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The Things That Carried Him
April 30, 2008 9:57 PM   Subscribe

An extraordinary piece of magazine writing by Chris Jones. Jones tells the story of how the body of Sergeant Joe Montgomery makes its way from a Baghdad suburb to its final resting place in a grave in Indiana. It's one of the finest pieces of journalism that I've read in years. It’s extremely moving without being saccharine or twee. It’s a military story, but utterly without jingoism or indictment. And it’s wonderfully observed. If I taught a first-year creative writing course, I'd make this required reading.
posted by dbarefoot (87 comments total) 85 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've read 7 of 11 pages by now, and I agree with your assessment of the article, dbarefoot.

I'm just sad as hell that I've become so desensitized to anything war lately. i_just_don't_have_the_emotional_capacity anymore for more sad shit like this.

its been near 7 years of reading great mefi posts like this, and, as an american, I think I'm supposed to like not consider this shit or something. sorry~
posted by localhuman at 10:40 PM on April 30, 2008


I'm only a page in now, but it is as you say. I look forward to reading the rest, but wanted to thank you for the link. Echoing localhuman, I am trying not feel numbed and fatigued by sad news these days.
posted by ornate insect at 11:02 PM on April 30, 2008


That was a very moving article. Thank you for posting it, dbarefoot.
posted by amyms at 11:07 PM on April 30, 2008


*still reading*
posted by rtha at 11:09 PM on April 30, 2008


Still going too...

The moment at the coffin, and the glove, is so touchingly rendered. This article is far more relevant to war than any number of news reports and death counts.
posted by twirlypen at 11:14 PM on April 30, 2008


Thankfully there's a print-friendly version.. reading now, thanks, good stuff.
posted by hypersloth at 11:18 PM on April 30, 2008


Incredible article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by vorfeed at 11:33 PM on April 30, 2008


Damn it. I was about ready to cancel my subscription and then this article come along, convincing me to renew. I wish they'd be more consistent about publishing articles as good as this.
posted by timelord at 11:36 PM on April 30, 2008


saccharine or twee

outstanding
posted by Addiction at 11:45 PM on April 30, 2008


timelord--well given that the article's free online...
posted by ornate insect at 11:46 PM on April 30, 2008


ornate insect -- just because the article is free online doesn't mean it's not worth buying, or supporting others like it :)
posted by lumensimus at 11:59 PM on April 30, 2008


Bonus points to anyone who has the emotional fortitude to read this story in one sitting.
posted by rigby51 at 12:05 AM on May 1, 2008


War is a terrible thing. I did read this in one sitting, and it just leaves me filled with sadness. Excellent writing about what is a catastrophic event for his family and friends, and something that others must fight very hard to stop themselves being emotionally destroyed by.

War is a terrible thing. Stories like this should be broadcast along with the jingoism and calls to arms next time the drum is beat, to remind us of the cost, regardless of the merits.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:31 AM on May 1, 2008


All these wonderful people: all that emotion: all that kindness and goodness and clean heartedness : all that precision, dedication to detail, to effort, to doing it right: all that honor that seeps from their pores -

why couldn’t it have been harnessed to stop this bullshit, this slaughter? Why can it never be harnessed until hundreds, thousands of these scenes are repeated across the country, across the world?

Why is it reserved for the dead, when it is too late?
posted by lalochezia at 12:50 AM on May 1, 2008 [11 favorites]


Note: the title is a reference to Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, a collection of short stories on Vietnam that a wise teacher made us read in 10th grade. Tim goes up there in the top 10 short story writers in English of the 20th century, up there with Alice Munro.

Both of whom you should read if you liked this.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:02 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wish I felt more regularly exacerbated sadness for the person and not the victim.
posted by ZaneJ. at 2:41 AM on May 1, 2008


There's an odd disconnect to seeing somebody you know on the MeFi front page; Chris Jones has been working in journalism for a decade and has written a couple of books, as well.

It may be worth mentioning, since the FPP made the point that the article was remarkably free of jingoism and indictment, that Chris is Canadian; this obviously doesn't make him immune to pro- or anti-war sentiment, but being (somewhat) removed from the pick-a-side red-vs.-blue of current U.S. politics is probably an asset with these sorts of articles.
posted by Shepherd at 2:42 AM on May 1, 2008


This was excellent. Thank you for posting it.

If there is any solace to be had after a soldier's death, it is the knowledge that the fallen will receive a military funeral service. It's difficult to explain the feeling. There is so much tradition, honor, and respect throughout; there are people attending who represent the military, and though you don't know them at all personally, you wouldn't be able to tell from the shared sense of loss and respect for the one who has died. My father would never have let me enlist, but I try to live my life in the hopes that I will deserve the kind of send-off he received.
posted by krippledkonscious at 3:29 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I love this piece, and I love Esquire. Wander through the online archives, and you will find many examples of fine journalism. Start with Tom Junod's excellent profiles (Mr. Rogers, etc.) and work from there.

I only wish they would jump on the "publish the entire run of the publication on DVD" bandwagon.
posted by Optamystic at 4:18 AM on May 1, 2008


These are the folks who perform the autopsies. They have one of the greatest arm patches in the military.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 4:40 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


Simple, honest, and direct.
Thank you for showing me this, db.
posted by Dizzy at 6:10 AM on May 1, 2008


Perhaps also of interest is Jim Sheeler's Pulitzer prize winning essay, Final Salute, and these photographs.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:23 AM on May 1, 2008


That was just devastatingly sad. The parts that were the hardest for me to read were the descriptions of the details and the caring of the process. How it wasn't just an efficient assembly-line process, but rather that such personal care and love was taken at each step.
posted by Forktine at 6:24 AM on May 1, 2008


I've read the first two parts and have to take a break before going on to the third. Superb writing, one of the most powerful articles I've read about the war and its effects. Thanks very much for the post, dbarefoot.

Deliver the wrong wedding ring to one wife and another wife is left longing.


You can't teach writing like that: "left longing." Perfect.
posted by languagehat at 6:38 AM on May 1, 2008


Ok, tried to read it. Can't actually be seen devolving into a sobbing bubble at work, this'll have to wait for tonight. Thank you for the link, dbarefoot.
posted by cavalier at 7:38 AM on May 1, 2008


When you can't get outraged anymore at human suffering; get outraged at the fact that you've gotten used to it.
posted by BrianBoyko at 7:43 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


I went up to her and said, 'How are you doing?' And with a straight face, she said, 'Fine.' I said, 'Missie, look at me. You're not fine. It's okay not to be fine.'

I got this far before I had to stop. I'll read the rest of the article but it will have to wait until after I get home from work.
I will not cry at work. I will not cry at work
posted by djeo at 8:09 AM on May 1, 2008


I'm sure I'm going to be pilloried for this but consider that for each "Joey" who volunteered to go and kill people who'd never done anything to him or any other American, there are easily 100 "Ahmets" who were living in their own country, minding their own business, until we started a war that killed them.

All the "Joeys" who died are adults who chose of their own free will to continue the multi-generational tradition of America invading countries that had offered them no harm of any type. Many of the "Ahmets" are children or women who never offered any one any harm at all.

Joey died during the commission of a massive war crime. Note that from the article, he didn't join out of a sense of patriotism, or a desire to improve the world; he joined because he had too many unplanned kids and needed more money.

I wouldn't be writing this if there were one single moment in this eleven page article where one person questioned the war, if even one person involved wondered for one second whether invading a foreign country that had never harmed the United States in any way was really a good idea. I find it difficult or impossible to believe that not one of the dozen or so people interviewed didn't express any opinion about Iraq or the Iraqis: I assume they were edited out of the story. They're constantly using that word "proud" over and over again; I assume that they're "proud" of their role in Iraq.

And I should add, I'm a sucker. I'm sentimental and I cry over all sorts of things, homeless people I meet in the street, pictures of children of Iraq, stray cats, yes, even American military men killed. I fully expected to be in tears here: but I wasn't. If there had been one moment of introspection, one indication that someone in that article valued learning, peace, had spent even one moment thinking, "Why did Joey die? Is eternal warfare really the main thing the United States has to offer the world?" I might have cared about Joey. If there'd been any indication of what Joey was really like, I might have cared about Joey.

As it is, I read lines like "Most recently had come [the chaplain's] tour in Afghanistan, where he had missed the birth of his youngest son to pray over the bodies of the sorts of men he hoped his son might one day become," and I think, "Are all these people insane? There are hundreds of thousands of innocent dead! What do they have to be so proud of?"
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:43 AM on May 1, 2008 [10 favorites]


It's one of the finest pieces of journalism that I've read in years.

I was ready to complain that you oversold it, and that there was no way it could live up to my expectations now.

I would have been wrong. It is very good.
posted by quin at 8:47 AM on May 1, 2008


Maybe I'll read this later, when my son-in-law gets home.
From Iraq.
posted by Floydd at 9:00 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


If there had been one moment of introspection...

They're hired killers. They're not paid to be introspective. They sign up with the unspoken hope that those who are paid to be introspective will be. Suckers.
posted by Optamystic at 9:00 AM on May 1, 2008


If there'd been any indication of what Joey was really like, I might have cared about Joey.

Wow. Some people really do have their ideological blinders on so tight they can't actually read. Sorry you wasted your time on the article, but at least you have the satisfaction of composing six paragraphs to impress us with how very, very progressive you are.
posted by languagehat at 9:07 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


They're hired killers. They're not paid to be introspective. They sign up with the unspoken hope that those who are paid
we elect to be introspective will be.

posted by Floydd at 9:15 AM on May 1, 2008


A very moving piece, thanks for the post. Made me tear up at several different points. At the same time, I couldn't help but wonder at the lack of critical thinking and seemingly blind patriotism exhibited by some of the people in the story. If my son died going to war and it turned out that my nation was tricked into it, I would think I would have something to say about that. But then again, I'm sure some of those people would have too and maybe it just wasn't the time or the place.
posted by Onanist at 9:17 AM on May 1, 2008


The Army's Chief of Staff has directed that a general officer, randomly assigned, will attend every funeral of every soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

...because neither President Goon nor Vice-President Cancer can be arsed to show up for any of the funerals, look at the people who lost someone for their profiteering and parent issues, and have the slightest example of humanity showing in their eyes.
posted by mephron at 9:20 AM on May 1, 2008


They're constantly using that word "proud" over and over again; I assume that they're "proud" of their role in Iraq.

You know that old saying about the word "assume"?

More likely, they are using the word "proud" differently. They are proud that someone like Joey did his best in difficult circumstances, gave everything he had -- including his life -- in the service of his country. The fact (and it is a pretty widely accepted fact by now) that the Iraq war was a total fraud, not worth a millionth of its cost (economic or human, US or Iraqi), does not in the tiniest bit invalidate the sense of pride that is being expressed about the sacrifices made by the military members and their families.

But more than that, I think your criticism misses the point of the article. It's giving a rich description of a process that is full of introspection, full of the human cost of the war. There's no need to take the reader by the hand and say "see? War = bad, peace = good," and your desire for a stronger critique of the US soldier misses the shades of gray inhabited by the soldiers, their families, and all the people involved in bringing home the bodies. The introspection comes from the reader, and comes in every interview with someone who is involved in the process of returning the bodies. The introspection can be seen in the policy of having randomly assigned general officers there to meet the bodies at Dover, and to be at every funeral. That is a policy based in introspection, and designed to force introspection by the most senior of the military officers (who are often the most distant from the consequences of the decisions they make).

To say that this piece lacks introspection says more about one's limitations as a reader than it does about the article in question.
posted by Forktine at 9:26 AM on May 1, 2008 [12 favorites]


One of the most depressing parts of the article was the fact that they have action highlights of this untenable conflict emblazoned on their coffins. Jesus.

The Operation Iraqi Freedom vault is made of precast concrete lined with Trilon, and its lid is adorned with a lithograph depicting scenes from the war in Iraq, including Saddam's statue falling.
posted by porn in the woods at 10:17 AM on May 1, 2008


Christ I got to the part about buffing the uniform buttons and...yeah. Wow.

Thank you for this. I need to go send an email.
posted by Skorgu at 10:28 AM on May 1, 2008


Four years ago (four!), the New Yorker also ran a story dealing with the military's care of their fallen.
posted by hhc5 at 11:10 AM on May 1, 2008


As it is, I read lines like "Most recently had come [the chaplain's] tour in Afghanistan, where he had missed the birth of his youngest son to pray over the bodies of the sorts of men he hoped his son might one day become," and I think, "Are all these people insane? There are hundreds of thousands of innocent dead! What do they have to be so proud of?"

Honor, duty, and sacrifice, including the sacrifice one makes when one serves with honor and duty despite being given a job that's sometimes difficult to be "proud of". To me, the article makes it quite clear that these men did not want such a pointless war... but they got one, and they serve accordingly. Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no General Nozzle or Admiral Asshole to blame, here -- the American military does not get to choose where and when to go to war.

If you don't like "the multi-generational tradition of America invading countries that had offered them no harm of any type", trust me when I say that blaming honorable soldiers for it isn't helping your cause. Men like Sgt. Montgomery do just what we tell them to do; no more and no less.
posted by vorfeed at 11:31 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


It would be great if the military took as good care of its living as it does of its dead.

Great, great piece of writing.

The thing that raised my hackles, though - not the author's fault - was this: "Before the service, I noticed that she had been keeping her distance. She had this look on her face," Pinckney recalled. "And in my mind, she was not dealing with the death of her husband, so I decided to approach her. I went up to her and said, 'How are you doing?' And with a straight face, she said, 'Fine.' I said, 'Missie, look at me. You're not fine. It's okay not to be fine.' That's when she started crying, when I told her it was okay to cry. And we just pulled into each other. I just hugged her, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay. That was her letting go. And I wanted that. I wanted to connect with her." (emphasis mine)

I thought: It's not about you, you dummy. It's not about you or what you want, or what you think is best for the widow. God.

Aside from that, amazing piece. (I remember that New Yorker article; it's always stayed with me.)
posted by rtha at 11:32 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Shit.
posted by flippant at 11:43 AM on May 1, 2008


If you don't like "the multi-generational tradition of America invading countries that had offered them no harm of any type", trust me when I say that blaming honorable soldiers for it isn't helping your cause. Men like Sgt. Montgomery do just what we tell them to do; no more and no less.

This is a serious question, not an attempt to write a "zinger."

How evil does the US government policy have to be before the soldiers bear any moral responsibility for carrying it out? At some point, "just following orders" is no excuse. But where is that point?
posted by straight at 12:00 PM on May 1, 2008


It's a serious question, but there is no one-size-fits-all answer. I myself am a pacifist, so I draw the line at "here's a gun, go kill people." Everyone has their own "there is some shit I will not eat" line. When enough people feel a government has crossed the line, you get mutinies and mass refusals to enlist. But nobody can tell another person where to draw the line.
posted by languagehat at 12:52 PM on May 1, 2008


How evil does the US government policy have to be before the soldiers bear any moral responsibility for carrying it out? At some point, "just following orders" is no excuse. But where is that point?

In terms of morality, I agree with languagehat. This is something that each person has to work out on their own, according to their personal moral system.

In legal terms, the breaking point is obedience to illegal orders, i.e. orders which break existing law. This is why some of the soldiers who were court-martialed for participating in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib were not exonerated, even though they claimed to have been ordered to commit the abuse. In military courts, orders are not a valid excuse for the commission of a crime.

In practice, though, this is a pretty bad catch-22 for soldiers, because it's also illegal not to obey a legal order, and the investigation into whether or not the order was legal often results in much more immediate trouble for a soldier than going through with whatever-it-is and hoping no one finds out. This goes double if the evidence comes down to a soldier's word versus his or her commanding officer's. There is a decent overview of these issues here. There are also some books on the subject.

A soldier who refuses to obey legal orders or fight in a legally-declared war may be a decent and moral person, but they make a poor soldier nonetheless. IMHO, we could use more accountability and transparency all the way up the chain of command, to help eliminate the catch-22 I mentioned above, but I think it's a bad idea to expect soldiers to act on broad matters of policy, rather than on the actual content of their orders. I just don't see how you can maintain discipline if soldiers are allowed to disobey orders based on something as individual and mutable as personal moral judgments on the nature of the war.
posted by vorfeed at 1:45 PM on May 1, 2008


This article does not make me proud to be an American, but it makes me feel damn blessed. If only more of us were like those people lining the funeral route in Indiana - maybe there never would have been a need for this in the first place.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:22 PM on May 1, 2008


Thanks for the fairly reasonable tones here.

First, Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no General Nozzle or Admiral Asshole to blame, here -- the American(*) military does not get to choose where and when to go to war.

Right, we all know this, why do you think it's a surprise to me?

For fifty years the US military has almost exclusively been used to invade foreign countries that had never offered it any harm. If you join an organization that has already killed millions of innocent people (there were two million killed in the Vietnam war, and for what?), and then you are sent to kill more innocent people, you can hardly be surprised.

And generally, the "we were only following orders" defense has been generally unsuccessful when defending against war crimes.


Several people, including the always-rude languagehat, commented that I must have been self-blinded because I got no impression of Joey.

I read the article again; I got no impression of him (he'd volunteer for dangerous jobs is one of the few details that wasn't generic); I noted that not one of you commenters actually had anything to say about Joey or what he was like; I stand by my comment.


More likely, they are using the word "proud" differently. They are proud that someone like Joey did his best in difficult circumstances, gave everything he had -- including his life -- in the service of his country. The fact (and it is a pretty widely accepted fact by now) that the Iraq war was a total fraud, not worth a millionth of its cost (economic or human, US or Iraqi), does not in the tiniest bit invalidate the sense of pride that is being expressed about the sacrifices made by the military members and their families.

This is madness. Hundreds of thousands of people are dead, millions displaced, a country is in ruins! The fact that the perpetrators had to take considerable risks with their own lives to achieve these evil, evil goals does not mean you should be proud of them.

Americans have had this attitude for generations and it's resulted in millions of deaths. America learned nothing from killing a couple of million in Vietnam, heck, they were proud of their soldiers! And now they've killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq, and heck, they're proud again!

I did point out in my original email that the repetition of the word "proud" throughout the article was in stark contrast to the fact that there wasn't any evidence of any misgivings or second thoughts about the war by any of the participants.


A soldier who refuses to obey legal orders or fight in a legally-declared war may be a decent and moral person, but they make a poor soldier nonetheless.

The world has far, far too many good soldiers. We need more poor soldiers with more moral issues.

I just don't see how you can maintain discipline if soldiers are allowed to disobey orders based on something as individual and mutable as personal moral judgments on the nature of the war.

It's true that it would be very hard to send soldiers out to kill innocent people who offered them no harm if they were allowed to use their personal moral judgements, but you see, in my world, eliminating mass killing of innocents is a good thing.

I understand that you want a world where the US can say, "Do as we tell you or we'll send our disciplined soldiers to mercilessly kill your people and destroy your cities." I do not.

I don't see why "Defense" would be impaired one bit if soldiers were required to morally consent to their actions. Of course, it should be completely clear now that the "Defense" department is nothing of the sort. After failing four times in four on 9/11, if the government really cared about defense it would have punished and reorganized that chain of command, not promoted and rewarded them.


There's a clear underlying difference here. You all support the idea of "the US military as a tool to enforce US foreign policy (by invading other countries)." I do not. I don't feel the US should be allowed to have an offensive army; the ghosts of millions of innocents from South and Central America, Vietnam and the Middle East cannot speak here but I certainly can.

I feel that no country has the moral right to create an army for the purpose of invading other countries; that this is madness and mental illness in a small world filled with weapons; that any military defense that needs to be undertaken should be at the behest of international agencies, like the UN. I hear you warmongers scoff here, but the UN has a stellar record of success overall in its military activities, starting with the very reason it was founded, to destroy Hitler and the Axis.

--

(* - I think you mean the US military? There are American countries like Costa Rica that don't even have a standing army...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:47 PM on May 1, 2008


America learned nothing from killing a couple of million in Vietnam, heck, they were proud of their soldiers!

Did you live through the same 1970s I did?

There's a clear underlying difference here. You all support the idea of "the US military as a tool to enforce US foreign policy (by invading other countries)."

Well, count me out on that argument. I don't think that and I'd bet that most others here don't think that either.

What I've been quietly gnashing my teeth over your objections to the piece? You're criticizing what the author didn't write about. You're upset that he didn't focus on stuff that you think should be focused on. Fine. So go write your own piece. Get up on your own soapbox and write about the issues you think are important, but it's just...pointless to holler about how Jones didn't write about A, B, or C. That's because he was writing about L, M, N, etc.
posted by rtha at 3:27 PM on May 1, 2008


Let's put this in perspective.

A horrible man in Austria does terrible things to his children. All normal humans agree that psychopaths are bad and must be punished or at the very least removed from society (I vote for "punish" myself).

Individual psychopaths like this are quite rare (which is why this case is so shocking and is headlines around the world): they kill or maim three to thirty thousand people a year (books I have vary quite a bit on this number...)

Groups of people all over the world band together and form "armies" and kill or maim millions of people every year - but they have organized a system with special clothing they wear and a mythic culture of "honour" and "duty" and "pride" and "patriotism" so that almost everyone thinks they're supergreat people and takes money from educating and and even feeding the nation's kids to give to these "soldiers."

You guys have bought into this system. I have not. I think you're all suckers.

And don't get me wrong. I understand the need for police; I understand the need for defense. My grandfather was in a Japanese concentration camp; I'm proud of him; but he was defending his country (Australia) and illegally captured in an allied country by an invading Japanese army.

Had my grandfather served with the Japanese, I might be proud of the man otherwise, but I'd be clear to disassociate myself from his activities.

We're talking about one country invading another country. ¿Claro? And this is just wrong all the time.

We have the UN, and other international bodies. Strengthen them; make them more responsible to the people of the world (you know? the guy you see in the scope before he gets blown up?); make them more responsive, spend a fraction of what the US spends on their huge guns to create a fast, flexible world police force that can even step in and arrest a cruel dictator like Saddam if this is the measured will of the world, but only using open deliberation and due process, not secret plottings of a few psychopathic incompetents like Bush and Cheney.

Never allow any individual country to wage war against another ever again. This is a crime against humanity.

If you glorify the warrior, you glorify the war. Wage peace. Mourn your fallen, don't glorify the manner of their deaths, or your children will become murderers too.

We must stop this disease or inevitably it will kill all of us. Articles like this are a vector that spreads the "glory of war" sickness.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:30 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I did point out in my original email that the repetition of the word "proud" throughout the article was in stark contrast to the fact that there wasn't any evidence of any misgivings or second thoughts about the war by any of the participants.

Probably because that's not what the article was about. You wanted the reporter sticking a camera into the face of the guy whose house just burned down asking him how he feels about it thing, and you didn't get it.

I hear there are places you can go if you like your stories fair and balanced.
posted by Cyrano at 3:31 PM on May 1, 2008


I understand that you want a world where the US can say, "Do as we tell you or we'll send our disciplined soldiers to mercilessly kill your people and destroy your cities." I do not.

There's a clear underlying difference here. You all support the idea of "the US military as a tool to enforce US foreign policy (by invading other countries)." I do not.

You guys have bought into this system. I have not. I think you're all suckers.


I'm rude to people who say stupid, insulting, and utterly wrong things like this. As rtha said, go write your own piece. Here you're just trolling.
posted by languagehat at 3:33 PM on May 1, 2008


The fact that the perpetrators had to take considerable risks with their own lives to achieve these evil, evil goals does not mean you should be proud of them.

Here's where we part ways, I think. A central lesson learned by the left, looking back at the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, has been that you don't blame the soldier for the war. The "perpetrators" are not the low-level soldiers with boots on the ground. It's Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld and their cohort who deserve to burn in hell for all eternity, and who carry the weight of the moral responsibility for the thousands of US dead and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead.

Like it or not, most of the orders have been lawful. Not smart, not strategically sound, not even moral. But lawful, yes. We can argue split hairs over international law and whether the invasion of Iraq was fully legal (I have my doubts, and am completely certain that it was immoral). But if there is to be blame, or if there were to be a war crimes trial (hey, I can dream, right?), only those at the top deserve that blame, and deserve to be sitting in the dock in the Hague.

Calling ordinary soldiers "perpetrators" and worse is somewhere in between stupid and silly, and regardless, it is poor politics -- it didn't work 30 years ago and it won't work now, if by "work" you mean "craft a lasting political consensus for progressive politics." It ignores reality in favor of a nice black-and-white moralistic approach that just doesn't have any relevance to how the world works.
posted by Forktine at 3:34 PM on May 1, 2008


Okay, I've read the first few paragraphs, and I'm feeling.... well, tell me, Americans. How can you read this and not feel ill?
The soldiers from Fort Knox removed the casket from the hearse and set it on the lowering device over the openmouthed burial vault. The vault was made by a Chicago company, Wilbert Funeral Services, Inc., designed specifically for soldiers killed in Iraq: The Operation Iraqi Freedom vault is made of precast concrete lined with Trilon, and its lid is adorned with a lithograph depicting scenes from the war in Iraq, including Saddam's statue falling. Earlier, the lid had been propped up on display for the mourners...
I don't even know if I should read the rest of this piece, which seems to be held in such reverence by most of the posters in this thread. Does it continue along in this vein of kitschy glory, and military worship, of patriotic sentimentality? I'm sorry a young man died; of course I am. I'm sorry for a lot more than that when it comes to Iraq. But I don't need to read about gleaming metal, and invocations of small-town heartland Real America and cultish National Pride and so on.

Sorry if this sounds pissy, but it disturbs me.
posted by jokeefe at 3:38 PM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


It’s extremely moving without being saccharine or twee. It’s a military story, but utterly without jingoism or indictment

What I've read of it so far displays exactly all those qualities.
posted by jokeefe at 3:40 PM on May 1, 2008


A central lesson learned by the left

But not, clearly, by lupus.

Does it continue along in this vein of kitschy glory, and military worship, of patriotic sentimentality?


You're completely misreading it. The author (who is Canadian) is noting, not approving. You are being offered the honor of drawing your own conclusions. I realize this is hard to recognize, because it's so rare these days. I suspect the author was as revolted by that coffin decoration as you and I.
posted by languagehat at 3:42 PM on May 1, 2008


The author (who is Canadian) is noting, not approving. You are being offered the honor of drawing your own conclusions.

Well... I don't want to get too contradictory in this thread, where I can tell there's strong feeling which I won't mock, but we should all know at this point that there's no such thing as unbiased reporting.
posted by jokeefe at 3:55 PM on May 1, 2008


How can you read this and not feel ill?

Well, it does make me feel kind of sick. But it doesn't keep me from appreciating what I think is an excellent piece of journalism. Jones' description of what he witnessed, without any heavy-handed editorializing, leaves me, as the reader, free to read the piece without mentally fighting with the author of it. I've been thinking about it and chewing over it most of the day. I was against this idiotic war from the start, and this piece certainly wasn't going to change my mind, if that was the author's intention (and I don't think it was). It offers me another perspective, a window into the world of the lives of people I don't encounter on a daily - or weekly, or monthly - basis (I mean, I live in San Francisco, you know?).

This article, and this thread, have put me in mind of the movie The Americanization of Emily, which I haven't seen in years (inadequate IMDB and 'pedia links). It's got James Garner and Julie Andrews, and it takes place in London in 1944, and I recall it as being anti-war, without seeming overtly anti-war.
posted by rtha at 3:57 PM on May 1, 2008


By which I mean, no objective description. He could have written the funeral scene any number of ways; what he chooses to emphasize (the train driver who declines to sound his horn at the crossing because he is apparently aware of a military funeral taking place? How does he know this?) speaks for itself.
posted by jokeefe at 3:57 PM on May 1, 2008


Me: America learned nothing from killing a couple of million in Vietnam, heck, they were proud of their soldiers!

rtha: Did you live through the same 1970s I did?


That's not much of an argument you present, but I think you mean that I'm wrong?

In fact, it was only in the last few years that I realized that the overall evaluation of the Vietnam war that I had wasn't fairly similar to your average American's view on that war.

My conclusion was, "The US has no right to invade other countries and invading countries is a generally bad idea."

Your average USian's conclusion is, I believe, "We screwed up and lost the war." But my impression is that they seem think that they had every right to do it, and that invading other countries can be a good idea.

Now, perhaps I'm mistaken on this impression. Certainly none of my friends think this way but then they're all weirdos. But, damn, the TV and such are certainly convincing.


rtha: You're criticizing what the author didn't write about. You're upset that he didn't focus on stuff that you think should be focused on. Fine. So go write your own piece. Get up on your own soapbox and write about the issues you think are important, but it's just...pointless to holler about how Jones didn't write about A, B, or C. That's because he was writing about L, M, N, etc.

What sort of counter-argument is that?! There are only two type of negative things you can say about a factual article, and those are, "It's wrong," and, "It's missing important information." You can't simply define away that second type as generically invalid!

And I'm claiming that the writer is omitting the two most important parts of the story (and therefore focussing on superficial details like polishing buttons, learn, people that you are being manipulated this way to give your children over to be murderers!):

those two parts being "What was the dead man really like?" (and despite your various comments above, I learned nothing about the man from the article, there was almost nothing there to learn) and "Why did he die?"

If we don't know why he lived, and we don't know why he died, then what's the point of the article? The answer is to bring out a lot of formal, symbolic but essentially meaningless details about buttons and flags and shells that spur the simple-minded to emotionality and let them forget that this man was killed during the commission of a great crime.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:58 PM on May 1, 2008


The answer is to bring out a lot of formal, symbolic but essentially meaningless details about buttons and flags and shells that spur the simple-minded to emotionality

You know, for someone who seems to want to convince people here of the rightness of your analysis, you're doing a piss-poor job. And you called languagehat rude?

That's not much of an argument you present, but I think you mean that I'm wrong?

About the way Vietnam vets were treated when they came home, yes, you're wrong. We've managed since the start of this latest complete fiasco to trowel on some shit about how much we appreciate their service, but it's just shit, and it's too little too late anyway. When they got home, though? They got spit on. They got called baby-killers. There weren't any yellow ribbons around trees for them or lip-service "Support out Troops!" bumperstickers.

They were, I suppose, treated the way you think they should be treated. So what are you complaining about?
posted by rtha at 4:06 PM on May 1, 2008


The saddest thing about this article is that it was necessary for somebody to write it.

(This is not a criticism of the quality of the piece or of the people involved.)
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:10 PM on May 1, 2008


A central lesson learned by the left, looking back at the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement, has been that you don't blame the soldier for the war. The "perpetrators" are not the low-level soldiers with boots on the ground. It's Cheney and Bush and Rumsfeld and their cohort who deserve to burn in hell for all eternity, and who carry the weight of the moral responsibility for the thousands of US dead and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead.

That's bullshit. If I fire a gun and kill someone I bear some of the responsibility for their deaths. If everyone chose not to go, there would be no war. You just can't say, "I was only following orders."

It is your moral responsibility to find out before you kill someone whether it is the right thing to do. Dressing up in funny costumes and participating in mind control activities does not mean that your will is not pulling the trigger when you put that bullet through the Iraqi's brain.

As for Vietnam, you must recall in the Vietnam war that the soldiers were drafted into war, so in many senses had no choice. Moreover, the United States at the time had accrued a very good record from WWII and Korea, so it really wasn't so obviously clear that the US could really be so dramatically wrong.

And an awful lot of the 'Nam vets repudiated the actions of the US military! If this article had even implied that there was any soul-searching or controversy about the Iraq war, I wouldn't be quite so chilled by it.

It's the rest of the American people who appear to have learned nothing from the Vietnam war, because they just did it again .
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:12 PM on May 1, 2008


When they got home, though? They got spit on. They got called baby-killers. There weren't any yellow ribbons around trees for them or lip-service "Support out Troops!" bumperstickers.

I just have to point out that this is simply wrong. There is not a single documented case of returning soldiers being spit on, etc. Don't forget, those soldier were drafted, and faced a choice of going to Vietnam or leaving the country. It's a very different dynamic from the one that exists in the US military today, which has to recruit its soldiers with "signing bonuses" and for lack of a better term could be called propaganda.

I have read the rest of the article now, and remain unmoved. Sorry.
posted by jokeefe at 4:21 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


About the way Vietnam vets were treated when they came home, yes, you're wrong.

You are repeating an urban legend.

Generally the peace movement semi-officially treated GIs as victims of the machine (remember, they were draftees, right?); listen to the Woodstock album or any Hendrix live concert for examples. Remember "Bring our boys home" and similar slogans?

Sure, there were probably individual cases (there was a demonstration that got out of hand where someone spat on someone else and was arrested, which seems to account for the "spitting on" story) but really nothing documented at all.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:22 PM on May 1, 2008


If this article had even implied that there was any soul-searching or controversy about the Iraq war, I wouldn't be quite so chilled by it.

See, and I'm still tripping over this.

I don't know what kind of article Jones set out to write. I don't know what the editorial process was like - what got clipped, or moved around.

But he wrote an article about what a small subset of people experienced - the death of someone they knew or loved or dug a grave for. Maybe none of them have any political or moral doubts about this war in particular, or wars in general, or this dead soldier's role in it. Maybe none of them feel that there's anything controversial about this war. There are people like that. Jones wrote about them. The fact that folks like this are out there seems to upset you terribly, and I don't really blame you, but I kind of feel like you're ready to shoot the messenger for the news he didn't bring.

I've read other articles that address exactly the issues you're concerned about - ordinary soldiers who are conflicted about the war, or who decide to become COs. I've read articles about people who object to this war, and what they've done to express those objections. I guess I don't understand why you're so upset.

That's bullshit. If I fire a gun and kill someone I bear some of the responsibility for their deaths. If everyone chose not to go, there would be no war. You just can't say, "I was only following orders."
[...]
As for Vietnam, you must recall in the Vietnam war that the soldiers were drafted into war, so in many senses had no choice.

You contradict yourself.

They could have chosen not to go. A lot did - they went to Canada, or they served time for refusing to go. What do you think of those who were drafted, but chose not to go to Canada or do time in the brig?

You are repeating an urban legend.

Apologies for making it seem like it was widespread, but it did in fact happen - both my parents witnessed things like this (I'm not sure if the spitting was literal or, you know, verbal) in 1969 or so (after My Lai), in Hawaii. They were both civilians, but my mom worked at an army hospital.
posted by rtha at 4:31 PM on May 1, 2008


I suppose the thing I cannot understand (and this is my last comment here, honest) is this: If my country took my twenty-one year old son away and returned him to me with half his body blown away, and then tried to soothe my pain by offering me a handful of trinkets like medals and a folded up flag, I would crush the medals into the ground with my heel and toss the flag into the first garbage can I found. You know?
posted by jokeefe at 4:38 PM on May 1, 2008


They say it in every creative writing course- show, don't tell. This article is showing you what it is like when a soldier's body is returned home. That's all. It's showing you the reality of something that most of us aren't aware of in any great detail. It's not an opinion piece, it's not an anti-war or a pro-war story, it's just a war story. It doesn't have to pick a side. We can read into it what we will, and that's what makes it such a rich piece of prose. I'm appalled by the coffin with pictures on it, but some may feel a sense of pride.

If you believe the war is bad (and I do too), this article is not trying to dissuade you from that opinion. You may prefer it to be more heavy handed in its judgments, you may want it to lay blame somewhere, but there is no compulsion for the author to cater to your bias.
posted by twirlypen at 5:05 PM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


If my country took my twenty-one year old son away and returned him to me with half his body blown away, and then tried to soothe my pain by offering me a handful of trinkets like medals and a folded up flag, I would crush the medals into the ground with my heel and toss the flag into the first garbage can I found.

Other people are not like you. Their experiences and feelings deserve to be heard as well.

lupus: You clearly did not live through the Vietnam experience. I did. You have no idea what you're talking about, and I suggest you quit embarrassing yourself.
posted by languagehat at 5:10 PM on May 1, 2008


(and despite your various comments above, I learned nothing about the man from the article, there was almost nothing there to learn)

Are you fucking serious?

He was one of the first babies baptized a the church where his service was held. He has an older brother who is an Army lifer. He liked Nine Inch Nails. He was awarded a Bronze Star. He almost smashed his thumb working in a steel forge to make ends meet before he joined the Army. He had a tattoo of an eye with the anarchy symbol as its pupil. He liked Alaska. He build a swing set. He had a wife and two kids. His friend from high school is designing his tombstone.

You somehow manage to cry a few crocodile tears for "Ahmets," but can't see the person these people are going to forever mourn in this one, personal story?

I doubt you really lose sleep over any of them. "Ahmets" included. You're using the statistics as an excuse to be blind to the tragedies.
posted by Cyrano at 7:10 PM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I learned nothing about the man from the article, there was almost nothing there to learn

I thought I'd hit "post" before, but obviously not. This discussion may be done, but I wanted to address this point.

You learned very little about Joey in the article because it wasn't about him. Jones even tells you, the reader, that that's what he's doing:
The truth is, not many of them knew Joey, and hardly any of them knew Sergeant Joe Montgomery, and they would learn only a little about him that morning in the church. There was no eulogy to tell them what they should think of him, as though the family had grown tired of sharing their grief and wanted to keep something of Joey for themselves. The strangers would be left to fill in the blanks on their own.

Looking at the faces of Joey's family, they could know that he was loved. Looking at his friends in their black concert T-shirts, they could guess that he really liked Nine Inch Nails. Looking at his Aunt Vicki, standing behind the pulpit and holding it together just long enough to read one of Joey's poems, they could learn that he liked to write. Looking at his flag-draped casket, they could be certain that he was a soldier. Looking at General Pinckney, giving Missie both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star and promoting Sergeant Montgomery posthumously to staff sergeant, they could deduce that he was a brave one. They may have believed that he became a soldier because he had loved his country, but they could not have known that before he was a soldier he had been ashamed that his jobs in the steel forge and running cable for security systems had left his young family living in a bad part of town in a rented house with holes in the floor. They couldn't have known that he became a soldier because he wanted to make his older brother proud, and that he wanted even more to make a better life for his wife and his kids, this second generation of fatherless Montgomerys.
Jones is telling the story of the people who survived Joey, and the community he lived in.
posted by rtha at 7:59 PM on May 1, 2008


Wow, lupus. Invading countries is "just wrong all the time", but destroying Hitler and the Axis counts as part of a "stellar record of success"; "wage peace", but "create a fast, flexible world police force that can even step in and arrest a cruel dictator like Saddam if this is the measured will of the world"... do you really, really not see that these ideals are incompatible?

If you honestly believe that groups of people should never invade other countries, and that innocents should never die due to the actions of people from other nations, then I can't see how you could support any kind of international defense force. Such a force would necessarily involve soldiers operating in countries not their own, killing innocents while attempting to defend them. For example, Country A invades Country B. Then the world police step in and send thousands more soldiers from each of Countries C, D, E, and F, who due to the chaotic nature of war may even end up fighting against both A and B... and this is somehow supposed to be more peaceful and cause less collateral damage than the original conflict that involved only Country A vs. Country B? I don't think so.

"Never allow any individual country to wage war against another ever again" -- do you get what this would actually involve? Because it sure as hell does not resemble any sort of peace. The sheer, unmitigated, overwhelming force needed to secure the cooperation of an entire world full of sovereign nations, none of which necessarily agree with each other on even the most basic issues of domestic & foreign policy, would make your much-reviled Team America: World Police look like a bunch of peacenik pikers. In fact, there's no way America could ever manage this; not two Americas, not five Americas, not even every first-world military acting together as one. Sheesh, we can't even keep our nice, friendly, polite, and civilized people from occasionally murdering each other in their affluent neighborhoods in the nicest countries on Earth, and we're going to eliminate war? Sure we are. Any day now. The boys'll be home from Oceania by Christmas.

Si vis pacem, para bellum. Guess that makes me a warmonger... if so, so be it. Better that than someone willing to hand over the keys of morality and force to some "international" (by your stated ideals, it seems that you intend this force to be more-or-less liberal democratic/secular humanist -- well, those morals are not necessarily shared internationally) tribunal.
posted by vorfeed at 8:13 PM on May 1, 2008


lupus: You clearly did not live through the Vietnam experience. I did. You have no idea what you're talking about, and I suggest you quit embarrassing yourself.

Tell you what, LanguageHat, why don't you:

1. Try to be polite, it costs you nothing? We've chatted many times on the blue and you've never been polite to me even once.

2. Instead of just saying, "No, you're wrong and embarrassing yourself," why not try using reasoning and facts to rebut me?

I stand by my statements above; if you have any factual or logical data to contribute, please do so.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:03 AM on May 2, 2008


Tell you what, you make a comment that deserves a polite response and you'll get one. You come into a thread and post wild insults aimed at both the subject of the thread and at every fellow MeFite who doesn't feel exactly the way you do (see the charming bits I quoted here) and you expect in return to be treated with kid gloves? Pathetic. If you want to dish it out so liberally, learn to take it. Or, contrariwise, if you want to be treated with politeness, learn not to act like an aggressive troll.
posted by languagehat at 7:20 AM on May 2, 2008


vorfeed: You are completely misrepresenting what I said.

I was very clear that countries should never be allowed to invade other countries, and that all of that should be given to an international organization like the UN.

You claiming I said things I did not (e.g.: If you honestly believe that groups of people should never invade other countries,) and then demolish them.

"Never allow any individual country to wage war against another ever again" -- do you get what this would actually involve? Because it sure as hell does not resemble any sort of peace.

Well, if you literally did not allow any individual country to wage war against another, then it certainly would actually be peace, by definition.

You go on to talk about a different case where countries do wage war against others, even though it's "illegal" and the rest of the world tries to stop it. I have a little trouble following your argument, but it seems to be that if you made war between countries illegal, you'd increase the total amount of it.

Now, I don't believe this at all. It's analogous to saying that making murder illegal increases the murder rate.

In fact, almost every time countries have set about making war illegal, it's worked extremely well. Look at Europe; if I told you today that one European country had invaded another, you'd laugh at me, and yet three generations ago, Europe had been at war off and on for a century with no end in sight. Had I told you at the time that Japan would become a strongly pacifist country and stay that way with little change for 50 years, you'd have laughed at me.

The point is that many USAians want their country to have the ability to invade other countries with no oversight, and I believe that some of them are in this discussion.

In fact, many USAians believe that the United States should have the right to make a nuclear first strike: to drop atom bombs on a country that has not attacked the US. A lot of other people, such as myself, think this would be a crime against humanity under any circumstances.

Now, if you have some reasonable case for your claim, or if I'm misunderstanding it (I'm paraphrasing it as, "If the majority of the world agreed to make war illegal, it would increase the quantity of war in the world"), then speak up, but I guess I really believe you're arguing for an US military unrestrained by international law, and we all see how badly that has worked out.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:35 AM on May 2, 2008


As for Joey, yes, I'd read about Nine Inch nails and such but that told me nothing about him.

I agree with the comment above that the story was much more about the community than about Joey; but it still leaves the elephant in the room, which is "What does the community think about the war?"

Now if the article were neutral, it'd be one thing. But in fact it fetishizes the war completely, by concentrating on physical details like flags, guns and uniforms, things that have been shown time and again to have a strong emotional attraction for weak minds. It's a recruiting piece for the US military, and never confronts the elephant in the room, "Why are you doing this to your sons and other people's children?"

Imagine were the article instead about someone who'd been killed during the commission of a murder, and yet never discussed this fact. Well, Joey died during the commission of hundreds of thousands of murders.

vorheed describes himself as a "warmonger" and I think he's right: I think that of a lot of you, I think you believe that the US should have a free pass to wage any sort of war it likes.

I think the last 40 years have shown that's practically, morally and ethically wrong and I have a heck of a lot of data to back it up. After millions of innocent dead killed in American foreign wars, I believe that it should be illegal for the United States or any individual country to invade other countries, that any necessary military action should be under the moral authority of an international organization.

I reiterate: the United States has killed millions of people this way, people who never offered harm to the US until their countries were invaded, and has never apologized for it. How many more hundreds of thousands will die, how many more millions maimed or rendered homeless, before the United States is prevented from attacking random countries on a whim?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:00 AM on May 2, 2008


Tell you what, you make a comment that deserves a polite response and you'll get one.

What about my first post in this thread? Or, any of them?

You come into a thread and post wild insults aimed at both the subject of the thread

I have every right to critique the articles, even very harshly: that's what MeFi is for. However, I posted no "wild insults" (or please show me if I'm wrong).

and at every fellow MeFite

I've been scrupulously polite at each step though I did call you rude because your posts contain strong, pejorative words aimed at me personally.

who doesn't feel exactly the way you do (see the charming bits I quoted here) and you expect in return to be treated with kid gloves? Pathetic. If you want to dish it out so liberally, learn to take it. Or, contrariwise, if you want to be treated with politeness, learn not to act like an aggressive troll.

Calling me "pathetic" or an "aggressive troll" doesn't actually refute anything I say. If you have an argument, please present it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:14 AM on May 2, 2008


but it still leaves the elephant in the room, which is "What does the community think about the war?"

What on earth does this have to do with a descriptive piece about the process by which dead soldiers are brought home? It is an article about that process -- not a biography of Joey, not about attitudes to the war, not about his hometown, or anything else. It is a description, with a lot of emotional detail, about how bodies are returned. (I wish there were a set of parallel articles, about the same processes in Canada, Germany, and other countries with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan -- I am sure that it is different in each, and seeing those details would be really interesting.)

You are looking for something that is outside the scope of this article, and criticizing it for leaving out things that are honestly irrelevant to the writing of the article. Not irrelevant to the reading of the article -- we all bring our attitudes and experiences with us when we read it, and in the fine detail of the interviews we can see hints of how people's attitudes and experiences are shaping what they do and how they react. But the article is about a process that has been developed, deliberately and carefully, and about how that process worked in one particular situation. You can see the parts that worked well (such as the care and respect that was taken with Joey's body at every step of the way) and things that failed (such as the news blackout which was supposed to ensure that the wife heard the bad news officially, when instead she heard via the grapevine).

But what you seem to be looking for -- a radical critique of the modern international system -- just isn't within the scope of this piece.

Look at Europe; if I told you today that one European country had invaded another, you'd laugh at me, and yet three generations ago, Europe had been at war off and on for a century with no end in sight.

Um, are we forgetting the recent excitement in the Balkans? Or the current problems out at the far eastern edge in the various -Stans? French and British military involvement in former colonies, continuing into the present? Europe is a model for many things, but it's current military situation is kind of hokey, and relies a lot on the US's force projection abilities. If the EU had managed to figure out a way to quickly and efficiently step in and prevent "ethnic cleansing" (some euphemism, no?) in the Balkans in the mid- to late-1990s, I would be a lot more impressed with your use of Europe as a model for international relations. But instead the EU's impotence and inability to find a model of action suggests that Europe's traditional nationalist problems continue, but are simply currently not finding an outlet in violence within Europe.
posted by Forktine at 8:32 AM on May 2, 2008


Now, if you have some reasonable case for your claim, or if I'm misunderstanding it (I'm paraphrasing it as, "If the majority of the world agreed to make war illegal, it would increase the quantity of war in the world"), then speak up, but I guess I really believe you're arguing for an US military unrestrained by international law, and we all see how badly that has worked out.

First of all, I'm not arguing for "a US military unrestrained by international law", and no, we have NOT "seen how badly that has worked out". The US is quite restrained by international law, thank you. For example, the vast majority of US forces are still using ball ammo, as per the Hague Conventions & our membership in NATO. This means that the ammo in my personal weapon is far more effective at killing than the Army's is, all due to international law. US forces also refrain from using gas & biological weapons as per the Geneva Protocol, and hold to the requirements for the treatment of wounded and dead laid out in the Geneva Conventions, even though the enemy does not. In the areas where the US Armed Forces do fall short (particularly in the treatment of prisoners taken during the commission of non-state-affiliated military action), I sincerely hope to see new treaties that will eventually be ratified by the United States.

As it is, the behavior of the US in Iraq is so far from unrestrained that I'm not sure you have a proper understanding of what that term implies with respect to war. Here's a hint: US soldiers were far, far more unrestrained in your "good" wars, particularly in the Pacific theater of WWII. We're actually a party to more international treaties than ever before. Get yourself some historical perspective and/or dial back the hyperbole, please.

My argument is not "if the majority of the world agreed to make war illegal, it would increase the quantity of war in the world", though I suspect that might actually be the case -- call it "policing" if you like, but people from one or more countries stopping other countries from doing X by means of force is war. Your scenario is the enlightened "majority of the world" versus the warmongering minority, and I suspect that sort of power imbalance would lead to more war than we have now, by a long shot.

Since you asked for clarification, here's my argument: "in the process of forcing the majority of the world to agree to make war illegal, the quantity of war in the world would increase". The major military nations (China, India, Russia, the US, Pakistan, and the Koreas) are not interested in this sort of arrangement, and are not likely to become so unless the balance of power changes significantly. Look at this list -- sorry, but the "enlightened" countries of Europe haven't a chance in hell of forcing even one of these nations to forgo offensive arms, much less all of them. No nation is going to voluntarily drop their weapons while the others still hold them... in fact, Japan is seriously considering altering their constitution to allow offensive operations, and the rest of the world is rearming for war, despite those international laws you seem so fond of. And to be perfectly honest, hailing the current situation as some sort of glorious, unprecedented period of peace is ridiculous. The last big war was just 50 years ago -- given the pattern of war throughout history, it's much more likely that this peace is merely a natural part of the buildup to the next war, not a lasting difference in national behavior.

At any rate, my argument is not so much "a world in which war was successfully banned would be full of war", it's "the war required to get us from here to a world in which war was successfully banned would make WWII look like small change".
posted by vorfeed at 10:18 AM on May 2, 2008


However, I posted no "wild insults" (or please show me if I'm wrong).

The answer is to bring out a lot of formal, symbolic but essentially meaningless details about buttons and flags and shells that spur the simple-minded to emotionality

It seems that anyone in this thread who disagrees with you is "simple-minded". How polite of you. How uninsulting.

You guys have bought into this system. I have not. I think you're all suckers.

Lots of folks here have disagreed with your reading of the article. But apparently people who disagree with your analysis are suckers. How polite of you. How uninsulting. At least you're humble enough to acknowledge your own superiority.

You may have noticed that jokeefe also disagreed with the tone/focus of the article, and/or the interpretation of it by some here, and she managed to express that without insulting people or being condescending.

but it still leaves the elephant in the room, which is "What does the community think about the war?"

That was not an elephant for me. I think we are in different rooms. I think "what the community thinks about the war" can be inferred from the article, but no, it isn't explicit. Because the subject of the article is not what the community thinks about the war. The subject is what happens when a dead guy comes back from war.
posted by rtha at 10:34 AM on May 2, 2008


Oh, and I completely missed this one:

vorheed describes himself as a "warmonger" and I think he's right: I think that of a lot of you, I think you believe that the US should have a free pass to wage any sort of war it likes.

Yes. That's exactly what everyone who disagrees with your analysis thinks. You have discovered us. I certainly believe that it's MY COUNTRY RIGHT OR WRONG LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT. My reading of the article (that it was about This and not That, and it's okay to appreciate it for its Thisness) clearly puts me in the camp of viscious warmongering murderers who will be among the first up against the wall when war is ended.

Oh, wait.
posted by rtha at 11:06 AM on May 2, 2008


vicious, dammit.
posted by rtha at 11:07 AM on May 2, 2008


What on earth does this have to do with a descriptive piece about the process by which dead soldiers are brought home? It is an article about that process -- not a biography of Joey, not about attitudes to the war, not about his hometown, or anything else. It is a description, with a lot of emotional detail, about how bodies are returned.

Right, this is what I object to. It's a piece that romanticizes and glorifies the military and the war without providing any hint that one human anywhere doesn't feel the same way. It's a pro-war piece full of evocative emotional symbols and I believe that pieces like this are part of the reason the US has a mentality of endless warfare. I have every right and even the duty to object to such pieces if I believe the United States is a militarist state spun out of control, which I do.


At any rate, my argument is not so much "a world in which war was successfully banned would be full of war", it's "the war required to get us from here to a world in which war was successfully banned would make WWII look like small change".

But why? You keep saying this will happen, but how, why? I just don't see it. "We can't try peace, everyone would die."

Such a world would look much like the world we had today except that the United States would only use its military might in the service of an international consensus. After endless, massive failures and millions dead the United States has lost any moral right it might have had to unilaterally invade another country.

Sure, other countries would start wars, and heck, I'll bet they'd be successful sometimes (I'll bet for example that China will sooner or later take Taiwan and the rest of the world will not start a nuclear war to make them put it back), but the point is that the overwhelming majority of the world's military forces would never be used to invade another country again.

Let me repeat this. The United States alone controls more than half the weapons in the world. If these weapons were put only in the service of defense of the countries of the world, if the US were never again allowed to send their soldiers out in war without a consensus of the world, then it would be hard to imagine how this terrible bloodbath you postulate would happen.

Oceania etc.

1984 depicts a world at permanent, fake war between arbitrary sides, just like today's fake war between Freedom and The Terrorists. I'm proposing an end to war by disallowing it, an end to our 1984 nightmare and the birth of the true human race.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:16 AM on May 2, 2008


It's a piece that romanticizes and glorifies the military and the war

I don't see any of that in the piece. It glorifies, perhaps, the individuals who take part in the tiny, sad corner of the war depicted but I don't think you're saying that those responsible for burying the dead are engaged in war. If anything I think it shames the military a bit for their preceding failures to properly handle their deceased (cargo freight).

International consensus has proven itself congenitally incapable of intervening where there are political complications. C.f. Rawanda, Darfur.

Laws and war are generally unrelated. The only rule war obeys is making sure of the order: rape, pillage, then burn. How would you enforce making war illegal? Note that the best answer I have, representative democracy, does not have a great track record. If the people want to go to war, it's not clear to me how on earth you think a law will stop them, especially when the people make the laws.

Now if we tried to fix the root causes of war like inequality, education, food and land policy and centuries of bad government and foreign interference that's another story.
posted by Skorgu at 12:42 PM on May 2, 2008


Just noticed this:
vorheed describes himself as a "warmonger" and I think he's right: I think that of a lot of you, I think you believe that the US should have a free pass to wage any sort of war it likes.

This is total bullshit. First, you've got my name wrong, and you're assuming my gender. Second, I did not "describe myself as a warmonger" -- I was echoing you ("I hear you warmongers scoff here...") as a rhetorical device, one which pretty clearly implies that I don't actually consider myself to be a warmonger. And there is nothing in any of my posts which suggests anything even close to "I believe that the US should have a free pass to wage any sort of war it likes." Stating that US soldiers are and damn well should be subject to military law does not make one a cheerleader for unfettered war! Please cut back on the ad-hom crap -- if you can't discuss what I'm actually saying, rather than your preconceptions thereof, then I'm not interested in continuing this discussion.

I mean, you're going "where did I insult people? Where, where?" not more than 15 minutes after posting something like this? Come on.

But why? You keep saying this will happen, but how, why? I just don't see it. "We can't try peace, everyone would die."

This is why: by whose authority do you intend to ban war? There actually is no such world authority. There is no such international consensus, nor a world system of morality, nor even enough common cultural ground on which to build one which would please even a significant portion of the major military nations. A serious attempt to build such a system would most likely offend one or more of the countries on the list of powerful nations I posted earlier, leading to war.

Even if it didn't, by what process do you expect this authority to compel uncooperative nations to agree? What happens when diplomacy fails? When countries go to war despite the laws? If you intend to send in the World Police soldiers to stop the war, then you're back to the Country A and Country B situation I described above. Again, this is an escalation of the conflict, and is actually not more peaceful than sitting back and letting A and B slug it out. And if you do not intend to stop such a war through the use of force, how do you intend to enforce the ban on war in the first place?

Even if the process of creating this international agreement didn't lead to war in itself, successfully banning something requires constant enforcement, and I don't believe that entrusting one group with all of the keys to overwhelming power is necessarily any less violent than having 100 different groups, each with varying numbers of keys. Extreme power imbalances tend to incite violence, not ameliorate it.

If these weapons were put only in the service of defense of the countries of the world, if the US were never again allowed to send their soldiers out in war without a consensus of the world, then it would be hard to imagine how this terrible bloodbath you postulate would happen.

If you don't understand that a terrible, apocalyptic bloodbath would result from seriously attempting to "never again allow" the US (or, indeed, almost any other sovereign nation) offensive arms, you're not living in the same world I am. The ability to raise an offensive army is about as close as one can get to a necessary and sufficient condition for national sovereignty; I seriously doubt that world nations are going to be eager to relinquish that without a fight. If you're serious about keeping nations from warring against each other, then the question you need to answer is not "how do we get them to agree on this?", but "who's gonna stop them?" It seems to me that any sufficient answer to that question necessarily involves just as much violence and coercion as war does. When it comes right down to it, "how you stop them" is war.

We live in a physical world; violence is an intrinsic implication of the way the universe functions, not some flaw in its makeup that we could get rid of if we only tried. Every single human being who has ever said, "we live at the dawning of the great Age of Peace", has been wrong about it. Including, significantly, the ones who were wrong about it in 1909 or so, and again around 1925. Maybe I'm just a pragmatist, but giving up a massive portion of national sovereignty in order to place a bet with a five-thousand-plus-year payout rate of precisely zero makes no sense, no matter what nation you live in. Might as well sell off the military and buy 8 billion tickets in the lottery every month; at least then we'd have a chance at getting some small percentage back in return for what we'd lost.

At any rate, if I'm reading your last post right, you actually want to disarm only the US, not everyone else? If so, that just goes to show that all your talk about fairness, equality, and human rights for innocents is just that, talk. It's not that your much-vaunted international consensus would eventually become a one-sided system of oppression and imposition, it's actually meant to start that way!

Flabber... gasted!
posted by vorfeed at 1:10 PM on May 2, 2008


If my country took my twenty-one year old son away and returned him to me with half his body blown away, and then tried to soothe my pain by offering me a handful of trinkets like medals and a folded up flag, I would crush the medals into the ground with my heel and toss the flag into the first garbage can I found.

Other people are not like you. Their experiences and feelings deserve to be heard as well.

But their experiences are heard; they are invoked in half the campaign speeches in this election year, they are endlessly saluted, they are ritualized and evoked and fictionalized and treated with utter reverence. My feelings are the ones that are hardly ever evident, except perhaps in the notable exception of Cindy Sheehan, vilified sorry soul that she is.
posted by jokeefe at 1:47 PM on May 2, 2008


PS I'm writing a Memail reply at better length. Give me an hour or two (work is busy).
posted by jokeefe at 1:48 PM on May 2, 2008


The brilliance of this writing is that we don't really know what the author thinks. Personally, I *suspect* that he had his tongue reverently but firmly planted in his cheek when he described the coffin top on display. The fact that my reaction to this part of the story is relatively unhampered by effects of editorializing reminds me that I am reading this alone, with only my thoughts and feelings to comfort me. And to have that much thought and emotion evoked, with none of it directed towards the messenger...well, that's good storytelling.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:27 PM on May 6, 2008


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