perspectives on
March 27, 2003 9:03 AM   Subscribe

The Myth of the "Civilian"? Rationalizing the status quo or hard-headed realism for "interesting times"? Baghdad coming shortly...
posted by dgaicun (18 comments total)
I do not fight, I don't want to fight, I don't know how to fight and I have no interest in learning how. The baddest weapon in my arsenal is an unsharpened medieval axe that hangs on the wall. I'm not given orders, and I don't take them. I don't wear, use, eat and live in government property. The government does not pay me to do things for them. But I'm a "solider?" No freakin' way.

The "hard-headed realism" is that being a civilian doesn't make you immune to being [i]used[/i].

Terrain can be a "military asset" too, but I don't see people claiming that terrain is a soldier.
posted by Foosnark at 9:16 AM on March 27, 2003

(mumble. UBBcode is not HTML.)
posted by Foosnark at 9:16 AM on March 27, 2003

Den Beste writes:
But attacking civilians in a war is no more or less immoral than attacking soldiers. A soldier who dies is just as important as a civilian. A soldier who is wounded feels just as much pain. And often civilians are more valuable than soldiers are. Had the Germans known the significance of Bletchley Park and had bombed it, they probably would have won WWII. They could then have won the Battle of the Atlantic, choked off supplies to the USSR and taken the UK out of the war, and then thrown their full might east which might have been enough to defeat the weakened USSR. And all by killing a few thousand critical "civilians".
What he does here is conclude that because some non-combatants might be critical to a war effort, killing civilians is an equally valid method waging war. That's obviously wrong. The justification for killing combatants is that, harmful though it is, it is ostensibly necessary for a purportedly greater good (winning the war). Killing true civilians -- those not in any way participating in a conflict -- on the other hand, is needless, unnecessary. There is no justification for it. Den Beste is missing the whole point.
posted by mattpfeff at 10:06 AM on March 27, 2003

Update 20010914: There's been considerable confusion about what I mean by this essay. Let's see if I can't clear it up: I'm not saying it's OK to kill civilians. I'm saying it's not OK to kill soldiers. I'm not devaluing the lives of civilians, I'm trying to point out that they are exactly as valuable as are the lives of military people. The fact that civilians died in this attack does not make it more horrible than it would be if it were an attack on a military installation.
In the case of the US military, they are all adult volunteers. That's a big difference from Iraqi children getting their feet blown off in Coalition air strikes. I'm disgusted by all the deaths that are happening in Iraqi, but I do find the deaths of civilians more horrifying.
posted by homunculus at 10:59 AM on March 27, 2003

Killing is bad.Killing innocents ins bad. When did it begin? A very long time ago when rape, spoils, slaves, etc were all part of what one did and got.
Then we had conventions agreed upon. And civilians were to be not harmed. One could watch a war being fought a few miles away (in France, WWI) with impunity.
But: in the Am. Civil War, slash and burn was part of hitting the enemy or perceived enemy...this was not killing but it was terrorizing.
As technology advanced, one hit from afar: Rockets (Germany , WWII), and burning (Dresden, Nakasagi etc)...
When civilians are really fighters can they be shot? The notion that civilians are immune strikes me as nice but hardly realistic: big bombs do big damage. Many states now will use "off limes" sites to plant their military in hopes they will thus be safe from attack. What is an enemy force to do if he knows that military sites are located within "civililian" areas=example: many instances ehre Red Cross vehicles in fact were loaded with military stuff...this goes back to WWII where Zyklon gas carted about in ambulances.
Do not expect to be safe from military attack. The Twin Towers was not "military." and yet 3 thousand deaths.
posted by Postroad at 11:11 AM on March 27, 2003

this reminds me of that thread were folks were trying to justify torture. if you want me, I'll be putting my head in a very tight vice!
posted by mcsweetie at 11:16 AM on March 27, 2003

Den Beste is missing the whole point

Per usual.

I'm saying it's not OK to kill soldiers

Huh? So why do you advocate for war Steven?

Beam me up Scotty! ;-)
posted by nofundy at 11:16 AM on March 27, 2003

I find darkly amusing this need to distinguish between civilians and soldiers. From the perspective of an Iraqi soldier defending Saddam's regime, there's no distinction.

Truthfully there ARE Iraqi civilians who secretly want Saddam to fall, but are powerless to stop it. Fear and brutality and the threat of death and torture on the Iraqi people by their own government has squelched most if not all internal rebellion. However, then they see "coalition" forces invading their own country, offering some water and food but then providing little more but further violence. How is an Iraqi civilian to see a difference between the violence of Saddam and the violence of Bush?

An Iraqi soldier feels he's fighting to keep a country together, not tear it apart, which is what he sees when he sees his country invaded by foreign interests. The present Iraqi regime believes that only with an iron fist can any society be forced into submission and made to tow the line. We're being very ethnocentric about all this, and completely failing to see how the Iraqi mind works.

This is precisely the crux upon which Saddam is hoping to win this war. When Iraq claims 650 Iraqi civilians have died, they're counting what we would call Iraqi soldiers among that number. It's not just a propaganda war of lies. It's a matter of interpretation of the facts to skew events in the favor of one fighting force over another. We are failing to get through to the Iraqi people, that what they have is worse than what they can achieve without violence, because they have known nothing but violence for generations, and we're showing them violence now.

Drop a bomb on my city, I'd become a soldier too, I'd wager. And I wouldn't wait to buy a uniform before I picked up a gun. Soldier vs. Civilian? There's no distinction.
posted by ZachsMind at 11:21 AM on March 27, 2003


Accurate and more importantly brief.
posted by quirked at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2003

The amazing rationalizations that come forth from those living in the only superpower with a military one generation ahead of everyone elses. Declaring war is "passe," national borders are more or less meaningless, diplomacy is optional, gathering support is optional, etc. Now we have the obligatory everyone is a soldier rhetoric.

I can't really imagine SDB writing a piece defending his views if a nice sized cluster bomb ended up in Evanston and killed and injured everyone he knew.

"No, this is fair. These people were soldiers!"

>Drop a bomb on my city, I'd become a soldier too

According to Bush they attacked your country during 9.11. Bush has made many attempts to connect 9.11 and Iraq. Why aren't you in Iraq? Oh thats right, hypocrisy. Don't worry I'll save you a seat in the bomb shelter.
posted by skallas at 12:47 PM on March 27, 2003

Um, just because some one isn't enlisted in the armed forces, doesn't mean that they can't support a use of force, sir. And it isn't hypocrisy.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 1:16 PM on March 27, 2003

One thing that I find amazing about the coverage of the war is that no one seems to acknowledge that civilians may be taking up arms against the US. Instead, we hear that elite republican guards are wearing civilian clothes. I got news for you; if it was the Iraqi army invading here, I would be taking up a position and killing as many invaders as I could. And I wouldn't be fighting fair.
posted by 2sheets at 1:50 PM on March 27, 2003

He's wrong about the origins of the professional army. For most of its history the ancient Roman army was a professional army with professional soldiers.
posted by moonbiter at 2:34 PM on March 27, 2003

I would be taking up a position and killing as many invaders as I could. And I wouldn't be fighting fair.

Heck, the Americans won their independence from the British with irregular tactics (with some help from Mel Gibson, who invented these irregular tactics).
posted by moonbiter at 2:40 PM on March 27, 2003

Yeah, SDB's military history was self-serving, not accurate.

And, though I like some of his stuff, he is completely missing the boat when it comes to Iraq. If, as he has written several times, the goal of any conflict in Iraq would be to remove Hussein and rebuild the country, than every person you kill that is not directly related to the regime will only complicated your post-war mission.
posted by pjgulliver at 2:48 PM on March 27, 2003

One thing that I find amazing about the coverage of the war is that no one seems to acknowledge that civilians may be taking up arms against the US.

You're damn straight. Baghdad gun shops were selling them by the carloads before the invasion. Now think about what will be required to take and then disarm the city: a bloodbath.

Well, here's a phrase we will all remember for the rest of our lives: The Battle of Baghdad.
posted by y2karl at 3:06 PM on March 27, 2003

More ignorant dumbassness from SDB. What a shock!

It's just as bad as Kottke's "War is bad. Really. I swear. Honestly, it is. Except when it's not."
posted by mark13 at 7:46 PM on March 27, 2003

War is bad. Really. I swear. Honestly, it is. Even and especially when it's not. However, history has proven that there are times when it's necessary.

When the japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, only then did Americans choose to act. The war had been going on in one form or another for almost a decade, but we did nothing directly until December of 1941. Likewise, the violence in the Middle East has been going on for millenia. Prior to Nine Eleven, America tried to ignore it as best they could, but when punched in the face it's difficult not to retaliate in kind. Violence begets violence.

Had the Americans remained out of World War Two, both the Japanese and the German Nazi movement would have been more successful in some areas. Historians could argue that without American involvement, the Nazis may have won. That doesn't make America's involvement "good." War is never good. However, it was in the final analysis, necessary.

skallas, the intent was not hypocrisy. I didn't want to go into my long tirade about my opinion on violence in general. I believe I've probably rambled about that in here before. When I said "Drop a bomb on my city, I'd become a soldier too, I'd wager," the intent was one of humbled empathy for the Iraqi people now, and not an admition that I'm some kind of warmongerer.

Truthfully, I'm a pacifist, and have no intention of picking up a gun if another were pointed at me and I was ordered to take it. I don't believe violence solves anything in a manner that is everlasting. World War One led indirectly to World War Two, which led to the Cold War, and the various skirmishes that have happened since, leading up to this latest bath of blood.

Using war in the name of peace is like seeking virginity by having sex. Violence is a pointless pursuit, as it only begets more violence. Every bomb that falls, be it from Iraq's own regime or from the coalition forces, leaves some child parentless, or a sibling without a brother or sister. It engenders in the hearts of many a need for vengeance, to pay back the blood that has been spilled, and the only true compensation for blood is blood.

However, despite my distaste for violent behavior, I can understand why people living under such a violent regime, and being faced by yet another violent invader, would turn to violence. It is a choice that at one time or another, most every human soul has to face. Whether it's from a foreign country or an armed thief or a schoolyard bully, most human beings see violence affect them at one time or another in their lives.

I hope when my time comes I won't prove to be a hypocrite, but I am also, unfortunately, human. There. Feel free to color hypocrisy into that. Those who seek hypocrisy in everything are blind to the hypocrisy in their own mirror. As for saving me a seat in the bomb shelter, don't bother. I suspect I won't make it to the entrance.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:11 PM on March 27, 2003

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