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Unnecessary Concessions


Is there something wrong with using a bomb to destroy a building that might have civilians in it just because there might be an `insurgent’ hiding there?

Is there something wrong with an assassination that `succeeds’ in killing members of the resistance if, as the US promises, care is taken to minimize harm to civilians?

Is there something wrong with taking all military aged men to be the enemy, sealing them into Fallujah and killing them all, just to try to get at guerrillas who might be hiding among them, even if these guerrillas are only some 1500 to 3000 out of tens of thousands who remained in the city?

Clearly, there is.

But there is a more fundamental issue here as well. Nobody has the right to kill those insurgents and resistance members in the first place. It is odd that even antiwar commentators seem to be forgetting this.

Tom Engelhardt, for example, takes an `even-handed’ approach in the most un- even of situations. Discussing, as he frequently does, parallels between the ongoing US-slaughter in Iraq and the mass murder inflicted on the Vietnamese in the 1960s and 1970s, Engelhardt discusses the blowing up of a mosque in Fallujah:

Last night on the prime-time news, a video was run of an American tank blowing the minaret off a mosque (where, again contravening the Geneva Conventions, one or more snipers were hidden). The only comment or commentary offered was a brief interview with an American soldier on the scene offering the completely understandable ground-level view that this was “no holds barred” warfare and his troops had to be protected. (1)

Was that view really “completely understandable”? To unleash the kind of weaponry that the United States did, to people trying to defend it with rifles and improvised explosives? Did the troops really need to be protected from the defenders – would they need that kind of protection if they were doing what national armies, as opposed to imperial ones, do, which is defend their own borders from attack and not invade other people’s countries?

Adam Jones wrote in Counterpunch: “U.S. estimates of the number of active rebels in Falluja range between 1,500 and 3,000. Most observers claim that between 60,000 and 100,000 people remain in the city, overwhelmingly, it seems, “battle-age” men. Let us take the high-end estimate for the rebels, and the low end for the population as a whole: 3,000 rebels, 60,000 people total.

If this is accepted, only about one in twenty — five percent — of those in the city are combatants.” Jones’s point is well-taken. But in arguing that it’s wrong to attack 60,000 to get at 3,000 he implicitly concedes the point that it is okay to get at the 3,000, and that point ought not to be conceded. (2)

It’s true that the slogans adopted by a tiny fraction of antiwar people about “supporting the resistance” are often just posturing, since it is not clear how that is to be done, exactly. Send money? Go fight? But I have never understood why folks writing for alternative media outlets felt the need to go to such great lengths to be “even-handed”, or to condemn “excesses” in a way that implicitly accepts that occupations and assaults on countries are acceptable, but killing “innocent” people (defined as people who don’t resist occupation and assault) in the course of doing so is unacceptable.

Nor have I ever understood why liberal antiwar figures harp on the fact that Iraq never had weapons of mass destruction making the Iraq war a pointless one. That argument, too, validates future invasions and occupations, implying that if Iraq had had weapons of mass destruction, the invasion would have been justified. If you start out accepting the premise that the US gets to decide who should have weapons and who not, and invade countries it doesn’t like having weapons, then the contortions you will have to perform to be against this war or the next one will be that much more agonizing.

If antiwar activists are adopting these kinds of arguments because they think that unadorned anti-imperialism is too hard for Americans to swallow, maybe they should reconsider. Americans were presented every soft half-hearted watered-down imperialist argument that could be dreamed up, from “we should have invaded Afghanistan because they had bin Laden”, to “we should have invaded North Korea instead because they’ve really got weapons”, to “we should invade Saudi Arabia because the hijackers were Saudis”, to “we shouldn’t have gone to war and we should send 40,000 more troops.”

They didn’t swallow any of those. While there is no reason to think a simple, clear stand (that the US shouldn’t be invading and occupying countries and that the other crimes flow from that crime) based on immediate withdrawal will be more acceptable, the other approaches have, in addition to being inconsistent, failed.

Notes

1)http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=15&ItemID=6649 2)http://www.counterpunch.org/jones11082004.html

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