian casualties. I think that's accurate. But can you drop any? Several? Enough to produce "huge explosions and multiple flashes of light" that "jolted the city for minutes" and "destroyed or damaged dozens of government buildings"? Perhaps.

nyoki: Saddam raised his payment to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers from $10,000 to $25,000 over two years ago.

velacroix: "What the hell are you talking about? There were no weapons programs..."

Sorry, but you're mistaken. The following is quoted from Interim Progress Report on the Activities of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG):
What have we found and what have we not found in the first 3 months of our work?

We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002. The discovery of these deliberate concealment efforts have come about both through the admissions of Iraqi scientists and officials concerning information they deliberately withheld and through physical evidence of equipment and activities that ISG has discovered that should have been declared to the UN. Let me just give you a few examples of these concealment efforts, some of which I will elaborate on later:

A clandestine network of laboratories and safehouses within the Iraqi Intelligence Service that contained equipment subject to UN monitoring and suitable for continuing CBW research.
A prison laboratory complex, possibly used in human testing of BW agents, that Iraqi officials working to prepare for UN inspections were explicitly ordered not to declare to the UN.
Reference strains of biological organisms concealed in a scientist's home, one of which can be used to produce biological weapons.
New research on BW-applicable agents, Brucella and Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF), and continuing work on ricin and aflatoxin were not declared to the UN.
Documents and equipment, hidden in scientists' homes, that would have been useful in resuming uranium enrichment by centrifuge and electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS).
A line of UAVs not fully declared at an undeclared production facility and an admission that they had tested one of their declared UAVs out to a range of 500 km, 350 km beyond the permissible limit.
Continuing covert capability to manufacture fuel propellant useful only for prohibited SCUD variant missiles, a capability that was maintained at least until the end of 2001 and that cooperating Iraqi scientists have said they were told to conceal from the UN.
Plans and advanced design work for new long-range missiles with ranges up to at least 1000 km - well beyond the 150 km range limit imposed by the UN. Missiles of a 1000 km range would have allowed Iraq to threaten targets through out the Middle East, including Ankara, Cairo, and Abu Dhabi.
Clandestine attempts between late-1999 and 2002 to obtain from North Korea technology related to 1,300 km range ballistic missiles --probably the No Dong -- 300 km range anti-ship cruise missiles, and other prohibited military equipment.

posted by techgnollogic at 2:09 PM on February 21, 2004


Nice link techgnollogic.

"The Saudis used to give $US4000 to the martyrs, but now it depends on public donations.

When are we invading Saudi Arabia? Since they take US currency, how much do you think it will take to get Palestinians to blow up the Saudi Arabians? After all, none of them are in my tribe. *sigh*
posted by john at 3:07 PM on February 21, 2004


Dear Pentagram,

Please don't tell me how many people gets killed when we blow stuff up. And if my friend Billy the librul says you should just abhor him.

I trust you to do whats right, and I know you always doo the best you can.

Yur friend,
Bobby Ray Silas III
posted by Opus Dark at 5:26 PM on February 21, 2004


technollogic: But whether or not you intended to characterize our bombing of Baghdad as "large-scale", you're saying that bombing Baghdad from the air will inevitably lead to many civilian deaths.

Okay, let's clear this thing up. I didn't really intend for "large-scale" to modify "aerial bombardment" when I first wrote it, but I can see how it could be read that way, and in fact, that interpretation does not misrepresent my beliefs. So I'll concede that. However, proceeding from that interpretation of my original statement - that "any large-scale aerial bombing of cities will inevitably lead to many civilian deaths" - it follows only that a large-scale aerial bombing of Baghdad will lead to many civilian deaths, which in my judgment, it has.

The key here is "large-scale": if three or four car bombs blew up several police stations in New York tomorrow, it would be arguable whether or not that was a "large-scale bombing campaign", and if properly targeted, the bombers might avoid killing more than a handful of innocent bystanders. But if hundreds, maybe thousands, of bombs and missiles were sent into the city, powerful and numerous enough that at times, the entire city would shake for several minutes, then the civilian casualties would run into the hundreds no matter how careful the bombers were. Similarly, if only three or four bombs were dropped on carefully targeted sites in Baghdad, it might be possible to avoid killing more than a few civilians. But that's far from the kind of air campaign that was waged over Baghdad, as indicated to some extent by the news stories I quoted above.

So, I'm not sure what you're contending here - that if a lot fewer bombs were dropped in Baghdad, more people would be alive there today? Yes, I believe that's more than likely. I wish more Americans understood that. But that's not what actually happened.
posted by skoosh at 3:00 PM on February 22, 2004


In your estimation, what number of deaths would not constitute "many" civilian deaths? I'm curious.

Similarly, if only three or four bombs were dropped on carefully targeted sites in Baghdad, it might be possible to avoid killing more than a few civilians.

Is it your contention that the Pentagon wasted bombs by dropping them haphazardly or without targeting them "carefully"?

But that's far from the kind of air campaign that was waged over Baghdad, as indicated to some extent by the news stories I quoted above.

I'm not contending that only a few bombs were dropped on Baghdad. What I take issue with is whether or not - within the context of the historic record of aerial bombardment of cities - Baghdad, 2003 would really qualify, or even make anywhere near the top 10 in terms of either bombs dropped or civlians killed.

It's just that the phrase "large-scale aerial bombardment of cities" cannot help but suggest the strategic bombing campaigns of WWII, and it's irresponsible and unfair to imply that anything that happened in Iraq was even remotely similar to those campaigns.
posted by techgnollogic at 3:31 PM on February 22, 2004


I'm sorry, techgnollogic, I didn't see your comment there. Let's try to hit these points one by one.

There can be no precise and settled definition of "many", since it is an inherently subjective and relative term. However, I can suggest an operative definition of "many": start reciting positive integers out loud, beginning with 1. When it starts feeling like a pointless, boring exercise, stop and write down the number you stopped on. Any number higher than that can be considered "many" for our purposes here. If our levels of patience are similar, then I estimate that the cut-off will be somewhere between 100 and 200. Alternatively, think about how many people would have to be reported dead on the morning news from a bomb blast in your city before you said to yourself, "Wow, that's a lot of people." For me, that number is somewhere between 10 and 30, but to be on the safe side, we can increase it by an order of magnitude to be more in line with the results of the first method. I should state, for the record, that I'm basing these methodologies on the predicates that every human life is precious, and of equal value. That's why I keep referring to hypothetical lives and deaths in our own cities, where we ourselves live; otherwise it can be all too easy to abstract away the value of human life in other places.

It's not my contention that the military did not target its bombs as carefully as time and technology allowed; rather, the bombing of targets within a city with hundreds or thousands of pieces of ordnance, in light of inevitable targeting and delivery errors and the nature of high explosives, cannot help but lead to numerous non-combatant deaths and injuries, regardless of how carefully those bombs are targeted. It's the decision to bomb in the first place, as much as the tactical decisions involved, that is at issue here. And that decision does not ultimately rest with the Pentagon.

It's also not my contention that in the oh-so-glorious history of modern warfare, the 2003 bombing of Baghdad particularly stands out in terms of atrocity. That should not be a criterion for whether we consider a bombing campaign "large-scale", seeing as the 1945 bombings of Tokyo, Dresden, Osaka, Hamburg, and so on, were in the context of the largest, bloodiest war in human history, fought by the most powerful armies ever to have walked the earth. To me, it's enough that the most powerful military in the world had to go more than a little out of its way (multiple aircraft carriers, thousands of sorties, force deployments from several continents) to bomb Baghdad to the extent that it did, for it to count as a large-scale bombing. Plus, the numbers of bombs and missiles used (27,718) exceed the above-stated threshold for defining "many" by two orders of magnitude.

The bombing of Baghdad was similar to past strategic bombing campaigns (and unlike terror bombings like Dresden, Tokyo, London, or Hanoi) in kind, if not necessarily quite to the same degree. And in my humble opinion, that degree was large in scale. But anyway, I'm a little tired of being the only one dredging up links. If you can find some evidence to back up your claim that the strategic bombing campaigns of WWII were not comparable to the one over Baghdad last spring, I'd be happy to read it. Feel free to email me, too.
posted by skoosh at 6:00 PM on March 10, 2004


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