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Web Letters | The Nation

Web Letter

Perhaps it's no surprise that a draft dodger led the US into this quagmire of senseless violence. General Sherman could have told him that "war is hell" and this story is a precise illustration of that maxim. War puts people in contexts that lead them, indeed often force them, to commit atrocious deeds. Even the most just war, think WWII, is full of atrocity--even on the side of the good guys. That is what makes war hell. It turns angels into devils. Kurt Vonnegut knew this when he wrote Slaughterhouse 5. Even under the most fortunate conditions, war is an unlikely means of bringing democracy to a country. An attempt to do so by a morally bankrupt Administration too busy continually violating its nation's constitution to properly plan a war, incompetent to the core as a result of rampant cronyism, unable to admit mistakes or listen to its own military advisors, is bound to fail. Unfortunately, as democracies go, the American people in 2004, ignorant, intellectually lazy, willingly submitting to their beloved fear of foreign threats, and thus totally unqualified as a republican citizenry, failed miserably at their job as well. Many Americans, but far more Iraqi civilians are paying a bloody price. That well-known wide-eyed radical Arthur Schlesinger Jr., in The New York Review of Books, was correct when he diagnosed the disaster that is Iraq as the product of national stupidity by an amnesiac America incapable of learning its lesson from Vietnam.

Tom Clark

Frankfurt, Germany

Jul 18 2007 - 5:16pm

Web Letter

This article exposes the consequences when a war of aggression is launched in deception, violating international law--that is the hardcore reality of this tragic war that no level of positioning will ever alter. It provides a prophetic look into our future as it relates to actions with consequences that will come to bear upon our national soul for years to come.

This article also reveals a situation wrought with historical ignorance and a force of 158,000-plus frightened troops ill prepared and uncertain as to what to do as they fight an elusive enemy--an enemy who knows no borders and that has, by design and with purpose, driven the asymmetric warfare tactic of the twenty-first century into the urban areas. It is critically important to grasp not only the psychology behind this transformation but also the consequences in failing to adapt.

There is little to be gained in belittling the nature of asymmetric tactics as some are inclined to do, referring to the militants as cowards for hiding among the innocent or some other colorful terminology. Doing so is missing the point of their strategies. They know what they are doing and comprehend that they are no match in sheer weaponry and military power for a direct confrontation with US forces.

One lesson that should have been learned from our experiences in Vietnam is the effectiveness of the guerrilla warfare tactics employed against US forces. No degree of carpet-bombing was effective in suppressing it, and as is well known more than 50,000 American soldiers and a disproportionate ratio of innocent Asian civilians lost their lives.

"Guerrilla," "insurgency" or even "terrorism" are various forms of asymmetric tactics. Conventional forces must be able to clearly identify their opponent in order to successfully engage in combat. Obviously part of the strategy in asymmetric warfare is to make this extremely difficult. The militants gain an advantage over their conventional opponent since they on the other hand are extremely easy to identify and attack.

Unfortunately, as is evidenced in this article and observable in Baghdad, Fallujah, Haditha and elsewhere, there exists a tragic cleverness in driving the battle field into urban areas and catching civilians in the crossfire. A conventional response through the collective use of powerful weaponry and bombs coupled with frustrated soldiers fighting an elusive and difficult-to-identify enemy cause a disproportionate ratio of innocent civilian causalities to militant casualities, in conjunction with massive urban destruction. The civilians grow equally as frustrated, since the enemy is just as elusive for them. Now caught in the middle, they are powerless to effect any influence over the situation.

As the carnage and destruction continues, the danger to US forces will increase, since they are the most visible target on the field in the eyes of civilians and militants alike. Civilians with nowhere else to turn may develop a rationale, whether reasonable or not, that if what they perceive as a brutal and destructive US military were to leave, so too, to some degree, will their problems. The ranks of the insurgents will grow exponentially as this rationale and subsequent rage escalates.

Mitch Gurney

Vallejo , CA

Jul 17 2007 - 9:41pm

Web Letter

So let me get this straight.

Because Laila Al-Arian's father was arrested on (most likely trumped up) terrorism charges, she's not being impartial here?

And what of her co-writer Chris Hedges? He's in on it, too?

Give me a break. Why do we as Americans seem to specialize in burying our heads in the sand, or shooting the messenger, when it comes to getting news that we don't want to hear? I've been a reporter for about fifteen years myself, and if I had a nickel for every time that I had been accused of making it up or doing a hatchet job on someone, I could retire quite comfortably.

(Although I have to admit, doing a background check on a reporter is a new one.)

Because I'm a military brat, I know that we have plenty of soldiers who try their best not to do harm to innocent citizens in time of war. My dad was one of those.

But I also know, because of that same base of knowledge, that the military has some folks in it that should never have passed the psych evaluation. Because military recruting rules have become so lax, folks that should be locked away for their own protection have instead been sicced on Iraquis.

If you don't think that there's been some abuses as a result, you're deluding yourself.

While shooting the messenger (or trying to discredit her) might be the way some of you choose to handle this, it's not going to change the fact that, unfortunately, this crap is indeed going on.

The question is, what do we do about it and how do we make sure that those who have done these things are held accountable?

Denise Clay

Philadelphia, PA

Jul 17 2007 - 6:13pm

Web Letter

I agree with Stephen Duskin, who uncovered the background of Laila Al-Arian and her family ties with terrorists, that this article is nothing more than a hatchet job. Her co-author, Chris Hedges has his own antiwar agenda that would seem to color his perspective. A bit of reading of his works reveals that there is nothing he seems to think is worth fighting for. He loathes the military and seems to find nothing in it noble. He is either completely ready to believe any tripe fed him or he is actively trying to deceive.

To say that our soldiers are the cause of the human rights abuses and wanton killing in Iraq ignores the craven actions of our enemy; an enemy that uses human shields and bombs crowded marketplaces in order to cause just the revulsion he gets from the media. Only he knows that the revulsion will be misplaced by a media and turned on the ones trying to prevent the mayhem, rather than the perpetrators. An IED that targets the innocent is not a valid reaction to the actions of the Coalition, which wants to be there less than anyone. Nor is the IED in keeping with the tenets of Islamic in its planning or effects.

The Nation can hide behind its veil of free speech to print what is purely propaganda, but that doesn't mean that it does its readers a service by serving up this inaccurate acount.

Just for full disclosure, I am in the military and been deployed to Iraq (twice), Afghanistan, and Kosovo. I've seen fighting firsthand and marveled at the great compassion our soldiers show to innocents during the fighting and to erstwhile enemies when the fighting ends. I've also seen Saddam's rape rooms and read the Al Qaeda torture manual. I know who the bad guys are in this war.

Nate Bacon

Williamsburg, VA

Jul 16 2007 - 3:45pm

Web Letter

I read about your article in the French newspaper Liberation, so I went on your website to read it. As a French press reader, I believe it's very difficult to publish the dirty stories about a war your country is in. In France, we are in war--in Afghanistan-- and it's hard to get information from French newspaper about what's really happening there with our troops. A few years ago, we were in an armed conflict in "Côte d'Ivoire" (Ivory Coast, Africa), and it was the same.

I read the letter of the veterans' association. I believe it's better for them to say publicly "we've been betrayed," so they'll have fewer problems on their own--and continue to work with journalists, secretly. Not very gutsy, but human.

Jean Noctiluque

Paris, France

Jul 15 2007 - 9:28am

Web Letter

Allow me to congratulate The Nation for publishing this article that, hopefully, will serve as wake-up call to the US government.

This is a disturbing article because the same thing is happening in Afghanistan as well, and in other parts of the world where American interventionism is working under the so-called war on terrorism.

The actions of the American forces against Iraqi civilians shows that they are no better than those dynamite-strapped terrorists. They should have the moral ascendancy against the terrorists and should always hold the moral high ground. The activities on the ground only reflect the immoral policies of the Bush Administration.

Yes, there are the few bad eggs who did those heinous crimes, but the lack of accountability on the part of the military officialdom is to accept it as the usual norm.

But what can we expect? The invasion of Iraq has no moral basis to begin with. It was patently built on lies and to this day is still being propped up with more lies despite the ugly truth.

But what can we expect? The American people have a President who appears on television lying in his teeth and in high definition asking for more time despite the clear failure of "the surge."

But what can we expect? The surge can never achieve its goals except to bring more hardships to those hapless civilians.

In the end, we can only expect more deaths, more sufferings unless the US stops this mayhem that it created, and the only way to do this is to get out.

The Bush Administration should accept that it cannot sustain the war. It can never sustain all the lies that it continuously tries to peddle.

Jonash Santos

Manila, Philippines

Jul 15 2007 - 5:00am

Web Letter

The Nation and its editors have done its readers a grave disservice in hiding the background and goals of one of the authors of this hatchet job.

Ms Al-Arian has a not-so-secret agenda that should have been disclosed, but her bio is conspicuously silent on the the most salient fact: She is the daughter of a virulently anti-Israeli fanatic, Sami Al-Arian, and that fact colors her every action.

Her recnt Huffington blog:

My father, a Palestinian professor named Sami Al-Arian, was arrested over four years ago on trumped up terrorism charges and submitted to a prosecution over the course of six months that bordered on the farcical. Though he was ultimately acquitted by a jury of the most serious charges against him, the Bush administration has prolonged his imprisonment indefinitely. My father now languishes in a Virginia jail, another victim of the demagogic politics of the so-called war on terror."

Read her father's writings. They are despicable in their tone and aims. It seems the apple has not fallen far from that diseased tree.

If The Nation is truly considering publishing a book by this ideologue, please be sure that it is properly classified as a work of fiction.

I actually visited your website today to make a donation; atfer what I have discovered, I may end my interest in your enterprise entirely.

Moreover, like the veteran's group, I am extremely disturbed and disappointed in the tone and content of the article. (Disclaimer: I am a veteran and a close relative of veterans of all recent wars.) It reads like a sensationalist piece of New York Post trash, written from the extreme other end of the political spectrum. The writers' response to the accurate criticism further erodes my confidence in the desire of The Nation's editors to print the truth. Those two never should have been assigned this story to begin with, and I am fairly confident that they volunteered the piece to you with little or no vetting of their purpose.

Have you turned The Nation into the Occidental version of Al Jazeera? Please distinguish between opinion pieces and actual journalism in the future. The "article" in question was not journalism. The term "hatchet job" is a more accurate description--actually, it's the only description that fits.

Publishing trash like this does great harm to the cause of critical thinking and the progressive movement. Apologies are in order.

Stephen J. Duskin

Audubon, PA

Jul 14 2007 - 12:52pm

Web Letter

This is by far the best piece of journalism on this murky underside of the Iraqi conflict I've seen so far. One day, it might end up as required reading in some colleges. Hoping beyond hope the White House dunce reads it to get a reality check.

Anatoly Panov

Moscow, Russia

Jul 13 2007 - 7:02pm

Web Letter

First of all, I would like to commend both of the writers for having taken the time to research this topic and for writing such an extensive and intelligent piece. I would also The Nation for picking up where all the major media outlets seemed to have dropped the ball. This article should be everywhere, because it is something that everyone needs to know.

A lot of people know that the war in Iraq was started under false pretenses, and many more know that what is going on in Iraq is wrong--even though few know exactly what is happening on the ground in Iraq. This article does an excellent job of telling us what's happening, and should spur us all to take action. Many people, simpler liberals, like to label Bush a horrible person and an idiot and leave it at that. But as opposed to what we see in our mainstream media, the war clearly has many, many more layers than that, and through articles like this, they are slowly being peeled open. The war is clearly much more complex than many people think, and we are causing much more damage to Iraq than we are "bringing democracy." I was stunned to see that the most sympathetic action taken by a soldier in this whole article was towards a dog.

It is absurd that troops in Iraq can do raids in the middle of the night, take away the head of the household for no or little reason, humiliate and abuse them, and then the mainstream media and the Administration sits, scratching their heads wondering why the insurgency isn't waning and why those Iraqis hate us so much. It must be because they hate our freedom, or our way of life, they say. Or something like that.

Sarah Kamshoshy

Fremont, CA

Jul 13 2007 - 4:56pm

Web Letter

The piece misses the larger picture. A couple of months ago the NY Times''s Edward Wong reported from Baghdad as a Sunni mother called in to report that she and her family had been given an ultimatum by some Shiites to leave soon or die. The US (and perhaps a few other Allied troops) did their job. Showed up and talked to the woman and then handcuffed two Shiite men (who apparently were leaving as the troops arrived). Called in the report and drove off with the two Shiite men. Of course, the next day the woman is gunned down on the way to the market. If our troops are going be effective in Iraq they have to adopt to an extremely violent culture. For example, these troops could have greatly increased the security of the woman by handing the two Shiite men a cellphone with a simple message to pass on: "Hey, this is so-and-so and so-and-so and we are being detained by the Americans. If anything happens to the Sunni mother or any member of her family, we will be shot." The US has many reasons for getting out of Iraq, but a PC-denied big one is that Iraq is an extremely violent and different place.

Shortly after this experience, Wong summarized his three-and-a-half years of covering the war in the article "Iraq's Curse: A Thirst for Final, Crushing Victory." This piece opens with, "Perhaps nothing is more revealing about Iraq's history than this: The Iraqis have a word that means to utterly defeat and humiliate someone by dragging his corpse through the street. The word is 'sahel'." Read this piece. This point was also made in a 2002 article in which a reporter asked neighboring Arabs what they thought about the US's plans to invade Iraq. Consensus: You would have to be crazy to go in there, with the potential for violence.

Comparisons to Vietnam are absurd. Look at the respective uses of suicide. Where would you rather go to live as an outsider? How frequent are honor killings in Vietnam? (A month ago the NYT had a piece on the problem of honor killings by Arabs in Israel.) I saw a recent piece in which a GI related how some Iraqi recruits found out that their (Iraqi) trainer was Catholic. The recruits stoned him to death. How much smaller could the Arab world's response to Darfur be? Is it possible to be honestly critical about other groups and cultures?

The situation in Iraq mirrors much of the Arab world. Enormous problems with civility need to be worked on and they had better find a way to support themselves and slow their population growth. As of ten years ago Iraq was 30 percent self-sufficient in food. Where is the imported food increasingly coming from? Where does their basic medicine come from? How did infant mortality get ramped down by a factor of three in the last fifty years? They can't extract their own oil and we shouldn't be using it. The overwhelming import of a country like the US--for better and worse--is that we have facilitated (humans) staying alive.

Finally, for a relevant honest piece see page 40 in May 2007's Scientific American. The article is on Brazil's Syndey Possuelo, who has spent his career trying to help the indigenous people of the Amazon. His conclusion: Don't even contact them. First, the tribal men are extremely dangerous towards outsiders; and second, these tribes invariably flounder miserably in our world when they try to assimilate. The title is aptly "Prime directive for the last Americans." This I think is a good intro to what should be a new policy towards the Arab world. Quickly get out (but continue some basic life support). The norms of the Arab world are profoundly more violent and less civil than our own (you can see Rory Stewart's series of NYT op-ed pieces for more on this). And secondarily, much of the violent thrust coming out of the Arab world is because they feel like complete losers in our world. Respect these differences (and be honest about them), and leave the region.

Ted Christopher

Rochester, NY

Jul 13 2007 - 2:56pm